How physical yoga sits within ‘yoga’

The Sivananda yoga classes we teach at Energy Yoga London reflect a traditional yoga sequence – how yoga has been practiced in India for thousands of years. Yoga is a body of knowledge that goes back around 4,000 years, and along with some forms of Chinese martial arts, are the oldest practices in continuous practice, to be found anywhere on earth. As you’d perhaps expect, this body of knowledge is vast and very powerful. When we say ‘yoga’ in the west, we think of the physical yoga poses (or asanas). In fact, asanas are one of the three main techniques of hatha yoga—pranayama or breathing exercises and kriyas or cleansing exercises being the others.

Hatha yoga itself is only one branch of a broader yogic body of knowledge, ‘Raja yoga’, the science of physical and mental control. And Raja yoga is itself only one of four main paths of yoga. The four paths are:

  • Raja yoga, the yoga of physical and mental control (or the yoga of Kings)
  • Karma yoga, the yoga of action
  • Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion
  • Jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge or wisdom

In theory, each of these paths is suited to a different temperament of person, but they all evolved as practices that lead to the same result, which is union with consciousness/God/the universe/bliss (it goes by many names!). In our Sivananda system of yoga, we believe that you don’t have to choose between raja yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga or jnana yoga—instead it’s good to practice them all. So we’d practice asanas and pranayama (like we do at Energy Yoga classes—raja yoga practices), but we’d also chant (bhakti yoga), do volunteer/selfless work (karma yoga) and maybe even study scriptural or Vedic texts like the Bhagavad Gita (jnana yoga).

One of the key texts that describes and sets out raja yoga practices are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These sutras describe the raja yoga set of practices, observances and techniques that are intended to lead to realisation or samadhi. There are eight key ‘limbs’ of raja yoga. They are:

The eight steps of Raja Yoga

You’ll notice asanas and pranayama at number 3 and 4. The asanas and pranayama we teach at Energy Yoga are part of this path, and help us to bring the mind and body into a state of calmness and control, to make meditation and the other yogic arts more possible.

So come into class and continue your journey!