8 Approaches to Yoga

Beneath the broad umbrella of ‘yoga’ are a myriad of approaches that, while different in their appearance, point to the same place; the common goal of self transcendence. This being the case, we can think of these disparate approaches or schools like the spokes of a wheel, the center of wheel being the point at which we are able to transcend our ego-based understanding of the world and have an experience of cosmic existence; where the ‘many’ merge into the ‘One’.

The eight schools of yoga that make up the spokes on this wheel of yoga are:

  1. RAJA YOGA: Raja means ‘royal’ or ‘kingly’, this being the name given to Patanjali’s system of classical yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras. Raja Yoga elucidates an eight-stepped system of meditative introversion, beginning with ethical ‘world practices’, then moving through asana and pranayama into progressively deeper states of meditation.
  2. HATHA YOGA: This, of course, is the yoga we all know and love. The goal here is transcendence through movement. We are not looking to cultivate a beautiful body, but rather, to cultivate a system of vibrant whole-body health that allows practitioners to withstand the intense experience of transcendental realization, which places huge stress on the systems of the body, particularly the nervous system.
  3. JNANA YOGA: Jnana means ‘knowledge’ or ‘wisdom’. This is not any kind of knowledge, however, but the type of knowledge that liberates us from the binds of the ego. We cultivate this wisdom by improving our ability to discern that which is real (unchanging, constant, permanent) from that which is not real (as it has the characteristic of change and impermanence). Thus, the Jnana yogi commits himself to a lifetime of study with strong reasoning faculties and an iron will.
  4. BHAKTI YOGA: Whereas Raja and Jnana yogas approach Self realisation through the medium of the mind, and Hatha Yoga approaches Self realisation through the medium of the body, Bhakti Yoga approaches transcendence through the heart. Bhakti Yoga is the practice of love and devotion. When we love another person we enjoy their company, want always to be in their presence and suffer the loss of them when they are absent. Our relationship with the Divine can be described in similar terms. Through the faith that lies at the heart of Bhakti Yoga we nurture our relationship with the Beloved.
  5. KARMA YOGA: To exist is to act. Thus, Karma Yoga is best described as ‘freedom in action’ wherein action is turned into a work of art. Karma Yoga work is seen as the act of sacrifice. We work without attachment to the fruits of our labour and sacrifice the ego to a higher principle of intelligence and connection, letting go of the illusion that ‘I’ can actually do anything.
  6. MANTRA YOGA: Mantra Yoga is based on the understanding that the universe is in a state of constant vibration – an underlying ‘hum’ – and that sound has the power to affect our state of consciousness. A mantra is a sacred utterance (like Aum), charged with psycho-spiritual power. It empowers the mind to move toward a higher vibration of consciousness.
  7. LAYA YOGA: The word laya comes from ‘li’, which means to ‘dissolve’ or ‘vanish’ but also ‘to cling’. Thus, Laya Yoga is the process of dissolving the egoic self and instead clinging solely to the transcendental Self. This happens when all sensory and memory traces can be dissolved through a process of deep contemplation.
  8. INTEGRAL YOGA: Integral Yoga is the brainchild of Sri Aurobindo, who sought to create a bridge between the yoga tradition as immortalized by the ancients of yoga, and modern mind and its associated sensibilities. Integral Yoga seeks to address the tendency within the yoga tradition to downgrade the material world, referring to it as illusory – and instead aims to bring the Divine to life in the human body-mind.


Shades of Yoga is a yoga teacher training company, running year-round yoga teacher training programs in Bali, Costa Rica and Turkey.