#3: What is Your Yoga?

The Prompt:

Engage in a particular type of yoga (bhakti, karma, or jnana – see below) once a day for three days, writing a short journal entry for each of your experiences, or a larger one at the end of the three days. 

What thoughts and feelings were you experiencing before you practiced your yoga?  What was the experience itself like?  What was your state of mind after the practice?  Were there any changes over the three days?  After the three days, discuss your experiences with your partner or group, and then trade journals with your partner for feedback.

The Context:

“They who are always joined to yoga, who are part of me, and filled with kindness, to them I give the yoga of insight.  By that yoga, they come to me.”  –The Bhagavad Gita

Hindus recognize that each person’s path to God will differ based on gender, class, age, role, and personal inclination.  For example, one person might be more responsive to a male depiction of God, while another will be better served by a female one.  For this reason, many Hindus accept a whole plethora of different gods and goddesses, choosing to worship several different ones depending on where they are from, what stage of life they are in, or what their needs are.  Most Hindus believe that these gods and goddesses are ultimately only murti or “faces” of the one God, often called Brahman.

Hinduism offers many paths to God, and these paths are called margas (from the Sanskrit for “path”) or yogas (from a root word meaning “union,” the same root as the English word “yoke,” as in “yoking a cart to a horse”).[1]  The Bhagavad Gita, or “Song of God,” one of Hinduism’s most popular texts, affirms three different types of yoga for reaching God.  One is called bhakti, or “devotion,” and consists of singing songs of praise or performing rituals to God.

A second is called karma yoga, or “action,” and means doing actions devoted to God, or performing actions “without concern for their results.”  As the Gita says, “You have a right to your actions, but not at all to the fruits of your actions.”  We must face the fact that we cannot control all the factors that lead from our actions to the consequences that follow.  We can do everything right, but still not get what we think we deserve.  This realization may seem depressing at first, but it can be freeing as well.  We can release ourselves from the worry of calculating these outcomes and can focus on the task at hand, on whatever it is we choose to do or are required to do.  Karma yoga may refer to more overtly religious actions such as community service, but it can also include everyday actions—such as cooking dinner or washing dishes—when these actions are dedicated to God.

A third type of yoga is jnana or “knowledge,” and refers to the study of sacred texts with a guru or teacher.  This type of study is not the book learning we often associate with school, but rather a special kind of reading and learning with the intent of experiencing God firsthand.  This learning is often accompanied by physical practices such as meditation, postures, or breathing exercises, the things non-Hindus often first associate with the word “yoga” in the United States (this is technically called hatha or raja yoga, a certain type of jnana yoga).  These three types of yoga offer a variety of ways to reach God depending on what kind of person you are.

What is your yoga?  Consider the different types of yoga (bhakti, karma, jnana) and choose one to engage in personally.  You may want to choose the one that most appeals to you, or the one that seems most foreign to you.  You may engage in a type of yoga from your own religious background (for example, the Christian practices of singing hymns or praying the rosary can be considered types of bhakti yoga), or you may want to try a Hindu practice such as hatha yoga.  If you did the “Home Altar” prompt already, you could use your altar to engage in some kind of puja or “offering” such as lighting candles, saying prayers, or placing fruit or flowers on your altar.  Of course, if you are Hindu, you could do whatever your traditional yoga practice is, or you can try out a new one.

[1][1] This image of “yoking” is prominent in several Hindu texts, where the image of a chariot led by horses represents the body powered by the senses.  Without a trained mind (the reins) and charioteer (the intellect), the whole self could be led to ruin.  In the Bhagavad Gita, the god Krishna acts as the skilled charioteer for Arjuna, showing him the yogas that are effective for ultimately uniting him with God.