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How to Connect the Branches of Yoga for Mind-Body Workouts

Just as the branches on a tree are all connected to the same trunk, so the many different Yogic disciplines all connect at a common root. And as you try the physical branch called Hatha Yoga, you may become intrigued enough to shimmy up the tree and explore other branches, too. Each branch itself then also has smaller leaves and twigs sprouting off it that represent various Yogic schools.

If you know a little about Yoga already and notice some differences from what you are familiar with as you move through this section and into the postures and sequences, remember that Yoga has innumerable schools and styles. Every one of these styles — sometimes a combination of several branches or schools where the teachers have studied under different or several mentors — has its own little niche. Consider this analogy: Your best friend likes peppermint ice cream. You like chocolate chip. You meet a third person who likes peppermint chocolate chip. And do either you or your friend think that the mint-chippy person has bad taste? Nope. Just a different flavor for a different taste. Same goes for Yoga. Keeping an open mind is always a good thing with mind-body practices.

Even though I don’t go into detail about all the branches of Yoga in this book, of which there are at least eight depending on how you classify them, knowing a little about each helps you fit your own practice into the picture and gives you tips as to which branch you may want to move toward.

The following list introduces you to the basic branches of Yoga:

  • Bhakti: a practice of devotion. Bhakti followers place devotion to a supreme being ahead of all else and may include offerings — physical and mental — to that being. The heart is the focus.

  • Guru: a practice of dedicating yourself to a master. A follower dedicates him or herself to one enlightened master.

  • Hatha: the disciplined physical practice. Hatha attempts to balance body and mind and to bring the ultimate goal of all Yoga branches — enlightenment — to fruition through disciplining the body. Followers believe the body must be prepared, strengthened, purified, and fully aware before enlightenment can be achieved.

    Whichever branch you ultimately follow, a true Yoga follower (called a yogi if he’s male and a yogini if female) finds healthy living and taking care of the body important components of the practice. A true yogi/yogini, for example, doesn’t go to class and then stop for lunch at the closest Beef and Fries Hut and follow that with a double beer chaser.

  • Jnana: a practice of wisdom. The goal of followers is to look beyond the wisdom accepted as reality and — through meditation and contemplation — begin to understand Truth. Instead of thinking through a Truth, though, all of what is commonly thought to be true is questioned. Enlightenment occurs by going inside yourself and discovering the divine Truth.

  • Karma: a practice of self-transcending action. Karma followers are all about working for the good of society and acting unselfishly, because they recognize that every action has far-reaching consequences.

    You may also sometimes find a branch called Kriya, used in the same breath as Karma, because it also involves action, but in this case more spiritual action.

  • Mantra: a practice of powerful, sacred sound. This is another branch of Yoga that you may not always find on the tree because the use of sound can be a part of the other branches, too. You use sound to bring the body and spirit into harmony.

    Mantra followers receive a personal mantra (a syllable, word, or phrase) from their teachers that they, and only they, know and use in their practice. For some Westerners, any word that sounds good and vibrates in your body can work to experiment casually with Mantra Yoga.

  • Raja: the Royal practice. This is the classical practice with its eight-step (or “eightfold”) path to enlightenment and true ecstasy. It becomes very esoteric and your best chance to understand it is to explore it very thoroughly.

  • Tantra (also known as Kundalini): the practice of continuity. This branch is all about customs and rituals, and although folks have connected the principles of Tantra to sex, it is certainly not just about sex. The rituals and visualizations that followers practice are immensely detailed and demand great focus.

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