Classical Yoga: A 4-Part Solution

These days just about anything is marketed as “yoga”. You may have heard of “goat yoga”, doing yoga postures with an animal walking on your back. Perhaps you like to drink alcohol. Quench your thirst with some “beer yoga”. Do you like intense physical exercise that really works up a sweat? “Hot yoga” will help you with that. Unfortunately, these creative expressions are largely inconsistent with the practice of yoga, as it is classically understood. So, what is Classical Yoga?

Classical yoga refers to any of four traditional schools of practice: Karma, Kriya, Jñāna, and Bhakti. Each of these classical schools focuses on a particular aspect of human life. Karma yoga is a practice that addresses how we function in the world around us. What actions we take and how we interact with people, places, and things falls within the domain of Karma Yoga. Our hands, feet, and speech are our tools of implementation for our actions in the world. Keeping the body strong and dexterous are necessary to enhance our ability to interact with the world. Thus, the practice of asana, or postures falls within the school of Karma Yoga.

Kriya yoga is a set of practices that develop the internal structure of our human system. Chakras, nadis, and the energy system within is the realm of human experience that can be worked upon with Kriya Yoga. Made popular in the west by Yogi Bhajan, what is marketed as “Kundalini Yoga” is essentially a practice of Kriya Yoga techniques. Many Kriya techniques involve stretching the breath. Thus, the practice of pranayama, or moderating the flow of vital energy, falls within the school of Kriya Yoga.

For those who are more inclined to use their brain instead of working upon the body or breath, the school of Jnana yoga developed.  Jñāna is a Sanskrit word that means “knowledge”. Unwittingly, western cultures have been practicing jñāna yoga voraciously for a long time through the scientific process. The disciplined practice of ascertaining what is true and real versus what is false or an illusion is the path jñāna yogis walk. At one time, humans thought the Sun revolved around the earth. Thanks to the diligent work of Nicolaus Copernicus, the veil of illusion was lifted so truth could be seen. Would you consider Copernicus to be a Jñāna Yogi?

Perhaps the most joyful and pleasant expression of yoga is found through Bhakti Yoga. The word Bhakti is associated with loyalty, trust, and an unwavering desire to be in union with all of existence. Sounds pretty intense, right!? Actually, it is a pleasure to practice bhakti yoga as singing, dancing, expressions of love, and selfless service for others are the hallmarks of this practice. Do you volunteer in your community garden or soup kitchen?  This type of selfless service is commonplace for Bhakti Yogis. Have you ever attended a Full Moon Jam or a Kirtan? The dancing and singing of Sanskrit songs are often daily practices for keen bhakti yogis.

Who knew “classical” yoga could be so diverse in its implementation? Learn more about these four types of yoga and practice with a community of friends at Moksha Yoga Center, Chicago’s home for classical yoga.