and yoga nidra (deep relaxation). The lineage of yoga I study, Integral Yoga includes all of these practices in hatha yoga classes. Some hatha yoga classes don't.
Hatha yoga may also mean a style of yoga that emphasizes holding an asana for a few minutes. You will usually see yoga being described this way at a local yoga studio. It is in contrast to the various other styles of yoga practiced at studios, such as vinyasa, ashtanga, anusara, yin, etc.
The hatha yoga practices fall under the Raja (Royal) yoga path, which also includes practices such as meditation. A person may practice Raja, Bhakti (devotion), Jnana (wisdom), and Karma (service) yoga. Bhakti yoga is the yoga of love. Any time we express devotion, we are practicing Bhakti yoga. A mother cuddling her child is practicing Bhakti yoga, as she is when she scolds him for running into the street. An artist creating a beautiful painting is also practicing Bhakti yoga. A pilgrimage to Mecca is Bhakti yoga as much as an artist creating a beautiful painting. Forgiveness is a powerful Bhakti yoga practice. Jnana yoga is the yoga of discrimination. This path is motivated by philosophy and self-inquiry; understanding the patterns that cause problems in our lives and learning to correct them. Karma yoga is a beautiful path dedicated to the service of others. Karma yoga is service without expectation. Service done for its own sake. On all paths, we are reminded not to become attached to the fruits of our actions. Having a direction is important, but we must perform the work along our chosen path for the sake of our work itself and not its result.
I have heard these paths described as a bird. Raja yoga is the head of the bird, which provides vision, guidance, and discipline. Bhakti yoga and Karma yoga are the wings. They interact with the environment, allowing the bird to fly and negotiate the air currents that ruffle its feathers. Jnana yoga serves as the rudder, giving the bird direction.
Most people use all four paths to some extent but have one path that is dominant. By exploring these paths as your interest dictates, you will have the stamina to dig deeper in your own practice. Use the practices which serve you. There are many ways to practice yoga and doing something - anything - is a good start. You will certainly find yourself more peaceful.
This is our first "Jnana Yoga" post. In our Jnana Yoga posts, you will find information related to the philosophy and study of yoga. In the coming months, look for "Bhakti Yoga" and "Karma Yoga" posts, as well as further discussion of Raja yoga in our Jnana Yoga posts.
Is there a particular path you'd like to know more about? Anything you'd like me to clarify?
Erin Haddock is the director of Five Keys Yoga, LLC.