The Meaning of Yoga

In the west yoga has become synonymous with hatha yoga; the yoga of physical postures and exercises. However hatha yoga is just one small branch of an ancient scientific art for spiritual discovery. In short yoga means to ‘yoke together’ or unite. The real aim of yoga is to unite the aspirant with God; in essence yoga is a process of self discovery leading to God realisation. Through yoga a seeker also realises God is nothing other than his own highest consciousness. Sri Chinmoy describes the essence of yoga.

‘Yoga is union. It is the union of the individual soul with the Supreme Self. Yoga is the spiritual science that teaches us how the Ultimate Reality can be realised in life itself.’ (1)

Throughout the ages there have been many different yoga teachers. They have expressed the teachings of yoga in a myriad of different forms and nuances. Yet the essential message of yoga has always remained the same. ‘know thyself.’ The path of yoga leads to this common goal of union with God, but there are many different approaches that seekers can take. To a large extent this depends on the temperament and preferences of the individual seeker. There are 4 principle branches of yoga, each dealing with a particular aspect of yoga.

Jnana Yoga.

Jnana yoga is the yoga of wisdom. On this path the seeker attempts to know the true nature of God through discrimination and careful examination of what is true and what is false. Jnana yoga is not just about intellectual wisdom; it is about understanding and experiencing the wisdom which cannot be contained by the mind.

Bhakti Yoga.

Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion. Bhakti yoga is often described as the simple and straightforward path. The aim of bhakti yoga is for the seeker to experience God, in whatever form he prefers, directly in his heart. The approach of bhakti yogi’s is through love, devotion and surrender. Bhakti yoga is not about understanding God but experiencing Him as a living presence. A Karma yogin lives to serve God through serving God the creation. Sri Chinmoy says:

‘It is easy for a Bhakta to forget the world, and for a Jnani to ignore the world. But a Karma yogin’s destiny is otherwise. God wants him to live in the world, live with the world and live for the world.’

Karma Yoga.

Karma Yoga is the path of selfless service or dedicated action. Karma yoga involves serving others with an attitude of detachment. Karma yoga is a path of devoted service.

Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga is the yoga of meditation. In Raja yoga the objective is to control the mind through the practice of meditation. By practising meditation and other spiritual disciplines an aspirant is able to reveal the true nature of the mind and reality. In raja yoga a follower will start with hatha yoga postures (asanas) and then follow the 8 limbs of Raja yoga, culminating in Samadhi. Samadhi is the quiet state of blissful awareness.


  1. Excerpt from Yoga And The Spiritual Life, Parts 1 And 2 by Sri Chinmoy.


Article by: Richard Pettinger