The Wheel of Yoga (What is Yoga?)

Yoga is “the stilling of the whirling of the mind.”

The word yoga comes from the root word, yuj (Sanskrit), meaning union, or to yoke. Yoga is often defined as union, and in a physical practice, we begin by uniting the attention and the breath in the body.

Georg Feuerstein’s Wheel of Yoga (from The Yoga Tradition) illustrates the many paths of yoga (the spokes), with the shared outer hub of the yamas and niyamas (the ethical practices), and the common aim depicted by the inner wheels of samadhi (enstasy) and transcendence of the "egotropic" consciousness to realise the Self.

The Wheel of Yoga, from Georg Feuerstein's The Yoga Tradition.

All physical yoga practices, most popular in the west, fall under the category of Hatha Yoga. Common names for yoga (like Integral Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Kundalini, Bikram, ShinGaia Yoga, etc.) are different schools or approaches to yoga within the larger genre of Hatha Yoga.

Hatha Yoga – "Cultivating an adamantine body" and aimed toward managing the mind through asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing practices), dharana (concentration), pratyahara (quieting of the senses) and dhyana (meditation), it may also include mantra (chanting) and netyavyamam (eye exercises). Hatha Yoga balances both the generative and receptive energies of the body-mind, specifically through the three central nadis (energetic channels) that flow along the spinal axe. Hatha Yoga aims to manifest the "ultimate Reality in the finite human body-mind."

Karma Yoga -- "Freedom in action" of "Yoga of action" consists in the self-transcending performance of actions that are in consonance with one's innermost being (sva-bhava) and with one's moral obligations (sva-dharma).

Bhakti Yoga -- "The self-transcending power of love" or "Yoga of devotion," based on the spiritual sentiment of loving participation in the Divine.

Mantra Yoga -- "Sound as a vehicle of transcendence" and focusing on the recitation (japa) of mantras (sacred sound that empowers the mind for concentration and the transcendence of ordinary states of consciousness).

Kriya Yoga -- Patanjali's name for the combined practice of asceticism (tapas), study (svadhyaya), and devotion (ishvarapranidana).

Jnana Yoga -- "Seeing with the eye of wisdom," a non-dualist Yoga of self-transcending wisdom, which proceeds by careful discrimination (viveka).

Raja Yoga -- "The resplendent yoga of spiritual kings" includes asana (posture), pranayama or prana-samrodha (breath control), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (ecstasy) and refers specifically to Patanjali's yoga (16th century CE), and is directed specifically toward meditative practice and renunciation.

Samyasa Yoga -- "Renunciation," or the practice of turning one's attention away from worldly things and toward the Divine, which is generally accompanied by an outward act of abandoning conventional life. A purely inner renunciation, however, is also possible.

Laya Yoga -- The yogic process of "dissolving the universe" (laya) through meditation and related practices by which the transcendental Self (atman) is revealed.