Updated: Oct 10
This question naturally crops up when folks first learn that I’m a yoga teacher. Usually they expect a simple response, such as “hot” or “not hot.” But the real answer is not so straightforward, and my new acquaintances may end up hearing more than they (probably) wanted to know about yoga’s many variations.
When we think of yoga we picture working out, on a mat, with poses or a series of poses, for exercise. Yet this is only a sliver of the full yoga tradition. In fact, physical exercise is just preparation for yoga. It’s required to keep our bodies healthy and minds clear, so that we can enter the essence of yoga—union of body, mind, soul and spirit.
Though yoga always means union, the tradition recognizes that as individuals, we have our own personalities and preferences, and so it offers four different paths. We can engage in selfless service (called karma yoga); perform devotional activities (with the joyful bhakti yogis); pursue intellectual studies to gain wisdom (jnana yoga), or meditate (raja yoga, also called the “royal” path). These four paths aren’t exclusive—it’s natural to mix and match, though often we are drawn to one particular yoga.
In the West, raja yoga reigns. It goes by many names—though mindfulness meditation is probably the most ubiquitous. In its purest form, it requires no religion. It is accessible to all body types. It can happen any time of day or night, needs no equipment, and is free of charge. No wonder it’s popular.
As for myself, a heavy dose of jnana yoga is essential. I agree with Emily Dickinson when she declares, “There is no Frigate like a Book/To take us Lands away/Nor any Coursers like a page/Of prancing Poetry…” When I’m overwhelmed or confused, the mere act of picking up a book stills my body and calms my mind. And if I start making notes…watch out! That’s my favorite meditation of all!
Indeed, it’s crucial for everyone’s yoga path to include meditation at some point. You may already use meditation as a means to find relaxation, reduce anxiety, improve cognition, and get better sleep. But on the raja path, meditation is not only a means to these ends. It is the end itself—a reunion with who we truly are. Poetry like Dickinson's may take us far away, but ultimately both the journey and the destination reside within.
Perhaps all these paths sound silly or boring or impossible. But truth be told, we are always on some kind of path, even if unaware of it, so we may as well choose willingly and have friends along the way. Even the Dalai Lama, who knows a bit about meditation, has said that practice with like-minded souls is paramount. So... take a moment to discover details about my Explore Your Path meditation series, Wednesday evenings starting October 25th (7:30pm – 8:15pm) and continuing on Wednesdays through December 13. Join these beginner-friendly meetings by Zoom, at Sun & Moon Yoga Studio in Arlington, VA, or see them later on YouTube. Whatever your method, I would love to connect with you!
photo by Christine Clardy. All rights reserved.