As the summer’s heat is evaporating into a cozy Cairo fall and school-year routines begin to overtake my summer sloth, I am working on reestablishing my yoga routines. Dusting off my mat and moving through poses is a step down one of the paths of yoga, but did you know there are four paths to yoga? That’s good news for me, because it will be awhile before the summer stiffness is exorcised from my muscles and joints. The asanas (physical postures) we practice on the mat fall under Raja yoga, the “royal road.” Karma yoga, despite how the term is used in modern parlance, is the yoga of right action; Jnana yoga is the pursuit of knowledge; and Bhakti yoga is the cultivation of love and bliss. Let’s look at how these elements can contribute to a well-rounded yoga lifestyle in the modern world.
Raja yoga: the practice of physical and mental control to cultivate concentration. “All knowledge has been gained only by the power of concentration… The mind is an instrument in the hands of the soul, and it is constantly vacillating from one subject to another” (Vivekananda, p. 35).
Asanas are for the mat, but what about incorporating a quick round of pranayama breathing into your daily routine: before lunch, after work, before bed, when you start to feel stress. Cultivate an awareness of the breath and body.
Become aware of what foods are right for your body. Be aware of how “unhealthy” foods alter your mood and perception.
Go to sleep. A good night’s sleep is necessary for concentration.
Try turning off technology for a day or part of a day. Over-use of technology has been shown to increase cortisol, the stress hormone, and cortisol is not good for concentration (Goudreau, 2010).
Karma yoga: the practice of doing good, as good will certainly come back to the doer. “Just as a large number of small waves create a big wave, the effects of Karma accumulate to form tendencies, an aggregation of which in a personality we call character” (Vivekananda, p. 1).
Notice the small choices: letting a bottle cap fall on the street, rushing through a door ahead of someone, taking an unneeded plastic bag at the supermarket.
Many of us do community service or give to charities out of routine or a sense of obligation. Take a thoughtful moment to feel your contribution to the community.
Think about the world you want to live in, and make choices that lead in that direction. Do we want supermarkets to overtake small street markets? Do we want the streets to be filled with too many cars? Do we want mobile messaging to replace face to face time?
Express gratitude for the goodness that is done unto you. Gratitude makes you happy (Steindl-Rast, 2013). Check out his TED talk on gratitude here.
Jnana yoga: the pursuit of true knowledge. “In the Vedas the quest for reality takes an external direction. But the Vedic thinkers came to understand very soon that the secret of reality is not to be found in the external world but only by looking inwards. For, if the reality we are after is the Infinite, it can never be found in the diversity of the external world, which are all finite in nature” (Vivekananda, p. 188).
Notice the cycles of nature, and treasure its impermanence.
Read inspirational books and hang out with people you respect.
Cultivate a passion for learning and reflect the effect the learning is having on your soul and being.
Embrace the unknown. Let it tickle your fancy and inspire your intellectual curiosity.
Bhakti yoga: the cultivation of love and bliss. “It is the same feeling of love, well or ill-directed, that impels one man to do good and to give all he has to the poor, while it makes another man cut the throats of his brethren and take away all their possessions… The beauty in the human face, in the sky, in the star, in the moon -- is only the partial apprehension of the real and all-embracing divine beauty” (Vivekananda, p. 128-129).
Notice what brings joy to your life. Do more of it.
Let love into your life. Cherish your time with those you love; cultivate empathy for those you don’t.
Be aware of the beauty inherent in small moments: the graceful fall of an autumn leave, the tickle of an evening breeze, the first flower on a tree, the smell of baking bread, the cheerfulness of a bird’s song.
Why not give it a try? Pick one action under each heading and commit to it every day for two weeks. Let us know what happens in the comments section.
In this blog I have referenced the words of Swami Vivekananda, a 19th century Yogic thinker who traveled the world to spread yogic philosophy and learn about world religions. The speech he gave in Chicago in 1893 is well-worth listening to. You can listen to it here and get motivated to commit!