Yoga is a very misunderstood process to the average person. It has taken on the form of only poses or a physical exercise instead of glancing at the practice in its entirety. Yoga is being in union with everything around you, while understanding there is no division between what is you and what isn't you. It is aligning your system; mind, body, energy and emotions to coordinate in the direction that you want them. Many people practice yoga as a path to connect with the higher power of god or the divine. It is also used to bring harmony to their lives and gain a inner sense of joy and fulfillment.
There are 4 pillars or paths seekers follow to attain it:
Bhakti yoga – Path of Devotion
Karma yoga – Path of Action
Jnana yoga – Path of Intellect
Kriya yoga – Path of Inner Energy
As there are many others not mentioned here, these are the main trees in which other forms of yoga branch from.
If you are trying to reach enlightenment through your emotions and then this is the path of Bhakti yoga. If you wish to infuse your emotions with the highest energy and raise them to a point of absolute bliss, then you will need to become a devotee. Being a devotee means that you are in complete service or support to something with absolute commitment. It is out of glowing, radiant service that you raise your level of positive emotion to a high frequency of pure, unconditional devotion.
As a way to reach devotion, a person may ground themselves in recognizing the universe as a vast, complex system in which they have no understanding. In the perception of the cosmos they lose sight of the egoistic view of themselves as being the most important form. Instead, they see everything else as having much more significance than them, even down to the ants crawling beneath their feet.
The word karma, simply means action. In all the actions you do in life, consciously or subconsciously, they are all aspects of your karma. Those practicing Karma Yoga are striving to achieve enlightenment through the act of doing. However, the end result of action isn't the focus of Karma Yoga. It is the spirit in which the action itself is done that matters most. It is the perspective of selfless service, enthusiastically giving of yourself without the expectation of reward. When you can joyfully commit yourself to an action that has nothing to do with yourself, then you are a Karma Yogi. If you are only doing an action to benefit yourself, then you are only in Karma. In the practice of doing for others, it is believed to bring purity and clarity to the mind. As karma yoga can be any action, it doesn't have to be limited to a specific time of day to practice it. It can be incorporated in any faucet of life at any time.
Jnana yoga is the path of attaining enlightenment through your wisdom and intellect. It is searching deep within yourself to access the dimension of precise awareness. It is sharpening your intellect to a point where one could cut through anything to acquire that which is true about it. Practitioners of Jnana yoga are influenced to use their mind and intellect to go beyond themselves, beyond the faculties of the mind to obtain the realization that you are one with the divine.
Adopting the mindset of, "I don't know", opens realms of possibilities for your understanding. When you say you don't know something you allow the quest for the answer to arise in you. If you say you know something, you have drawn a conclusion and limit the expansion of your understanding. Jnana yoga is grounded in achieving authority over the consciousness, freedom from outward attachment, discipline and restraint from negativity, the study for spiritual texts and the constant striving for the divine.
Kriya Yoga is attaining enlightenment through controlling your inner energies. Some see it as a direct way to spiritual actualization or "Highway to the Infinite". Your experience of divine nature is altered and disturbed by the mind. If a person were to bring the mind and body to a state of stillness and avoid impurities, then the true self can shine through. Kriya yoga practices are used to cultivate inner stillness through meditation, pranayama and creating a stable foundation.
It is said that with consistent practice a person could speed up their spiritual practice. However, without a proper foundation and an unprepared body, a person could suffer from the intensity of awakening their inner energies. It is why some Kriya yoga are taught through initiation and guidance of a guru, rather than publicly spread.
When it comes to yoga the systems are woven in a very intricate way. It's very important that you have knowledge about any type of practice you engage in to know them inside and out. Being knowledgeable about these 4 paths of yoga gives a good perspective on what would be the best path for you to take. Be discerning on your path and seek out the true forms of each practice.
Be giving with your actions, precise with your intellect, devoted in your emotions, and transformative in your energies.
If you would like to learn more about these 4 pillars of yoga as well as many others, I've created a book to enhance your understanding and describe them in detail.
You can check it out here
I hope this helped and that you got value from this info.
May you merge with the joy and grace of the universe.
Namaste and Wellness