The Four Paths of Yoga

The Four Paths of Yoga

Even though we frequently fall for the illusion that happiness comes from outside of us, the truth is, that happiness is generated by our own perception.

How we choose to think about experiences we are having vastly impacts how we feel about those same events. At subtler levels, tiny perceptual impressions, interpretations, decisions, and conclusions we reached in formative moments of our lives give rise to qualities of experience now.

Just because we are self-creating most of our suffering doesn’t mean we don’t deserve superabundant love, compassion, and patient help to change the ancient, deep habits that perpetuate our pain.

According to the yogic way of looking at the world, the most basic cause of suffering is our disconnection from the rest of life and from our own deep source.

The word yogis gave to this experience is avidyā, which means “forgetting”. We forget that we belong to all of life, that we are life’s kin. Even more relevant than that mental forgetting, perhaps, is the fact that we don’t feel loved, connected, valued, or at one with our own Source.

Instead, we experience ourselves as cut off, separate, and individualized. The confused ego mind, and all its many misguided defenses, that we originally said yes to as a way to shield ourselves from further pain and trauma when we’re young, keeps us locked away from our own essence. From that state of being parted mentally from our essence, we engage in all kinds of behaviors and thoughts that set us on the wrong track (if our goal is happiness).

Yogic philosophy can help us diagnose what’s going on in our minds that is giving rise to suffering. Yoga identifies three important mental misunderstandings, or bad habits, which mislead most of us on the daily.

What Are the 3 Impurities of the Mind?

According to the ancient scriptures of yoga, the Vedanta, three main mental problems create the condition of deep forgetting of the reality that we are all one with oneness. These are selfishness, outward focus, and not recognizing the source of life in form.

Mala, or selfishness, refers to pursuing benefits to ourselves as an individual; as our primary goal in life. Selfishness is a hard word for us in the West, because sometimes it is used to coax us out of our boundaries, and that’s not the true meaning here. (And many women need to be more selfish, in the sense of having more regard and care for their own lives and selves).

Yoga doesn’t say we have to give up our own beloved selves, nor are we to punish or neglect ourselves (after all, we’re part of life too) – the idea of turning on the self and sacrificing it overly is more of a Western legacy. All of that said, there is a deep truth in the fact that when we think only of ourselves, that strengthens the ego, and fortifies the walls of separation.

Vikshepa refers to our tendency to get caught up in externals, thinking about outer events and allowing the mind to be incessantly distracted by sensory stimuli.

Avavana describes how we don’t recognize our own true self, or source, in the world around us nor within us. We have a tendency to think that there are parts of creation which are not-God, (and not-Me), but at deeper levels that just isn’t true at all.

We exist in and as a sea of unity, like an ocean of consciousness that changes shapes but is always one with itself. Even though it appears quite convincingly on the surface that we are separate individual streams of consciousness, that is only relatively true, not absolutely so.

The purpose of practicing yoga is to purify us of these three bad habits. For our Western audience, again a reminder that this isn’t actually a moral issue, nor is this about being a good doggie or a bad doggie.  It doesn’t make us better people if we practice yoga or if we remember that all life is one with all of life. It only means that we are more likely to be happy.

Yoga offers four main paths to return to our unity with God, or the oneness we all are.

The 4 Paths of Yoga

Embrace the Healing Powers of the Four Paths of Yoga

Bhakti Yoga - The Path of Devotion

Bhakti yoga is a path of love. Bhakti is a heart-based way to God and involves full and total surrender and dedication to lovingly revere the divine in everybody and everything. The bhakti yoga way purifies us through the power of love, as we give our love to the divine essence inside of anybody and anything we come across. Through emphasizing that God is in all, and the guidance that we generously love all as God, the illusions of boundaries between us and God (and other people, plants, animals, as well as the physical world) naturally fall away as we love omni-directionally.

Karma Yoga - The Path of Service

The path of karma yoga emphasizes service to others, and the performance of loving, positive actions without attachment to outcome. That means we help people whether they are grateful for our help, whether they see what we are doing for them, or not.
When performing pure service without any expectation of personal gain over time, we eventually experience oneness. The pesky over-distinction between self and other dissolves. The illusions of separation between the well-being of ourselves and the well-being of another disappear, and we experience oneness.

JñāNa Yoga - The Path of Mind and Will

The path of jñāna yoga takes the route of logic. Jñāna engages our powers of reasoning to help the mind discover its own source as residing inside. Through careful, non-emotional examination of the thoughts that arise in our minds, their illusory nature is revealed and we see past them into the core of what’s true in us.

RāJa Yoga - The Path of Meditation

The path of rāja yoga targets our powers of attention, training them away from the restlessness and discontentment of outward focus and back in towards our own essence (where our own lovely divinity awaits our recognition).
Rāja yoga inspired most yoga classes available in the West and works well as a structured path that trains attention and focus to be still enough that we see the truth inside.

Villa Kali Ma Offers Yoga to Help With Mental Health

Villa Kali Ma Offers Yoga to Help With Mental Health

Villa Kali Ma embraces the liberating, healing powers of these four intertwining yoga paths to help women in the West wake up from their mental emotional pain, including the pain of addiction.

Our personal experiences with yoga, and our gratitude for the wisdom offered by these ancient traditions, infuse all offerings we create and steward for an ever-growing community of recovering women. Come see for yourself!

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