The Principal Yogas

This began as a summary prepared by students of Psychology 307, F 2000 at Sonoma State University based on Haridas Chaudhari's Integral Yoga. I think his book is the best concise, readable introduction to the yogas that I know of, informed by Chaudhari's excellent education in Western philosophy as well as Indian traditions. Chaudhari, a student of Sri Aurobindo, was the founder of the California Institute of Integral Studies. As such, there is a section at the end on "Integral Yoga," which was Aurobindo's own attempt to synthesize essential elements from the various yogic traditions.
As I typed the summaries, even after rereading Chaudhari, for clarity it appeared useful to add a few introductory comments and a number of explanatory remarks and commentaries at various points. As you read it here, therefore, in order to provide maximum clarity, it has ended up as a combination of Chaudhari's work, my students' distillation of that, and my own additions and interpretations. If you want the untouched Chaudhari, I highly recommend his book, published by Quest. --victor daniels
Introductory comment:
Yoga was developed by yogis, who had no necessary inherent connection with any particular religions tradition in India. In fact, some were active rebels against institutionalized religion (primarily Hindu) at certain points in Indian history.) It has at least as much in common with psychology, which did not exist in ancient India, scholarship, and disciplines of excercise than with any religion per se. The follower of any religion can productively practice one or more of the yogas, and some yogas are implicitly involved in a variety of religions (Taking just example, Bhakti is part of numerous very different religions.) To think that yoga is incompatible with any particular religion, or identical with Hinduism, is to misunderstand it.



Places its emphasis on the body/physical side of existence. It emphasizes the close interrelationship between body and mind.
Hatha is derived from the roots:
Ha (sun) and tha (moon)
HATHA is the equalization and stabilization of the "sun breath" (breath which flows through the right5 nostril) and the "moon breath" (breath which flows through left nostril
Hatha also means violence, force, power. In that sense it can be seen as the mind taking power over the body, in ways that in turn react back on the mind.
Principal Steps in Hatha Yoga:
"Kundalini" is a fundamental psycho-physical energy attained through control of breath and mobilization of vital forces.
One who acquires success in hathayoga gains such powers as vibrant health, youthfulness, and longevity and, if he or she does not become heavily ego-involved in the "look how cool I am to be able to do these things," has a head start toward attaining spiritual liberation and emotional bliss.
Benefits from the path of Hatha Yoga: It stimulates the brain, increases blood flow to areas of the body that normally receive little of it, and focuses the mind and provides self-confidence and control of the body. The life-force energy is stimulated. Oxygen intake is increased and the emotions are calmed.
Problems with the path of Hatha Yoga: The body may become an object of excessive preoccupation. There is the potential problem of becoming egocentric, vain, and too attached to displaying one's attainments. It is non-intellectual, and can be introverted and sisolated from the community.
Points to remember in Hatha Yoga:
Just "going through the motions" of doing the postures is not enough. Moment-by-moment awareness of present experience, including breathing, is essential, even when you are not explicitly practicing pranayama.


Rajayoga ("Royal Yoga" is aimed at focusing and disciplining the mind. Most centrally it is the yoga of meditation.

Raja yoga involves control over the body posture and breathing. It goes on to concentration, which is the focusing of all mental energies on one object, one central idea, or one relevant truth, and then watching noticing when the attention drifts away and bringing it back. Through this, we reduce our tendency to "monkey mind," with our attention darting here and there and everywhere, and develop the ability to direct and focus our attention, and indeed, to know where our attention is.

One objective is to develop the capacity to be aware of your thoughts, actions, and emotions as you are thinking, doing, and feeling them. This is sometimes called cultivating the "witness," a point of awareness within you from which you perceive all things as you do them. It is also sometimes referred to as "two pointed attention," in which one point of your attention is involved in your activity and the other points notices that this is what you are and what you are doing. Gurdjieff used this same concept in his practice called "self-remembering;" it is also related to the "awareness continuum" of Gestalt Therapy. The physical position helps to center, provide mental calmness, balance, and equilibrium.
Raja yoga includes the ethical disciplines of nonviolence, truthfulness, simple living, austerity and endurance of hardship, self-purification, and the devoted study of spiritually enobling books (although a strong focus on the latter would be considered Jnana yoga. Part of the austerity and practice is self-withdrawal--the act of transcending our involvement in society. Chaurhari compares this to "bracketing"--the process of phenomenological reduction in which we "bracket the world" in order to question which aspects of it are real and which are illusory, without judgment.
Pratyahara is the disengagement of the self from unthinking attachment to the not-self. This requires, of course, noticing what our essential self is and what is extra, unnecessary, the appendages of our society and surroundings that we carry with us.
Savikalpa samadhi is the existential self-awareness (to be distinguished from the quite different phenomenon of "self-consciousness") that takes place at the level of mental functioning. Nirvakalpa samadhi is a phenomenon at which all mental functioning is said to come to a stop, in which a person is directly in touch with his or her innermost reality. This is said to be a state of abiding bliss.
Benefits from the path of Raja Yoga: Stronger powers of concentration, mental focus, calmness, balance, will power, and detachment from sources of unhappiness related to wanting or having status or material goods that may be difficult to attain or destructive of relations with others and the biosphere.
Problems with the path of Raja Yoga: Nirvakalpa samadhi is a very difficult state to attain, so most people who strive for it end up being attached to the goal of reaching a state that they never actually reach. This can be somewhat frustrating. Intuitively, it seems wiser to seek an attainment that a substantial proportion of the seekers can actually realize. Also, the goal of Nirvakalpa samadhi carries with it the danger of "life-negation," a loss of engagement with the world in which the person is not doing much of value to anyone.



Bhakti has two central dimensions. It is the yoga of love and devotion, of identification of your wpiritual connection and dedicating oneself to a particular god or guru or teacher and cultivating loving-kindness in one's heart. It is also a yoga of practices, such as chanting or dancing, that are designed to lead to states of ecstatic bliss.
Dyasa is to experience a perfect feeling of security and happiness in the service of the Divine. Mystics long for the Divine Child to be born in their inner consciousness. The yoga of love seeks to turn this spirit of service and self-sacrifice to God, who is the ultimate protector and provider for all living creatures, or to the service of God's incarnation in one the form of a particular God or Goddess.
A goal of Bhakti yogas as taught and practiced in India is to see God in everything and everyone. In the West, where a conception of God as transcendent but not immanent is widespread, loving devotion to, for example, Jesus and Mary, or in Mexico to the Virgin Guadalupe, would be a form of Bhakti yoga. The key is that, once that loving devotion is experienced, the person makes it a part of his or her own being and expresses that attitude in his or her actions, thoughts, and feelings toward others. The yoga of love involves spiritual transformation of the erotic impulse. Counting on God or the Divine Being or Spirit, however you conceive of him or her, as one's eternal friend, philosopher, and guide is called sakya.
In India the divine is thought of as having masculine and feminine qualities equally. The yoga of love involves spiritual transformation of the erotic impulse.
Benefits from the path of Bhakti Yoga: A true Bhakti tends to have a sunny disposition and a strong sense that the world is good and all is as it should be. The states of bliss-consciousness which are a result of the ecstatic practices tend to be highly enjoyable. The practice of Bhakti tends to lead toward an attitude of humility and forgiveness and letting go of the feeling of egotistical self-importance. Helps make life meaningful.
Problems with the path of Bhakti Yoga: Insufficient realization of the Bhakti path, while committed to it in principle, too often leads to intolerance of ways different from one's own, to sectarian bigotry, and to self-righteousness in which self-examination is absent and followers project their own shortcomings onto others. The characteristic attitude of submission can lead to a blind worship of one's guru which makes one unable to see the guru's weaknesses, and to an authoritarian attitude.


Karma yoga is the yoga of action. It is dedicated to carrying out actions and projects that will improve the lives of others and help them on their paths toward liberation and enlightenment. It strives to avoid all actions that will cause unnecessary suffering, or harm to others or other living beings.
Action is the essence of life. No one can ever stop acting. Even a person who shuts himself or herself off from the world is still acting. The doctrine of Karma, perhaps articulated most eloquently by the Jains, says, "What goes around comes around." Each of our actions has consequences, on others and on us ourselves. The karma yogi tries to make these actions as positive as possible. Karma yoga is sometimes associated with the monkey-god Hanuman, who was dedicated to "selfless service."
The yoga of action may be understood in three different ways. The first is performance of appropriate religious rites and ceremonies; The second is selfless action in the best interests of others and society, (such as feeding the hungry, nursing the sick, etc.), performed out of genuine love. The third is selfless dedication to the welfare of others on the basis of one's free self-development, in a way that is true to one's own inclinations and abilities. In this view, the foremost duty of each individual is to develop his or her own latent possibilities, so that these will be available to both self and other. At its best, it is selfless dedication to the welfare of other people and beings on the basis of one's own self-development.
True Karma Yoga involves an attitude of fundamental equality between me and those whom I am helping. We meet as one person to another, on the same ground. In some way I happen to have been more fortunate in one or another of life's aspects, and therefore am in a position to help others.
Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King are examples of well-known Karma Yogis. They combined good work with a spiritual dimension.
Benefits from the path of Karma Yoga. Especially useful for those of active habits. It can involve learning to do the best possible in a spirit of nonattachment. (I do all I can, and then what happens happens, and so be it.) It can involve integrating accomplishment for the benefit of others with the discipline of spiritual development.
Problems with the path of Karma Yoga It can be done with an attitude of false charity: "Here, ultracool I will help these poor undeserving wretches. . . " It can be restricted by attachment to and inability to see beyond the conceptual constraints of one's own class and social status. This can lead to denying one's individual talents, in order to meet conventional expectations, or toward perceiving Karmic action as advancing the interests of one's own class or group (whether the aristocracy or the proletariat) at the expense of others. It can be done with an attitude of self-congratulation, in which case it reinforces egotism. And it can be done with an attitude of self-righteousness, with drives a wedge between oneself and those perceived as less worthy.



Jnana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge and wisdom, has much in common with ancient Greek philosophy, which attempted to discover truth largely through the power of reason. Jnana yoga is scholarly and conceptual, attempting to find paths to self-knowledge and spiritual realization through the power of the intellect.

Jnana Yoga is not purely scholarly, however, for it applies intellectual disciplines to the cultivation of personal qualities. This side of it might reasonably likened to contemplative meditation, and indeed shares some qualities with Raja yoga.

Essential steps are:

Benefits of the path of Jnana Yoga: Leads to great depth of spiritual insight. Facilitates communicating insights & understandings to others.
Problems with the path of Jnana Yoga: Overemphasizes intellectual attainment and the monastic ideal and underemphasizes emotional and volitional aspects of human life. Can lead to one-upmanship in which the one who knows most thinks himself or herself better than those who know less. Can lead to aloofness from and indifference toward the affairs of the world and problems of material and social existence.


Also known as Kundalini Yoga, Tantra Yoga has been influenced by Tibetan thought and is connected with worship of the divine as the Sumpreme Mother. It includes the archetypal masculine (Shiva) and the archetypal feminine (Shakti). Sees no antagonism between nature and spirit, but views all movements and acts as flowing from the universal creative spirit. Some Tantric Yogis emphasize moving the Kundalini energy up through all the Chakras, while some specialize in the development of a particular Chakra. Tantra is widely thought of in the West as specialization in the second (sexual) chakra.

Tantra does not emphasize asceticism and austerities, but views these as undermining healthy and balanced development. Instead, we learn to follow the spirit of nature and learn to appreciate the profound wisdom in nature. All natural desires are viewed as manifesting the creative spirit of nature. Personal development involves coming to know ourselves so we can follow the bent of our own nature. If we do, base impulses and desires gradually yield to higher and nobler ones.

Kundalini energy (compare to Freud's libido, Perls' excitement, Reich's orgone energy, etc.) is represented as a serpent. As it uncoils it stretches through each chakra and ultimately releases the poweful energy of the seventh or "crown" chakra, cosmic consciousness.

Tantric practitioners identify the obstacles and opportunities of each of the traditional seven chakras, and use a variety of techniques, including awareness and expression, guidance from within, meditative disciplines, chanting and other bhakti techniques, and "desireful prayer and worship" to achieve maximum fulfillment of your own nature.

The chakras are in brief,





base of spine















forehead (third eye)




cosmic consciousness

Full development of the Kundalini energy without adequate preparation or supervision is said to unleash more energy than some people can handle and even drive them crazy. But when the energy of each chakra is systematically developed, as the kundalini energy uncoils its energy brings balance and the guidance of infinite patience and love. The person becomes secure, capable and appropriate in sexual expression, strong, loving, able to speak his or her truth, intuitively perceptive, and ultimately blissful and dedicated to the well-being of all those with whom he or she comes in contact. And at all these levels we receive guidance and support from the divine spirit.

Practice leading to the ultimate goal of Tantra: spiritual effort is the union of the dynamic (changing, moving) and static (quiet, peaceful) aspects of personality.

Benefits of the path of Tantra Yoga: On the whole (some individual gurus and disciples excepted), Tantra tends to be very openminded and minimally dogmatic. It encourages self-determination and thorough and systematic psychological, physical, and social development as part of the path to liberation. Prescribes methods and attitudes for great sex.

Problems with the path of Tantra Yoga: Can be interpreted in a way that leads to great self-indulgence and lack of attributing sufficient value to self-discipline.



This is a modern synthesis of the traditional yoga systems of india. It is not one of the traditional yogas, but was described by the great twentieth-century Indian spiritual teacher Sri Aurobindo. Although he has passed on, his ashram in Pondicherry, in Southeast India, continues his work. The ashram's work includes remarkable restoration of what was previously a total environmental disaster area.
Active participation is life needs to accompany mental serenity and self-purification. The inward processes of concentration and meditation are, in Chaudhari's words, "pursued in a spirit of self-offering to the Divine."
Chaudhari writes, "The great Indian poet Tagore stressed the concept of finding freedom amid the bonds of human relationship and society.The modern renaissance of Indian philosophy began with an affirmative and dynamic attitude toward life and an optimistic gospel of social reconstruction, political freedom, and cultural creativity."
Integral yoga exposes the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the traditional systems, writes Chaudhari, and gives yoga an affirmative and dynamic form, taking into account evolutionary and historical perspectives.
Action, love, wisdom, and peace are equally important elements in self-integration. Love in its full flowering is seen as inseparable from wisdom and selfless action. "Love in its spiritual essence is an attribute of wisdom. It flows from the vision of the interdependence of all life and the oneness of all existence. It is active interest in the progress and betterment of society. It is the joyful expression of the soul emancipated from the onds of selflessness. . . .Freedom is not liberation from society but liberation in society. . . . Nature is no enemy of the spirit. On the contrary, she conceals the spirit in her bosom."
The basic spirit of Purna yoga does not sound too radically different from that of Tantra yoga (says Victor, while admitting that I met Haridas Chaudhari only once, and I have not, at this point, closely studied the works of Aurobindo himself, which are rather difficult, nor have I yet visited the ashram at Pondicherry. It is possible that Aurobindo and Chaudhari would disagree with my appraisal.) Integral yoga does, however, emphasize some elements of karma, jnana, and raja yoga that receive less emphasis in Tantra, and many Integral yogis are Hatha yoga practitioners. What Aurobindo has tried to do is to include the elements and ideas from each of the traditional yogas that he found useful and true, and leave the others by the wayside. In this, his approach was similar to that of Fritz Perls as he developed Gestalt therapy out of Gestalt psychology, psychoanalysis, existential philosophy, theatre, and other sources. To the best of my knowledge Aurobindo did not bring the same kinds of innovation in technique and practice to yoga that Perls brought to therapy, but on the other hand, he provided a profound conceptual innovation in response to systems which encompassed dogmas that were (and to a considerable extent, still are) far more deeply entrenched than those of any twentieth-century psychotherapy.