Traditional Schools of Yoga

Yoga is Meditation

Characteristics of traditional schools of Yoga are elaborated.

It is not enough for the founder of a school of Yoga to be born Indian or to have an Indian name to be categorised as a traditional school of Yoga. What then characterizes a traditional school of Yoga? 

These are the 4 most important characteristics of an authentic traditional school of Yoga.

1. Goal is self-realization or spiritual transformation

The goal of all traditional schools is self-realization, spiritual transformation, salvation or simply That. While health and healing is not the primary goal of this school, these benefits may accrue to the practitioner as "positive side-effects".

2. Follows one or more paths of Yoga

Every traditional school of Yoga follows one or more of the paths of Yoga:

  • Karma, the path of Action
  • Jnana, the path of Knowledge
  • Bhakti, the path of Devotion or
  • Raja, the Royal Path

Raja is also called Astanga, the Eightfold Path.

Adepts of Yoga also practice and follow the more esoteric forms of Tantra:

  • Mantra
  • Hatha
  • Laya
  • Kundalini

These paths serve different personalities and phases of practice and are rooted in an ancient tradition. These paths should not be confused with the innumerable styles developed in recent times by non-traditional schools of Yoga.

Schools that do not practice one or more of these paths are non-traditional schools of Yoga.

3. Basic concepts of Yoga based on moral conduct and ethical values

All traditional schools without exception are based on a code of moral conduct and ethical values called Yamas and Niyamas.

Yamas are the restrictions, such as Non-violence and Truth, the highest principles on which Yoga rests. The Niyamas are observances such as Practice and Study without which no notable progress can be made on the spiritual path.

"Yoga practice would be ineffectual without the concepts on which it is based", said the great Yogi Paramhansa Yogananda in his "Autobiography of a Yogi" referring to these restrictions and observances.

The non-traditional schools do not teach the entire system of Yoga, often intentionally dropping this code of conduct. This truncated form of Yoga is a misrepresentation of Yoga.

4. Holistic tradition based on body, mind and the spiritual dimensions

While the traditional schools do not focus on the body, they do not ignore it either. The body-mind organism should not be an obstacle to spiritual transformation. Practice and philosophy are combined to help the practitioner direct and raise his energies from the body level gradually to higher spiritual dimensions.

How does one distinguish between Brahmin Ritualism and the Bhakti tradition of Yoga?

The Gnostic tradition of Yoga and its practices developed over millennia outside the bounds of society by recluses and hermits in forest universities and cave monasteries as a response to the spiritual crisis caused by Brahmin ritualism .

All paths of Yoga offer external practices and objects of concentration in order to train the practitioner for higher levels of spirituality. Bhakti, the path of devotion is recognised as an authentic and traditional path for those with a devotional bent of mind. Singing devotional songs and chanting are some of the practices of the devotional path. Idol worship or devotion to the Guru may be also practiced. These external rituals lead the practitioner gradually to purely internal rituals and eventually to the highest Gnostic traditions.

However, in ritualistic schools rituals are not practiced to lead the practitioner to higher spiritual dimensions, instead to make the Brahmin more powerful, to foster dependency and is accompanied with monetary demands.

It is interesting to note here that many western seekers that reject the ritualism of the Church willingly practice ritualism of Brahmin traditions cloaked in an esoteric and exotic garb with the promise of mysticism and higher spiritual realms.


Dr Birju Singh Sewda from Jaipur:
I enriched my yoga knowledge n learned new things about yoga.This is very good website

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