(Previous: Yoga: 1. What is Yoga?)

It is wise to choose a right path before taking the first step. Yoga sutras and all its interpretations from different times denote that there are four paths to liberation;
  • Bhakti Yoga (Path of Devotion)
  • Karma Yoga (Path of Dutifulness)
  • Gnyana Yoga (Path of Knowledge)
  • Kriya Yoga (Path of Deed) a.k.a. Raja Yoga
A basic level of all these; devotion, knowledge, dutifulness and deed is needed for all and a specialization in one. As a matter of fact, when someone specialize in one of these, other three automatically transcend on them.

Bhakti yoga is comparatively the easiest path as it doesn't take much troll on a person, especially psychologically. Since, a real devotee doesn't really take any responsibility. Anything that happens to him/her or anything they do, they dedicate it to the one they are devoted to. Hence its very common for the parents to indulge in pious upbringing of their children.

The devotion here is absolute devotion, not a feign one or a lukewarm devotion. This path is very natural for people practicing any form of art. There had been several glorified stories and shows on devotion of poets like meera, tulsidas,  alwars and nayanmars to inspire people to follow the path of devotion. It is not a coincidence that many of the top artists, authors, architects, musicians and several other fields of art of our times are from islamic culture, where the devotion is certainly at higher degree. This path is best suited for the people in the field of arts.

It is still a common practice in east for people to bow down to the elders and in india people do touch the feet of elders seeking their blessings. The genuine elders gratefully accept this gesture without any hesitation. The real reason behind their acceptance is not to glorify themselves, but to provide you an opportunity to practice this devotion. If you don't like it, don't do it. The empty gesture is absolutely meaningless and it actually does more harm by poisoning your own ego.

Karma yoga is fulfilling the duties. This is the path of kshatriya (warriors) and grihastha (householders). The vast majority of the population in the world are householders. Farmer, barber, washermen, fishermen and people of every other occupation whose key purpose is to provide for the family are categorized as householders. In the current world, we've intertwined art and occupation together. Hence to make it clear, for a author whose main purpose is to provide for the family is a householder and one who write for the pure sake of writing is an artist. Artists do acquire wealth, but that is a by-product of what they do.

This is certainly the longest path to liberation. It is obvious as they keep accumulating and dissipating several degrees of karma continuously. No deed is classified as good or bad as such. It emphasis that, anything you do will have an equivalent consequence. Before you do it, try to interpret the consequence and make the decision.

In olden days, killing a 1000 elephants will make one a glorified fearless hero. Nowadays, hunting even a single elephant will get you a lifetime imprisonment. Warning some brat child in the park with corporal punishment is a punishable crime. While the parent or the teacher can do so. The point is, how the deeds are perceived by the society changes between time and place. So yoga never enlisted good and bad acts. It insists on becoming aware. To put it in a gist, Any act of total awareness cannot go wrong and any act out of unawareness will not be right, even accidentally.

Gnyana yoga is path of knowledge. This is the path of attaining the liberation through contemplating, understanding, wisdom and practicing the understood. This path is unique in the sense, it's the only path with strong emphasis on using the mind extensively before taming it down, while all other paths directly go to work with taming the mind down. 

The knowledge in the context here is not mere physically identifiable, but also the subtle knowledge of working of the existence. Much of this knowledge and clairvoyance is attained in meditation and this path involves attaining several kinds of meditation like vipasana, zazen, samatha and so on. Buddha, Vivekananda, Adi sankara are some of the well-known Gnyana Yogis of the east. 

Vivekananda became of devotee of ramakrishna, who is a bakthi yogi. This emphasis the fact that once enlightened, no matter what path they took, they are all in the same state and will be mentor the practitioners of all paths. As obvious as it is, this the apt path for scientists and inquirers.

Kriya yoga (or) raja yoga is attaining mukti through sadhanas (austerities). This is the most direct way and this involves using the body as a vehicle and tuning it for samadhi. This type is predominantly the face of yoga in our times. This is the path of arduous stretching and bending the body into various poses, several kinds of breathing technique, uncommon way of detoxing the body and mind. All these practices are to get to state where we have absolute mastery over the senses (indriya), endocrine glands (chakra) and the energy channels (nadi). All these sadhanas (austerities) are mere preparation and they themselves are not the goal. As a result of these austerities the usual distractions of the body and mind are wiped clear and the final stages, meditation and nirvana trancends with absolute ease. 

It is uncommon to know the Kriya Yogis as they are very introverted and often live in solitude. Mahavatar babaji is allegedly the most famous kriya yogi and most respected among the yogis of himalayas. This is best suited for the sportsmen as it involves onerous training, strong physical and mental strength, patience and a resilient attitude.

Kriya yoga is what we are going to dig in deep with the forth-coming chapters.

Next: Yoga: 3. Asana: Strength Training