There are many paths to choose from, and all the paths are equally valid.2 —Swami Rama While most authorities on yoga generally agree that bhakti, jnana, karma, and raja are the four major branches of yoga, there are several yoga practices, or traditional approaches to yoga, that have gained prominence, and which might be considered offshoots of the major branches of yoga. You may, or may have already, come across the names of some of these offshoots. Being familiar with the following popular terms will help round out your understanding of yoga.
Tantra means “loom” in Sanskrit. Tantric yoga uses a variety of practices such as external rituals celebrating the divine feminine principle as well as more internal practices such as meditation and mantra recitation to weave the way to enlightenment. Many scholars believe that the practices of tantra are very ancient. According to some, tantra developed as a reaction to classical yoga practices, which traditionally had been reserved exclusively for certain castes of practitioners, especially men. Tantra is particularly appealing to men who enjoy communing with others. Rather than withdrawing into himself alone, a man can engage with others in order to achieve liberation. This union can entail sexual union. As a result of this fact, tantric yoga is sometimes mistakenly understood to apply only to sexual practices. Tantra, however, involves a much wider range of rituals that are practiced in a sacred, ceremonial way to imbue them with the power of transformation and self-realization. When tantric practices include sexual acts, these acts are engaged in as a means of achieving self-realization. Kundalini yoga draws on some of the practices that form part of tantra yoga.
Iyengar Yoga is an approach to yoga developed by Bellur Kirshnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, known more commonly as B.K.S. Iyengar (1918–). It aims to integrate body, mind, and soul. Iyengar Yoga is known for the dynamic precision that its practitioners exemplify in their execution of the physical asanas. It is a complete system of yoga that aims to liberate the soul by integrating the mind and the body through the practice of asanas. In Iyengar Yoga, asana practice becomes meditation in motion, and yoga itself becomes “the perfect art in action.”
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