The different Paths in Yoga (The role of Service as a Spiritual Practice)

Tonight is Maha Shivratri – a great night for practicing Yoga; and I guess blogging about Yoga too! :) According to legend, Shiva is known as Adi Guru (the First Teacher) from whom all Yogic knowledge originates. So I’ll share with you my favorite Shiva legend; which amply demonstrates the need to have a well-rounded approach to Spiritual seeking. (Shiva in this story stands for Liberation)

There are many Paths in Yoga, and according to an Individual’s personality; one Path is given pre-eminence over others. There are primarily 4 paths based on 4 pre-dominant personality types. (Please note that when I use the word Yoga, I’m not referring to the Asanas, Pranayam & Meditation practices that we often associate with modern yoga; but to the overall guiding principle behind the entire Path/ Journey.)

> If a person is Emotional, Heart-oriented and Faith & Worship comes naturally; then the path is referred as BHAKTI YOGA. (This is the path of Meera, Kabir and many of the Saints and Masters).

> If a person is Intellectual, and Analysis and Reasoning about the Nature of Life comes naturally; then his path is referred as JNANA YOGA. (Aristotle is a good example)

> If the person is interested primarily in Meditation as a means of reaching Peace & Enlightenment; then his path is called DHYANA YOGA. (The Buddha is the ultimate role-model of this journey)

> Finally, if a person is Service-oriented and does a lot of Selfless Actions to help his fellow beings; then the path is called KARMA YOGA. (Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa amply demonstrated the value of service).

So, coming back to our little story:


Shiva in a Yoga pose

Once, there were 4 travelers moving through a forest and as they rested beside a lake they started talking to one another. It so happened that all 4 were on a Spiritual journey in their lives, having dedicated long years in an effort to seek Liberation, and so spoke about their experiences.

The first Man said that he worshipped the Lord with all his heart and forever sang HIs praises in ecstasy. He loved the Lord and was taken care of by His Grace. He stated that this was the true way of reaching liberation. The second Man said that he spent hours pondering the Infinite and was blessed with countless revelations; and so this was the path that all should follow. The third Man stated that he spent hours Meditating each day and was filled with the an equanimity that saw him move smoothly through life. Finally, the fourth Man said that there was no need to waste time on all of the other pursuits but that Spirituality meant helping one’s fellow humans through selfless service.

Each of the 4 Men were boastful of their Path; and finally since they could not come to any agreement they said good-night to each other and slept; saying that in the morning they would head out in their own direction. Suddenly as night a huge storm came upon the forest. Ferocious thunder, lightning and rains lashed on the 4 Men! Each awoke and started running away in the hope of finding some shelter. Now, in that forest there was a small Shiva shrine. As luck would have it all 4 Men found the shrine. It was so tiny that they could barely fit inside and to avoid the rains they had to almost rest against the Shivling (a symbol that is used to worship Shiva). Exhausted with their running, they all fell asleep there.

As dawn was about to break; the 4 Men were awakened with a huge explosion! They were startled and quickly stood up. In front of them was Shiva himself – standing in all his glory! Each of them bowed down; and tormented by the same question each asked Him how was it that He had not appeared to them for 20 years while they practiced and He did so this morning? So Shiva says, “When you seek out Liberation through your Mind, Heart, Meditation and Selfless Service – only then do you attain success!”

This beautiful story goes to show that each of us needs to have a Spiritual practice that entails all our human qualities and then we can reach out to the divine.

A word on Karma Yoga:

Karma Yoga is defined best within the Bhagvad Gita; which amongst other things is one of the finest treatises on yoga. Karma Yoga is called the Path of Selfless Action/ Service. It can also be seen as Perfection in Action. It derives from the Sanskrit root ‘Kri’ meaning ‘to do’.

All our actions are based on an underlying motive that generally seeks to benefit us. If we are able to perform an action without worrying about the fruits of it; (without looking for a personal gain from it) but rather as a selfless service or offering – then we are free from the bondage of that action. This is of course easier said than done; but as some of the greatest people to have lived like Mother Theresa have shown – this is a fantastic motto for one’s life!

Alternative Text

Total Yoga

Total Yoga is a balanced style of Yoga that focuses on Fitness training and Mindfulness practice equally.



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