The Four Margas (Paths) of Yoga
Yoga is a way of life, an integrated system for the body, mind and soul. This art of living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago. Yoga is a science of universal truth and its teachings are as valid today as they were in ancient times. According to yoga, the goal of life is to discover our true nature to connect with our divine nature. As people have different temperaments, there are different techniques, yogas, to help them find the truth. There are various paths to the union of yoga but there is ultimately only one truth. Swami Sivananda recognised that every individual possesses and identifies with the Intellect, heart, body and mind. He therefore advocated everyone to practice certain techniques from each path. This came to be known as the Yoga of Synthesis. Swami Sivananda also taught that according to our own individual nature/personality, we may be drawn to going deeper into one path of yoga. For example, a person of a more loving, devotional nature, may naturally be drawn to practice predominantly Bhakti Yoga. There are four main paths of Yoga -
Karma Yoga - The path of action (selfless service)
Karma Yoga is the path of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world.
karmany evadhikaras te ma phalesu kadacana ma karma-phala-hetur bhur ma te sango ’stv akarmani
"You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty"
- Bhagavad Gita 2.47
Bhakti Yoga - the path of devotion
Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine
patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati tad aham bhakty-upahritam ashnami prayatatmanah
"Whoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a little water - that, so offered devotedly by the pure-minded, I accept" - Bhagavad Gita 9.26
Jnana Yoga - the path of knowledge
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.
śrī-bhagavān uvācaprajahāti yadā kāmānsarvān pārtha mano-gatānātmany evātmanā tuṣṭaḥsthita-prajñas tadocyate
"When a man puts away all the desires of his mind, O Partha [Arjuna], and when his spirit is content in itself, then is he called stable in intelligence" - Bhagavad Gita 2.55
Raja Yoga - the path of the mind & meditation
Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind.
bandhur atmatmanas tasya yenatmaivatmana jitah anatmanas tu satrutve vartetatmaiva satru-vat
"For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy" - Bhagavad Gita 6.6