Even though the main Indian Yogas focus on different aspects of Yoga as a practice, they overlap in their pursuit of the ‘union’. A practitioner of one type of Yoga cannot avoid including elements of other Yogas in his or her practice. For instance, the practice of dharana (concentration) in Raja Yoga is also used in Hatha or Kundalini Yoga. The love and devotion of Bhakti Yoga is also present in Karma Yoga.
The following are the main Indian Yogas and their focus:
Jnana Yoga - Union by knowledge
Practised by developing spiritual knowledge and wisdom through the study of sacred texts and self-study, and meditation.
Bhakti Yoga - Union by love and devotion
Complete devotion to and worshipping of a deity through a practice of rites and singing songs of worship.
Karma Yoga - Union of action and service
Rising above the ego on the path of action and selfless service to others without focusing on the outcome.
Mantra Yoga - Union by sound and voice
Using the vibration of the voice or sound to inspire the mind and consciousness, through the repetition of mantras (syllables or phrases) both out loud and mentally in japa (the rhythmic chanting of mantras).
Yantra Yoga - Union by vision and form
This path of Yoga focuses on influencing the consciousness through sight, shape and form. It uses either an inner visualization, or an object such as a mandala (an intricate picture symbolizing unity) for contemplation.
Laya & Kundalini Yoga - Union by awakening of dormant psychic nerve force
It applies some elements of Hatha Yoga, such as breath retention and posture, but this Yoga path focuses on concentrative meditation to awaken the psychic nerve power located below the base of the spine. It is symbolized by serpent power. In meditation, it is taken upwards through the chakras (the energy centers) to the crown chakra at the crown of the head that is related to higher consciousness and samadhi (blissful enlightenment).
Tantric Yoga - Union by physiological disciplines
It focuses on the difference between physiological and non-physiological systems. In Northern India and Tibet where this Yoga path is mainly found, control of sexual energy and the ritualistic union of Yogi and Yogini is the focus.
Hatha Yoga - Union by physical mastery
The word ‘Hatha’ stems from two roots ‘ha’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘tha’ meaning ‘moon’. Bringing these two opposite forces (sun - positive, moon – negative) in the organism through breathing and posturing, is the focus of this path. Hatha Yoga is the best known and most widely practiced Yoga. Its use of Asana (posturing) and Pranayama (breath control) has numerous benefits to the well being, affecting the functioning of the nervous system, endocrine glands and vital organs. As Hatha Yoga has a calming effect on the mind, it may be seen as purification of the body and mind in preparation for Raja Yoga, which focuses on the mind and higher consciousness.
Raja Yoga - Union by mental mastery
Raja or Royal Yoga enables the practitioner to become the ruler of his mind. It applies Hatha Yoga within its system. Raja Yoga is closely related to the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Astanga) described in Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”. While Hatha Yoga improves the body and consequently the mind, Raja Yoga works on perfecting the mind first. The corollary of this is - a purer body.