What is Yoga? The four paths that make it up

If I were to ask you ‘what is yoga?’, you would probably reply that its a combination of postures which gets you flexible and relieves stress.

You may also refer to yourself as a yogi based on the couple of backbends and forward folds you manage and the multiple sessions a week you attend.

‘I’m a yogi’, however, is a widely misplaced term used in today’s society and yoga is much more than a simple combination of postures.

Even the majority of teachers worldwide, including myself, cannot come close to being called a yogi.

A true yogi is one who is free from egotism and materialistic desires. One who attaches themself to nothing at all. One who lives for others and devotes him or herself to God.

Jesus Christ is the most familiar person you’d know, that fits the bill of a yogi.

Having said that there are many true yogis around the world today. They are however a minority compared to the millions of teachers and practitioners worldwide.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a spiritual practise which goes beyond body postures and flexibility.

Nothing is wrong with body postures, also known as asanas. They in fact form part of Hatha Yoga, an important branch in the path of Raja Yoga, which we’ll come to in abit.

“Yoga means union- the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul”

B.K.S Iyengar

It is a series of practises towards self-realization (one’s full potential in life)

Self-realization is here used in the spiritual sense, by means of realising the reality about ourselves.

This reality is that we are neither the body nor the mind, but our true selves, which is an eternal and divine soul.

The union we talk about is the oneness and union between our eternal divine soul (Atman) and the collective universal soul (Brahman), or otherwise known as God.

Yoga has four paths, by which one can transcend towards self-realization. These paths work like the fingers on a hand and contribute towards the practise as a whole.

The 4 paths are:

  • Jnana Yoga
  • Bhakti Yoga
  • Karma Yoga
  • Raja Yoga

Jnana Yoga

The path of knowledge, wisdom and the intellect. Here you use your mind to enquire on your true nature as a human being.

In other words, through logic and reason, you build the awareness to go beyond your ego’s ignorance.

Through the study of sacred scriptures of any religion for example you get to explore the concept of eternal life and the soul as being our true nature.

Likewise, any other studies on the nature of the self also contributes towards self-realization.

Bhakti Yoga

The path of devotion and surrender. Here you devote yourself by prayer, ritual and worship to a divine power.

Could be God or the divine energy of the universe you believe in. The concept is to surrender with love and acknowledge your powerlessness in this world.

Mantras and chanting, for example, are a way of practising Bhakti Yoga.

Karma Yoga

The path of action and service to others. Here you forget about yourself and take action for the betterment of humanity.

You go beyond your selfish habits and through selfless-service you devote your life towards improving and helping others.

Mahatma Gandhi is a good example of a Karma Yogi. He devoted his life towards obtaining civil rights for Indians.

Raja Yoga

The path of concentration and meditation. Here you use various tools and awareness to go beyond the obscurities of the mind towards achieving enlightenment.

You can achieve this by following Sage Patanjali Maharishi’s eight limbs of Raja Yoga.

Asanas (body postures) as mentioned earlier are just one of the eight limbs towards achieving the state of absolute bliss.


Based on the four paths above, therefore, it is likely that you already do practise yoga, without knowing it.

You now realise that yoga is much more than the asanas (body postures) you practise.

Hence, If you regularly spend your time practising all the four paths above, you could possibly earn yourself the title of a yogi, in time.

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