Gita in a Nutshell #9: Different Yoga Strokes for Different Yoga Folks

I was surprised by how closely the types of Yoga in the Gita correspond to modern personality theory. The ancient Yoga guys figured out thousands of years ago…

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Gita in a Nutshell: Big Ideas and Best Quotations.
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During the original Gita Talk, we had a fascinating discussion about science vs. religion, at the end of which I wrote the following  to a strong supporter of the scientific view:

Ah, the beauty of Yoga.

One can take a scientific view of the universe,
like yours,
or a divinity view
like Graham Schweig’s,
and still end up in pretty much
the same blissful place.

The bliss can be seen
as the release of certain chemicals in the brain,
as in your view,
or a personal love affair with God,
as in Schweig’s view.

The Gita doesn’t really care.
Both of you are experiencing
the infinite unfathomable wonder of the universe
first hand.

The ancient Yoga sage(s) who wrote the Gita recognized that different people would need different types of Yoga to match their personality types.

People who are primarily analytical in nature might feel most comfortable with Jnana Yoga, or the Yoga of Understanding. They like to think and philosophize about Yoga.

People who are primarily people oriented might be most attracted to Karma Yoga, or the Yoga of Action, which emphasizes selfless giving and compassion.

People who are highly emotional in nature might prefer Bhakti Yoga, or the Yoga of Love and Devotion, which emphasizes love, sacred chanting, mantras, and devotional kirtan music.

Finally, people who are what psychologists call “drivers” might tend towards Raja Yoga, or the Yoga of Meditation, as exemplified by the progressive spiritual attainment of the Yoga Sutra.

None of this is meant to pigeonhole people. We all have aspects of all these types within us. But most people have what psychologists call a “dominant style.” And, according to the Gita, all of these paths lead to the same place–a deep awareness of the infinite wonder of the universe.

I was surprised by how closely the types of Yoga in the Gita correspond to modern personality theory. It’s almost an exact match. The ancient Yoga guys figured out thousands of years ago that there are different Yoga strokes for different Yoga folks.

How do you blend these different types of Yoga in your practice?

Do you identify with any particular one of them?

In the next four Gita in a Nutshell blogs we’ll look at the passages from the Gita that deal with each of these four different types of Yoga.

#8: Does the Infinitely Wondrous Universe
Give a Damn About You and Me?

#10: The Yoga of Understanding (Jnana)

(Complete contents at
Gita in a Nutshell: Big Ideas and Best Quotations
To receive notice of each weekly blog,
please join our Facebook group.)

20 replies on “Gita in a Nutshell #9: Different Yoga Strokes for Different Yoga Folks”

Man, I wish I could experience all these different styles! I suspect each one would resonate with different parts of me and help me feel "unstuck" from time to time. Methinks both the religious and scientific paths lead to the same unfathomable mystery wherein we have no choice but to let go and enjoy the vastness and glory of it all. Yoga seems to hasten one (whether a scientist or a monk) toward this realization. Am looking forward to trying these different styles in the future – onward, onward!

That's an interesting way to look at it, John. Come to think about it, that's exactly what the management gurus teach, too–that to be effective you have to become more versatile–both so you can understand other people and to give you more tools to deal with all the things life throws at you.

I feel yoga is universal and taking a yoga path depends on what is happening in your life.
I have always felt the most connected with karma yoga it is my passion, purpose and life

In my experience, I swing quite easily between raja and jnana while I am a natural karma yogi. i remember when i first learned what karma yoga was, and i was like oh, i know how to do that! in the end though, for me, it all falls under the umbrella of bhakti. to perform proper karma yoga, it must be infused with bhakti. if i am going to meditate, or practice asana, the whole practice has to be soaked in bhakti or else it feels dry and lifeless. i remember not so long ago (two years?) being so afraid of kirtan and devotional practices. then i remembered how much i love to sing!
om shanti ya'll, thanks for posting, stimulating discussion.

The Hindu religion is so amazingly well defined. While these components exist in Christianity and other religions, they are so clearly delineated in the Hindu culture, so that all things are yoga.

There is another yoga that you didn't mention, which is Mantra Yoga. Generally they speak of four types – Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, and Raja, and Mantra is considered a part of Raja. Mantra yoga is concentration on a diety, an object, or a specific thought form to solidify the mind so that it can then be released. Raja – the Yoga of Kings is the full study of the science of mind, body, and spirit. It is the study of the self, and how to come to the Divine consciousness of Yoga (union) with God.

But you are right. Different strokes for different folks. If you practice Raja Yoga, you see that you practice them all. Since the Bhagavad Gita is a thorough discourse on yoga, I am looking forward to your insights. Where as the Yoga Sutra is the specification of the concept of yoga, the Bhagavid Gita is where the rubber meets the road. What to do when caught in the most heinous of situations in life? The issues addressed there in are the most difficult, matters of the heart, so close that it becomes nearly impossible to be objective. Namaste.

There are many paths to God. I Have walked many different paths and they’ve all led me to the same place. I don’t think it’s important how we come to the truth, just that we ultimately do.

Wow. This is fantastic. I still don't even know exactly where it is I stand among all of this, but how inspiring to see an acknowledgment of the variance of people that do want "a deep awareness of the infinite wonder of the universe." What a beautiful line, and a beautiful thought.

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