You may have heard that there are four main branches of Yoga: Karma, Bhakti, Raja and Jnana. All asana forms of yoga (postures, breath and most meditations) fall under Raja yoga. The other words may be familiar, Bhakti and Karma, but what is Jnana Yoga? Most teachers refer to Jnana as knowledge, the dry yoga, and sometimes as a path of studying a lot – no postures, no breath, just brains.
As a Jnana Yoga teacher sharing from a Jnana Yoga school, I can offer you a basic definition of this ancient pearl.
Yoga – translates to union – referring to different ‘paths’ or temperaments of systems through which one may practice uniting the limited self with the higher Universal Self – the essence of our being – Atman.
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. However, not mind or discursive knowledge. Not thinking-knowledge. Do you think knowledge is only things you learn and think about? There are MANY forms of knowledge that have nothing to do with the mind. How do you know you love someone? This is the knowledge of the Heart, you don’t need to think about it to know, however you can think about it after. In fact, we think about everything after. That doesn’t mean we need to. We can just be. There’s the knowledge of the senses- your nervous system knows something is hot before you think about it. Because our awareness and energy is so identified with the mind, feeding it bigger and bigger, we forget, or even deny, that the mind isn’t the only thing we are. We are something greater.
Jnana Yoga employs knowledge of what we really are. What we are is, of course, not just the mind or the body, we are the unifying factor, we are ‘Being’. We are life, flowing presence. This is not an abstract principle but what we rest as in the gaps between thoughts. When the mind is stilled, (naturally through beauty or love, or through the practice of Jnana Yoga) we become present to our own presence behind the thoughts.
How silly would it be to get lost in the characters of the movie: the body, others, thoughts, circumstances – all forms – and never reflect back, ‘knowing’ what we really are.
The sages, across e v e r y s i n g l e esoteric tradition speak of the witness consciousness. The seer, the impartial observer, the one who is not touched by any circumstance.
Ok, this is abstract. But the heart isn’t. We are the stillness and this can readily be felt through meditation. Not visualisation, contemplation, stretching or thinking, but being, in the heart, in the moment, even for a second.
All branches of Yoga are a path to this unification. Jnana is the most direct path, a system of techniques reflecting back and questions ones self and the mind, enquiring into ones own nature. Which is paradoxically hidden from us yet extremely, extremely present.
I invite you to sit now with the eyes closed, and take a few moments to feel the infinity that rests in the pauses after inhalation and exhalation.
At Spanda School, we offer free meditation sessions, as well as beginners meditation and silent retreats, because this is a path, a journey and a life long exploration of the Truth. Amongst many offerings from the Heart, we employ the Hridaya Yoga system which is rooted in Jnana Yoga, Self-Enquiry, traditional Hatha and love.