Bhakti yoga: the path of devotion, using prayer, devotional chanting and rituals

Karma yoga: spiritual path of selfless action (service) all work is done for the Divine without expecting any reward or praise

Jnana yoga: spiritual path of discrimination or knowledge

Ashtanga yoga: the royal path or 8-limbed yoga

The ancient sage Patanjali was the first person to codify the practices of yoga. No one really knows when he lived but it is estimated it could have been anywhere from 2,500-3,000 years ago. He described yoga as a process having eight parts or “limbs”; thus the system is called ashtanga (ash=eight, anga = limb) yoga.

In the west today, the name ‘ashtanga’ yoga is everywhere. But it is not the classical teachings of Patanjali that is broadly being taught. It is mainly focused on the 3rd limb; asanas and these are practiced in a very vigorous and intense manner.

Following are the traditional 8 limbs that Patanjali taught.

1.Yamas (restraints) has five parts:

a) non-violence (ahimsa)
b) truthfulness (satya)
c) non-stealing (asteya)
d) continence(brahmacharaya)
e) non-hoarding (aparigraha)

2. Niyamas (observances) has five parts:

a) cleanliness (shaucha)
b) contentment (santosh)
c) austerity (tapas)
d) self-study (svadhyaya)
e) surrender to God (Iswara-pranidhana)

3. Asana (seat, posture)
4. Pranayama (breath control)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawing the mind from the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (liberation)

Hatha yoga: seven step system which includes shat karma, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, mudra, meditation, and samadhi

Japa yoga: path using repetition of God’s name read more…The Healing Power of Mantra

Mantra yoga: spiritual path using sound vibration an excerpt from a paper I wrote on The Healing Power of Mantra


At satsang we chant songs called kirtan. Most of the chants are in Sanskrit, but we also sing some English songs. We have been hosting satsang in my home for 28 years. My children have been participating since before they were born. They didn’t have much choice as young children as satsang was in their house, but now the oldest is 21 and he is leading more chants than me. My 18 year old is following suit. What an amazing thing it is to see my kids love something that’s so close to my heart and great for them too!

At our satsang we use the harmonium (a droning keyboard from India), guitar, drums and a few rhythm instruments. The instruments follow the lead singer as he or she builds the chant from slow to fast and back down to a slower speed.

The power of sound is felt directly by chanting the ancient mantras and names of the Divine. A deep meditation is possible if aim, faith and concentration blend into the experience of the chant. In Yoga, Kirtan is the practice of singing and repeating the name of God (in both male and female aspects), as well as using descriptive phrases or divine attributes. The word Kirtan comes from the Sanskrit root “kirt“, or “kirti“, meaning to name, to communicate, to share, to participate in, to celebrate, to praise, and to glorify. The purifying power of God’s name is mentioned in most spiritual traditions.

In the classical Ashtanga Yoga system, Pratyahara is the methods used to draw the mind inwards. Kirtan is Pratyahara, 5th limb. Kirtan can be a bridge between our outer and inner selves and an expression of our desire to know and love the Divine within. Kirtan is also said to be part of Bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotion.

Traditionally, Kirtan is done in a call and response style. There is a subtle dialogue, or as the word itself suggests, communication between the caller and the response. How the songs unfold depends on the group’s wholehearted response. Traditionally, harmony is not part of kirtan, but when you throw ‘Westerners’ into the mix occasionally it happens and it can be very beautiful.

Concentration on the different names of God, the meanings, or the ragas (melodic structures) increases the focus of Kirtan. For some, translating the words and meaning of the Kirtan enhances concentration and devotion, while others prefer to dwell on the Name itself or on the raga. In reality, a person doesn’t need to literally know the meaning of the chant, because the power is inherent in the sound. If someone is totally present in the chant, the energy and power will be experienced and can awaken them into the Stillness within.