My sister and I were chatting about our mom this morning. She did so much good work in the world, was so loving and kind and affected so many people in wonderful ways, we wondered how she “heard guidance”, centred herself and knew what her life purpose was.
Today, we actually discuss these kinds of things intellectually. We learn “grounding exercises” and meditations to bring us to centre. But of course, my mom was born in 1939. There weren’t these kinds of discussions. I’m not sure that these phrases had even been invented yet.
What came into my mind was that we are all naturally designed to “centre” and “hear guidance” when we are doing the things that we love to do. You can see it in people who are fully focused, relaxed and joyful. In these moments, we are “fully connected” and we naturally have ideas “pop into our heads” that we not only take action on, but that we look forward to doing.
This natural ability to “find god”, hear guidance and centre ourselves is why there are different kinds of yoga. Yoga means “to yoke/ to pull together”. Yoga is all the practices that bring us to ourselves and connect us with our “higher selves”. (Sorry for all the apostrophes… spiritual conversations tend to need lots of them because we are describing things that can’t actually be put into words.)
Yoga simply describes the different paths to finding that grounding centre where it’s easy to hear – and where we find the most joy.
My mom was a “karma yogi”. This means that when we do things for other people, we naturally feel connected to God (please insert whatever makes sense to you). We feel joy. We can’t help but do it. It isn’t an obligation. We aren’t doing it because we should. We generally meet people and want to help them.
My mom taught grade 6 in inner city schools in Toronto. Each year, she would come home after the first day of school and say to my dad, “Wow. These kids have got to be the toughest group of kids I’ve ever had. You wouldn’t believe what they are dealing with. They have terrible behaviour problems, they don’t listen…. She didn’t say this with a mean heart. She was just frustrated after a long day and just sharing her experience.
But of course, unconsciously, her soul was getting ready for some great focus and work.
After a few months, many of her kids would have joined her ukelele group or her choir. Her classroom would be filled with colour, artwork and total joy. The kids were happy, getting along and truly loved mom. (When she died, the funeral home was filled with hundreds of her old students who said that she was like a mom to them.)
Was she consciously “grounding” in this work with her kids. No. But once in a while she would get this look in her eye… “Ooh. I have a great idea of something to do with the kids… and off she would go creating something fun and joyful.”
You can tell a karmic yogi because they get incredible joy in helping others. It is natural for them. They can’t imagine doing anything else.
Raja yoga is the way of centering through meditation.
For many people, meditation can be used as a tool of healing the nervous system, healing anxiety, curing insomnia, and basically taking the body out of fight or flight mode – which has many, many incredible ripple effects. Often, because we are using it therapeutically, many people find meditation incredibly difficult and must courageously stick with it in order to heal
But for some people, the idea of closing their eyes and breathing deeply is the ultimate freedom and joy. Some call it meditation. Some call it prayer. Some call it the depth of solitude.
These are the raja yogis. They want to sit by a stream and just breathe deeply. They want to wake up each morning and sit on their cushion for an hour. They want to climb to the top of a mountain, so that they can sit, close their eyes and feel closest to God.
Please note, this feels natural to them. It is easy. And when they sit in meditation, they feel incredible peace, quiet and joy. They can hear guidance and trust it completely. They have new awarenesses about their lives.
And when they open their eyes, they are totally refreshed, centred and happy to get on with their day.
Jnana yogis find incredible peace and guidance through wisdom and knowledge. If their life is spinning out of control, the best way for them to centre is to sit down with a sacred scripture from any spiritual tradition.
I am a jnani yogi. If life is confusing and I feel lost, the absolutely best thing for me to do is to sit down with my Bhagavad Gita, Bible, Tao Te Ching, The Prophet, Buddhist teachings, Chinese medicine or writings of the mystics of any tradition.
It isn’t even so much that I learn anything. It’s more like I get incredible peace just sitting down and talking with them. It’s like the authors speak in ways that reach other jnani yogis and mystics across the generations.
Sometimes, it’s even reading books about incredibly inspired heroes of mine. Right now, I’m reading “The Narnian” – the story of C.S. Lewis. (Did you know he was good friends with J.R.R. Tolkien! What?! Don’t get me started!…) There is something about reading about this man and his journey that brings my soul to peace. Suddenly, I am content in my own skin again. I can hear the guidance for the next step.
My mind is clear. I’m at total peace.
Do you have a friend who “just needs to go for a run” to clear their head? Or maybe they go to the gym “to blow off steam”? Or perhaps they look forward to their asana practice each morning. These are often the same people who will have great joy in changing their diet because they just feel so much better.
These are the hatha yogis. They naturally find their centre through the physical body.
People who aren’t hatha yogis force themselves to run, they force themselves to go to the gym or yoga class. And do not ask them to change their diet. They might do it out of health reasons. But they are definitely not getting the same thrill that the hatha yogis are getting out their new recipes and diet restrictions.
Again, it isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do yoga unless you are naturally getting a thrill out of it. Often, yoga is very therapeutic. Physical yoga postures can be used to heal injuries, strengthen the body and keep it flexible. But as in all therapeutic measures, we do it to heal and get better. This is the point.
When a hatha yogi tells you that they look forward to their morning yoga practice, they genuinely mean it. It isn’t a chore. It isn’t work. They feel amazing before, during and afterwards. It’s as natural to them as a fish learning to swim.
Which one are you?
Everyone has an opinion as to what we “should” do in life. But of course the advice is based on the preferences of whomever is talking.
- The hatha yogi will say that you should start a daily yoga routine, join a gym, join a running group, do crossfit, play tennis, go cross-country skiing, or become vegetarian/paleo/macrobiotic/vegan.
- The raja yogi will tell you that you just need to sit and meditate. This will bring you incredible clarity and purpose.
- The karma yogi will tell you to get out and volunteer in your community, call your parents, shovel your neighbour’s driveway or do an act of kindness for someone.
- And the jnana yogi will tell you read the bible or the Bhagavad Gita. There is great wisdom in there that will definitely guide you on your journey.
And of course, they are all right… But only when they are talking to other hatha, raja, karma or jnani yogis!
Plus, they give this advice because they know what happens when they are not doing the things that bring them the most joy. What happens when hatha yogis are too busy to get to the gym and eat right? Or when raja yogis are not meditating and finding time for solitude? Or if karma yogis have jobs that they aren’t in service and have no time to help others? Or when jnana yogis don’t take the time to sit down and read?
They are totally unhappy, depressed, frustrated, and start wondering about the meaning of life.
The key to finding centre and peace in life (which is the point of yoga… and life) is doing what is completely natural and easy for you. Because when we are doing these things, we also hear our personal guidance easily and so we are confident in each step of our lives – which brings a whole other level of peace to each moment.
And it isn’t that we can’t partake in all of these activities. It is personally very good for me to go running and do stretching because I can be very much in my head – these exercises help me remember that I have a body that needs to move once in a while. It is wonderful to sit and meditate when my head is spinning and I just need to sit and breathe for a while. And doing nice things for others always feels good…. But what truly brings ME peace? Tucking in with deep, inspirational reading and a cup of tea. This is what brings me ultimate joy.
So, what about you? What truly brings you joy and peace? Where do you hear the clearest guidance?
Which kind of yogi are you?