Yoga comes from the Sanskrit verb yui, which means to yoke or unite. It is a union of the individual consciousness with the Infinite consciousness (Fisher, 89). The goal is to unite oneself with God and the practice of yoga is one of the paths that are taken to accomplish that goal. There are four main paths of yoga: Raja is the path of physical and mental control. Karma is the path of action. Bhakti is the path of devotion, and Jnana is the path of knowledge or wisdom (Roberts).
Raja yoga is often referred to the royal path of meditation. The Hindus are more familiar with this type of yoga because it was popularized in the West (Fisher, 89). The belief of raja yoga is that the perception of the divine Self is obscured by the disturbances of the mind. They believe that if the mind can be made still and pure, then the Self will automatically and instantaneously shine forth.
The central teaching of raja yoga is meditation. Absolute mental control is achieved through meditation, concentration, and breathing. They believe that when the mind is not restless, they are closer to self-awareness. The physical side of yoga is known as Hatha. It teaches control of the body through postures, control of breathing, and relaxation (Roberts).
Karma yoga is known as the path of action. It is also known as the path of dedicated work. Since karma is both action and the result of action, whether good or bad, the practice of karma yoga achieves union with God through the right action and selfless service (Roberts). Those who follow the karma path act without thought of reward or gain.
Those who practice bhakti yoga, follow a path of love and devotion. This path is most popular among the Indian followers of Sanatana Dharma (Fisher, 92). The bhakta follower attains God-realization-oneness with the Divine through the force of love, which is the most powerful emotion that one could have. The path of bhakta yoga involves surrendering oneself to the Divine through prayer, worship, and ritual since bhakta means to serve the Divine (Roberts).
The last path is jnana yoga and is also known as the yoga of knowledge, and is considered the most difficult path to follow. Where the other paths follow the promptings of the heart, the jnani uses the powers of the mind to discriminate between the real and the unreal. Their goal is to discover knowledge hidden deep inside through questioning, meditation, and contemplation (Roberts). According to Roberts, a person should have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths because without selflessness, love of God, and the strength of body and mind, the search for self-realization is nothing more than an exercise in philosophy.