One of the four main branches of yoga, Jnana Yoga is all about knowledge, wisdom, and intellect. However, instead of focussing on the exterior use of these aspects, Jnana concentrates on self-realisation. For this reason, the style is often considered the most challenging branch of the holistic therapy. Requiring a huge amount of patience, strength, and will, the process uses reflection and self-questioning to help practitioners connect with their inner-self. Jnana Yoga focuses on spiritual energy rather than asanas; however, the style can be practiced alongside your physical yoga routine on a comfortable yoga mat. In this article, we explore Jnana Yoga in more detail.
One of the earliest branches of yoga practice, Jnana dates back to the Vedic age. The style was first explained in the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, the ancient Sanskrit texts. In these scriptures, the style is suggested to unite practitioners with the ‘Ultimate Energy’. In the Bhagavad Gita, Jnana is mentioned as a path to self-realisation. The passage explains that Jnana can be challenging because it has to deal with a formless reality; with this in mind, the style requires a high level of intellect to be practised correctly.
Jnana Yoga rose in popularity after Adi Shankara, a respected Advaita philosopher, preached the importance of the style. Today, the style remains similar to how it was originally practised. However, there are a few minor adaptions to the techniques.
When practising Jnana yoga, yogis are encouraged to ask themselves a series of questions. Typically, these questions will involve thinking about who and what they are. Practitioners will usually study Jnana with an experienced instructor, or ‘guru’ as they are sometimes referred to. During this time, the students meditate and reflect upon their thoughts in a bid to unite their inner-being with the Divine. Each class is based on the Four Pillars of Knowledge and the Seven Stages of Wisdom, which we discuss in more detail below.
To achieve liberation from your thoughts, Jnana yoga uses something called the ‘Four Pillars of Knowledge’. In traditional Sanskrit, these steps are called ‘Sadhana Chatushtaya’. The Pillars are practised in a certain order to allow each one to lead you to the next.
The first Pillar is Viveka. To practice this step, students must use their conscious mind to distinguish the real from the unreal and the permanent from the temporary.
Vairagya is the second pillar. In this step, practitioners must detach themselves from physical possessions. As possessions are classed as temporary objects, detaching oneself from them will help practitioners to achieve liberation. Vairagya also teaches practitioners to see things for what they are.
The third pillar, Shadsampati, uses 6 different methods to stabilise the mind and emotions. Each one these methods helps practitioners train their mind to see the world for what it really is.
The last Pillar of Knowledge is Mumukshutva. This step is best described as committing yourself completely to self-realisation. To achieve this, you must have the opinion that nothing else matters.
Once the Four Pillars of Knowledge have been achieved, practitioners can move onto the ‘Seven Stages of Wisdom’. During this process, yogis must overcome various challenges to become one with the ultimate truth.
The first stage of wisdom is Subheccha. During this stage, yogis must become passionate about uncovering the truth. To do this, they are encouraged to study a series of scriptures under the guidance of an instructor.
Vicharana is the second stage of wisdom. Once practitioners have learnt the truth, they must spend time questioning it. By doing this, yogis will discover what the knowledge truly means.
The third stage of wisdom is Tanumanasi. By this stage, practitioners should have learnt all the necessary knowledge. Tanumanasi encourages yogis to focus on their soul without letting external sources distract them.
Sattvapatti is the fourth stage of wisdom. Here, practitioners use deep focus to purify their mind. At this stage, the path to realisation becomes clearer as desire begins to leave your mind. During Sattvapatti, the mind should be able to see the truth clearly.
The fifth stage of wisdom, Asamsakti, teaches yogis to become detached and selfless. At this stage, your surroundings no longer affect you as you begin to move past the illusions of the world.
Padartha Bhavana is the sixth stage of wisdom. During this stage, practitioners start to see things for what they truly are. Padartha Bhavana teaches yogis that the soul is the only thing that matters.
The final stage of wisdom is Turiya. Here, practitioners can unite with the supreme energy.
Whether you’re already an avid yogi or you’re hoping to start a new routine, Jnana Yoga can be practised regularly for a happier and healthier lifestyle. While the style focusses on spiritual energy rather than physical postures, Jnana can still be practised alongside your yoga routine. When doing this, the most important thing is to be comfortable. Flexible yoga clothes will ensure your movement is not limited as you concentrate on both physical movement and connecting with your inner-thoughts.