Jnana, Bhakti, Hatha, Karma, Kriya, Sidhha Yoga are one.
Our teacher Krishnamacharya described all the different yoga categories as belonging together as an integrated holistic approach to be adapted to the needs of each individual. He insisted that it was a wrong approach of Western thinking to split them apart as if they could be isolated from each other. For example, he would say: “There is no jnana yoga (understanding) without bhakti yoga (love devotion). There was no bhakti yoga without hatha yoga (whole body intimacy with life)."
From these spring forth the natural yogas such as karma yoga (service), kriya yoga (purification) or siddha yoga (powers). They are practiced in a seamless easeful way according to each individual. It is the teacher’s role to help a student identify what is right for them according to age, health, lifestyle and cultural background.
It is important to note that Krishnamacharya taught that hatha yoga was the principle means of bhakti and the practical way that the goals of bhakti, therefore jnana are obtained. Asana, which is hatha yoga, the non dual practice of direct intimacy with life he taught to be the first responsibility of a spiritual life because it is the sadhana (that which CAN be done to realize the ideals of faith.) It is whole body prayer to life from which all siddhis (powers of life) are spontaneously realized. Just like you cannot put your self to sleep willfully through effort (this only prevents sleep) you cannot attain the higher ideals of Yoga without this practical means of hath a yoga. It would be tantamount to trying to go to sleep without turning off the lights and laying down.
Hatha yoga is intimacy with all ordinary conditions, which spontaneously reveals and enables us to feel the source of all conditions. No matter what language of faith and devotion is used to express the beautiful ideals of “source or “God” or “absolute reality” hatha yoga is the universal means of them all. So when a person understands that their asana practice is the action of bhakti, it is meditation in action it gives them a lot of hope courage and fortitude amidst of the difficulties of life because it is tangible, something that can really be accomplished.
Daily practice brings rapid tangible results. The person begins to feel the “One Life,” “the source of all.” When one’s heart has been broken through loss of a loved one, however that occurs, the heart restores in this tangible love relationship to Life itself, that which beats the heart and moves the breath and all things. One is no longer dependent on the exclusive representation of love through that one person. Somehow the grief becomes manageable and understandable in the big picture of the comings and goings in life and death.
In the entire great tradition of human wisdom the universal method is the mutual affection between two real people, the teacher-student relationship. This is not a relationship of authority over another, it is not a parent child relationship. It is one of utter mutuality. The teacher is no more than a friend and no less than friend. In this friendship real bhakti arises, not manufactured feelings for an authority or public persona, trying to get somewhere, trying to get something that seems absent most of the time. The teacher has no interest but to empower the student, to give the tools that allows the student to stand in his or her own power. When this happens true devotion, very real life long gratitude arises between two people who are obviously standing in the same garden! the same reality.
Even in the sophisticated dharmas of Buddhism and Vedanta this very simple method, the mutual love between two real people, is the essential method of their dharma. It is no more or less than the real affection between friends and lovers in real life who are truly there and care for each other in the energy dynamics of giving to and receiving each other. This is what a daily asana practice hatha yoga inhale exhale as strength receiving empowers a person to feel in their every day life. It is the means that gives the siddhis (gifts or powers) of relationship and devotion, whether that be for one’s teacher or the rich depth of love and friendship in everyday life.
When I say “our” teacher when referring to Krishnamacharya I mean that he is essentially the source teacher to everyone who is involved in modern day yoga in that he is the “teacher of the teachers.” He is the teacher to Mr B. K. S. Iyengar and therefore all the Iyengar derivative styles. He is also the teacher to Mr K Patabhi Jois the founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa. So Krishnamacharya’s principles actually belong in all these systems that have been popularized. It makes the Yoga that you know and love entirely your own, efficient powerful and safe.
Finally, a quote from Krishnamacharya:
“Because everything is Ishvara, surrender to any object is surrender to the Ishvara.” That is, because everything is God, surrender to anything is surrender to God: A rock, a river, the ocean, the animal kingdom, plant kingdom, the moon, the sun, mother, father, spouse, teacher, friend, the floor boards or your own breath!