I regularly mention the various paths here and realized I’d not covered this here.
There are as many paths to Oneness as there are people. People exist to experience Self or source in different ways, so each has a unique journey.
But there are basic common means used and techniques developed for that journey. [Edited] Each of us has a dominant tendency. Many in the west for example are strong karma yogis. But each of us needs a little heart, a little understanding, a little body. Mind, heart and body all together gets us through the door.
In India, the standard paths or Yogas (yoga means union) are:
1 – Hatha yoga is the path of the body, what people often call “yoga” in the west. Yoga asanas or postures, breath work and similar practices are used.
2 – Karma yoga is the path of action and perception, of doing and experiencing. Many in the west are on this journey, refining consciousness by the act of living life and performing correct action.
3 – Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion, the heart or faith. This is the journey through feelings and love, through a relationship with the divine and prayer.
4 – Gyan or jnana yoga is the path of the intellect, the path of discrimination. Because of the close focus required, such people may tend to become monks but few in the west have this pure a calling.
There are also other more specialized yogas like Laya, the path of the warrior.
Meditation is a practice common to all of the above. A connection to source benefits all journeys.
Raja yoga is the royal yoga, a blend of the above. It combines elements of the Yoga and Samkhya schools. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, he outlines eight limbs (astanga) of Raja in sutra (verse) 2.29:
(note – these are not steps but limbs – to be done together)
1. Yama (restraints) detailed in verses 2.30 & 2.35-39:
non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing/honesty, moderation (brahmacharya), non-covetousness
2. Niyama (observances) detailed in verses 2.32 & 2.40-45:
purity, contentment, tapas (warming, purifying actions), study and mantra, absorption in Ishwara (Supreme Being)
3. Asana (posture, see Hatha above)
4. Pranayama (regulation of breath, breathing exercises)
5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal of mind onto internal practice)
6. Dharana (effortless focus of attention)
7. Dhyana (meditation – continuous attention, silence of the mind)
8. Samadhi (transcendent, via surrender)
In some traditions, a practice consists of asanas, then pranayama, then a meditation that blends 5, 6, & 7, leading to 8. Correct action and a complete practice thus cover all limbs.
Note how they are interactive. Through connection with source, contentment dawns naturally. Through moderation, meditation is better. Through practice we purify. And so on.
A number of people also consider Patanjali’s description of the experience of correct meditation – focus (Dhyana) – to indicate that concentration is necessary in meditation. Or that Dhyana is contemplation. However, concentration and contemplation both hold the mind in itself. They only lead to samadhi if the mind is exhausted by the practice. Adyashanti found great focus was necessary for his journey due to his very active nature but doesn’t recommend it for most. An effortless meditation allows the mind to transcend itself.
Finally, it’s useful to understand that at different points on the journey, different yogas become more important. Perceptions of Karma yoga are necessary for awakening. God realization is a heart centered journey. And Unity is in the end an intellectual realization. Thus, all aspects are part of our journey.
The key thing to remember is that it’s about the journey, not the result. It’s about what is happening now, not where and when we might arrive. As long as arrival is in the future, it will stay there. We can only awake now.