Ways of living – the four margas


Yoga is an important practice that helps Hindus to gain unity with Brahman. Different Hindu communities follow different paths, but they are all seen as part of Sanatana Dharma, or the Eternal Way. Sanatana Dharma shows Hindus a ‘way’ or path through life and duty.

These paths are also called margas, and they are reflected in four different kinds of yoga. Each type of yoga requires different qualities or skills. Hindus work at yoga over many years in order to be able to do it successfully. Hindus believe that through yoga, they can reach God either as a personal God (called Bhagavan) or as the God within (called antaryami).

Hindus choose the different types of yoga they practise depending on the stage they are at in their life:

Type of yogaExplanation
Jnana yogaThe path of wisdom. Jnana yoga is a disciplined type of yoga that is done by Hindus who have given up worldly possessions and want to focus on trying to be in unity with God. They try to connect themselves and the world with Brahman. People who practise jnana yoga study Hindu scriptures to understand Brahman in more depth.
Astanga yoga (also called Raja yoga)Eight-limbed yoga, or royal yoga. Astanga yoga enables a person to achieve physical control of, for example, their posture, breath, senses and concentration. By doing this, they can find purer and higher states of consciousness of Ultimate Reality and appreciate spiritual reality for themselves.
Karma yogaThe path of good actions. Karma yoga is about focusing on doing good things and helping others. The purpose is to try to focus on the spiritual aspects of life rather than material objects. Hindus believe that doing good things will gain them good karma and therefore help towards achieving moksha.
Bhakti yogaThe path of devotion. Bhakti yoga is about expressing love and devotion in worship. This might be done through prayer to images of gods and goddesses in a mandir or home shrine. The spiritual practice of devotion gathers good karma and leads to liberation and unity with Ultimate Reality (Brahman).

The practice of yoga is linked to Hindus’ aims of gathering good karma and achieving liberation (moksha) from the cycle of rebirth (samsara).


Which kind of yoga seeks liberation through worship of and devotion to the gods and goddesses?

Bhakti yoga.