Jnana, bhakti and karma yoga are the three non-physical yogas. They do not involve the practice of postures or breathing techniques, and they do not involve meditative concentration. They are based on the principle of awareness and management of the human faculties, trying to improve these faculties and making them more creative. It is the integration of the faculties of head, heart and hands, and it becomes part of the transformative process that we experience in our lives. They are the most important yogas.
It is not necessary to practise hatha yoga and raja yoga in order to become a better human being, but it is necessary to practise these three yogas to become a creative human being. The other yogas simply help the process of these three yogas. Postures keep the body fit and healthy, breathing techniques vitalize the personality, and the cleansing techniques detoxify the body and personality. They are aids to the perfection of the three yogas.
Of all the yogas, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga and karma yoga are more mental than physical. We know of hatha yoga as a series of physical practices. We know that raja yoga involves a series of practices to understand one’s personality. We know of kriya yoga as a series of techniques that can awaken the dormant potential in each person and we know that kundalini yoga is a group of practices that can awaken the primal energy. It is difficult to develop a concept of jnana yoga, bhakti yoga or karma yoga because they are non-physical and do not involve a group of practices like asana and pranayama. However, these three yogas deal more deeply with the awakening of the human personality.
As human beings we need to integrate and utilize properly the qualities of head, heart and hands. These three yogas deal with our head, our heart and our hands. The head represents the human intellect, the faculty of knowing, observing, analysing and thinking. The heart represents human sentiments and feelings. The hands represent the ability to perform an action and to interact with the environment and with life. There are two dimensions of yoga: one is physical and the other is mental. In the physical aspect of yoga, there are physical practices: postures, breathing techniques and cleansing techniques, including certain forms of meditation.
In the mental or non-physical aspect of yoga, there are techniques of awareness which give us a deeper insight into our personality, our nature and our behaviour. The human intellect has a nature, a recognizable pattern. We think in a certain way, we believe in a certain way and we observe and analyse in a set way.
Our intellect is subject to the conditioning of society, culture, religion and lifestyle. Society decides how our head is going to act; our culture decides how our intellect is going to function; and our religious beliefs decide what we are going to accept as true intellectually. All these represent impressions in the mind at the level of intellect. They are also known as conditioning. We are conditioned by society, by our lifestyle, by our culture and by our environment. Our intellect is a process of expressing this conditioning.