What Is Jnana Yoga?

When you mention yoga to someone in the west, most people first think of the physical practice and unusual poses. However, in the beginning, yoga was first and foremost a mental and spiritual practice.

With time, more and more styles and philosophies emerged, offering different ways to practice the mind and reach self-realization. Consequently, three main paths of yoga developed, allowing every person to find something they resonate with.

Jnana yoga is one of these paths and represents gaining greater awareness through wisdom and knowledge.

In this article, you will learn the basics of Jnana yoga, including how to practice it, its benefits, and more.

Jnana Yoga Definition

Jnana yoga isn’t a physical yoga style. Rather, it is one of the three traditional yogic paths or margas, which aim to help practitioners reach moksha, or spiritual liberation. Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge or wisdom. The two other paths are Karma yoga – the path of action, and Bhakti yoga – the path of devotion. Some also mention Raja yoga – or the path of meditation.

Jnana yoga is considered one of the most difficult paths, as it involves rigorous study of scriptures and the Self. Although it is the most challenging, it is also believed to be the most direct path to liberation.

Like with all traditional yoga styles, Jnana yoga practitioners generally learn under the guidance of a guru. A student begins his pursuit of knowledge by asking the core questions – who am I, what am I, where am I? They then search for insights into their true self through reading, contemplation, self-inquiry, and reflection.

This practice aims to inquire into one’s own mind and transcend false ego identifications. With consistent practice, the student liberates themselves from self-limiting thoughts and beliefs and learns the nature of the Self. Then, they can connect their true self (Atman) with the ultimate reality (Brahman). This goal can only be achieved through constant and steady mental practice and complete dedication to the Jnana yoga path.

Benefits of Jnana Yoga

Benefits of Jnana yoga may include:

  • The practice of controlling energy in the body and conscious breathing improves circulation. Consequently, this improves the function of all organs in the body.
  • Learning to still the mind reduces stress and anxiety, improves mood, and reduces the risk of physical ailments like heart disease.
  • The practice of Jnana mudra (touching the thumb and index finger) is a technique of acupressure that may reduce the risk of hormonal imbalances.
  • Consistent Jnana yoga practice improves focus, concentration, and creativity.
  • By focusing on self-realization, Jnana yoga may help you reach your full potential and achieve your goals, whether they are personal or career-oriented.

Jnana Yoga Poses

Jnana yoga doesn’t involve asanas like other yoga styles. Instead, it prescribes steps one must take to reach liberation.

These practices are called the Four Pillars of Knowledge, and they are:

  • Viveka (discrimination) – the practice of finding the difference between the real self and unreal self and the permanent and temporary world. Both cases involve learning to distinguish between consciousness and the physical or materialistic world.
  • Vairagya (dispassion) – once one understands the difference between real and unreal, they begin to cultivate non-attachment toward the material plane and worldly possessions. True knowledge can be acquired only when the student reaches complete freedom from attachments.
  • Shatsampat (six virtues) – six mental practices used to calm the mind and emotions. These are shama (calmness), dama (control), uparati (withdrawal), titiksha (endurance), shraddha (faith), and samadhana (focus).
  • Mumukshutva (longing) – a passionate desire to reach liberation from worldly attachments and suffering. The yogi completely commits to the Jnana path and has no other desires.

After reaching the final step, the student is taught more advanced practices of Jnana yoga, including Sravana (learning the concepts of Vedantic philosophy), Manana (learning the teachings of non-duality), and Nididhyasana (constant meditation to reach the absolute Truth).

How to Practice Jnana Yoga

Jnana yoga is a difficult path, and it is nearly impossible to comprehend the approach without a teacher’s guidance. At one point or another, it would be necessary to find a guru to guide you through all the methods, but there are ways to prepare on your own.

First, it is important to cultivate humility and compassion. No matter how far you have come, always be open to learning and realizing more. This is only possible if you practice the Four Pillars of Knowledge described above. These pillars help you discern between the ego and the true self and help you find stability and steadiness in the mind.

Jnana yoga will be much easier if you have practiced other types of yoga before, such as Hatha yoga, Karma, and Bhakti yoga. These practices will help purify and heal your mind, body, and heart, so you will be better prepared to face all the rigors of the Jnana yoga path.

If you decide to practice the Four Pillars of Knowledge on your own, make sure you take the necessary time in one pillar before advancing to the next and have patience. Being true and realistic towards yourself is crucial if you want to progress properly, especially if you don’t have access to a teacher.

After you have successfully practiced the four pillars for some time, you can begin to learn the three core practices of Jnana yoga.

  • The first of these practices is Sravana, which includes reading and experiencing the Upanishadic texts. You should learn them intellectually and gain a deeper understanding of the philosophy of non-dualism and the idea of the Self (Atman) and the universal reality (Brahman).
  • Next comes Manana, or reflecting on these teachings. This practice involves thinking and meditating on the ideas from the Upanishads.
  • Finally, the third core practice is Nididhyasana, which involves consistent meditation on the inner Self and reaching a union of thinking and action.

All core practices require you to continuously distinguish between what is real and permanent and what is unreal and temporary. One must detach themselves from the ego and worldly possessions. Only when we can completely free ourselves of these materialistic objects can we gain the true wisdom of Jnana yoga.

To sum up, begin with physical yoga practice – Hatha yoga – to rid yourself of physical discomfort and to gain the ability to sit for long hours in contemplation. Then try grasping the basic concepts of Karma and Bhakti yoga to open your mind and heart for further self-study. Only then, begin your Jnana yoga path, try to learn from and understand the scriptures, distinguish real from unreal, and finally overcome all that is temporary and doesn’t serve you.

Whenever you are able, seek counsel from a senior Jnana yoga teacher. If there is no teacher near you, there are also online learning opportunities, which can be just as helpful on your path. Having support from a teacher will help you get a deeper insight into your current stage. You may also ask for guidance and advice on what to research and practice next.

Meanwhile, you can begin with free resources on YouTube – we will share some introductory lessons in the next section to help get you started.

Start Jnana Yoga at Home

Check out these follow-along videos if you can’t make it to a Jnana Yoga studio or want to try it out at home.

What is Jnana Yoga? – Simplest Explanation

Jnana Yoga – Class #1: “The First Step Towards Jnana” by Swami Vivekananda

Jnana Yoga: The Path of Wisdom

Jnana Yoga FAQs

What is Jnana Yoga in Bhagavad Gita?

Bhagavad Gita states that there is nothing in the world as pure as knowledge and considers Jnana yoga to be one of the three possible paths to liberation and self-realization. Jnana yoga represents knowledge and wisdom and is intended for those who prefer growing through philosophical and intellectual inquiry.

Where is Jnana Yoga From?

Jnana yoga was first mentioned in Bhagavad Gita, where it is described as an intellectual, experiential, and meditative approach to liberation. Adi Shankaracharya, an Indian philosopher who also consolidated the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, helped popularize and systematize this path around 700 CE. He combined the knowledge of Jnana yoga from Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads with the concept of non-duality of the Advaita Vedanta doctrine.

Important: Check with your doctor before trying Jnana Yoga for the first time if you have any injury, illness, pain, or you are pregnant.

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