What is the difference between jnana and karma yoga?

By Aimee Hughes | Published: November 15, 2019

Chances are, you’ve heard the term karma, but maybe not Jnana. These essential branches of the tree that is yoga are often overlooked because so much emphasis in our modern yoga culture is on the physical branch of yoga, known as hatha yoga. Let’s take a brief look at Jnana and karma yoga, and the way they vary from one another.

Karma yoga can best be translated as the yoga of action. But it’s more than just action. It’s action without attachment to outcome. Easier said than done but it’s one of yoga’s greatest wisdom teachings. Karma yoga is done selflessly, in the act of service, or Seva, in Sanskrit.

Our actions are not those of egoic intentions. Rather, they come from a deeper place of existence, our higher self, the one that isn’t swayed by external situations. To practice karma yoga, ask your heart, how can I do the work I’m meant to do in the world without being tied to external gratification? While this is easier said than done at times, there will be times when it comes naturally!

Read: A Call to Action: Karma Yoga's Origins and How to Practice

Jnana yoga is different from karma yoga in that it’s the branch of yoga associated with knowledge and wisdom. When we practice jnana yoga, we practice svadhyaya, or self-study. We meditate on the question, who am I? We seek to know our true nature, through various yoga, meditation, and pranayama techniques.

We also study the ancient texts of the yogis, which are filled with timeless and universal wisdom teachings. This branch of yoga is often believed to be the most challenging one. The reason being that this branch requires the willpower, focus, and strength of the mind, which is constantly being distracted and even sabotaged by our egos.

Read: Know More About Jnana Yoga: The Path of Wisdom

Both forms of yoga—jnana and karma—require patience, as well as self-compassion. It’s not easy to live a life of virtue—not with all the distractions of the modern age. But, it can be done! And simply by reading this, you’re well on your way to doing it!


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Written by Aimee Hughes

Aimee Hughes

Aimee is a yogi and writer who's been practicing yoga daily for more than 21 years. Since a journey to India when she was 20, the practice has been her constant companion. She loves exploring the vast and seemingly endless worlds of yoga. Aimee has also written a book titled, "The Sexy Vegan Kitchen: Culinary Adventures in Love & Sex." You can find her at her new site:

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