Raja yoga is more popularly recognized as Ashtanga yoga, or the “eightfold route” leading to spiritual deliverance. Ancient texts in Sanskrit define Raja yoga as the primary aim of yoga practice, instead of the accompanying physical and mental exercises. This indicates that it is called the condition of calm and contentment that comes with the teaching and contemplation in ongoing yoga.
The following are the 8 stages of Raja Yoga:
- Yamas (self-control or restraints) – ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness) asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
- Niyamas (discipline or observance) – saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (self-discipline), svadhyaya (self-study), ishvarapranidhana (devotion or surrender).
- Asana (physical poses or exercise)
- Pranayama (controlled breathing exercise)
- Pratyahara (sense withdrawal from external objects)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (complete realization or super consciousness)
It is necessary for each yogi to understand the various types of yoga in order to choose the right direction in the fullest possible knowledge of where it will eventually lead. Raja Yoga is known as the “royal route” to achieve yoga status or harmony of mind-body-spirit. Raja Yoga is very widely respected for attaining liberation through conscious mind awareness and mastering.
To achieve that exquisite condition of perception in which he can perceive all the distinct mental states, the Yogi suggests going through a series of exercises. All of these must be perceived mentally by the individual. There are several ways to see how the sensation travels, how it is received by the mind, how it travels to the determinative faculty, and how the determinative faculty transmits it to the Purusha.
Each discipline, like Raja-Yoga, has certain preparations as well as a procedure that must be followed in order to be comprehended. This is also true for other sciences, such as mathematics.
Raja-Yoga promises to begin with the internal world, to understand interior nature, and to manage the whole both internally and externally through this method of starting from inside. It is a very ancient effort at a solution. As taught by the Raja-Yogi, the exterior world is just a vulgar representation of the interior or subtle world. The more the fineness of the cause, the greater the magnitude of the consequence.
As a result, the outward world is the outcome, while the inside world is the cause. In the same manner, exterior forces are just the larger components of a whole, whereas internal forces are the smaller elements of that whole. Eventually, the individual who has found and mastered how to manage internal forces will be able to exert control over the whole natural world.
The Yogi assigns himself no less a mission than that of mastering the whole cosmos and exerting complete mastery over all of nature. He aspires to reach a point where what we refer to as ‘nature’s rules’ will have no effect on him, and where he will be able to transcend them all. He will have complete control over nature, both within and outside. Controlling nature is all that is required for the development and civilization of the human race.
This technique allows Raja Yoga an incredibly complex and demanding exercise to participate in. Hatha Yoga, what we generally recognize in the West as pure “yoga” is a much simpler course.
The aim of Hatha Yoga is to regulate the body and breathe into the still prana (energy), which in effect quenches the mind. While Hatha Yoga was established as training for Raja Yoga, it can be performed at the same time.
Raja Yoga is also referred to as “classical yoga,” because it was the first meditation method to be formally converted into a cohesive activity. During the second century CE, the sage Patanjali recorded the art of Raja Yoga in his famous Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras split down the yogic mediation activity into eight limbs or sub practices.
The first four limbs are regarded as the external limbs and should be exercised concurrently. Some of these limbs have the same titles as activities of Hatha Yoga, but they are not the same, and should not be mistaken. The last four limbs are called the inner arms, which are performed sequentially.
The base of Raja Yoga is the Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama outer limbs of Patanjali. The ideals of correct behavior and lifestyle, the dos and don’ts of meditation, are Yama and Niyama. Yama, reverence for all, requires nonviolence, reality, integrity, tolerance, and caution. Positive self-action Niyama requires honesty, happiness, commitment, self-study, and dedication. Asana in Raja Yoga isn’t the same Asana we practice in yoga college.
Patanjali clearly instructs one to find a seated posture that is relaxed and secure. The same misunderstanding remains with the direction of Patanjali at Pranayama. Patanjali simply instructs the Raja yogi to track and slow down the movement to the extent that the inhalation and the exhalation can not be separated.
Much later the various yoga postures and relaxation techniques were established as part of the Hatha Yoga method of controlling the body to hold the mind calm.
When you get a relaxed sitting posture and a steady deep breath, then you continue to practice the inner limbs: Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Pratyahara is the turning of the mind’s attention away from the outer senses into the body’s inner sensations.
As the mind draws in, the next branch, Dharana, is used to concentrate the attention on one thing, normally the air. The activity is difficult here, holding the mind centered and removing the connection to thoughts.
When one has the opportunity to focus the mind on one particular item to the extent of being completely immersed in it, one has progressed onto the next Dhyana branch, contemplation. In Dhyana, as the mind becomes consumed, the impulses stop and the mind becomes silent. Dhyana’s daily meditation progresses to the final extremity, Samadhi.
Enlightenment, happiness, and joy are both terms used to characterize this last limb in which one sees true consciousness mirrored in the mind’s still top. There the object, the topic, and the awareness of all dissolve into a sense of oneness.
The first five rungs or steps — yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and pratyahara — include the outer phase of hatha yoga, which is the training for the final three internal phases of raja yoga. The yamas and niyamas reflect ten mindset and behavioral contributions. One collection of these disciplines (niyamas) is intended to improve the identity of humans and the other (yamas) is meant to direct our relationships and experiences with other living beings.
Yoga is, therefore, education for internal as well as external development. Nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sensual moderation, and non-possessiveness are the five Yamas, or restrictions. Our research results in behavioral and mental shifts, in which unpleasant emotions are substituted with optimistic ones.
The five niyamas, or observances, are cleanliness (both outward and internal), contentment, activities that carry body and senses to maturity, scriptural analysis, and surrender to absolute truth. The niyamas contribute to our behavior being regulated and consequently are highly positive influences in personality growth.
We should not be intimidated at the start by the difficulty of these first two moves. Of eg, long before we have learned to truly cultivate the characteristic of non-violence, as a consequence of attempting to exercise this yama, we can find growing harmony in our lives and meditation.
On the ladder, the third rung is asana (physical postures). Typically, in the western world when hatha yoga is practiced, only asanas and other relaxation techniques are practiced, and the yamas and niyamas are neglected. Therefore hatha yoga has been shallow, stressing often just outward appearance or ability and power in postures.
Clearly, asanas and relaxation techniques promote physical wellbeing and unity, but only when our brains are drained of volatile feelings will we reach a mental state of calmness, imagination, and healing.
There are currently two styles of asanas: meditative postures (sitting postures) and postures that guarantee physical health. A relaxed attitude in meditation allows one to build a serene atmosphere and a peaceful mind. This will be secure and healthy, ensuring sure the head, spine, and trunk are erect and straight.
If the body becomes irritated it agitates and distracts the subconscious. The second style of postures is learned to improve the body, keeping it limber and disease-free. These poses activate different nerves and muscles which have very beneficial results.
Pranayama is the fourth phase in raja yoga. Prana is the fundamental energy that sustains the mind and body. Air is the grossest form of prana, and pranayama is often considered the “study of air.” Exercises in pranayama contribute to calmness and relaxation.
The fifth stage is pratyahara, or means removal and power. When we’re alive, the mind interacts with the real world’s activities, perceptions, and artifacts through the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and scent. Via these senses, the subconscious continually collects and responds to stimuli from the natural universe.
To reach inner peace the yoga student would need to cultivate the courage to willingly eliminate the outside world’s disruptions. This phase is not a visible one. It is the unconscious, voluntary method of letting go of our interaction with outer sensations.
Meet Krishnaprasath Krishnamoorthy, a Yoga, Vedanta, and Hindu spiritual aspirant with a passion for sharing the ancient wisdom and practices of Sanatana Dharma with others. With 20 years of experience on the spiritual path, Krishnaprasath Krishnamoorthy has a deep understanding of the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of Yoga, Vedanta, and Astrology.