Raja yoga

Raja yoga is a yogic practice which leads the Sadhakas to the most immortal Spiritual realm. It is so-called because it is primarily concerned with the mind. The mind is traditionally conceived as the “king” of the psycho-physical structure which does its bidding (whether or not one has realized this). Because of the relationship between the mind and the body, the body must be first “tamed” through self-discipline and purified by various means (see Hatha Yoga). A good level of overall health and psychological integration must be attained before the deeper aspects of yoga can be pursued. Humans have all sorts of addictions and obsessions and these preclude the attainment of tranquil abiding (meditation). Through restraint (yama) such as celibacy, abstaining from intoxicants, and careful attention to one’s actions of body, speech and mind, the human being becomes fit to practice meditation. This yoke that one puts upon oneself (discipline) is another meaning of the word yoga. All spiritual practices or Sadhanas finally reach to Raja yoga which is known as Atma darsan or God vision.

Every thought, feeling, perception, or memory you may have causes a modification, or ripple, in the mind. It distorts and colors the mental mirror. If you can restrain the mind from forming into modifications, there will be no distortion, and you will experience your true Self. – Swami Satchidananda

Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras begin with the statement yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (1.2), “Yoga limits the oscillations of the mind”. They go on to detail the ways in which mind can create false ideations, and advocate meditation on real objects. This process, it is said, will lead to a spontaneous state of quiet mind, the “Nirbija” or “seedless state”, in which there is no mental object of focus.

Practices that serve to maintain for the individual the ability to access this state may be considered Raja Yoga practices. Thus Raja Yoga encompasses and differentiates itself from other forms of Yoga by encouraging the mind to avoid the sort of absorption in obsessional practice (including other traditional yogic practices) that can create false mental objects.

In this sense Raja Yoga is called the “king among yogas”: all yogic practices are seen as potential tools for obtaining the seedless state, itself considered to be the starting point in the quest to cleanse Karma and obtain Moksha or Nirvana. Historically, schools of yoga that label themselves “Raja” offer students a mix of yogic practices and (hopefully or ideally) this philosophical viewpoint.

Lord Krishna describes the yogi as follows: “A yogi is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist, and greater than the worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances be a yogi” (Bg. 6.46).

Practice

Raja Yoga aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications. While a Hatha Yogi starts his Sadhana, or spiritual practice, with Asanas (postures) and Pranayama, a Raja Yogi starts his Sadhana with the mind as well as a certain minimum of asanas and pranayamas usually included as a preparation for the meditation and concentration. In Samadhi Pada I,27 it is stated that the word of Ishvara is OM, the Pranava. Through the sounding of the Word and through reflection upon its meaning, the Way is found.

In the Jangama dhyana technique of Raja Yoga, the yogi concentrates the mind and sight between the eyebrows. According to Patanjali, this is one method of achieving the initial concentration (dharana: Yoga Sutras, III: 1) necessary for the mind to go introverted in meditation (dhyana: Yoga Sutras, III: 2). In deeper practice of the Jangama dhyana technique, the mind concentrated between the eyebrows begins to automatically lose all location and focus on the watching itself. Eventually, the meditator experiences only the consciousness of existence and achieves Self Realization. In his classic Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda describes the process in the following way:

When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point. This state is called dhyana. When one has so intensified the power of dhyana as to be able to reject the external part of perception and remain meditating only on the internal part, the meaning, that state is called Samadhi.[3]

Eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are:

* Yama – code of conduct, self-restraint
* Niyama – religious observances, commitments to practice, such as study and devotion
* Āsana – integration of mind and body through physical activity
* Pranayama – regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
* Pratyahara – abstraction of the senses, withdrawal of the senses of perception from their objects
* Dharana – concentration, one-pointedness of mind
* Dhyana – meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)
* Samādhi – the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious(?) state. Attained when yogi constantly sees Paramatma in his (jivaatma) heart.

They are sometimes divided into the lower and the upper four limbs, the lower ones—from yama to pranayama—being parallel to the lower limbs of Hatha Yoga, while the upper ones—from pratyahara to samadhi—being specific for the Raja yoga. The upper three limbs practiced simultaneously constitute the Samyama.

Yama

Yama (restraints) consists of five parts: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (sexual abstinence unless intentionally procreating. Brahma: “That which contains an inexhaustible potential of creativity” Carya: ” The way of living” – The way of living in Brahma’s perception), and Aparigraha (non-covetousness). Ahimsa is perfect harmlessness, as well as positive love. The five directives of Yama lay down behavioral norms as prerequisites for elimination of fear, and contribute to a tranquil mind.[4]

Niyama

Niyama is observance of five canons: Shaucha (internal and external purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of religious books and repetitions of Mantras), and Ishvarapranidhana (self-surrender to God, and His worship). Niyama, unlike Yama, prescribes mental exercises to train the mind to control emotions.

Asana

Asana in the sense of a posture that one can hold for a period of time, staying relaxed and with normal (calm) breathing (or, as some sources say, “without effort”).

In Sanskrit, Asana means literally “seat”, the place where one sits; or posture, position of the body (any position). Asanas (in the sense of Yoga “posture”) are said to derive from the various positions of animals’ bodies (whence are derived most of the names of the positions). 84 asanas are considered to be the main postures, of which the highest are Shirshasan (headstand) and Padmasan (lotus).

The practice of Asanas affects the following aspects or planes of the human being:

* physical (blood circulation, inner organs, glands, muscles, joints and nerve system)
* psychological (developing emotional balance and stability, harmony)
* mental (improved ability to concentrate, memory)
* consciousness (purifying and clarifying consciousness/awareness)

From the Raja Yoga perspective, it is considered that the physical postures and pranayama serve to prepare the body and mind for the following steps: Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi (withdrawal of the senses, contemplation, meditation, and state of expanded or transcendental consciousness, where the activity of the mind ceases and “The Knower and The Object of Knowledge Become One”).

Pranayama

Pranayama is made out of two Sanskrit words (prana = life energy; yama = control or modification). Breathing is the medium used to achieve this goal. The mind and life force are correlated to the breath. Through regulating the breathing and practicing awareness on it, one learns to control prana.

According to Raja Yoga, there are three main types of pranayama:

* purak (inhalation)
* rechak (exhalation)
* kumbhak (holding the breath); which is further divided into:

* antara kumbhak (withholding the breath after inhalation)
* bahar kumbhak (withholding the breath after exhalation)
* keval kumbhak (spontaneous withholding of the breath)

There are numerous techniques of Pranayama, each with their specific goals. The main techniques are:

* surya bhedan
* chandra bhedan
* nadi shodhan (anuloma viloma)
* bhastrika
* kapalabhati
* ujjaji
* plavini (bhujangini)
* bhramari
* sheetkari
* sheetali
* combination of sheetkari and sheetali
* murcha

All pranayama practice ultimately works toward purification of the nadis (energy channels) and the awakening of kundalini shakti at the muladhara chakra. The awakening of kundalini energy (also described as the awakening of divine consciousness or wisdom), and its ascent to the crown chakra is the final goal of Raja Yoga.

Pratyahara

Pratyahara is bringing the awareness to reside deep within oneself, free from the senses and external world. The Goal of Pratyahara is not to disrupt the communication from the sense organ to the brain. The awareness is far removed from the five senses. Pratyahara cannot be achieved without achievement of the preceding limbs (pranayama, niyama, etc.). The awareness comes to rest deep in the inner space, and during this time the yogi’s breath will be temporarily suspended. Pratyahara should not just be likened to concentration or meditation, etc. It is a yogic practice that takes on adequacy with the prior 8 limbs as prerequisites.

Dharana

Real Yoga starts from concentration. Concentration merges into meditation. Meditation ends in Samadhi. Retention of breath, Brahmacharya, Satvic (pure) food, seclusion, silence, Satsanga (being in the company of a guru), and not mixing much with people are all aids to concentration. Concentration on Trikuti (the space between the two eyebrows) with closed eyes is preferred. The mind can thus be easily controlled, as this is the seat for the mind.[clarification needed][citation needed]

Dhyana

“Sleep, tossing of mind, attachment to objects, subtle desires and cravings, laziness, lack of Brahmacharya, gluttony are all obstacles in meditation. Reduce your wants. Cultivate dispassion. You will have progress in Yoga. Vairagya thins out the mind. Do not mix much. Do not talk much. Do not eat much. Do not sleep much. Do not exert much. Never wrestle with the mind during meditation. Do not use any violent efforts at concentration. If evil thoughts enter your mind, do not use your will force in driving them. You will tax your will. You will lose your energy. You will fatigue yourself. The greater the efforts you make, the more the evil thoughts will return with redoubled force. Be indifferent. Become a witness of those thoughts. They will pass away. Never miss a day in meditation. Regularity is of paramount importance. When the mind is tired, do not concentrate. Do not take heavy food at night.

The mind passes into many conditions or states as it is made up of three qualities: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Kshipta (wandering), Vikshipta (gathering), Mudha (ignorant), Ekagra (one-pointed), and Nirodha (contrary) are the five states of the mind.

By controlling the thoughts the Sadhaka attains great Siddhis. He becomes adept. He attains Asamprajnata Samadhi or Kaivalya. Do not run after Siddhis. Siddhis are great temptations. They will bring about your downfall. A Raja Yogi practices Samyama or the combined practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi at one and the same time.

Control the mind by Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (dispassion). Any practice that steadies the mind and makes it one-pointed is Abhyasa. Dull Vairagya will not help you in attaining perfection in Yoga. You must have Para Vairagya or Theevra Vairagya, intense dispassion.” — Swami Sivananda from Amrita Gita

Samadhi

Meditation on OM with Bhava removes obstacles in Sadhana and helps to attain Samadhi. Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga-Dvesha (likes and dislikes), Abhinivesha (clinging to mundane life) are the five Kleshas or afflictions. Destroy these afflictions. You will attain Samadhi.

Samadhi is of two kinds:

* Savikalpa, Samprajnata or Sabija; and
* Nirvikalpa, Asamprajnata or Nirbija.

In Savikalpa or Sabija, there is Triputi or the triad (knower, known and knowledge). The sanskaras are not burnt or freed. Savitarka, Nirvitarka, Savichara, Nirvichara, Sasmita and Saananda are the different forms of Savikalpa Samadhi. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Nirbija Samadhi or Asamprajnata Samadhi there is no triad.