Raja yoga was first described as an eightfold or eight-limbed (a?anga, ashtanga) path in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali|Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, and is part of the Samkhya tradition.* As a result, it has also been known as Sesvara Samkhya, and Patanjali Samkhya.*In the context of Hindu philosophy Raja Yoga is known simply as yoga and forms an integral part of the spiritual practices of many Hindu traditions. The term Raja Yoga is a retronym, introduced in the 19th-century by Swami Vivekananda. The prior use of the term Raja Yoga in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika refers to the highest form of Yoga, Laya yoga, described in this text. The HYP is a text of the Nath|Natha Sampradaya and is not concernend with the Yoga taught in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
ConceptRaja yoga is concerned with the mind (citta) and its fluctuations (vritti|v?ttis, vortexes, variations) and how to quiet or master the mind's fluctuations. 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 (niyama) of body, speech and mind, the human being becomes more fit to practice meditation. This yoke that one puts upon oneself (discipline) is another meaning of the word yoga.
Raja yoga is traditionally referred to as (eight-limbed) yoga because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend.*
Patañjali's Yoga Sutras begin with the statement (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 arduous, dedicated meditation on real objects or subjects. This process, it is said, leads to a state of quiet detachment, Vairagya|vairagya, in which there is mastery over the thirst (t?a, ta?ha) of the senses.
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 some traditional practices) that can create false mental objects.
In this sense raja yoga is called the "king among yogas": all honest yogic practices are seen as tools in the quest to cleanse karma and obtain Moksha|mok?a, Nirvana|nirva?a or kaivalya. Historically, schools of yoga that label themselves "raja" offer students a structure of yogic practices and a solid viewpoint on dharma.
Lord Krishna|K?a describes the yogi as follows: "A yogi is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist, and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances be a yogi" (Bg. 6.46).
PracticeRaja yoga aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications. A raja yogi starts his sadhana with the mind as well as a certain minimum of asana and pra?ayama usually included as a preparation for the meditation and concentration. In s:Yoga Sutras/Book I|Samadhi Pada I,27 it is stated that the word of Ishvara|Isvara is OM, the Pranava|Pra?ava. 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 in Hinduism|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:
Eight limbs of Ashtanga YogaThe eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are:
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.
YamaYama (restraints) consists of five parts: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya meaning sexual abstinence, 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.*
NiyamaNiyama is observance of five canons: Shaucha (internal and external purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (Sanskrit)|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.
AsanaAsana in the sense of a posture that one can hold fora period of time, staying relaxed and with normal (calm) breathing (or, as some sources say, "without effort").
In English, the Sanskrit word asana means "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)
Pra?ayamaPra?ayama is made out of two Sanskrit words (pra?a = life energy; ayama = 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 (phases, units, stadia) of pranayama:
- purak (inhalation)
- rechak (exhalation)
- kumbhak (holding the breath); which appears as:
- antara kumbhak (withholding the breath after inhalation)
- bahar kumbhak (withholding the breath after exhalation)
- keval kumbhak (spontaneous withholding of the breath)
- surya bhedan
- candra bhedan
- nadi shodhan (anuloma viloma)
- plavini (bhujangini)
- combination of sheetkari and sheetali
PratyaharaPratyahara 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 4 limbs as prerequisites.
DharanaReal 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 Mind's eye|Bhrakuti (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.
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
SamadhiMeditation 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:
In Savikalpa or Sabija, there is Triputi or the triad (knower, known and knowledge). 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.
In the last sutra (s:Yoga Sutras/Book IV|4,34), Patañjali says the soul reaches its end in liberation, enlightenment, kaivalya.
Other usesThe term is used by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University and AIVV|Prajapita Brahma Kumaris to describe their entirely related Brahma Kumaris#Meditation|meditation practices and should not to be confused with the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga of K. Pattabhi Jois.
However, the Kriya Yoga, as taught by Paramahansa Yogananda, is thought to be closely related.