What is Raja Yoga?
Raja Yoga, or ‘royal yoga’, is the term most commonly given to the system of yoga proffered by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. This path is characterized by eight steps or tenets that take the practitioner from ethical guidelines and personal observances that allow for a more harmonious experience of being in the world, through asana and pranayama, to a series of meditative practices that give rise to an experience of Samadhi (the blissful realization of the transcendental Self, or ‘purusha’).
Patanjali’s system (Raja Yoga) is one that privileges mind training over action (Karma Yoga) or love-centered practices like Bhakti Yoga.
Patanjali’s eight-fold path comprises:
- Yamas: five ethical principles:
- Ahimsa (non-violence or, taken a step further, compassion)
- Satya (truthfulness or authenticity)
- Asteya (non-stealing, or rather, giving)
- Bramacharya (traditionally understood as celibacy, we can also understand Bramacharya as ‘the right use of energy’ or ‘behavior that recognizes the Divine)
- Aparigraha (non-hoarding, non-attachment)
- Niyamas: five personal observances
- Sauca (cleanliness, purity)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapas (fire, discipline)
- Svadyaya (study of the self)
- Isvara Pranidhana (connection to the Divine)
- Asana (posture – designed to strengthen and open the body in preparation for meditation)
- Pranayama (breathing techniques to cleanse the body)
- Pratyahara (internalization of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (oneness, bliss)
What is Raja Yoga? (Continued)
As we move through the eight rungs on this contemplative ladder we transition progressively from practices that are externally focused, to more subtle and inwardly focused practices.
The comment has often been made that Raja Yogins believe this system of yoga to be superior to Hatha Yoga because of the discipline of its mind-training techniques, however, when practiced authentically Hatha Yoga also contains pranayama and meditative practices and so the one can be said to complement the other.
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