What is Raja or Ashtanga Yoga?
Raja Yoga was compiled by Patanjali, a contemporary of Buddha. It is a straightforward path which omits all religious and ritualistic discussions and ideologies. It is concerned only with accessing the higher dimensions of our own consciousness. “Raja” means King and Raja yoga is considered the king of all yogas. It is also known as Ashtanga Yoga, or the yoga of eight limbs.
The Human Mind
The experiences that we have had during the course of our lifetime have had a profound effect on the way we think, speak and act. They have shaped our mind to behave in a certain way and display certain qualities, due to the attraction or repulsion we have felt during those experiences.
The Six Enemies of the Mind
There are six negative traits or qualities of mind which shape all of our experiences. These are:
1. Kama or Passion
2. Krodha or Anger
3. Lobha or Greed
4. Moha or Infatuation
5. Mada or Arrogance
6. Matsarya or Jelousy
When these six qualities have control over our minds, difficulties such as stress, tension, frustration, depression, anxiety, etc. occur. Patanjali’s Raja Yoga, works on the six traits, thereby helping us improve our life, filling it with peace, joy and harmony.
The eight limbs of Patanjali’s Raja yoga are:
1. Yama or Self-restraint
2. Niyama or Observance
3. Asana or Posture
4. Pranayama or Breath control
5. Pratyahara or Abstraction of senses
6. Dharana or Concentration
7. Dhyana or Meditation
8. Samadhi or Super-consciousness
Yamas and Niyamas
Yamas and Niyamas discipline the senses and purify the mind by the practice of self-restraints and observances. These have no religious connotations; they are only practices to dissolve the mind’s emotional constructs. They are tools to improve the behaviour of the mind and our relationships with others and ourselves.
The Yamas are comprised of:
1. Ahimsa or Non-violence
2. Satya or Truthfulness
3. Asteya or Honesty
4. Brahmacharya or Sensual abstinence
5. Aparigraha or Non-possessiveness
The Niyamas are:
1. Saucha or Cleanliness
2. Santosha or Contentment
3. Tapas or Austerity
4. Swadhaya or Self-stufy
5. Pranidhana or Surrender
Asanas purify the body in order to make it steady for meditation. It is only when the body is absolutely still and comfortable for a long period of time, that we can start meditating.
Pranayama makes the mind firm and steady by balancing the mental and vital energies, thus leading to concentration. Patanjali describes Pranayama only as inhalation, exhalation and retention; he doesn’t describe any other practices of Pranayama. The aim is to achieve balance of the energy body.
Once the body and mind are balanced and in harmony by the practice of Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas and Pranayama, we are fit to practice pratyahara, a state in which we withdraw the mind from the senses. There are many practices of Pratyahara, such as Yoga Nidra, Antar Mouna or Ajapa Japa. Pratyahara, gradually prepares the mind towards Dharana.
Dharana is referred to as unwavering concentration. When we practice dharana, we maintain a one-pointed state of mind for a period of time without any mental, emotional or physical distractions or disturbances occuring. Only once we achieve Dharana can meditation begin.
Dhyana and Samadhi
Dhyana or meditation and Samadhi or Super-consciouness are not practices, but states which we achieve by the practices of Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara and Dharana. When these practice have been perfected, we attain the state of meditation. Gradually, with time our meditation deepens and leads us to the state of Samadhi.
The Path of Raja Yoga
The path of raja yoga takes us form ignorance to wisdom, from weakness to strength, from hatred to love, from anger to joy, from greed to satisfaction, and from duality to unity.