Yoga is about self mastery, union with the divine, and liberation (Moksha). The first step is often taming your Monkey Mind, and according to Patanjali's quote above, Yoga provides the cure. If you read our last blog on The Traditional Paths of Yoga you might remember that there were originally three traditional Yogas or paths- Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Bhakti Yoga is the choice for those people who are more emotional and prefer to worship the divine. Karma Yoga for those that are action oriented and prefer to live a virtuous life through good deeds. Jnana Yoga is for those that are analytical/philosophical and prefer self study. Over time, Hinduism grew and developed, with a fourth path coming into existence much later than the three traditional paths. This path came to be known as Raja Yoga; and if you do "Yoga," you are probably on your way to becoming a Raja Yogi.
Where Did Raja Yoga Come From?
Unlike the traditional Yogas, which were outlined in the Bhagavad Gita (part of the Hindu epic known as the Mahābhārata), Raja Yoga's development is a little harder to trace. With Raja Yoga's heavy focus on meditation, it probably developed out of Jnana Yoga, but in truth, it has elements of all three of the traditional paths. Raja Yoga appears to have its earliest roots in Nath Shaivism (devotees of Shiva) and Tantra. No one is quite sure where the teachings of Raja Yoga came from, but the first to outline and formalize the practice of Raja Yoga was the Yogic Sage Patanjali.
The Yoga Sutras
The Yoga Sutras is a very short book written by Patanjali, containing 196 aphorisms or verses. Patanjali divided his book into four Padas or sections. They are the Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada, Vibhuti Pada and the Kaivalya Pada.
- Samadhi Pada: The Samadhi Pada is 51 verses long. It is an introduction to the text and Yoga. It explains Samadhi, including its qualities and means of attainment.
- Sadhana Pada: The Sadhana Pada is 55 verses long. Sadhana is a Sanskrit word often translated as practice or discipline. This chapter outlines the practice of the outer limbs of Yoga.
- Vibhuti Pada: The Vibhuti Pada is 56 verses long. This chapter outlines the inner limbs of Yoga. It is also about the powers or abilities one can gain through practicing Yoga. However, these powers are not the goal and they come with a warning- They can both be dangerous and a distraction from the goal.
- Kaivalya Pada: The Kaivalya Pada is 34 verses long. This chapter describes liberation and the fruit of the practice of Yoga.
Even though Patanjali formulized the Eight Limbs in his Yoga Sutras, Raja Yoga was still not a distinct path. For much of history, the Eight Limbs were known as Ashtanga Yoga (the spiritual path of Ashtanga, not be confused with the physical practice of Hatha Yoga that is also called Ashtanga Yoga). Much later, in 1893, Swami Vivekananda presented Hinduism and Yoga to the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. During which, he went over Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga, as well as a newer path based on the Eight Limbs of Yoga. At this time, Raja Yoga was born.
Even though Swami Vivekananda formalized the path known as Raja Yoga in the modern age, Raja Yoga is considered classical Yoga, as its teachings originally came from the classic era within yogic history.
With time, Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga (based on the Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā by Svātmārāma) mixed. As they developed, the physical practices gained more and more emphasis, leading to what is known today as Yoga As Exercise (For more on the history of Yoga and its development, check out our first blog on Yoga- The Meaning of Yoga, It Origin and History.). Unfortunately, many people forgot (or never learned) that Yoga has a lot more to offer than flexibility, which is where the Eight Limbs of Yoga come in.
- What is Raja Yoga?
Raja Yoga is a spiritual path that includes a moral code, physical practices and self inquiry. It includes eight steps, that one follows sequentially, leading to the end goal. The end goal is known as Samadhi and can be translated as a state of meditative consciousness. or union. Union with what you might ask? Traditionally, it was union with your true/higher self or the divine/totality.
- How Do You Practice Raja Yoga?
Raja Yoga is practiced by following the Eight Limbs of Yoga. In brief, they are:
- Yamas: The five things you refrain from doing.
- Niyamas: The five virtuous habits one does/follows.
- Asanas: Physical postures.
- Pranayama: Energy practices based upon the use of breath techniques.
- Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses.
- Dharana: Concentration of the mind.
- Dhyana: Meditation.
- Samadhi: Absorption.
- Who Might Like Raja Yoga?
People in the western world seldom practice the traditional Yogas. However, many of us came to Yoga through movement and exercise. These people often find that with experience, their Yoga practice spills off the mat and onto the rest of their life. Raja Yoga is for those people, the ones who enjoy modern Yoga As Exercise, but would like something more; something spiritual. Those that want a personal path of self study, mixing both the physical and the mental, finding peace and union with the self.
Raja Yoga is based upon the spiritual life path known as Ashtanga Yoga, or the Eight Limbs of Yoga; which were outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Raja Yoga came after the three classic paths of Yoga, which are known as Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Hatha Yoga later mixed with Raja Yoga and lead to the creation of contemporary Yoga As exercise.
If you're like us, you probably found Yoga through the nonspiritual, Yoga As Exercise, form of Yoga. Perhaps that is enough for you, but if you suspect there might be more to Yoga, or you are looking for more, we hope that you will take a deeper look at the complete Yogic lifestyle. Give it a try. because a real yogi lives Yoga, both on and off the mat.