Rāja yoga

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Rāja yoga ("royal yoga", "royal union", also known as classical yoga and aṣṭānga yoga) is a form of meditation in which the mind is trained to be focused at one point. It aims at the calming of the mind using a succession of steps, culminating in samadhi. According to the samkhya-based Raja yoga-philosohy, this results in kaivalya, the recognition of the pure mind, and the subsequent liberation from rebirth.

Since medieaval times Raja yoga is regarded as one of the six schools of orthodox (astika) Hindu philosophy. The school declined after the 12th century, to be revived in the 19th century due to popular interest in Asian religions. Due to this revival, the 4th century Yoga Sūtras has gained great popularity.


In the context of Hindu philosophy, rāja yoga is known simply as yoga. The term rāja yoga is a retronym, introduced in the 19th-century by Swami Vivekananda.[1] The prior use of the term rāja 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 Natha sampradaya[2] and is not concerned with the yoga taught in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.


Yoga Sutras of Patanjali[edit]

Raja Yoga received the status of orthodoxy due to its constituting text, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras are a composite of various texts,[3][4][5] composed in c.400 CE.[6] Traditionally it is ascribed to Patanjali, who compiled various traditions and wrote a commenatry on those, together forming the Pātañjalayogaśāstra ("The Treatise on Yoga according to Patañjali"), which consisted of both Sūtras and Bhāṣya.[6] According to Wuyastik, referencing Maas,

Patanjali took materials about yoga from older traditions, and added his own explanatory passages to create the unified work that, since 1100 CE, has been considered the work of two people.[5]

According to Axel Michaels, the Yoga Sutras are a collection of fragments and traditions of texts stemming from the 2nd or 3rd century.[7] According to Feuerstein, the Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two different traditions, namely "eight limb yoga" (ashtanga yoga) and action yoga (kriya yoga).[3] The kriya yoga part is contained in chapter 1, chapter 2 verse 1-27, chapter 3 except verse 54, and chapter 4.[3] The "eight limb yoga" is described in chapter 2 verse 28-55, and chapter 3 verse 3 and 54.[3]

Development and influence[edit]

The major commentaries on the Yoga Stras were written between the ninth and sixteenth century.[8] After the twelfth century, the school started to decline, and no defense of Patanjali's Yoga philosophy was written anymore.[8] By the sixteenth century Patanjali's Yoga philosophy had virtually become extinct.[8] The manuscript of the Yoga Sutras was no longer copied, since nobody read the text, and no instruction in its philosophy took place anymore.[9]

Popular interest arose in the 19th century, when the practice of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras became regarded as the science of yoga and the "supreme contemplative path to selfrealization" by Vivekananda, following Helena Blavatsky, president of the Theosophical Society.[10]


Rāja yoga is concerned with the mind (citta) and its fluctuations (vṛttis). Rāja yoga aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications. 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 arduous, dedicated meditation on real objects or subjects. This process, it is said, leads to a state of quiet detachment, vairāgya, in which there is mastery over the thirst (tṛṣṇā, taṇhā) of the senses. According to Swami Satchidananda,

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.[citation needed]

A rāja yogi starts his sādhanā with a certain minimum of āsana and prāṇāyāma, as a preparation for the meditation and concentration.

Eight limbs of ashtanga yoga[edit]

Rāja yoga is traditionally referred to as aṣṭānga (eight-limbed) yoga because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend.[11] The 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 rāja yoga. The upper three limbs practiced simultaneously constitute the samyama.


Main article: Yamas

Yama (restraints) consists of five parts: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (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.[12]


Main article: 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 uama, prescribes mental exercises to train the mind to control emotions.


Main article: 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 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:

From the rāja 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 samādhi (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").[citation needed]


Main article: Pranayama

Prāṇāyāma is made out of two Sanskrit words (prāṇa = life energy; ayāma = 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 Rāja yoga, there are three main types (phases, units, stadia) of pranayama:

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

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 rāja yoga.


Main article: 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 4 limbs as prerequisites.


Main article: Dharana

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 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.[clarification needed][citation needed]


Main article: Dhyana in Hinduism

In Dhyana, the meditator is not conscious of the act of meditation (i.e. is not aware that s/he is meditating) but is only aware that s/he exists (consciousness of being), and aware of the object of meditation. Dhyana is distinct from Dharana in that the meditator becomes one with the object of meditation. This means that the meditator although aware of the object through meditation detaches him/erself from its existence in the physical world. Much like meditation focused on the breath Dhyana is rooted in the concentration of not being concentrated.[13][14]

The final stage of meditation in dhyāna is considered to be jhāna. At this stage of meditation, one does not see it as a meditational practice, but instead merges with the idea and thought. One cannot reach a higher stage of consciousness without jhāna.[15]


Main article: 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.

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 (4,34), Patañjali says the soul reaches its end in liberation, enlightenment, kaivalya.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ James Mallinson Hatha Yoga An entry on haṭhayoga for the Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol.3 (2011)
  2. ^ James Mallinson Nāth Sampradāya An entry for the Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol.3 (2011)
  3. ^ a b c d Feuerstein 1978, p. 108.
  4. ^ Tola, Dragonetti & Prithipaul 1987, p. x.
  5. ^ a b Wuyastik 2011, p. 33.
  6. ^ a b Maas 2006.
  7. ^ Michaels 2004, p. 267.
  8. ^ a b c White 2014, p. 6.
  9. ^ White 2014, p. 16.
  10. ^ White 2011, p. 20-21.
  11. ^ "The Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali - a translation and commentary by Yogacharya Shivaji Mizner"
  12. ^ Swami Kriyananda, J. Donald Walters, The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, p.100
  13. ^ Underwood 2005.
  14. ^ Smith 2005.
  15. ^ Dictionary of World Philosophy (2001), Dhyāna


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  • Michaels, Axel (2004), Hinduism. Past and present, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press 
  • Prabhavananda, Swami; Isherwood, Christopher. How to Know God. Vedanta Press & Bookshop. ISBN 978-0-87481-041-7. 
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