An introduction to Raja yoga
Most modern schools of yoga have come a long way from the ancient Indian philosophy that emphasizes mastering the mind. For many modern practitioners, yoga is merely a means of remaining physically and mentally healthy. But for more advanced practitioners who aspire to reach a higher level of consciousness, the classical and unadulterated form of yoga, known as raja yoga, provides the best route to success.
Raja means 'king’ in Sanskrit, and as the name implies, it is the king of all yoga. As befits a king, it focuses on the highest form of achievement: control and mastery of one’s mind, making it the most difficult of all yogas. Also called Ashtanga Yoga, because it has eight parts (ashta means eight and anga means limb), this most ancient and original school of yoga focuses on reaching samadhi (which is defined as a state of blissful awareness) through good conduct, self-restraint, observance of rules, asana (postures), pranayama (controlled breathing), and dhyana (meditation).
Because of its emphasis on the mind rather than on the body, raja yoga doesn’t give importance to vigorous, athletic style postures that are in vogue today. Practitioners of this school of yoga view physical well-being only as a means to achieve Samadhi, the true and final goal. This, however, doesn’t mean that they do not perform asana and prayanama. The purpose of asana and pranayama for these practitioners is to achieve a balance of body and mind, but they give more importance to dhyana, or meditation. Thus, while practitioners of other yoga forms may spend more time doing postures, practitioners of this system spend more time on meditation.
Meditation, or dhyana, involves sitting comfortably in a particular posture so that the body doesn’t become a hindrance or an obstacle to concentration on something. The primary aim is to empty the mind of meaningless thoughts and worries and reach a state of blissful consciousness. The first step is to withdraw the senses from earthly distractions through total concentration.
The final stage is Samadhi: For most people, this is an extremely difficult thing to do and takes years of practicing raja yoga to perfect. Upon reaching this mental state, the practitioner becomes a true yogi, which is the highest order in Hindu spiritualism.