You’ll often see us post the hashtag #morethanasana, but what are we referring to? The nice draw to yoga practice is that you can become a curious student to life. Yoga is so vast that you can spend multiple lifetimes learning about it, and still not cover everything! The practice is just as infinite as the cosmos itself, and that is because it is a fractal of the cosmos. We utilize practice so that we can get a glimpse of the unending self, always present and eternal.
The focus today is learning about Raja Yoga, one of the four main paths in yoga that was talked about in the Bhagavad Gita by Krishna to Arjuna.
What does Raja Yoga Mean?
Like I was saying above, there are four main paths of yoga. There is jnana yoga, which is the yoga of knowledge. The second path is bhakti-yoga, which is a path of devotion. The third path is karma yoga, which is the path to realization through self-less service. And the final path is called Raja yoga, which is known as the royal path, where the aspirant trains the mind until dissolution into the one happens.
Even though I listed these different paths off, they are all equal in their own rights. One doesn’t come before another, they all get you to the same place. So it is up to the individual to learn about them and see which one makes the most sense for their expression during this lifetime.
I was once told by a Hari Krishna follower that all paths lead to bhakti-yoga, and he wasn’t wrong. The truth is, is that all paths lead to every other path. Yoga is about union, so one path isn’t better than the other and eventually you will come to realize that you are following every imaginable path, it can only be revealed through perspective.
The path of Raja Yoga is a path of self-discipline. A major aspect of the path is utilizing the tools set forth in Ashtanga Yoga to help train the mind with focus, so that the individual can refrain from all distractions, eventually dissolving into the whole.
Why is Raja Yoga The Royal Path?
Looking a little deeper into the source of these teachings, we have to remember that they came from India, and during that time period there was the caste system, which was compromised of the Brahmins (scholars and yajna priests), the Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), the Vaishyas (farmers, merchants, and artisans) and the Shudras (workmen/service providers.) So just as there were four main castes, there are four main paths of yoga which are meant to align with the individual in each caste, since self-realization isn’t reserved for anyone in particular and is accessible to all.
Raja Yoga is that path for the Kshatriyas, and if you think about how royalty lived it makes a lot of sense. They spend a lot of time learning about all aspects of life, they train themselves to become strong warriors and they have a lot of responsibility for the people they rule. So they spend a lot of time in contemplation, and that is what Raja Yoga is for, setting up the individual so that they can sit in meditation and dissolve themselves into the whole. This dissolution takes their ego out of the picture, which grants them the ability to make the right choices that will benefit the whole and not just for self-gain.
You might be asking how this is relatable to your life, you aren’t royalty after all. I would actually argue that point, if you think about their life way back then, the individual today has many similarities thanks to technology. We all have access to so much information, we have the ability to get anything we desire and have it shipped to us in two days! All this technology gives us lots of spare time, so we do have a lot in common with the Kshatriyas. That is why many of us are practicing Raja Yoga, even if we never realized that’s what we are doing in the first place.
The Benefits of Raja Yoga
Technology has granted us access to a multitude of things and has given us more spare time, but that also means that it has created many distractions for us as well. If we aren’t careful, we can become sucked into the distractions and waste our greatest gift, this life!
The ultimate benefit, and the goal of this path of yoga, or any path of yoga is of course self-realization. However, each path offers up many benefits. The simplicity of it is that you just have to devote time to the practice, sowing the seeds, and eventually fruits will be given to you. Since this path is about discipline of the mind, you will learn how to maintain unwavering focus. This laser focus will allow you to decide exactly what and how you’d like to spend your time. The more you focus your energy on something, the broader the scope of possibilities in that realm will open up for you.
Another aspect of this practice is using the body to prepare the mind, so a secondary benefit is bringing health into the physical form. Mastering the body, finding strength, and softness which also helps remove physical distractions like pain or discomfort from the mind. We don’t really think about our bodies when everything feels good, and through physical practice, we are creating this feel-good state, permanently.
A third benefit is presence. This benefit is sort of a combination of the first two, but it is important to add because without losing ourselves in mind and body distractions we can give our full attention to the here and now. Having presence like that is something that will go a long way with all aspects of the external we live in. You will actually be IN life, instead of coming and going. This will help make the life you lead fuller, richer, and more expansive.
The Steps Of Raja Yoga
There is a lot of freedom for each individual here. The basic formula is to have self-reflection, introduce some physical practice, and set time aside to meditate. There is a multitude of systems of yoga that can help you achieve this. Patanjali laid out the Ashtanga Yoga pathway in the Yoga Sutras, which is an eight-limbed path. These limbs all combine to form one wholesome practice and it takes figuring out how to achieve the basic formula away. Simplicity.
I mentioned that the basic formula is self-reflection, in Ashtanga yoga, this is achieved through learning the yamas (universal morals) and niyamas (self-purification) and contemplating on how they relate in your life. There is no end to this contemplation, you will always have perspectives to gain, which will help you transform the self.
The next basic step is a physical practice, in Ashtanga yoga the limbs of asana (physical postural practice), pranayama (breathwork), and pratyahara (sensory work) introduce the practitioner to the physical and the barrier between the physical and energetic. Again, these limbs are limitless, the more you practice, the more the practice will open up for you to explore.
The last step in the basic formula is meditation. In the Ashtanga yoga path, this is achieved in the threefold, Dharana (single-pointed focus), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absolute union). Which when done together create the samyama, which is a total union of the self with the object of meditation. That’s all I will say on that, I will leave it up to you to explore.
Raja Yoga Meditation
It is actually pretty difficult to try and talk an individual through a meditation from an online article. So I will give you a basic approach to meditation instead, and this is exactly how I do my meditations. This meditation also doubles up as pratyahara practice, but it is known that the senses are our doorway into the external. Dualistically speaking, if they are the doorway to the external, you can trace them backward and they are also the doorway to the internal. That is the whole aim of this meditation.
First, find a comfortable position for your body. That could be sitting up or laying down. If you have all the time in the world, don’t worry about an alarm and just enjoy yourself, I usually set a timer though. It is up to you how long you’d like to do this.
Once you are comfy, allow your eyes to grow heavy and close, take a deep inhale through the nose and exhale out the mouth. You can do this a few times to set yourself in the space you are taking up. Then you allow your focus to expand out through your senses. It could be sounds, smells, feelings… Follow these senses outward further and further until you can feel the energy that connects the sense to your awareness.
Focus on this energy and allow it to take you deep into yourself.
And that’s all there is to it, your experience will be different every time, but you will be training the mind at the same time and that training will help you stay present more often.
Good luck on this path and if you happen to have questions you can reach out to any of the teachers at Hilltop. We all love yoga and are happy to talk with anyone about it. You can also catch many of us virtually, so definitely give that a try from the comfort of your own home!