Raja yoga, also known as the King of Yoga, is the most comprehensive and experiential path, and the one that can be most proven scientifically. Founded by the legendary Indian master Patanjali, he outlined eight steps. In the first two steps, yama and niyama, are clear instructions on how to live an ethical and caring life through practicing harmlessness (ahimsa), being truthful, not being greedy nor indulging in addictions. It outlines the importance of having a healthy lifestyle, and the need for self-reflection so that we become more aware of our own habits and mental tendencies.
The third step is the practice of physical postures or asanas, which literally means seat. The idea is to practice different postures so that our body is able to sit comfortably without tension in meditation. In ancient times Hatha yoga was a separate science, with strenuous and challenging postures and austere purification through cleansing techniques or hatha kriyas, as well as the purification of the mind. Within the last 30 years many different types of Hatha have appeared that mostly focus on asanas, with pranayama and relaxation, which are steps three, four and five of Raja yoga.
The fourth step is pranayama, working with the life force or prana, with a variety of different breathing techniques that calm the mind and body while increasing the inner energy. The fifth step is the withdrawal of the mind from the senses, as practiced in deep inner conscious relaxation (see Ed’s CD, Yoga Nidra). Here we turn the mind within and do not identify with the objects of the world, our desires or senses, but develop inner clarity.
Having gained some control over the body, released tension and developed calmness, the sixth step teaches concentration, bringing our attention to the fluctuating mind with its constant chatter, dramas and daydreams. By focusing on just one thing, such as a candle flame (tratak), the mind is able to rest and become one-pointed. Next we can enter meditation, where the mind becomes quiet and still. As the attachment to the ego lessons, so our understanding of truth deepens.
Samadhi, or the highest happiness, is the final step of Raja yoga. This is a state of consciousness where the individual self merges with the universal self, like a drop of water merges with the ocean. The ultimate purpose of yoga is in order to awaken to this state. Samadhi is the unconditional, omnipresent, omnipotent reality. It is our true, authentic nature.
Tantra yoga is a systematic way to make every aspect of life sacred, yet it is mistakenly thought of as being primarily about sex. Sexuality is only a small part of tantric teachings, as tantra also deals with very powerful and often negative emotions, such as fear and anger, that are used to awaken the practitioner’s dormant potential. What is being taught nowadays is not traditional tantra. The original purpose, as with other forms of yoga, is to transcend the individual ego to attain Self Realization.
We hope this has given a taste of the vastness and magnitude of this ancient teaching. Hatha is certainly a fundamental part of yoga, but so also is meditation, doing good and being good! May you enjoy this most wonderful gift handed down to us from the Yogi’s and Yogini’s of ancient times.
What does yoga mean to you? Do comment below.