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Yoga Is Not What You Think

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.

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Ed and Deb Shapiro

You can learn more in our book, Be The Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Marianne Williamson, Jane Fonda, Ram Dass, Byron Katie and others. Our 3 meditation CD’s: Metta—Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi–Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra–Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at:


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1:14AM PDT on Jul 25, 2012

Thank you

12:39PM PDT on Jun 10, 2011

thank you very interesting article

3:56AM PST on Feb 8, 2011

Thank you. I'm considering which yoga to practice. My teacher used to take the yoga class and finish with a little meditation and during the meditation she would spray some light scented oils around which I found pleasant and comforting.

10:07PM PDT on Oct 21, 2010

India has truly a blessing to the world by offering yoga to everyone.

9:41PM PDT on Oct 21, 2010

I found lot of relevant information on true Indian yoga that is at
might help !!

11:41AM PDT on Oct 15, 2010

I would try some yoga exercises but I don't expect myself to become a "raja of yoga" or whatever xD

11:46AM PDT on Oct 2, 2010

Sat Nam.

1:47PM PDT on Oct 1, 2010

thank you.

3:08AM PDT on Sep 30, 2010

nice article!

3:03AM PDT on Sep 30, 2010

interesting article

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