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Raja Yoga

There are many paths of yoga for attaining clarity of mind. Raja Yoga is one of the paths that focuses on meditation and contemplation. Raja means king & king is always in a state of enlightenment. The pursha (Man) or the king is always hidden by the workings of the mind. It is avidya which conceal our pursha & many of us are unaware of its existence. When this process is reversed and mind becomes master of the senses we find clarity of the mind & our pursha takes rightful place. In the yoga sutra it says that when there is no more restlessness in the mind pursha will unfold & see. That is Raja Yoga.


The Yoga Sutras are built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy and the Bhagavad Gita. There are 196 sutras (verses) -short aphorisms. Each sutra is presented in the Devanagari script with a transliteration of Sanskrit, with a transliteration in italics & commentary. The sutras of Patanjali are presented in 4 chapters. Chapter I (51 sutras) is known as Samadhipada. It gives us the famous definition of yoga & describes our state of mind in yoga & nonyoga. Chapter II (55 sutras) known as Sadhanapada presents yoga as practice. III (56 sutras) known as Vibhutipada discusses the results that those who practice yoga can achieve & also discusses the dangers of these changes. Chapter IV (34 sutras) known as Kaivalyapada concerns the libration to which yoga can lead.


Yajnavalkya Smriti dating back to sometime between second & fourth centuries is the oldest texts that talk about pranayama, asana & especially kundalini. This text mentions that Brahma (Hiranyagarbha) , the creator of the world, created Yoga. Therefore the world & yoga came into existence together. This complete yogic science was not fully refined & was not into a definite system. It is Patanjali Maharishi who formulated this science into a definite system under the name of Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga. Here Patanjali describes the concept of Isvara (God). Ishvara is complete, perfect & boundlessly glorious.He is a distinct Pursha compared to human beings. God alone is recognized by the Pranava-aum. Aum is a Universal Sound & seeds from which all words & languages spring. The sacred syllable Aum is chanted while meditating and performing breathing exercises.


There are various other authors who have written commentaries on yoga in various centuries. Vyasa’s Bhasya in fifth century, Shankaracharys’s Vivrana, Vachaspati Mishra,s Tattvaisaradi in the ninth century, a great king Bhojadeva’s Rajamartanda around the tenth century, Vijananabiksu’s Yogavarttika in sixteenth century.


Chapter 1 Samadhipada
Samadhipada (the chapter on Samadhi) defines yoga & its characteristics & discusses the problems encountered in reaching the state of yoga & ways in which these problems can be handled.

Chapter 2 Sadhanapadah
It describes the qualities necessary to change the mind effectively & gradually from a state of distraction to one of attention & why these qualities are important & what the practice of these entails. In this chapter Patanjali describes the first five components of yoga. They are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara.

Chapter 3 Vibhutipadah
In Vibhutipadah, Patanjali describes the capacity of the mind, which through the various practices described in the earlier two chapters can achieve a state free from distractions. In this chapter Patanjali describes the sixth, seventh & eighth components of yoga. They are dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

Chapter 4 Kaivalyapadah
In this final chapter Patanjali presents the possibilities for a person with a highly refined mind. It explains how the mind is constructed and how the primal building blocks of the mind resolve back into their cause, allowing final liberation.


Chitta (the consciousness), buddhi (intelligence), ahamkara (ego or’ I’ consciousness) & manas (mind).

Three gunas (qualities)
Sattva (illumination), rajas (vibrancy), tamas (inertia)

These three gunas rule over the manas, buddhi & ahamkara.

Five gross elements & their subtle elements
Earth, water, fire, air & ether

Subtle elements
Smell (gandha), taste (rasa), shape (rupa), touch (sparsha) & sound (sabsha)

Out of five elements of our body three elements ap (water), tej (fire) & vayu (air) & their qualities play a role for life to function. These three elements & their energies create tridosha, sapta dhatu-s & trimal.

Three humours of the body are

1. Tridosha
Vata (wind), pitta (bile), kapha (phlegm)

2. Sapta dhatu-s (seven ingredients)
Rasa (chyle), rakta (blood), mamsa (muscles), meda (fat), asthi (bones), majja (bone marrow) & sukra (semen)

3. Trimal (wastage of the body)
Sveda (sweat), purisa (faeces), mutra (urine)
The three humours of the body play a major role in the function & balance of the metabolic process.

Five vayus
Prana, apana, vyana, udana & samana

Five upvayus
Naga, kurma, krkara, devadatta & dhanamjaya

Five vayus & five upavayus activate & metabolise the various systems in the body & generate new energy.

Cellular, skeletal, muscular, digestive, circulatory, respiratory, nervous, excretory, reproductive & glandular

The functions of theses systems & their effects leave their impressions on the mind & its activities to a great extent.

Five senses of perception
Eyes (seeing), ears (hearing), nose (smelling), tongue (tasting) & skin (touching).

The five organs of action
Hands (holding), legs (walking), mouth (talking), genitals (reproducing) & excretory (excreting)

Seven kosha (sheaths)
Annamaya (physical), pranayama (physiological), manomaya (psychological ), vijnanamaya (intellectual), cittamaya (consciousness), anadamaya (the body of joy), antahkarana / dharmendriya (conscience)

Antahkarana / dharmendriya links one to Aatmamaya (Self).

It shows us that human being is made up of body, mind & soul.


Raja Yoga is based on the eight limbs of Yoga which was discussed in the Maharshi Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutra. They are yama, niyama, asna, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

The five yamas

The principles of yama are ahimsa (non violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-greediness), brahmacrya (chasity or continence), aparigraha (non possesion or desireless).These principles of yama remind us that we are not only individual beings but also social beings. Its code of conduct helps one to know how to behave with oneself & with others. As we expect others to behave with us we need to check whether we behave with others in the same manner. Yama keeps the organs of actions (karmendriyas-) clean.

The five niyamas

The principles of niyamas are sauch (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (austerity) svadhyaya (self-study) & Isvarapranidhana (devotion). The principles of niyama teach us as to how to interact with ourselves. Infact, the principles of yama & the principles of niyamas are inter-dependent & inter-woven with each other. We have to adopt these principles for the whole of our lives. Niyama keeps the senses of perception (jnanendriya-s) clean.

Effects of yama & niyama

Patanjali mentions that when the ten principles are firmly established in a person's character definite effects will begin to appear, such as absence of danger, effectiveness of speech, the arrival of unsought wealth, vigor of body and mind, understanding of life's events, clarity of thought, steadiness of attention, control of the senses, great happiness, perfection of body and senses, intuition and realization of one's true self.


In order to develop tolerance in the body and the mind, asana-s are introduced. Patanjali defines asana in yogasutra as sthira sukham asanam. It means the presentation of an asana should be undisturbed, unperturbed & unruffled at all levels of body, mind & self. A correct practice of asana with a pure mind & heart gives immense benefits. Asanas guide the practitioner to peep inward & this leads to state where the dualities between prakriti & pursha come to an end & Isvara pranidhana begins.


Patanjali defines that pranayama is the regulation of the in-coming (svasa) & out-going (prasvasa) flow of breath. Prana means wind, vital air & also means will power. Ayama means stretch, expansion & extension. It means the expansion & extension of life force & the development of will power is pranayama. Pranayama has four movements, puraka (inhalation), rechaka (exhalation) & kumbhaka (retention). Kumbhaka is divided into antara kumbhaka (retention after inhalation) & bahya kumbhaka (retention after exhalation).The whole science of pranayama has several varieties & methods based on these four factors. Pranayama-s ratio is 1:4:2:4. Pranayama purifies & cleanses the mind & citta. Asana and pranayama prepare the body and mind for Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.


Pratyhara evolves from pranayama. Pratyhara helps the mind to acquire knowledge of the self. It is a threshold between the first four & the last three aspects of ashtanga yoga. Though it is latent in the first four aspects, its study gets intensified in the last three aspects of yoga- dharana, dhyana, Samadhi. As mind always likes to go out towards pleasurable temptations, yama, niyama, asana & pranayama make the mind to follow pratyahara. Hence the root of pratyahara is in yama, niyama, asana & pranayama. Asana, pranayama & pratyahara,are antaranga sadhana (inner). These are the gates of the yogic world.


Fixing the consciousness on one point or region is dharana. One can choose a place either inside the body or outside the body. Inside the body one can concentrate on the navel, the heart, the centre of the brain, the forepart of the nose or the tongue & outside of the body on any external object. Vyasa says choose heart, nose, tongue, forehead etc. because all these parts are outside the body &also inside the body. A long uninterrupted length of time in dharana automatically changes into dhyana.


Dhyana means a steady, continuous flow of attention directed towards the same point of region. The flow of attention is continuous, uninterrupted & even. Dhyana is not a mechanical practice but an electrifying practice. The ego & arrogance become humble & then insignificant.

Samadhi means total absorption. This is the state of total bliss (Ananda) free from all pains & misery. The yogi attains the highest gain of life and there remains nothing more to be gained or accomplished. This stage is the culmination of Raja Yoga practice. It is a window to the divine experience, the ultimate goal of yoga. As described by Swami Sivananda this is "The state of consciousness where Absoluteness is experienced attended with all-knowledge and joy; Oneness; here the mind becomes identified with the object of meditation; the meditator and the meditated, thinker and thought become one in perfect absorption of the mind."

The eight limbs of Raja Yoga help us to enter into the regime of the self. To attain this stage, we need two basic requirements to follow. These are Abhyasa (long constant practice) & Vairagya (detachment). When we do abhyasa intensely, vairagya becomes more automatically intense.

Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna
Aum Shanti