There are two types of spiritual teachers. Those that tell you, “I have experienced God and for you to tap into this experience you must follow me.” And those that say, “I have experienced God and you can have this experience too.” The latter is where you need to belong. And Raja Yoga aims at facilitating you to experience this higher realm.
Naturally, human beings are meant to be in a state of higher consciousness to function optimally. See, the human brain is rather restless and therefore we do not see the truth. To experience the higher realm, we need to be focused and concentrate. And we cannot argue with personal experience, can we? So let us share with you how to tap into this path.
What is Raja Yoga?
Raja Yoga is one of the oldest yoga systems practiced in India for centuries and now in other parts of the world. It’s simply the path of experience.
Raja Yoga proposes growing your spirituality without prior faith or belief. This means you can experience God at any time and place without mantras or rituals irrespective of your age or ethnicity. However, this is a branch of yoga that requires a really strong personality as we will discuss below.
The Eight Stagesto Self-realization and Liberation
When you practice Raja Yoga, you free the soul (atma), from the bondage of illusions (maya) and unite with your prime soul (paramatma). Below is a step by step experience:
Stage 1: Yama
Yama is a set of ethical norms that teach us to communicate with others in the right way. To be brief, it means one thing: treat people the way you want them to treat you.
There are five Yamas:
- Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings.
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood.
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity, or sexual restraint.
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness.
Stage 2: Niyama
This step of forming the self-discipline and uplifting spirituality. Niyama involves regular visits to temples, meditative practices, a study of nature, thinking, and walks.
Five Niyamas are:
- Śaucha (शौच): purity, clearness of mind, speech, and body.
- Santosha (सन्तोष): contentment, acceptance of others, and of one’s circumstances as they are, optimism for self.
- Tapas (तपस): austerity, self-discipline, persistent meditation, perseverance.
- Svādhyāya (स्वाध्याय): a study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speeches, and actions.
- Īśvarapraṇidhāna (ईश्वरप्रणिधान): contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality), attunement to the supreme consciousness.
Stage 3: Asana
Asana means ‘posture’ or ‘pose’. So by saying ‘asanas’ we mean body poses. In any Yoga, we need to maintain a steady pose to be able to concentrate and control external and internal energies. By performing certain asanas, a person learns concentration and self-discipline.
Stage 4: Pranayama
Next we engage breathing exercises that directly affect the mind or what we call control of prana (vital energy). See, in today’s hustle and bustle, most people have forgotten how to breathe properly. We simply breathe because our body demands of the oxygen to function. It’s important to always remember that life is breath. And when we exercise control over breath, we can control the subtle Prana inside us. That means having control over all the forces in our universe, both physical and mental.
Pranayama practice allows you to rejuvenate the entire body and prolong your lifespan. We can practice pranayama as a separate type of yoga technique, or use it as a component of the complex of yoga practice.
Stage 5: Pratyahara
Pratyahara means ‘gaining mastery over external influences’.
At this stage, we have to withdraw our senses from objects consciously.
If you have ever engaged in the Savasana (Corpse pose) you must have unearthed your five levels of mental sheaths. These are:
- The physical body (food sheath)
- Prana sheath (subtle energy channels)
- The emotional reactions level (mental sheath)
- Consciousness sheath (the ego)
- And the causal sheath (the karmic record of your soul’s experiences).
These mental levels are in order of increasing layers of consciousness. The second stage represents pratyahara. You’re basically leaving the external world but still maintaining contact with it. At this stage, describing from personal experience, you feel trapped in the bottom of a well. You can identify with the surrounding sounds, yet these noises don’t bother you (mentally or physically). You’re in a state of non-reaction. Some Yogi teachers will explain this stage as being in the world yet not of it.
The purpose of this stage is to achieve a state of the distraction of the senses from the surrounding reality and the circulation of the gaze and consciousness inside of you. In other words, pratyahara is the ability to concentrate and not be distracted by various external stimuli. This step gives you the vision of the internal systems, understanding what can stop your personal and inner growth.
Stage 6: Dharana
Dharana means ‘concentration’ or ‘single focus’. Once we eliminate object attachment, we progress in concentration. This is at the mental sheath stage. You can practice this stage in your daily tasks by choosing to perform just one task at a time or achieve the same during meditation by focusing your thoughts at one particular object, idea or place.
By concentrating, we get distracted from external ‘noise’. This is how we can calm down our minds, which distracts us from knowing more than we are able to understand. It helps us to see the limitless of our possibilities. At this stage, we gain a skill to slow down the thought process by focusing on sound, image, energy, or body.
Stage 7: Dhyana
Dhyana means ‘contemplation, reflection’ and ‘profound, abstract meditation’.
It’s the meditation practice where you come face to face with your ego. You tap into your self-awareness or soul. This stage is similar to Dharana, however, here you go in deeper. You choose to concentrate on your point of reference until this thought becomes a part of your consciousness.
Conscious inhibition of thought processes allows to calm the mind, to feel serenity, not to give rise to new thoughts. To reach this stage, you need endurance and strength. For achieving this, you have to put in a lot of effort and time.
Stage 8: Samadhi
Finally, at this stage we achieve a super conscious state. See, once you go past your ego, past your senses and past the wandering mind, you can transcend to any levels you imagine of, with complete control over your mind. In other words, you, your mind, and your chosen object of meditation merge together into one. However, most people experience this level based on their soul’s past.
The Benefits of Raja Yoga
Recent research has seen Raja Yoga as an important therapeutic and prophylactic modality in several health conditions.
Raja Yoga enhances positive thinking which increases self-satisfaction and consequently happiness in life. This applies irrespective of your age or the period of time you have been practicing this yoga.
Positive inner transformation
Well, this is obvious since Raja Yoga works on the principle of meditation with an aim to free the soul.
Physical and mental relaxation
With continued practice, Raja Yoga will change your attitude and transform your lifestyle. Eventually, you experience great transformation in your overall wellbeing.
Better control over addictions
Remember we mentioned before that this yoga aims at freeing the soul from the bondage of illusions. Addiction is simply an illusion that clouds your judgment and takes control of your mind. Once you free the soul and experience a higher realm, you will be the only one making your life decisions.
In Sanskrit texts, Raja yoga was both the goal of yoga and a method to attain it. Nowadays, many people on spiritual path choose to integrate this practice into their lives. By doing so they are able to silence their minds, deepen the meditation practice, take control over their thoughts, and achieve the higher level of consciousness.