योग: कर्मसु कौशलम्\’ is what Bhagavad Gita preaches as one starts to delve within the depths of yoga. Yoga has been a classical way of living since the beginning of time. Some say, it has been passed on by Adi nath to his disciples while some believe it was embedded deep into the traditional Indian vedic lifestyle.
With various versions comes various symbolism and styles. While \’Yoga\’ itself means joining of the \’Atman\’ to the \’Parmatma\’, that is the amalgamation of one\’s self to the greatest being, goal remains the same despite the several interpretations.
The vedic tradition denotes yoga as one of the six Hindu philosophical schools. The Bhagwat Gita has been specifically revolving around yoga as a way of existing on the path of dharma. The modern world however has come to relate yoga to \’Hatha\’ or the physical practices or asanas. With texts like Hatha Yoga Pradipika, yoga largely started revolving around self regulating practices.
Texts like Patanjali Yoga Sutra came into existence much later which compiled not just physical practices but also internal assessments to reach the ultimate goal – Samadhi. But between these diversification, the term \’Raja Yoga\’ gained prominence.
Beginning of Raja Yoga
The first usage of Raja yoga can be traced back to Patanjali\’s Aphorisms or the yoga sutras. It later turned into a separate stream and found prominence in its culture. The retronym can be credited to the Modern Yogi Swami Vivekananda who found similarities between Patanjali\’s Yoga sutras and practices of Hatha yoga. He not only assimilated the two but also made it a practical entity which was entirely different from it\’s textual connotations.
He believed that Samadhi wasn\’t just limited to tapas or just internal modifications. He wanted the world to change with the times but still be inclined towards their roots. He quoted_
\”All the knowledge of God is confined to this or that book? How dare men call God infinite, and yet try to compress Him within the covers of a little book!\”
So to put his point forth he described the steps with which a person can attain the intended goal, the Samadhi. One could either pick what suits him best or practice it as a lifestyle.
Eight Limb Path of Raja Yoga
Raja yoga mainly consists of Ashtanga or the \’eight limbed path\’. Ashta in Sanskrit means eight therefore the name came into existence. They are_
Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and eventually Samadhi.
It starts off with Yamas. According to Sivananda, A man must remove all his brutal inhibitions first if he wants the ultimate freedom. In order to do so the Yamas_which one imposes on himself are similar to taking a pledge before pursuing ahead.
One must become Non violent by nature ( Ahimsa), only then the animal instinct would die down within him. One must always try to be truthful ( Satya) when it comes to either himself or the cosmic world. One must always practice moral dignity or consciousness ( Asteya) which is loosely translated to Non stealing.
Righteousness should be integral to a yogi is what is prescribed. One must practice celibacy (Bhramacharya ) which however varies depending on the stage of a person\’s life. Even a grihastha can practice Brahmacharya by controlling his desires. And lastly (Aparigrah) being free from the hold of his wants and lusts of luxuries.
After taking personal vows one must embark on the journey that is the next step towards the Niyamas.
The arms to discipline one\’s life. It begins with_ Cleanliness (Shaucha), not just externally but also internally since purity of mind and body go hand in hand.
A clean body is the abode of a healthy mind. Then comes Contentment (Santosha) which gives the satisfaction despite what may come. It settles the mind at peace and disregard any over ambition a person may hold.
Now comes purity of an impure mind (Tapah), the rigorous penance or austerity one must go through to train the mind and the body to be under the control of one\’s self. It removes the Tamsic Pravritti and helps maintain balance.
Next comes self study (Swadhyaya) which means not just textual study but also embodying the said education into one\’s life. It brings knowledge and experience which in turn ejects all doubts a person has thereby bringing clarity.
And at last comes utter and complete devotion to the Lord (Ishwar Pranidhana). It is said that Shraddha paves way to success where one must surrender to the divine being for his destiny.
These Yamas and Niyamas paves way for the next step \”Asanas\”.
The physical practices or postures to achieve the healthiest form. Patanjali denotes asanas as \”Sitharm Sukham Asanam\” meaning a position that a person holds for a long period of time, without moving and being pain free while holding it. It is said that Lord Shiva gave 84 lakh asanas derived from various living beings where as each text has a different number of asanas prescribed. Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists 15 while Gherand Samhita says 32 postures. Asanas has predominantly taken over the modern sense of yoga practices.
Followed by Asanas comes Pranayama .
Prana is the vital energy which sustains life. The Prana flows through a living being and leaves the body once it dies. This pranic force flows through various metaphorical channels called Nadis. There are about 72,000 known nadis as credited by many texts. However, Shiva Samhita credits 3,50,000 Nadis within a human body. Any blockage of Prana in these channels leads to diseases or malfunctioning of the body.
The three main Nadis_ Ida is the lunar energy which flows through the left side of the body, Pingala is the solar energy which governs the right side and in the center of the spine lies Sushumna. The Ida is controlled through the left nostril, the Pingala through the right and when both Nadis balance, it leads to the activation of the Sushumna.
The Sushumna connects the base of the spine to the crown of the head. It says when a person balances or activates his Sushumna it forms a a coil like serpentine structure which is the symbolism of Samadhi. But to achieve that state or gain mastery over the pranic energy, one must practice retention of breath. The breath being the source of life is quintessential to regulate Prana.
Pranayama has several practices ( Nadi shuddhi, Anuloma Viloma, Surya and Chandra bhedan) which provides stimulation of both the nostrils and the lungs thereby improving the flow of Prana in the body. Medically it supplies oxygen to each and every part of the body for proper functioning. Asanas along with Pranayama is basically what modern yoga has been focusing on. And it’s quiet important to note that the energy created during asana practice must be generalized with Pranayama. Frankly it’s a stepping stone towards Samadhi.
Then comes Pratyahara or the withdrawal of senses. Patanjali says they form a bridge between the Bahiranga Yoga ( Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama) with Antaranga Yoga (Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi). When a person has completely internalised his senses and their stimulation doesn’t emit reactions or inclinations, he isn’t affected by his surrounding. This forms the solid ground for the next step, that is Dharana.
Dharana in Sanskrit means to emulate or hold. It requires steadfastness internally and externally. To hold onto an object or a thought for a prolonged period of time is what Dharana means in layman\’s terms. Dharana often mean the for going further internally and paves way for internal awareness.
On the building blocks of Dharana one moves onto the next limb that is Dhyana. Dhyana is the part which leads to eventually Samadhi or the ultimate liberation. Dhyana is the contemplation one must perform after holding steady his object of Dharana. It\’s moving deeper to the core layer of consciousness where the object merges within one self and the Jeevatma forgets his humane submissions.
Crossing these layers of consciousness, comes the ultimate bliss. The part where the physical form ends and the divine begins. The further a person goes, the closer he comes to Samadhi. The keyword is closer since Samadhi is a state rarely achieved and requires enormous strength and willpower.
However, Swami Vivekananda believed that the outer body experience isn\’t just limited to the finality of Liberation but by leading a life of a true yogi who performs his designated duties in life with dedication and adherence to the rules of nature. Hence Raja Yoga is a normal man\’s pathway to Moksha_ within the quarters of life or outside it.