September 10, 2018

Raja Yoga

This is the stream of yoga that yogamaze follows.

The disciplinary techniques and meditation used in Raja Yoga calm down the mind in several ways:

  • Control thoughts through concentration
  • Using the mind to calm itself
  • Using willpower and stamina to progress spiritually
  • Does NOT require a belief in higher power like Bhakti Yoga

This stream of yoga provides a practical, technical, step-by-step approach that is based on a component of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: Ashtanga Yoga, or eight-limbed yoga. It is a systematic approach for developing the mind. The eight limbs are as follows:

1. Yama: external restraints
The yamas are rules to follow when interacting with the external world. There are a total of five: ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha.

  • Ahimsa: no violence; no injury
    Literally, ahimsa translates to “non-violence,” but it is not just lack of violence. It also includes compassion, kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration for all things. The practitioner need not go out of his/her way to show compassion (while this is still encouraged, but somewhat impractical), but can practice ahimsa by just going about his/her day to day lives without causing any harm to others.
  • Satya: truthfulness
    The literal translation of satya is “the truth.” However, this yama is one of the more default guidelines. What this means is that if the set of conditions are standard, then adhere to the default, which is always be truthful (both to oneself and to others). Consequently, if you are put into a situation in which telling the truth will harm anyone or anything, then it is best to avoid the default and not tell the truth, just in that instance.
  • Asteya: no stealing
    Asteya literally translates to “non-stealing,” or to not possess an object that is not rightfully yours. This is not just restricted to physical objects, but also wrongfully taking others time excessively or without their consent. In this sense, you are “stealing” their time away from them—time that they can never regain.
  • Brahmacharya: no indulgence; celibacy
    This yama often refers to celibacy, abstinence, or avoidance of sexual activity. Due to the fact that this is not entirely applicable for everyone, brahmacharya has been expanded to include “lack of all indulgences.” This could mean that if you are very hungry, you eat only to satisfy yourself, not more than that. Indulging in food, or for that matter anything, is dangerous to one’s physical body, and can lead to countless health problems. Instead, we should control our desires and make sure that we do not exceed our limits with respect to our bodies.
  • Aparigraha: no hoarding
    Due to the expansion of the definition of brahmacharya, aparigraha sort of overlaps with it. It means to “not hoard” or only take what is necessary (as you can see, this is similar to no indulgences). Desire for an object, or multiple objects, is unhealthy. Sure, we can want things, but often that want turns into a need, and our body is not satisfied until we have that necessity fulfilled. Instead, appreciate what you have, appreciate what others have, and learn to leave it at that. Hoarding items will not give you anything beyond short-term, materialistic happiness.

2. Niyama: internal discipline
The niyamas are rules to follow when interacting with the oneself. Compared to the yamas, the niyamas are considered to be a deeper discipline in one’s attitude and are more intimate and personal. There are a total of five: saucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya, and ishwara pranidhana.

  • Saucha: purity; cleanliness
    Saucha translated directly to “purity” and “cleanliness.” This is at the inner as well as outer levels of your body. One is expected to stay physically clean for obvious health reasons; bad hygiene can lead to a series of diseases and health problems. However, the more personal aspect of saucha comes in when we look at our inner cleanliness. This includes the emotions we have in our mind: hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion, and pride.
  • Santosha: contentment; happiness
    Santosha literally means “contentment,” but this niyama goes beyond that. It ties into the entire “everything has a purpose” attitude about life, so one should always be at peace with oneself, Even when faced with obstacles, you should mentally push them aside and think to yourself that it was meant to happen. By changing your perspective so that you are always content with what happens, you bring a new positive outlook on life that will help you overcome those obstacles with greater ease.
  • Tapas: hard work; austerity
    We only have a limited amount of work we can do, and a limited amount of energy we can consume. Tapas refers to that energy in the sense that it asks to direct it towards a single cause. You are much more efficient if you work hard towards one cause rather than spread yourself thin and try to unsuccessfully work towards twenty causes.
  • Svadhyaya: introspection; self-study
    Svadhyaya directly translates to “self-reflection.” In essence, this means that you should examine and inquire yourself, then reflect upon those answers. The entire purpose of svadhyaya is to gain awareness about oneself. Most of the time, we are too busy to care about who we truly are as a person or what we truly want to accomplish in life. These periods of self-introspection assist in making yourself a lot more aware and reminding yourself of your aspirations.
  • Ishwara Pranidhana: resignation to higher power
    Ishwara Pranidhana means having faith in a higher power. This does not necessarily have to be God, but anything you believe is above you. What iswara pranidhana does is it helps you surrender your “ego” or attitude of superiority by providing a being that you yourself consider to be superior to you. Taking time out of your day for acknowledging superiority to something that is not you gives you a sense of humility. It makes us more pleasing to the world, as no one likes an egoistic, full-of-themselves person.

3. Asana: physical postures
Patanjali’s famous description and attributes of asanas, which are physical postures, is:

Sthira Sukham Asanam
“Stable, pleasurable, and sustainable”

The first component, stable, means that one should not be wavering while performing an
asana. The second component, pleasurable, means that one should not feel pain while performing the asana. Instead, the feeling of being in that asana should be positive and pleasurable. The third component, sustainable, means that one should be able to hold the posture for long periods of time without violation of the first two components. Put together, this forms the guidelines for an asana. If all three components cannot be held true when you are performing any given asana, it means that you are doing something wrong, and should exit the asana immediately before any further damage.

Asanas are not just at the physical level, as the majority of the world thinks, but instead use the body as a means for transcending the physical world. If performed correctly, asanas should give the practitioner inexplicable relaxation while revitalizing the physical layer and mental feelings of pleasure.

4. Pranayama: breathing practices
Respiration is one of the sure signs of life, and therefore what we adopt to be prana. Controlling our breath, or regulating the respiratory system, is known as pranayama. It must be performed in a specific posture with specific awareness for optimal results.

5. Pratyahara: restraint of senses
The entire purpose of our senses is to inform us of any threats around us. If we know we are not in any immediate danger, it is safe to restrain the senses. We do this because the senses alert the brain of what is happening in one’s surroundings, and the brain then acts upon it. Once mastered, the practitioner can practice pratyahara at any time to mentally remove themselves from the world. This action can ensure that one will not be bothered by any external noise, movement, etc.

6. Dharana: focusing of mind
Once the senses are removed as part of pratyahara, you must focus the mind. Often times, yogis fix their concentration on a certain object or thought, which can either be internal or external. During dharana, your awareness can be grouped into three specific types: the object of concentration itself, your own body and breath, and the process by which you concentrate on the said object.

7. Dhyana: defocusing through meditation
It directly translates to awareness, most probably because the three types mentioned in dharana now merge into one — simply awareness itself. After focusing, one must defocus the mind to experience true awareness. A practitioner who has achieved dhyana does not experience any physical or bodily distractions. It all blends into one. Extremely difficult to achieve, it is essentially the intense feeling of concentration let go to reward your mind and body with no tension whatsoever.

8. Samadhi: superconsciousness
Samadhi is known as the “quiet state of blissful awareness.” It is the ultimate goal — unity with all aspects of oneself: mind, body, and spirit. There is no more physical object, nor is there your “ego.” There is just existence and pure bliss. The final step of Ashtanga Yoga, this is the hardest to achieve. Many spend their entire lives dedicated to reaching samadhi. It requires complete control of body, mastery of mind, and awareness of spirit. Once reached, samadhi is said to offer the practitioner a new perspective of life.