Raja Yoga

Posted in Yoga by udoit on January 22, 2012

Majority of people in this modern world know that the word Yoga represents activities (postures and meditation) which improve one’s physical as well as mental health. However, people get confused or unable to differentiate when they come across different words like Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Power Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Bikram Yoga and Astanga Yoga etc. The following paragraphs provide Raja Yoga’s overview and background, also a brief history on how various practitioners – known as Yogis – interpreted and recited it.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali makes up the foundational text of Raja Yoga. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali prescribes steps to quiet one’s mind and liberate the spirit. Raja Yoga aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental changes. It starts with postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayamas) as a preparation for the meditation and concentration that enable controlling of the mind. The opinion of most scholars is that Patanjali was not the author of Yoga. Instead, he was a great expounder who interpreted various techniques that existed before and set them forth point by point.

In ancient India, the word Yoga is associated with meditative practices in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Specifically, the word yoga is used to refer one of the six orthodox schools of Indian philosophies (Sankhya yoga, hatha yoga, jnanayoga, bhaktiyoga, etc.). The Yogis of Sankhya School of philosophy researched to understand secrets of human beings. In other words, they pursued for self-realization (Who am I?). As a result, they propound theories on human being’s physical body and metaphysical elements such as mind and life (spirit). The Raja Yoga or Yoga Sutras of Patanjali emerged from those metaphysical theories.

In the 15th-century, Yogi Swatmarama introduced the term Raja Yoga to distinguish the school based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali from his school known as Hatha Yoga. His school – Hatha Yoga – is based on various texts (including Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) and his own yogic experiences. Following the same path, various Yogis created different schools of yoga, as a result, there are an array of disciplines as listed above (Vinyasa Yoga, Astanga Yoga etc.). The term Raja Yoga is also used as the title of an entirely unrelated practice by the Brahma Kumaris and Prajapita Brahma Kumaris.