Rāja Yoga — Being Free & Fearless
In Sanskrit, Rāja means “chief, best of its kind” or “king”. It thus refers to “chief, best of yoga” or the highest state of yoga practice (one reaching samadhi). Just as a king acts with independence, self-confidence, and assurance, Rāja Yoga evokes the vigor of autonomy, independence, and fearlessness and is a dedicated path of self-discipline and practice.
When Swami Vivekananda equated Rāja Yoga with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it became a modern name for practicing 8 core steps to Yoga, most commonly known as Ashtanga Yoga or the Eightfold Path of Yoga. Patanjali’s Sutras primarily describe the function, dysfunction, and transcendence of the mind through the discipline of meditation.
As Ashtanga Yoga has been adsorbed into Western culture, many offshoots have been created, such as Vinyasa, Power, Hot, Dynamic, Iyengar, Anusara, Bikram, and Restorative Yoga. Each of these Yogas has roots in Ashtanga or Rāja Yoga, but not all practitioners hold its core philosophy in mind.
It’s important not to forget the roots of the Raja Yoga tradition because the original purpose of this highly developed wisdom system was to emphasize meditation over physical and breathing techniques to accelerate the path to realizing our true nature as divine. Still, while holding the key pieces of this tradition, we must also consider modern adaptations when forming a final chosen philosophy and practice to integrate with.
In essence, the state of Yoga is unity with body-mind-heart-spirit — wholeness. With sustained Yoga practice and meditation, a state of peace and contentment naturally results. But, ultimately, Yoga is a path of recognizing our true nature of divinity and Oneness. Not all Yoga practices have the same method of realizing or remembering this, but this common thread is inherently part of the design of all of them.
Four primary Yogas are taught from the Vedanta that you can follow to achieve the goal of understanding divine nature. [The teachings from the Vedanta differ from most knowledge today in that they contain knowledge heard from a divine source rather than learned from a book.]
You can choose one or any combination of them when practicing Yoga today, knowing that each one brings you closer to this inner/outer realization.
The sacredness in spiritual, social, familial, physical, mental, vocational, financial, and environmental interdependence is at the heart of the holistic Yoga I advocate for today; It’s not just a philosophy or practice but way of inter-connecting to the sacredness in all living systems.
- Bhakti Yoga — Divinity is approached through a loving relationship with divine nature and the presence of divinity through such practices as prayer and chanting. This is the Yoga of love and devotion.
- Jnana Yoga — Reason and discernment are used to realize divinity within oneself by reducing and eliminating falsity. This is the Yoga of knowledge.
- Karma Yoga — Nothing personal is expected in return for service and offerings to the Divine, learning that detachment and equanimity in work help one realize that results of actions are beyond your control. This is the Yoga of selfless work.
- Rāja Yoga — Although meditation is significant for all paths, meditation is a central focus for experiencing higher states of consciousness, sinking into practitioners a deep knowledge of divine nature. Symbolic images of the divine and mantra are often indicated. This is the Yoga of meditation.
Any separation of consciousness creates suffering because it is illusion. By knowing the very definition of illusion — “a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses” — you can immediately notice that the mind’s interpretation of the senses tends to create illusion in the first place and masks our connection to universal consciousness or Brahman — the ultimate reality in the universe.
Thus, in Rāja Yoga, mind Yoga is emphasized over physical Yoga, and is highly revered because it attains this realization, actualization and/or enlightenment from direct control and mastery of the mind, a challenging and difficult practice to engage in, but an accelerated methodology for cultivating a relationship to ultimate reality. And by cultivating a real, sacred inner relationship, naturally, your outer reality will reflect this.
“Yoga” in the West is typically known as Hatha Yoga (physical) and is an easier path of controlling the body and breath to still prana (energy), which in turn stills the mind. Hatha Yoga was actually developed as a preparation for Rāja Yoga and in essence, is the 3rd limb of Ashtanga Yoga — asana — yet they can both be practiced simultaneously.
Little evidence actually links modern Yoga adaptative practices, like Vinyasa, with the meditation practice that Patanjali was teaching originally, but all Yoga has a seed of divinity that makes all methods work toward the same goal, just with different areas of emphasis and thus at different rates of progression towards advanced states of consciousness.
Because wisdom in teacher/student relationships of Yoga was passed in oral tradition, there are not many records kept so it’s not really possible to fully link the Yogas we know today to a bonafide source. However, just as each tradition evolved and developed with each successive teacher and generation, so should modern adaptations of ancient traditions adapt to the changing needs and perspectives of individuals and societies of today.
I believe that just as many benefits lie in our generations’ changeability of traditions as it does our capacity to be consistent with the teachings of longstanding traditions. So while molding the Yogas of today to fit modern needs, may we hold a truly holistic approach to practice in mind. For example, I suggest we at least conjure that the key message of Yoga is to realize and connect to our true divine nature.
In a way, this can be the foundation for further adaptations. Then we can add therapeutic aspects, observances of the varying ways of life, and emotional signatures/constitutions for each individual and even culture to determine how complete a Yoga system is.
Furthermore, a comprehensive Yoga system of today may also request to normalize and advocate for effective, holistic processes for healing and reprogramming the subconscious mind to intentionally compliment the milieu of the time.
In the case of our current social, political, environmental, and economic atmosphere, we need a bridge from [often very limited] visible, relative, and terrestrial points of view to invisible, transpersonal, and multidimensional points of view. Many fields of work today that are making strides in these areas include depth psychology, transpersonal psychology, past life regression work and soul-retrieval, shadow work, [non-invasive] psychic and intuitive guidance, metaphysics, shamanic journeying, dream tending and even quantum physics.
In sum, as you explore each of the 8 “limbs” of the Rāja Yoga system and honor its purpose, it’s important to also recognize that whatever philosophy or practical method you choose to expand your awareness, it’s not complete without a connection to Divinity.
Furthermore, the spiritual bypassing and escapism (that I’ve participated in myself) that’s part of Yoga’s shadow side is worth highlighting. If Yoga connects you to divinity, but all you seek to experience is a quality of “Oneness” that detracts from deeper human connection, interdependence, and engagement with everyday life, of holding vivacity and enthusiasm for the mundane, relative, very human world we live in, your Yoga might need an upgrade and adjustment.
Granted, spiritual bypassing is another part and parcel of our evolutionary spiral dynamics. Judging and ridiculing this and similar phenomena may point to pitfalls and shortcomings of that particular stage of evolution but don’t honor the journey of discovering empowerment at each stage of personal and collective integration.
What we need is a recognition that each stage of evolution is necessary and serves a purpose, that a person’s place on this helical trail is no better or worse than another’s place but a necessary part of their own evolutionary, spiritual traversal.
Incorporating this viewpoint discourages competition, “efficiency”, individualism, over-developed IQ, and alienation and invites collaboration, synergy, collective integration, the development of EQ, and interconnection.
What we need is more acceptance and belonging, less rejection and trauma. Let us not forget our true nature. For the greatest temple of God lies within the human heart.
“The yoga pose is not the goal… the goal is to create space where you were stuck. To unveil the layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To make peace with who you are… The goal is to love yourself [and others].” — Rachel Brathen
With that said, here are the 8 Steps of Rāja Yoga that may lay the proper footing for our ability to express, create, and relate with a much greater capacity for more freedom and fearlessness…
The last four limbs are referred to as the internal limbs and are practiced sequentially. The first four limbs are referred to as the external limbs and are to be practiced simultaneously.
The 8 Limbs of Rāja Yoga, the Core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra:
- Yama: Universal morality, correct behavior toward others & self-control. (Nonviolence, Truthfulness, Not stealing, Not wasting energy, Abstaining from greed)
- Niyama: Personal observances, principles to live by, & discipline. (Purity of action, Contentment, Austerity, Study of self-development, Devotion/Surrendering ego)
- Asana: Body postures & the seat of consciousness (physical preparation for the body to sit in meditation). Physical practice is necessary for opening and developing your muscular and central nervous systems, eliminating disease, and purifying the body.
- Pranayama: Inhalation, exhalation, & retention — prana (life-force) yama (extension) through breathing exercises. Cultivates a capacity to monitor and regulate the breath and energy in the body, ultimately prolonging life.
- Pratyahara: Control of the senses or a way of turning the senses inward to explore the inner universe. This is a withdrawal of your five senses from external objects to develop awareness and cut unhealthy physical attachments to the body. (Where Hatha Yoga typically ends).
- Dharana: Concentration & Cultivation of inner perceptual awareness — Effortless focused attention (training the mind to meditate) on a single object, usually the breath. Mind stays focused and releases attachments to thoughts. Completion is when you become completely absorbed in the chosen point of focus.
- Dhyana: Meditation on divine devotion — A continuous flow of your mind on a single point for a long period of time. This is where meditation is perfected because thoughts cease, and the mind stills.
- Samadhi: Absorption of spirit into Divine/God — Complete Realization — This is Yoga or union with Divine or Unity Consciousness. Ecstasy & bliss arise as one observes, becomes the observer of, and is observed by pure awareness; Here, subject, object, and perceiving all melt into a feeling of oneness and pure awareness is reflected on the still surface of the mind. Fear is completely nonexistent here. This is ultimate freedom.
Above all, Kinan’s is most passionate about exploring the science of human potential through areas of technology, health, psychology, and spirituality. He strives to drive human innovation and transformation as an active participant in the evolution of consciousness.
Kinan believes we can achieve this primarily in the ways we communicate, relate, and create open heartedly and intelligently. He works with empowering the full spectrum of human experience, shadow and all.
You can connect with him or discover more about his work in transformation and evolving consciousness at cosmicroots.co.