Tag Archives: Four path of yoga

Raja Yoga and the 8-fold Path

Raja Yoga, one of the four main paths of Yoga, is considered the royal path, the Yoga of the mind or of self-discipline. It is a more integral and scientific approach to Yoga.

Raja Yogis believe that the mind needs first to be tamed in order to be purified. Patanjali, composer of the Raja Yoga Sutras writes the famous description of yoga which says ‘yogah chitta vritti nirodhah‘: chitta – thoughts; vritti – thought waves, modifications of the mind; nirodhah – to find tranquility, to control; a common english translation is ‘yoga is the slowing down of the modifications of the mind‘. If we slow down our thought waves we become able to observe them and acknowledge our mental patterns. This is the first step towards consciously changing them.

Every thought that comes up in our mind leaves a lasting impression, called sanskara in sanskrit. The more we repeat a thought, the deeper this sanskara becomes ingrained in our minds, so that it forms a thought pattern, a habit. You can imagine this like a river, the water flows down the same lines over again and leaves a valley. The deeper the valley, the harder it is for the water to find a different flow next time. When we here the name Michael Jackson, we think of music and when we hear the name James Bond we think of movies – these are our thought patterns, categories that are put together by the self-organising function of the mind. We use these categories in daily life to work more efficiently. In the same way however when we buy a piece of delicious cake at a bakery, we create a sanskara. Next time we walk past the bakery we think of that piece of cake. We buy it again and the sanskara becomes deeper. With repetition it becomes a habit, habits form our character and the character determines our destiny.

To free ourselves from these pattern, to look into the categories and consciously reorganise them, we need to slow down our waves of thought. For this purpose Patanjali put together the eight limbs of Raja Yoga which compromise elements from all of the main yogic scriptures.

The eight limbs consist of four points that deal with the external and then four that deal with the internal:

The Yamas represent the code of conduct and are practices of self-restraint, like Ahimsa, non-violence, Satya, truthfulness, Asteya, non-stealing, Brahmacharya, abstinence from sexual misconduct and Aparigraha, non-covetousness or non-possessivness. These Yamas are behavioural norms and are said to be essential to slow down the movements of the mind. If we are possessed by greed or violence our mind will not be able to concentrate.

The Niyamas are the five observances and are more of a spiritual practice to train the mind and control the emotions. They are Saucha, internal and external purity, Santosha, contentment, Tapas, austerity, Svadhyaya, study of scriptures and self-reflection, Ishvarapranidhana, self-surrender to God.

Asana is defined as a posture that one can hold effortless for some time observing calmness and breath. 84 asanas are considered to be the main ones while the most important one is padmasana, which is the lotus pose and helps us in meditation. The practice of asanas effects us physically (blood circulation, flexibility, inner organs, glands, muscles and nervous system), psychologically/emotionally (developing emotional balance and stability, inner harmony), mentally (improving our concentration, memory) and on a consciousness level (purifying and clarifying our awareness).

Pranayama is the control of prana, the life-force or energy which we achieve through regulation of the breath. The breath is what harmonises the mind, the prana and the physical body. Pranayama and asanas, often referred to as Hatha Yoga,  are the external practices that prepare the body for the internal following four practices.

Pratyahara is the control of the senses and teaches us to go inside ourselves and not be disturbed by what is going on outside of us. It is considered a prerequisite for the further practice of concentration and meditation.

Dharana means concentration. This is where every meditation starts, in focusing the mind, becoming-one pointed and not being distracted.

Dhyana is meditation, it goes beyond concentration. It is here where we are able to consciously alternate our mind and mental pattern, being awake, free from distractions and desire.

Samadhi is the final stage, blissful awareness, the superconscious state.

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Four Paths of Yoga

… there are many roads leading to the top of the mountain – once we’re up there we all have the same view.

Karma Yoga as the path of action teaches us to do our own duties skillfully and selflessly; dedicating the results of our actions to humanity. Practicing this kind of yoga helps us to be unselfishly and successfully in the world without being burdened or distressed. Many teachers agree that this is the most meaningful yoga for modern times. Generosity becomes a part of everything we do and is not relying on any object or person. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist Zen master, gives us the image of the left hand helping out the right when the right is injured. If we are washing dishes and think of others that do nothing we cannot enjoy washing the dishes. In that way Karma Yoga is a good practice of acceptance and getting beyond Raga Dvesha. As people that were mostly Karma Yogis we could name Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Terese.

Bhakti Yoga is the path of love and devotion is often said to be the easiest path of Yoga in this particular time of evolution. Bhakti Yogis use devotional practices such as chanting, mantra meditations and God visualisations to transform their emotions into pure devotion, open hearts and turn every action in life into an action of love, an offering to God. The path of the Hare Krishna group is mostly a Bhakti path of Yoga. Ramakrishna is an enlightened Yogi and guru who reached his high state of consciousness through devotion.

Jnana Yoga, or the Yoga of Knowledge involves intense mental discipline. Discrimination between the transient and the everlasting, the finite and the infinite through the intellect is the goal of this Yoga. Jnana Yoga is an extremely difficult path that is only mastered by a few. It involves questioning the Self, existence itself, the mind and its relations to every other thing in the universe. Krishnamurti or Ramana Maharishi are popular Jnana Yogis.

Raja Yoga is considered the royal path, the Yoga of the mind or of self-discipline and is a more integral and scientific approach to Yoga. It is believed that the mind needs first to be tamed in order to be purified. The indian God Siva is believed to have thought the art of Raja Yoga to Parvati, his beloved and feminine aspect. The spiritual teacher Swami Vishnudevananda is one example of a popular and accomplished Raja Yogi. (More on Raja Yoga following soon)

The 5 Kleshas: The Blindfold

To become aware of this union, the practice of Yoga teaches us to see past dualism and free ourselves from conditioning and preconceptions, from lower feelings and thoughts and to get over personal impurities that envelop our being. Yoga philosophers have, just as Buddhism, named a number of afflictions of our mind, the Kleshas, that distort or cloud our perceptions and effect how we think, act and feel. They are the reasons for our suffering, our impurity and our disconnection form the universal soul.

  • Avidya or ignorance as the root affliction. Avidya is the misconception of reality, seeing the temporary as eternal, the impure as pure.
  • Asmita or egoism is the identification of ourselves with the ego. We create an image of ourselves which we believe is true but which is not really us. We fail to see our whole being and our interconnection with other. We distinguish here particularly between, external (rich and poor) and internal (good and bad) perceptions of ourselves and others.
  • Raga or attachment is the attraction to the things that bring us satisfaction. The desire for pleasures creates mindless actions and we suffer when we can’t obtain. A good example are addictions simple as coffee or cigarettes.
  • Dvesha or repulsion is the opposite of Raga and means the aversion towards things that produce unpleasant experiences. We suffer when we can’t avoid, for example a room full of smokers or a cold shower.
  • Abhinivesha is the deepest of all Kleshas, the fear of death and the fear behind all other fears, ingrained in us through our survival instinct.

There are many ways out of these afflictions, different paths of yoga just as there are different inclinations in different people. A commonly used image in Yoga says that there are many roads leading to the top of the mountain – once we’re up there we all have the same view. However, the first step is always the acknowledgement and understanding of these impurities followed by self-reflection. And that is something that needs to come from inside, the desire to cleanse oneself from impurities and be free from suffering. If this desire is immanent and present, then we’re probably already on at least one of the many paths. The main four of these paths of Yoga are Karma Yoga, the Yoga of action, Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of devotion, Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of knowledge and Raja Yoga, the Yoga of the mind or self-discipline.