I am writing this in continuation of my talk on Raj yoga (BBC Radio Devon) to try and make a bit more sense of it. To begin with, let’s first see what does yoga actually mean.
Yoga means union, joining or alignment.
What does it mean by joining with our true self? Of course, we are joined with ourselves and us as the spirit, but we have lost the link and to re-establish this link is the meaning of yoga. We are so strongly embedded with this idea that we are this body and this mind that we do not have the capacity to really pull us out. Re-establishing your essential oneness (not as body and mind that we are so closely related to), but something dramatically different, the spirit. This is the real meaning of the word Yoga.
It is a journey and destination is the freedom.
Freedom from all the limitations of the body and the mind. It is a freeing experience. Freedom from the shackles that keep us from understanding and experiencing this reality are also broken. You break free from every limitation. This is when you realise that I am spirit, I am not this body or this mind. It is an experiential dimension. It gives freedom from our vision of who we think we are.
This is the fundamental of Raj yoga.
The two crucial tools that we need for this journey are- Our body and our mind.
There is no one path to do this journey.
There are four different paths that we have been explained in Bhagwat Geeta and that all these four paths lead to the same destination of experiencing your true self as spirit.
The four different paths are-
Karma yoga– This is the path of action in its widest sense. It’s your devotion to your duty. Your duty to yourself, your family, your society, your country and to the planet you’re living in. Duty in a selfless way. Nothing wrong in feeding or taking care of your family, but slowly expand it. Best service is the service that is performed without being attached to the fruits of one’s actions. Work for the greater good.
Bhakti yoga– It teaches how to love without any ulterior motives. To see the divine spirit in every living being.
Gyan yoga– Yoga of intelligence or intellect. This is for the philosopher, the thinker, he who wants to go beyond the visible.
Rajyoga– This incorporates all the previous three yoga pathways and goes way beyond. This is also the path to harness the brain and meditate.
Now we are just going to see in further detail about Raj yoga. It is possibly one of the most important one and also the most difficult one. There were different schools of yoga in ancient times. Sage Patanjali compiled them 3200 years ago and made a framework of eight steps to make it easier called Ashtang Yoga.
Asht stands for Eight and Ang stands for limbs.
So this is a framework of eight limbs.
The basis of Raj yoga is that if you can hold your mind still, reality in its true sense can become visible to you. It can then come face-to-face.
Unless you bring discipline in your routine life, it is highly unlikely that you will succeed in meditation. For this reason, Patanjali brought the first two steps Yam and Niyam.
Yam – literally means discipline, it’s your discipline with the outside world. This includes speaking truth, avoid lust, non-violence, non-possessiveness or free yourself from greed.
Niyam– The second step is for self-discipline. It includes self-hygiene, self-study, contentment, show discipline in body, speech and mind.
Patanjali says that unless you bring Yam and Niyam to your daily life, it is unlikely that you can successfully meditate. So the initial requirement is that your routine life should come in the harness first.
Aasan– third step is the Aasan or postures. Holding the mind still is going to be difficult let’s begin by holding the body still to start with. These are postures in harmony with one’s inner consciousness. Out of the eight different steps of yoga, posture or exercising is only the third step. That too, a lower step to go up to the further five steps of yoga.
Our body is a very important tool that we possess and it’s very crucial to take very good care of it. For meditation, healthy and sound body and still mind are required. We need to be aware that the body and mind are very closely linked. If one gets affected in a good or adverse way, the other one gets affected as well. It has an important place in Hindu philosophy, but it is not the end. It is just a stepping stone to get ahead for a higher goal.
Pranayam– this is control of breath which is our life force. It also balances nervous system and encourages creative thinking. This makes us more in regulation of life force and how to utilise it completely.
So you can see how we are travelling inwards so far with each step we climb from outside world alignment, then self-discipline, body postures and then breath control. Now let’s move further inwards and thereby further up the ladder.
Pratyahar – this is to get a better control of our five senses. We often tend to abuse our five senses. We overeat, oversleep and overdo lots of such things. So Pratyahar or the fifth step is to try and control our five senses rather than them controlling us.
This is rightly managing the senses and going beyond them instead of simply suppressing them. This helps to concentrate on meditation better.
Dharna– Having attained the fifth step, now your mind is not going in all different directions. It will start to come to one point. This is the sixth step called Dharna. A sense of concentration. It involves developing our power of concentration.
Dhyan– After Dharna, you are prepared to do meditation for a long time. This takes you to the seventh step called Dhyan. This is where you are single pointedly focused. There are many ways to meditate as per what suits you. The previous limbs help to achieve the preparation for meditation.
Samadhi– when you’re in meditation for a long time it takes you to Samadhi, which is the eighth step of yoga. This 8th step Samadhi is explained in numerous ways. In general, it is that spiritual state which gives you the first hand experience that you are not this body nor are you this mind but you are one with the spirit.
Going up the steps. mind goes from chaotic to calm and in the process we do our social duties in the step one and gradually move from outside world to more and more inwards. Not that I do this all the time I fail multiple times but then I keep going up to the first step in an attempt to climb up again. Patience is the key.
It will fill your lungs with oxygen, body gets stretched, relaxed and stronger. It motivates you to self-care and social duties. It empties your mind of trash and fills it with positivity and hopefully more clarity.
I would like to end with a quote from Swami Vivekanand, a spiritual giant who introduced yoga to the western world
Talk to yourself once a day, otherwise, you may miss meeting an excellent person in this world. Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.Swami Vivekanand
It was his message to the world to get out of their hypnotised state of mind.
By Rachna Sharma