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Rāja yoga was first described as an eightfold or eight-limbed (aṣṭānga, ashtanga) path in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, and is part of the Samkhya tradition.
In the context of Hindu philosophy Rāja Yoga is known simply as yoga. Yoga is one of the six orthodox (āstika, existing) schools of Hindu philosophy and forms an integral part of the spiritual practices of many Hindu traditions.
 EtymologyBhagavad Gita 4.2 mentions a very ancient knowledge, a vidyā named yoga, transmitted by lineage of "rājarṣayah" rāja ṛṣi-, rishi kings. (source)
The term Rāja Yoga is possibly a retronym, introduced in the 15th-century Hatha Yoga Pradipika to distinguish the school based on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali from the more current school of hatha yoga expounded by yogi Swatmarama.
 ConceptRāja yoga is concerned with the mind (citta) and its fluctuations (vṛttis, vortexes, variations) and how to quiet or master the mind's fluctuations. The mind is traditionally conceived as the "king", the horseman, of the psycho-physical (body) structure. Because of the relationship between the mind and the body, the body must be first "tamed" through self-discipline and purified by means such as the outer, preliminary five limbs of this eightfold yoga, by hatha yoga or other means. A good level of overall health and psychological integration must be attained before the deeper, inner aspects of yoga can be pursued. Humans have all sorts of addictions and obsessions and these preclude the attainment of tranquil abiding (meditation). Through restraint (yama) such as celibacy, abstaining from intoxicants, and careful attention to one's actions (niyama) of body, speech and mind, the human being becomes more fit to practice meditation. This yoke that one puts upon oneself (discipline) is another meaning of the word yoga.
Rāja yoga is traditionally referred to as aṣṭānga (eight-limbed) yoga because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend.Every thought, feeling, perception, or memory you may have causes a modification, or ripple, in the mind. It distorts and colors the mental mirror. If you can restrain the mind from forming into modifications, there will be no distortion, and you will experience your true Self.
Patañjali's Yoga Sutras begin with the statement yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (1.2), "Yoga limits the oscillations of the mind". They go on to detail the ways in which mind can create false ideations, and advocate arduous, dedicated meditation on real objects or subjects. This process, it is said, leads to a state of quiet detachment, vairāgya, in which there is mastery over the thirst (tṛṣṇā, taṇhā) of the senses.
Practices that serve to maintain for the individual the ability to access this state may be considered rāja yoga practices. Thus rāja yoga encompasses and differentiates itself from other forms of yoga by encouraging the mind to avoid the sort of absorption in obsessional practice (including some traditional practices) that can create false mental objects.
In this sense rāja yoga is called the "king among yogas": all honest yogic practices are seen as tools in the quest to cleanse karma and obtain mokṣa, nirvāṇa or kaivalya. Historically, schools of yoga that label themselves "rāja" offer students a structure of yogic practices and a solid viewpoint on dharma.
Lord Kṛṣṇa describes the yogi as follows: "A yogi is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist, and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances be a yogi" (Bg. 6.46).
 PracticeRāja yoga aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications. While a Hatha Yogi starts his sādhanā, or spiritual practice, with āsanas (postures) and prāṇāyāma, a rāja yogi starts his sādhanā with the mind as well as a certain minimum of āsana and prāṇāyāma usually included as a preparation for the meditation and concentration. In Samādhi Pada I,27 it is stated that the word of Īśvara is OM, the Praṇava. Through the sounding of the Word and through reflection upon its meaning, the Way is found.
In the Jangama dhyana technique of Rāja yoga, the yogi concentrates the mind and sight between the eyebrows. According to Patanjali, this is one method of achieving the initial concentration (dharana: Yoga Sutras, III: 1) necessary for the mind to go introverted in meditation (dhyana: Yoga Sutras, III: 2). In deeper practice of the Jangama dhyana technique, the mind concentrated between the eyebrows begins to automatically lose all location and focus on the watching itself. Eventually, the meditator experiences only the consciousness of existence and achieves Self Realization. In his classic Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda describes the process in the following way:
When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point. This state is called dhyana. When one has so intensified the power of dhyana as to be able to reject the external part of perception and remain meditating only on the internal part, the meaning, that state is called Samādhi.
 Eight limbs of Ashtanga YogaThe eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are:
- Yama – code of conduct, self-restraint
- Niyama – religious observances, commitments to practice, such as study and devotion
- Āsana – integration of mind and body through physical activity
- Pranayama – regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
- Pratyahara – abstraction of the senses, withdrawal of the senses of perception from their objects
- Dharana – concentration, one-pointedness of mind
- Dhyana – meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)
- Samādhi – the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious(?) state. Attained when yogi constantly sees Paramatma in his (jivaatma) heart.
 YamaYama (restraints) consists of five parts: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (perceiving Brahma in everything you see Brahma: "That which contains an inexhaustible potential of creativity" Carya: " The way of living" - The way of living in Brahma's perception - wrongly interpreted as meaning sexual abstinence), and Aparigraha (non-covetousness). Ahimsa is perfect harmlessness, as well as positive love. The five directives of Yama lay down behavioral norms as prerequisites for elimination of fear, and contribute to a tranquil mind.
 NiyamaNiyama is observance of five canons: Shaucha (internal and external purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of religious books and repetitions of Mantras), and Ishvarapranidhana (self-surrender to God, and His worship). Niyama, unlike Yama, prescribes mental exercises to train the mind to control emotions.
 AsanaAsana in the sense of a posture that one can hold for a period of time, staying relaxed and with normal (calm) breathing (or, as some sources say, "without effort").
In Sanskrit, asana means literally "seat", the place where one sits; or posture, position of the body (any position). Asanas (in the sense of Yoga "posture") are said to derive from the various positions of animals' bodies (whence are derived most of the names of the positions). 84 asanas are considered to be the main postures, of which the highest are Shirshasan (headstand) and Padmasan (lotus).
The practice of asanas affects the following aspects or planes of the human being:
- physical (blood circulation, inner organs, glands, muscles, joints and nerve system)
- psychological (developing emotional balance and stability, harmony)
- mental (improved ability to concentrate, memory)
- consciousness (purifying and clarifying consciousness/awareness)
 PrāṇāyāmaPrāṇāyāma is made out of two Sanskrit words (prāṇa = life energy; ayāma = control or modification). Breathing is the medium used to achieve this goal. The mind and life force are correlated to the breath. Through regulating the breathing and practicing awareness on it, one learns to control prana.
According to Rāja yoga, there are three main types (phases, units, stadia) of pranayama:
- purak (inhalation)
- rechak (exhalation)
- kumbhak (holding the breath); which appears as:
- antara kumbhak (withholding the breath after inhalation)
- bahar kumbhak (withholding the breath after exhalation)
- keval kumbhak (spontaneous withholding of the breath)
- surya bhedan
- candra bhedan
- nadi shodhan (anuloma viloma)
- plavini (bhujangini)
- combination of sheetkari and sheetali
 PratyaharaPratyahara is bringing the awareness to reside deep within oneself, free from the senses and external world. The Goal of Pratyahara is not to disrupt the communication from the sense organ to the brain. The awareness is far removed from the five senses. Pratyahara cannot be achieved without achievement of the preceding limbs (pranayama, niyama, etc.). The awareness comes to rest deep in the inner space, and during this time the yogi's breath will be temporarily suspended. Pratyahara should not just be likened to concentration or meditation, etc. It is a yogic practice that takes on adequacy with the prior 8 limbs as prerequisites.
 DharanaReal Yoga starts from concentration. Concentration merges into meditation. Meditation ends in Samadhi. Retention of breath, Brahmacharya, Satvic (pure) food, seclusion, silence, Satsanga (being in the company of a guru), and not mixing much with people are all aids to concentration. Concentration on Bhrakuti (the space between the two eyebrows) with closed eyes is preferred. The mind can thus be easily controlled, as this is the seat for the mind.[clarification needed]
- "Sleep, tossing of mind, attachment to objects, subtle desires and cravings, laziness, lack of Brahmacharya, gluttony are all obstacles in meditation. Reduce your wants. Cultivate dispassion. You will have progress in Yoga. Vairagya thins out the mind. Do not mix much. Do not talk much. Do not eat much. Do not sleep much. Do not exert much. Never wrestle with the mind during meditation. Do not use any violent efforts at concentration. If evil thoughts enter your mind, do not use your will force in driving them. You will tax your will. You will lose your energy. You will fatigue yourself. The greater the efforts you make, the more the evil thoughts will return with redoubled force. Be indifferent. Become a witness of those thoughts. They will pass away. Never miss a day in meditation. Regularity is of paramount importance. When the mind is tired, do not concentrate. Do not take heavy food at night.
- The mind passes into many conditions or states as it is made up of three qualities: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Kshipta (wandering), Vikshipta (gathering), Mudha (ignorant), Ekagra (one-pointed), and Nirodha (contrary) are the five states of the mind.
- By controlling the thoughts the Sadhaka attains great Siddhis. He becomes adept. He attains Asamprajnata Samadhi or Kaivalya. Do not run after Siddhis. Siddhis are great temptations. They will bring about your downfall. A Raja Yogi practices Samyama or the combined practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi at one and the same time.
- Control the mind by Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (dispassion). Any practice that steadies the mind and makes it one-pointed is Abhyasa. Dull Vairagya will not help you in attaining perfection in Yoga. You must have Para Vairagya or Theevra Vairagya, intense dispassion." — Swami Sivananda from Amrita Gita
 SamadhiMeditation on OM with Bhava removes obstacles in Sadhana and helps to attain Samadhi. Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga-Dvesha (likes and dislikes), Abhinivesha (clinging to mundane life) are the five Kleshas or afflictions. Destroy these afflictions. You will attain Samadhi.
Samadhi is of two kinds:
- Savikalpa, Samprajnata or Sabija; and
- Nirvikalpa, Asamprajnata or Nirbija.
In the last sutra (4,34), Patañjali says the soul reaches its end in liberation, enlightenment, kaivalya.
 See also
- The term is used to describe the meditation practice of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.
- Also as the title of an entirely unrelated practice by Prajapita Brahma Kumaris.
- It is not to be confused with the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga of K. Pattabhi Jois.
- The Kriya Yoga by Paramahansa Yogananda is closely related.
- K A Jacobsen & G J Larson Theory And Practice of Yoga: Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson, p. 4.
- "The Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali - a translation and commentary by Yogacharya Shivaji Mizner"
- See Swami Vivekenanda on dhyana and samādhi in rāja yoga here.
- Swami Kriyananda, J. Donald Walters, The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, p.100
- Sen, Amiya P. (2006). "Raja Yoga: The Science of Self-Realization". The Indispensable Vivekananda. Orient Blackswan. pp. 219–227. ISBN 978-81-7824-130-2. http://books.google.com/?id=OjwwJcdKEy8C&printsec=frontcover#PPA219,M1.
- Feuerstein, Georg; Ken Wilber (2002). "The Wheel of Yoga". The Yoga Tradition. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. ISBN 978-81-208-1923-8. http://books.google.com/?id=Yy5s2EHXFwAC&pg=PA37.
- Akhilananda, Swami; Gordon W. Allport (1999). Hindu Psychology. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-00266-7. http://books.google.com/?id=aANjt2mn27MC&printsec=frontcover.
- Vivekananda, Swami (1980). Raja Yoga. Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center. ISBN 0-911206-23-X. http://www.amazon.com/Raja-Yoga-Swami-Vivekananda/dp/091120623X.
- Wood, Ernest (1951). Practical Yoga, Ancient and Modern, Being a New, Independent Translation of Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms. Rider and Company.
- Prabhavananda, Swami; Christopher Isherwood. How to Know God. Vedanta Press & Bookshop. ISBN 978-0-87481-041-7. http://www.amazon.com/How-Know-God-Aphorisms-Patanjali/dp/0874810418.