Raja Yoga

"Buddha preaching Abhidhamma in Tavatimsa" by Hintha - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buddha_preaching_Abhidhamma_in_Tavatimsa.jpg#/media/File:Buddha_preaching_Abhidhamma_in_Tavatimsa.jpg

Raja yoga is a term with different meanings depending on context; in the 1900s, Swami Vivekanada equated it with the sutras of Patanjali. Raja means best, chief, or king; when used in yoga it means the highest state of yoga practice or striving for samadhi (bliss). This is the feeling that you achieve in savasana after a well afforded practice; after you’ve pushed yourself and worked hard. Hatha yoga is described as the way to achieve raja yoga when combined with the sutras of patanjali.

Raja is a term that has undergone changes over time until it was most recently equated with the yoga sutras by Swami Vivekanada, but it has always referred to a style of yoga that attempts to make unison with the Brahman, or universal divinity. Eight different steps have been mentioned numerous times and have also evolved over time as the usage of the word has evolved since it was used in the Bhagavad Gita. It has always been considered a type of yoga.

Raja yoga is similar to a path of meditation towards the divine, assimilating the philosophy of samadhi and complete awareness into everyday life. Historically, there are three goals of Raja yoga: an altered state of higher consciousness, an uncovering of the soul, and the yogic traditions of isolation, meditation, and retrospection. It is a term used to largely define the goal of the practices of hatha yoga.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga (Part 3: Asana)

asana depiction

Asana means posture, or alignment of the muscular-skeletal system. This is the limb of yoga that is becoming very popular at the moment, especially in the West. The physical practice of Asana is also known as Hatha yoga. According to the legends and myths of the Hindu religion, Shiva founded yoga and passed it on to humanity. But the physical practice of Asana is really only a vehicle to sustained meditation, which is the ultimate goal of a yoga practice.

Yoga isn’t about expensive equipment, supplements, tearing and building muscles, or simply relaxation; physical yoga is about creating efficiency in the neurological systems of the body and ensuring that the circulatory system is running optimally, including the organs, oxygenation of the blood, neurotransmitter equilibrium, and more. Studies all over the world are finding the extreme benefits of the exercises for the inner organs, heart, and mind to be truly healing for many of the ailments of modern society. Stress, heart disease, neurological dysfunction, and physical injuries can all be aided, if not cured, by many of the physical yoga practices.

Truly, the Asana practice of yoga is a stepping stone into the higher states of consciousness, such as Samadhi (the 8th limb of yoga), Pratyahara (the 5th limb), and living with mindfulness to the environment and in spiritual harmony with the world. Essentially, yoga is a purification process for the body that allows the mind to be at peace and in constant states of bliss, undistracted by the suffering and pain that attachment can bring. The yogi realizes that the sacred mind is a product of the body, and that the body is a sacred gift. Each breath and beat of the heart is a blessing and learning to appreciate them all is part of what asana can allow for the mind.

The names of Asanas are meaningful and symbolic; they represent the evolution that man comes from, his origins in the animal and natural world. That is why many poses are named after animals, sages, and beings that existed before the body of man had evolved. They teach us that life is a universal gift, to be respected and loved. By taking control and conquering the limitations of the body, the yogi makes himself a fit vehicle for carrying the divine light to others and spends his time in the service of his fellow-man and the life surrounding him. Yoga asana helps to remind man that his body is a divine gift of countless ages to evolve and that the life that resides within him originated in the life outside of him and that all life shares the divine gift of life.

Performing Asana will make the body healthy, the mind steady, and the spirit at peace with the surrounding world. True health cannot be purchased and must be sought through work and discipline; something that western medicine tries to deny. The science of Asana has evolved greatly over the years to target individual organs, nerves, lymph, muscles, bones, and ligaments. The science is highly advanced but there is much room for growth and evolution in the practice and yoga will continue to evolve with civilization. Ultimately, physical asana will give you control over the mind by disciplining the body, which is where consciousness stems from. Vitality, bliss, discipline, and fulfillment are the gifts that the physical practice of asana will give the practitioner.

Stay tuned for the remaining 5 limbs of yoga, the next part will focus on Pranayama, or control of the life-force (breath).

The 8 Limbs of Yoga (Part 1: Yamas)


Ashtanga yoga is more than exercise or meditation. It is a lifestyle, a way to live that allows for the body and mind to be free from pain and suffering and to be at peace. REAL yoga happens outside of the yoga room; Asana is only one part of real yoga, albeit a very important one. The true yoga begins off the mat, when you start interacting with your world, from strangers on a subway to your family and children at home. The 8 limbs of yoga is a guide to happiness, tranquility, peace, and ultimately freedom to transcend consciousness and realize god (enlightenment).

The first limb of yoga is no doubt the most foundational, the Yamas (ethical disciplines). These are universal principles, or rules for interacting with the world that lead away from stealing, violence, chaos, greed, and untruth. Essentially they are equivalent to the 10 commandments of Moses or the beatitudes of Jesus, but with the spin that these external rules will create room for detachment and constitute the first steps and foundation for yoga to expand within one’s consciousness. Yamas are like scaffolding that you are building your temple around, and keeps the temple sacred, clean, and free from outside destruction. In the same way the Yamas will keep your mind free from distraction and lead you to closer to enlightenment.

There are 5 parts of the Yamas, each of which is essential to success, though these concepts should be interpreted and applied to your own individual life. No two people will ever live the same life, therefore each individual must adapt the Yamas to their lifestyle. They are Ahisma (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (continence), and Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Ahisma, (‘a’ means not and ‘hisma’ means violence) or non-violence, is probably the most important of the Yamas and is truly very difficult to achieve. Violence is not only physical and can occur within the mind creating distance from creatures and people we are meant to love. Ahisma is far more than just pacifism, non-violence, non-killing, or eating only vegetables; it means finding love and appreciation for all beings. This almost always means eating vegetarian, unless you grow your own animals and treat them with respect and love. Many people interpret Ahisma as vegetarianism, which is important for yoga, but it is also about appreciation for all beings (even the smallest ones!). Then love and true gratitude can flow like water for all the life that surrounds you. Freedom from fear and anger are also intrinsic to this Yama, known as Abhaya (‘a’ means not and ‘bhaya’ means fear) and Akrodha (‘a’ means not and ‘krodha’ means anger). A yogi truly has no fear because of the pure love and focus he brings to his own life and he realizes his own divine connection to all beings as well as his own gift of the body, which allows the yogi to treat all beings with respect, love, and peace.

Satya means truth. The divine exists only in truth, so it is necessary for a yogi to become truthful in all things, to make room for the divine in their life. One of the biggest aspects of Satya is speech, though it is not limited to this. Ridiculing others, telling untrue stories, lying and abusing others are what we really want to avoid here. By rooting out falsehoods, yogis can live truthfully and without fear being at peace with the people around them. This will also contribute to a person’s charisma; when the speech is controlled and truthful, words become far more powerful. When the yogi ceases lying, falsehoods, and malice of speech, self-control is greatly increased and truth begins to drip from the yogi’s actions and life, giving him what he needs to survive and thrive.

Asteya (not stealing) is the desire to own something that another has. This is at the root of all yoga, detachment from the material world and possessions. We need to realize that you really don’t own anything; it is just bullshit you have told yourself to make your life easier. You borrow from this planet, from the people around you and really everything that you have ever received is a gift. Yogi’s do not gather or take possessions of others at all, and even his own possessions are minimal to allows for no distractions from his path. Jealousy, greed, and cravings are abandoned on the journey to the divine and once the yogi relinquishes possessions, the yogi will be given treasures and gifts that will sustain him. Each small gift will be a treasure beyond measure for it was given to the yogi directly from the source of life.

Brahmacharya (‘Brahma’ means the god of creation and ‘charin’ means constantly moving) is by definition living a life of restrain, celibacy, or oneness with god. Iyengar mentions in his book that the loss of semen leads to loss of life and talks a lot about living a celibate life, but I truly do not believe this is necessary at all for realizing the divine. I do believe it is necessary to temper desire, and to avoid meaningless sexual encounters, but most religions will agree that god is love and a yogi’s pursuit is to realize that god. Therefore, it is more about self-control, care, appreciation and love for the gift of sexuality and respect and commitment to the sacred gift it can bring to two people. Masturbation is also good for healthy prostate functioning,  (20 or so times a month will reduce the risk of prostate cancer) so I don’t think celibacy in any way is a necessity for union with the divine, though abuse of any sexuality will certainly lead away. This also applies to cleaning the spaces that you use, keeping the place where you practice yoga sacred, and performing your duties and jobs to the best of your ability.

Aparigraha (‘parigraha’ means hoarding, collecting) is avoiding collection or things that one does not truly need. These objects are really distractions for the yoga from the truth they are seeking and lead away from the divine. So even too much of one thing can be viewed as stealing from others. The yogi lives a life of minimalistic material possessions; the yogi does not value them because they are only borrowed and never truly his to begin with. The yogi should make his life as simple as possible so as to focus his time on the connection with the divine, then everything that he needs will come to him at the proper time. A true yogi is satisfied no matter what happens to him, for he appreciates the gift of his own life and trusts in god to provide him with whatever he may need for his journey back to god.

The Yamas are the first limb of yoga and can really help the yoga to live in harmony. It brings stillness, beauty, love, and peace to the yogi and happiness will thrive as a result. These are the foundations of living your yoga, living a life that is at peace with god, and ultimately finding fulfillment in life. This is the first of the 8 limbs of yoga, stay tuned for the Niyamas, the second limb of Ashtanga yoga.

Karma (कर्म)


Karma is one of those ancient ideas that is very obscured and manipulated by popular culture. Karma means action, and refers to causality and how actions affect and shape the future. The idea is that there are two things involved with any action: intent and the result of the action. Of these two things, in Karma, the intent is more important, determining the state of future happiness. The result is caused by the intent, though is often contradicting of the intention. When the result contradicts the intent, past-Karma would likely be the cause. Therefore, Karma is mostly about intention and the current state of your karma can be determined as the end result.

This definition gets a little confusing. We can more precisely define Karma by talking about Kriya, which refers to the amount of effort exerted, or the steps to completion of the work. These two are often used to help individuals determine their current state of Karma. It is also important to understand Samsara in this context and how past lives, and old energies can affect your current state of Karma.

With that said, I have a modern interpretation of the concept that seems to work pretty well in my life. Karma is something that is collective, cultures, countries, societies, families, and individuals seem to share Karmic states. For instance, due to the decision of our American forefathers, America currently has the best economy in the world. This could be said to be a result of the heroism of America in WWII. Another example is the wealth of the Walton family, who through their father’s ingenuity, hard work, and business acumen has led his family to become the richest in the world. Now here’s the clincher, even though these actions have led to prosperity, they haven’t necessarily led to optimal happiness.

So this is where the original definition comes into play, the intention of the action determines the end-state happiness. Even though Sam Walton made more money as a result of his actions, it is likely true (I can’t verify, Sam died in 1992) that the founder’s intention was not for happiness, but for prosperity. But regardless of the intention, one wouldn’t hesitate to say that the children born into the Walton family would have an enormous amount of Karma built up in their past-lives. Intention of the action leads to the resulting happiness after the action and the Kriya of the action, combined with the past Karma of the individual determines the end-result of the actions.

I don’t personally believe in past-lives, but Karma hints at an idea that I would like to dive deeper into; that life seems to be a thing of momentum. Opportunities are the result of past decisions, even if they were not our own. It seems that there are certain limitations or advantages that our past, history, or circumstances create for our present states. And our present state also seems to allow for the potential future state. So when considering the results of your actions, the circumstances and past surroundings will likely indicate the future.

Energy recycles and present states potentiate future states. Be mindful of your actions as they will undoubtedly determine opportunity and future states. But detach from results, focus on the intention behind the actions and you will find happiness regardless of the outcome.

Shiva (the god of Death)


Shiva is the god destroyer, his matted hair and ash smeared face sit silent in meditation or flow eternally in his cosmic dance of death. From his matted hair flows from the Ganges river in India and he often adorns himself with snakes, particularly cobras. He lives far secluded from the other gods in his abode in Mount Kailash, which is a real mountain from which many of the rivers in Asia begin. It is on top of this mountain that the destroyer of ignorance, suffering, illusion, and sadness finds his eternal meditation with his wife Parvati and sons Ganesha and Kartikeya. He is a simple herdsmen and yogi at certain times with his family, and at others he slays demons to protect the equilibrium of the universe. He also wears a garland of skulls, to show his victory over death and holds a three forked trident to represent the meeting of three worlds, immediate, internal, and external.

Shiva is a powerful god that creates change through chaos and destruction. The symbols of Shiva are extremely powerful, they bring a stoic freedom to find peace in each moment knowing that someday the moments will end. He is a part of the Trimurti and makes way for Brahman to create through his destruction. Vishnu preserves the continuous cycle; some claim Vishnu as the primary deity, called Vashnavism, and some claim Shiva as the primary god, called Shaivism. Together, they complete the cosmic cycle of death, rebirth, and life. Shiva is the cosmic dancer, and often slays demons with his trident while playing the damaru. Shiva is also well-known for playing the flute.

The final pose in a yoga asana series or sequence is devoted to Shiva. In Ashtanga in particular, the final meditation is focused on the death of the individual and release from the cycle of Samsara. He is the patron god of yoga and is one of the primary focal points of the philosophical traditions. Death is undoubtedly the primary reason yoga is practiced, whether it is to ensure a long life, to improve health and vitality, or to find meaning in life. Yoga helps us to come to terms with our own mortality and know that one day, we will stop breathing. But in that cessation is the beauty of the unknown and the release from this world that grants freedom that is unequaled.

The next time you are in Shivasana, meditate on your own death. It is very powerful and drops me into a deeper Samadhi every time, minimizing distractions. There are also many powerful chants used before class to destroy obstacles and invoke the presence of the great transformer. If you have different ways of showing love for Shiva, or ways that you know Shiva to be different, let us know!

5 Yoga Sutras

Yoga Sutras

Patanjali describes many of the various facets of consciousness in the sutras, particularly within part four, Kaivalya Pada:

  1. Consciousness is one, but it branches into many different types of activities and innumerable thought-waves
  2. The existence of past and future is as real as that of the present. As moments roll into movements which have yet to appear in the future, the quality of knowledge in one’s consciousness and intellect is affected
  3. Due to the variance in the quality of mind-content, each person may view the same object differently, according to his own way of thinking
  4. The yogi who has no interest in the highest state of evolution, and maintains supreme attentive, discriminative awareness, attain dharmeghah samadhi: he contemplates the fragrance of virtue and justice.
  5. Kaivalya, liberation, comes when the yogi has fulfilled the purusarthas, the fourfold aims of man (dharma, artha, kama, and moksa), and has transcended the gunas. Aims and gunas return to their source, and consciousness is established in its own natural purity.

Patanjali is great at creating paradoxes, which this is full of. Consciousness after all, is both one pointed and many and its nature is paradoxical because it mirrors itself and others simultaneously. The Gunas are natural qualities; transcending them means to transcend human nature to realize the divine. So must the aims of life be complete in order for one to leave the material plane of the body to enter into the realm of the energetic and divine.

Yogi Superpowers

Yogi meditating

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali teaches us about the powers that the yogic obtains while pursuing the realization of god, or enlightenment. Of course there are eight, symbolic of the infinite. Patanjali absolutely teaches that when we strive mightily along our path, rewards, and results will incidentally come our way, but that we must not mistake these accidental rewards for the goal itself. Being steadfast in the pursuit of the divine will yield the following powers:

  1. anima – to become as small as the smallest divisible form of matter
  2. mahima – to wax in the magnitude of the heavens
  3. laghima – to become light
  4. garima – to become heavy
  5. prapti – the power to dominate and obtain what one wants
  6. prakamya – the freedom of will and attainment of wishes
  7. isatva – supremacy over all
  8. vasitva – the power to subjugate anyone or anything.

Patanjali warns that these powers are indications that the yogi is on the right path, but they should not replace steadfast contemplation of the divine. The ultimate goal of yoga is freedom and in the end, these powers have great ability to take away from that.

I take these ideas to be largely in discussion of the unconscious mind. Patanjali is almost always talking about the mind in a metaphorical psychology, this is no different. The more time that humans spend cultivating the focus, relaxation, and freedom of the mind, the more psychic/cognitive efficacy that person will have.

Really these are obstacles to the ultimate goal because they are mere distractions.

Vishnu’s Bliss

Vishnu's mount

There has to be some significance to the fact that yoga is 2,500 years old. The word yoga in essence means a combination of unison, communion, and connection. I think that yoga is trying to teach that breathing is a pathway to presence, and the body combined with prana-yama is a gateway to bliss. This bliss is described in the mythology.

In the mythology, they say that Vishnu would sit on the body of Ananda, the snake would be like pillows for his head. He would also ride Garuda, his warrior eagle. They said he would sit on the cosmic waves of time and he dreamed the universe into existence. His many hands complete any task that may need doing from his abode in Vaikuntha because he is outside of the realm of human existence.

Vishnu is the most venerated of the three trimurti, which includes Shiva and Brahman. His abode is for those who obtain Moksha, or liberation and are freed from Samsara, or rebirth. He is completely detached, floating through the eternal bliss of his home.

He is also known as the sun god, which is appropriate because the Sun sustains the earth through the trees and plants that we and our livestock eat. It’s a good metaphor for what sustains life on planet Earth. He has 10 avatars, Krishna, Rama, and possibly Buddha being amongst them.

There are some pretty good spiritual lessons to learn from just sitting still, but I definitely think yoga is special, one of the best ways to exercise consistently as well. You can really pay attention so you don’t get injured! And it should be fun, not just totally boring to some hip-hop playlist. Get concentrated, focused, and find those sweet spots deep inside. Keep finding adjustments for yourself until it feels just right.

And have fun. It’s not every day you give yourself this kind of attention is it?

“The goal is ne…

“The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice”

Yogis who practice with enthusiasm, self-honesty, and high levels of energy are close to reaching Samadhi, or the supremely blissful state of existence. But sometimes, even the most intense and powerful of aspirants may become mild or average, slow and moderate in his practice.

This is part of the Sutras where Patanjali talks about the different categories of practitioners and their path on the yoga journey to enlightenment. I interpret this as attempting to give continued inspiration to people who take their practice seriously, and gives understanding that even the most powerful and steadfast of yogis will experience some turbulence on the journey. Bad days happen. Consistency is key with yoga, so detaching from the performance of a practice is key, especially for the impassioned yogi.