Raja Yoga ("royal yoga", "royal union", also known as Classical Yoga or simply Yoga) is one of the six orthodox (astika) schools of ancient Hindu philosophy. It is also sometimes referred to as Astanga (eight-limbed) yoga because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend. Raja yoga is concerned principally with the cultivation of the mind using meditation (dhyana) to further one's acquaintance with Reality and finally achieve liberation or Union. The eight levels of Raja Yoga, clearly spelled out, are as follows:
1. Self-Restraint/ "Yama"
Self restraint can be best defined as the codes of behavior that keep the aspirant at peace with the world he lives in, as well as with himself. By engaging in such "self-restraint," the aspirant is freed from the negative Karma that unwholesome behavior will generate.
Typically, this level of practice in all of the esoteric traditions is to instill a sense of righteous behavior in the aspirant. What many fail to realize is that an absence of past indiscretions also frees the mind in the present. Thus, a mind free from these concerns is at peace and free to focus on meditation.
There are five precepts for self-restraint:
# Non-killing/ "Ahimsa"
# Truthfulness/ "Satya"
# Non-stealing/ "Asteya"
# Sexual Continence/ "Brahmacharya"
# Non-covetousness/ "Áparigraha"
2. Observance/ "Niyama"
Observances build on the concepts of self-restraint, putting those principles into action in daily life. Such natural extensions comprise this second level.
# Purity of action
# Study of self-development through classic treatises
# Physical discipline
# The honoring of a guru
# Surrender of ego to the ultimate universal power
Much or most of this is not possible for modern society without having heightened awareness and psychological growth that could only come through some sort of preparatory practice like Hatha Yoga.
3. Physical Practice/ "Asana"
Although "physical practice" is considered an absolute necessity to open up and develop the muscular and central nervous systems in all of the traditions, it is not enough. The majority of these exercises are stretching in character, but many "Asanas" build incredible strength.
In the truest understanding of Raja Yoga, though, asana relates to the sitting meditation postures of padmasana/lotus pose, siddhasana/accomplished pose for men, and siddha yoni asana/accomplished pose for women. To be able to sit in these poses for hours at a time comfortably with perfect concentration necessitates a high level of accomplishment in the asana practice of Hatha Yoga.
4. Breathing Exercise/ "Pranayama"
Breathing exercises develop the connection between the cultivation of energy/"Prana" and the breath of the aspirant. Various techniques are used in Yoga, from alternating nostrils to forced exhalations to timed
inhalations and exhalations. It is at this point where the production of "Prana"/ "Chi" really accelerates. An advanced aspirant learns breathing techniques, some which trace the sensation of the breath up and down certain limbs or energy lines. Energy develops, and the aspirant presupposes that, in the energy felt, the ultimate goal of his exploration into meditation has been realized- the ability to feel energy travel through limbs or spine.
5. Sense Withdrawal/ "Prathyahara"
Sense withdrawal is the pulling of the five senses back into the mind and the detaching from the various sense stimuli that the surrounding environment is generating. This level is considered to be the last level of the foundation necessary to be successful in the pursuit of a true a spiritual experience in meditation.
"The excited senses of even a wise man, though he may be strong, impetuously carry away his mind. The practice demands considerable patience and perseverance. It is a trying discipline of the senses." -Swami Sivananda, "Fourteen Lessons on Raja Yoga"
6. Concentration/ "Dharana"
Concentration is possible once sense withdrawal has begun. The refocusing of the senses on a single concentration point continues the inward turning of the mind. In the practice of Trataka, seeing an image with the eyes closed at the eyebrow center is one example of such a concentration technique. When one focuses the mind like this, it is akin to all of the light being generated by a light bulb condensing into one point- a light bulb can light a room, whereas a laser can cut through metal. You are training your mind to be like a laser.
Raja Yoga has it that if one can inwardly focus on such a point in this way for 12 seconds without interruption, it is considered a "Dharana." This is much harder than it sounds. Most people's minds will interrupt such an endeavor almost immediately.
7. Meditation/ "Dhyana"
Meditation is the unbroken flow of the mind on a single point for an extended period. In practice, it can be measured by counting the numbers of breaths in one's focus on a concentration point, with or without a mantra.
8. Superconsciousness / "Samadhi"
Superconciousness is the state of "union" that word Yoga directly refers to. The union achieved is described as: "In Samadhi, the meditator loses his individuality and becomes identical with the Supreme Self. Just as the river joins the ocean, the individual soul joins the Supreme Soul, the ocean of absolute consciousness."-Swami Sivananda, "Fourteen Lesson on Raja Yoga"
It is at this level that the aspirant reaches a peak in his/her evolution. Very few aspirantst reach this level of development. It is really not worth talking about, since words fail to convey the experience adequately to any one who has not experienced this directly.
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[>] How Prophet's meditation and teaching and the philosophy of Raja Yoga coincide can be discussed further in details. But for the moment anybody who is familiar with the inner philosophy of Islam can easily connect with the principles and different levels of Raja Yoga as outlined above.
[>] Just as a hint (only) about the physical aspect (Asanas), let me mention few sacred traditions (hadith) of the Prophet, about his actions which might shed some light about Yoga method of sitting position (the lotus position) which even Prophet used as narrated and recorded by his companions.
A Hadith reported by Dhayyal ibn Ubayd mentions: "I went to the Prophet and I found him seated with his legs double crossed." - Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad.
Jabir bin Samurah reported: "After the Fajr (dawn) prayer the Prophet used to sit crossed legged in the same place in which he had prayed till the sun shone brightly." - Abu Dawud.
"I visited the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and I saw him sitting cross-legged." - from the narration of Dhayyal ibn Hanzala.
. Raja Yoga via Wikipedia
. The Eight Levels of Raja Yoga - by Daniel Carr
. Free books on Yoga by Swami Sivananda Pin It Now!