YOGIC PHILOSOPHY: HATHA Yoga and RAJA Yoga
Hatha Yoga is involved primarily with the physical practices of asana, or postures,the breathing & preparation for meditation practices. The word 'Hatha' represents opposing energies ('ha' meaning sun, and 'tha' meaning moon): heat & cold; similar concepts are yin-yang, male & female, fire & water, positive & negative, anima & animus. Hatha yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical postures or "asanas", purification practices, controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance and strength and are practiced to improve the body's physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation.
Raja Yoga is so-called because it is primarily concerned with the mind. The mind is traditionally conceived as the "king" of the psycho-physical structure which does its bidding (whether or not one has realized this). Because of the relationship between the mind and the body, the body must be first "tamed" through self-discipline and purified by various means (see Hatha Yoga). A good level of overall health and psychological integration must be attained before the deeper 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 of body, speech and mind, the human being becomes fit to practice meditation. This yoke that one puts upon oneself (discipline) is another meaning of the word yoga.
'Every thought, feeling, perception, or memory you may have causes a modification, or ripple, in the mind. It distorts and colors in 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.' - Swami Satchidananda
Patañjali's Yoga Sutras begin with the statement "yogaś citta-vritti-nirodha" (1.2), "Yoga limits the oscillations of the mind". They go on to detail the ways in which mind can create false ideas, and advocate meditation on real objects. This process, it is said, will lead to a spontaneous state of quiet mind, the "Nirbija" or "seedless state", in which there is no mental object of focus.
Practices that serve to maintain for the individual the ability to access this state may be considered Raja Yoga practices.
In this sense Raja Yoga is called the "king among yogas": all yogic practices are seen as potential tools for obtaining the seedless state, which is considered to be the starting point in the quest to cleanse Karma and obtain Moksha or Nirvana.
Raja Yoga aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications. While a Hatha Yogi starts his practice, with attention to the physical, with asanas (postures) and Pranayama, (breathing practices) a Raja Yogi starts with the mind,(although a certain minimum of asanas and pranayamas are usually included as a preparation for the meditation and concentration) using the sounding of mantras which are sounds or phrases to focus the attention. These phrases can be any that are meaningful to the practitioner, or a single sound, such as 'OM'
Ashtanga Yoga: The Eight-Limbed or 8 Steps of Yoga
Ashtanga means 'eight limbs'. This refers to the entire body of teachings comprising the philosophy of Yoga. (The term "Ashtanga Yoga" is not to be confused with the style of yoga practice known as "Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga" by K Pattabhi Jois)
In the west, we say we 'do' yoga when we practice the postures or asanas, which refers to the practice of Hatha Yoga. Raja Yoga is sometimes referred to as Ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend, which include attention to the moral precepts of yama & niyama as well as the other six limbs to which the hatha yogi also subscribes. Rāja Yoga ("royal yoga", "royal union", also known as Classical Yoga) is concerned principally with the cultivation of the mind using meditation to further one's acquaintance with reality and finally achieve liberation.
To incorporate the 8 limbs into one's everyday life, it is necessary to 'live' yoga. It is not just a matter of climbing step by step but more of a simultaneous embrace of the principals. They can also be thought of as steps, as there is a logical progression in the practice: from inward restraint, to outward observances, the physical practices of becoming fit & flexible to feel comfortable in the body, the breathing practices which link the body and the mind, the practices of drawing the awareness inward to a single pointed focus during meditation, which will open the door to 'samadhi' where "The state of consciousness where Absoluteness is experienced attended with all-knowledge and joy; with a sense on being 'at One' in bliss. (Swami Sivananda)
Briefly follows a description of each of the 8 Limbs, in Sanskrit & in English
1. Yama - (the five restraints or the "don'ts")
Ahimsa - Non-violence
Satya - Truthfulness
Brahmacharya - Control of the senses and celibacy
Asteya - Non-stealing
Aparigraha - Non-covetousness and non-acceptance of gifts
2. Niyama - (the five observances or the "do's" )
Saucha - Purity, cleanliness
Santosha - Contentment
Tapas - Austerity
Swadhyaya - Self-study, study of scriptures
Ishwara Pranidhana - Surrender to God's will
3. Asana - Steady posture
4. Pranayama - Control of prana or life force
5. Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana - Concentration
7. Dhyana - Meditation
8. Samadhi - Super-conscious state
Just as building a firm, secure foundation is an absolutely necessary phase to building any structure, the most important aspect of the construction of the foundation of raja yoga is constituted by the moral and ethical practices called yamas and niyamas.
1. THE 5 YAMAS
It should be noted that all yamas should be practiced in the spirit and by the letter. Furthermore they should be applied in deeds and words, as well as thoughts. Perfection in any of them is for the very few but much progress can be made in a given lifetime. Also they should each be practiced in relation to each other. Sometimes they will seem to conflict and much soul searching will be needed to know how to act righteously. Example: telling the truth may harm people.
Ahimsa, or non-injury, implies non-killing. But non-injury is not only non-killing, it is much more than that. More comprehensively, ahimsa means "entire abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature, either by thought, word or deed. Non-injury needs a harmless mind, mouth and hand. Ahimsa is not mere negative non-injuring. It is positive, cosmic love."(Swami Sivananda, Bliss Divine)
Satya is truthfulness. It is more than just telling the truth. One's actions should be in accordance with one's words and thoughts. Furthermore lying creates many thoughts in the mind which go against the yogic objective of calming the mind.
Brahmacharya has two main meanings. In the broad sense it means control of the senses. The intent is not to be ruled by the sensual life, to be consumed by gratification of the senses.
Asteya is non-stealing. It is good to bear in mind that there are many subtle ways to appropriate what does not belong to us. As for the other yamas, much self-analysis will be necessary to catch the subtle lower tendencies of our mind.
Aparigraha is non-covetousness. This involves being happy and content with what we need and not always coveting unnecessary and luxury items. To possess more than we need is a violation of this precept. Note that aparigraha includes the notion of not accepting gifts that would bind us to the giver.
2. THE 5 NIYAMAS
Saucha is purity & cleanliness. The deepest and most subtle aspect of Saucha is purity of thoughts & feelings. But it also means cleanliness of the body, which for hatha yogis includes the internal cleansing practices known as kriyas & pranayama. Practicing acts personal cleanliness of one's body, clothing, home, workplace, car & everyday objects one uses, is an opportunity to express gratitude for all we have. Organizing one's personal life creates a good foundation for contemplation & meditation... an uncluttered life: an uncluttered mind! Being aware of negative influences in one's life: people, media helps maintain the purity of one's mind: choosing to participate or not is a practice of saucha: "as one thinks, so one becomes."
Santosha is contentment. This is the ability to recognize that although it is important to try to better our environment and life situation through proper effort, the world around you is never going to be perfect and absolutely to our liking. Therefore the yogi should be happy with what he has and endeavor to do the best he can with what he has got.
Tapas is austerity. The luxury and comfort of our modern society, with all its advantages, makes our mind soft and weak. To strengthen ourselves physically and mentally we must practice austerities. Daily practice of yogic disciplines is considered tapas.
Swadhyaya literally means study of the Self. The main practice is the study of the yogic scriptures but it also includes japa (mantra repetition). Yogic scriptures include the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. There are also many other scriptures such as the Puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, etc. Next come the books written by great mystics or masters such as Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnu-devananda, or other saints from all traditions. Also suitable are books written about these masters - biographies.
Ishwarapranidhana is surrender to God's will and devotion. All ethical and moral precepts of yoga culminate here.
Keeping in mind that the objective of raja yoga is to calm the mind down, this is only possible if one has control of the physical body. Body and mind are intimately connected and if the body is agitated the mind will be agitated as a result. In order to meditate successfully one must develop a very steady posture. Furthermore the posture must be kept still for a long time and therefore it needs to be extremely comfortable. When the meditator is not able to control his mind, he is advised to practice the asanas of hatha yoga in order to gain the needed mastery.
The raja yoga theory tells us that prana is animating the mind. Very much like the wind creates the motion of the leaves, prana creates the motion of the mind which gives rise to the vrittis. Air is the primary physical medium of prana and breathing is our best method to gain control over the prana. To meditate, the practitioner should calm his breath down until it is very shallow and even. If this is not possible he should practice the different pranayamas of hatha yoga.Pranayama is life force energy control (prana = life energy; yama = control). 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.
There are numerous techniques of Pranayama, each with their specific goals. All pranayama practice ultimately works toward purification of the nadis (energy channels) and the awakening of kundalini shakti at the muladhara chakra. The awakening of kundalini energy (also described as the awakening of divine consciousness or wisdom), and its ascent to the crown chakra is the final goal of Raja Yoga.
Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from their objects. The natural tendency of the senses is to go out towards the objects of the world. In doing so they pull the mind out and away from the inner Self and create distractions. Therefore, the yogi must be able to pull the senses within if he is to keep a balanced and peaceful mind. The analogy given to us is that of the tortoise which, under perceived danger, pulls in all its limbs and head.
Concentration. One-pointedness. The meditator is fully focused on the object of concentration, his mind as still as the flame of a lamp in a windless room. When this state is maintained long enough, it will lead to dhyana.
Dhyana is translated as meditation. It is a natural flow of thought or consciousness between the meditator and the object of meditation. It is a very joyous state and is compared to the flow of oil from one vessel to the next: Very natural and effortless. In dhyana there is still duality of consciousness which is the feeling of separation between the meditator and the object of meditation. When maintained long enough this state will lead to the highest rung of the ladder of ashtanga yoga which is samadhi.
As described by Swami Sivananda, this is "The state of consciousness where Absoluteness is experienced attended with all-knowledge and joy; Oneness; here the mind becomes identified with the object of meditation; the meditator and the meditated, thinker and thought become one in perfect absorption of the mind."