What is Raja Yoga?
Aug 28, 2012 11:49AM
By Christi A. Rutkowski
If a person decided today to take a yoga class, where would they start? In the Lehigh Valley alone, there are 20 different kinds of yoga classes at a dozen different studios. Each modern style of yoga has its specific techniques, modifications and degrees of difficulty. Each is valid and beneficial—just ask the teachers and their dedicated students. They will all say that yoga has changed their lives for the better.
The stylization of yoga has occurred over just the last 100 years. For hundreds, even thousands, of years, there was just yoga. The word raja means “royal.” Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning to “join together, to unite.” Thus, raja yoga can be translated as “the royal path.” It is the science of self-realization; using mindfulness in the present moment to unite the mind, body and spirit. The ancient yogis found in their meditations that it is our false identification with the ever-changing external world that causes us to suffer. The breaking of this identification to see the eternal light of the True Self is raja yoga. It is the “royal path” because it encompasses all the sacred writings, postures, breathing and cleansing techniques, as well as the various meditations as the means to self-realization.
Around 200 B.C., a grammar scholar named Patanjali, known as the “codifier of yoga science,” systematized into simple steps the various philosophies, practices and beliefs outlined in ancient Vedic scriptures like The Upanishads and The Bhagavad Gita and the teachings of Samkhya philosophy. His writings are now called The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Lucky for us in the West, these teachings were practiced and preserved by the mystics and yogis of the East in their jungle temples, mountain caves and ashrams for thousands of years until the West was deemed ready to receive them. In the late 1800s, great swamis began to travel to Japan, Europe and the Americas to share the perennial wisdom that is yoga.
Raja yoga attempts to answer the age-old questions, “Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Who is God?” The answer is always, “You are divine. Your purpose is to realize your divine self. God is within.” But, these lofty questions with answers that are just as lofty must be taken within and applied to our daily lives—one step at a time, one moment at a time.
The application of Raja Yoga philosophy is that each of us, as conscious human beings, have been given the gift of free will; the freedom of choice in our actions. The way we perform actions is in thought, word and deed. These, in fact, are the only three things we can control in our lives. The second Yoga Sutra states, “Yogas Chittas Vritti Narado,” which translates to”Yoga is the stilling of the thought waves of the mind.”
Because of our busy lifestyles, attachment to the material world and sense of instant gratification, we can get extremely overwhelmed, which can turn into anxiety, depression and physical illness; the thought waves of the mind are disturbed. Like a clear, calm lake, we can see through it to the bottom; a clear mind can see through the disturbance of everyday stress to the light of the Self. Raja Yoga teaches us that if we turn our attention inward and learn to control thoughts, words and deeds, we can achieve liberation from our stress. This will not eliminate stress from our lives, but allow us to find balance in both the external world of material objects and the internal world of thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Our most valuable tool for self-control and self-transformation is our minds. The Bhagavad Gits says, “An uncontrolled mind is our worst enemy. A controlled mind is our best friend.” To make our minds our ally, we must learn to focus it in the present moment and be willing to analyze our thoughts honestly and lovingly. This is where our breath comes in to help us. Breathing deeply and serenely increases our lung capacity, blood and oxygen levels and decreases our physiological stress levels. This will help make the body calm and the mind clear so that we can truly see just how many gifts we have in our lives. The gifts of family, community, health, music, art, and, of course, love.
In a typical raya yoga class, a student can expect to learn from the sacred texts of India, an intention for that day, breathing instruction and practice throughout class, a balanced asana (postures) session and relaxation and meditation. The yoga experience in class should extend through the rest of our daily life so that we can make the changes we need to make in order to make life more enjoyable and fulfilling without having to hurt anyone in the process. This takes time. Keep in mind the three P’s: patience, practice and perseverance.
Christi A. Rutkowski has been teaching raja yoga in the Himalayan tradition for almost 10 years. She recently opened Quiet Heart Yoga, Fitness and Holistic Health, R.Y.S. located at 5531 Hamilton Blvd., Unit 7, in Wescosville. A week of free classes will be held Sept. 4 to Sept. 9. For information, visit QuietHeartYoga.com.