Yoga goes far beyond simple postures. Asanas are about stable and comfortable postures. This is only one branch out of all 8! Raja Yoga means Royal way. It is also called Ashtanga which means 8 branches.
One of the four traditional paths of yoga
Raja Yoga is one of the 4 main traditional paths in Yoga, of which the other three are:
- Karma Yoga Yoga of action, of selfless service. Carrying out actions without expecting the fruits of the action, reducing the influence of the ego, non-selfish action… As an example: volunteering.
- Bakti Yoga This is the yoga of devotion, which will pass through the recitation of prayers and mantras. It can be linked to one or more deities in order to transform negative emotions into positive ones.
- Jnana Yoga . It is the path of knowledge and wisdom, which is associated with the intellectual path, it is a path of analysis of human nature.
Before presenting “The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga”, Vincent would like to point out that in yoga, as in any other field, there are many things that are open to interpretation.
“Take what speaks to you, the rest you leave out, it will not stop you from practicing Yoga. I am a student like you, on a path, and it is up to you to make your own experience of introspection. Yoga is all about the experience, that’s how you move from the belief stage to the realization stage.”
The eight branches of Raja Yoga according to Patanjali
Vincent returns to the presentation of the eight branches of Raja Yoga codified by the yoga sūtra of Patanjali .
He defines yoga asstopping the disturbances of the mind in order to reach what is called Moksha, liberation in Sanskrit (Indian language).
He explains that the purpose of yoga is the realization of the Self, the realization of the divinity within. Atman the individual soul, and Brahman to go beyond Maya, beyond the cosmic illusion.
Yoga is a process of refinement in order to eliminate our fears, our blockages, our negative emotions, to better accept things as they are, it is therefore the realization of the Self above all.
Vincent says that this week in his classes, he has put a lot of emphasis on “letting go”, which is really something that can change the daily life of any individual. Letting go is a key in yoga to work on acceptance. The sūtra number 12 explains:
The stopping of mental disturbances, which is achieved through intense practice, with the objective of letting go.
The first branch is Yama. These are the 5 principles of ethical living to live more harmoniously in society and especially in our relationships with others.
- Ahimsa is the principle of non-violence. Violence that can be physical, mental or verbal. The idea of Ahimsa is to do no harm, to practice non-violence, and to preserve life as much as possible.
Vincent takes the sutra translated from Sanskrit as it is : “Violence, whether experienced, provoked or approved, is caused by impatience, anger and error. Whether it is weak, medium or strong, it causes suffering, confusion that has no end.”
- Satia is the second principle. It is cultivating authenticity, honesty; telling the truth.
- Brahmacharya, the third principle, to go back a little to the origins, meant chastity, observance. But to bring this principle back to Yoga and daily life, we must remember Moderation. This principle asks us to moderate the pleasure of the senses. He asks us in particular to sublimate the sexual energy. The idea behind the sublimation of sexual pleasure is to sacralize sexuality.
- Asteya, the fourth principle, is the principle of not coveting, not stealing. This principle asks us to cultivate non-attachment to material objects.
- Aparigraha, the last one, asks us to leave behind all unnecessary possessions. It is the principle of not being in search of accumulation and wealth.
Vincent then introduces us to the five Niayama which constitute the second branch of Raja Yoga. This is what will correspond to personal discipline.
- Shaucha is the first Niayama. It concerns the internal and external purity, the hygiene of the physical body and the mind.
- Santosha is the second Niayama. It represents the practice of contentment. It is accepting life as it is, cultivating acceptance and contentment. It is also the expression of satisfaction, of gratitude.
- Tapas, the third Niayama is the continuous and intense practice, the practice that will bring us to results.
- Svadhyaya, the fourth Niayama is the study of sacred and spiritual scriptures. This is what teachers like Vincent do through the Yogom Academy: study the sutras and explain their interpretations.
- Ishwarapranidhana is the last Niayama. It is the one to open up to the absolute. The absolute is Brahman, the cosmic mind, the ultimate reality. The principle is to open up to something bigger; something beyond us, where we have no control.
The moral code of the Yogis
The first two branches are thus the foundations that constitute the moral code of the Yogi.
Vincent does a parallel with Buddhism through the book “The Four Noble Truths”. In this book, we find in particular what is called ethics, speaking the truth, speaking in a calm and courteous manner, protecting the life of others, practicing generosity, developing non-attachment, benevolence, right view…
In Buddhism, this is called the “10 virtuous actions”, hence the parallel.
The third branch of Raja-Yoga, and not the least, is Asana. This means stable and comfortable posture .
Vincent makes the link with the sutras because he explains that it is important to understand that it is not the asanas themselves that are described, but the essence of this third branch .
According to Gérard Blitz‘s translation, this branch would mean being firmly established in a happy space. The idea is to find the balance between the two poles. The body balance is between effort and relaxation. It is the balance between doing and letting go. This is particularly sensitive to achieve in the balance posture.
Asana is the perfect moment between feeling and breathing which are suspended and freeze time. The being is happy in a feeling of infinity, it is the essence of this third branch.
Asanas are preparations for the meditation posture, so that the body is well relaxed and the yogi can hold the meditation posture.
The fourth branch of Raja is Pranayama, which is the control of Prana .
Prana is life energy, the Japanese call it Qi 気, the Chinese call it Chi, but universally it is the same thing that is addressed.
The mastery of Prana will pass through the mastery of the breath, the more regular and longer the breath will be and the more the mind will be calm and less agitated .
Alternate breathing is an exercise to balance the right and left brain. The breath will be lengthened, as will the complete abdomen-breast-clavicle inspiration.
The fifth of the eight branches of Raja-Yoga is Pratyahara.
It corresponds to the withdrawal of the senses. This does not mean annihilating the senses, but redirecting them within.
All day long the mind and spirit are stimulated. The idea of Pratyahara is to pause the mind, redirect the senses within and watch what happens.
DHARANA, DHYANA and SAMADHI
The last 3 branches are related, Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (the supraconscious state).
- Dharana (concentration) This is what is called concentrated meditation, the idea is to focus the mind on an internal or external object. For example, on the breath, on the tip of the nose. Or on a deity or a flower. You have to stay focused and concentrated.
Once a sufficient concentration is established, a stable mind, it is then that entering mediation will be possible. That’s why these 2 branches are closely linked.
- Dhyana ( meditation): Meditation is a deepening of this focus that is effortless . Whereas Dharana will require a conscious effort.
There are different levels of absorption of these two practices. As these are perfected, it will be possible to reach the final stage which is the Supraconscious state.
- Samadhi (the supra-conscious state): This notion is beyond concepts and intellect…. It is the absorption in the cosmic Consciousness. It represents the state of unity with Brahman. When it is lived, the Being has managed to transcend experience, time, the human condition, space and causality.
The Buddhist Noble Path (or Middle Way) is itself divided into eight stages, as follows
- The right word
- Right action
- Right Livelihood
- Fair effort
- Just be careful
- Right focus
- Right view
- Right thinking
The first three stages are ethical trainings while the next three are on concentration and the last on wisdom. The goal of this path is the cessation of Dukkha (dissatisfaction, suffering) as well as total deliverance (Nirvāṇa).
The Buddhist approach is very similar to the Patanjali approach. Both paths seek liberation from suffering.
The eight branches of Raja-Yoga are thus a complete path to attain Moksha. That is to say, the liberation of our sufferings, the elevation of consciousness. It is to allow us to experience a state of unity with the Great Whole. Somehow, according to Vincent, it is also an opportunity to become one’s own therapist.
Vincent explains that this is important to him because he considers that everyone has to work on themselves, in this life, whoever they are. No one can do this work for us: it is up to each of us to take responsibility for our path on Earth.
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Back to the fifth episode “Light on the Philosophy of Yoga” with a presentation of the eight branches of Raja-Yoga (also called Ashtanga). Vincent sheds light on each of the branches of Raja Yoga.
WHO IS VINCENT ?
After a trip around the world that brought him to India, Vincent discovered yoga and meditation. Through his many trips and retreats, Vincent has gained knowledge of different cultures. Since then Vincent has been a yoga teacher in Auvergne and continues to train regularly.
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