How can Raja yoga nourish your soul?
The term ‘Raja yoga’ can be a challenging one to grasp, as it is used in different contexts to denote several related yet subtly different concepts. It is popularly used to describe the overall aim of yoga as a path towards uniting the body, mind and spirit. The Sanskrit word ‘Raja’ is usually translated as ‘king’, hence Raja yoga is often described as ‘the royal path’ to a transcendent state of consciousness.
In this sense, rather than being a clearly defined style of yoga (such as Iyengar, which has a characteristic focus on precision), Raja is more like the over-arching vision of everything yoga was traditionally intended to be. This means it encompasses the spiritual and philosophical aspects of yoga, as well as Hatha yoga, which refers to physical practices such as poses (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayamas).
There is agreement among scholars that the Indian sage Patanjali organised the many traditional practices of yoga into a treatise known as the Yoga Sutras. This system came to be known as Raja yoga, or ‘royal yoga’, but because of its eightfold approach, it is also described as Ashtanga yoga (eight-limbed yoga).
In addition to its use as an all-inclusive term, Raja as a discipline tends to be associated with the more spiritual aspects of yoga and a mastery of the mind. For this reason, yogic masters including Swami Sivananda Saraswati have written about its meditative aspects, more than on the physical practices of yoga that are often emphasised in the Western world.
Benefits of Raja yoga
Academic research regarding Raja yoga as a meditative practice is limited, although a study of autonomic nervous system function in practitioners suggests it supports parasympathetic activity, which may counteract the damaging effects of stress. Raja yoga meditation as practised by the Brahma Kumaris school has been reported to significantly improve a person’s sense of happiness and satisfaction with life.
There is evidence that suggests Raja yoga may be helpful in treating addictions, and could lead to improvements in physiological measures such as heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. Anecdotally, practitioners assert that the benefits of Raja yoga they have experienced include peace of mind and a sense of purpose. Others praise Raja yoga as a way of learning to take control of their thoughts, changing unproductive patterns of behaviour and improving the quality of relationships.
Raja yoga may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Alcohol and drug addiction
- Back pain
- Balance, stability and coordination
- Blood pressure
- Brain fog and clarity
- Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
- Concentration, focus and problem solving
- Energy and vitality
- Flexibility, endurance and strength
- Heart conditions and heart attack
- Insomnia and sleep disorders
- Memory and cognitive function
- Muscle spasm, tightness and cramps
- Posture and spine issues
- Respiratory and breathing issues
- Stress and tension
- Weight control and obesity
What to expect from a Raja yoga session
In Raja yoga, poses or asanas are not the aspect of the practice which is emphasised, but mental discipline and an exploration of the spirit. If this more meditative approach is something you naturally resonate with you might be wondering, “Where can I try Raja yoga near me?”
Raja yoga meditation is less commonplace than Hatha-based yoga practices. A typical session usually begins with an introduction and information about Raja yoga, followed by a relaxation exercise. Some schools also include pranayamas and chanting.
After relaxing and focusing the mind, the meditative part of the session is often practised in the lotus position, sitting cross-legged with the back of your feet against opposite thighs and your hands resting near your knees with your palms up. Once you have stilled your mind and attained a calm, focused perspective, you can direct your attention to a positive, enriching idea of your choice, and contemplate this thought or concept peacefully.
One unique aspect of Raja yoga is that you meditate with your eyes open, being still and present in the moment. This means that you can easily revisit a meditative state at any time, regardless of what you’re doing.
Raja yoga as a meditative practice is a peaceful activity that does not require physical exertion. Nevertheless, please consult your medical professional before commencing Raja yoga. If you have an injury or other health issue which makes it difficult for you to sit in lotus position, or if you have any concerns at all, speak to your Raja yoga teacher, who will be happy to address these and adjust the session to your individual requirements.