What Is Raja?

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Raja (king/royal) + yoga

Raja Definition

Raja, meaning royal in Sanskrit, is a path of yoga that is considered by some to be the highest path to achieving a state of union with the body, mind, and spirit.

It is both the goal of yoga (achieving self-realization) and a means of getting there, which we’ll explore in this entry.

As a path, Raja Yoga is the path of meditation and self-control.

a woman meditating and practicing raja yoga in the jungle

raja deep dive

Raja Yoga’s main practice is the use of meditation to still the mind in order to avoid false mental states and obsessions.

It is the obsessions of the mind that distorts the true Self in a veil of ignorance.

The path acknowledges that ignorance exists, i.e. that we identify with the body-mind and believe we are separate from the One, but the reason for this ignorance is the mind. This is the basic premise of Raja Yoga.

We have disturbances of the mind which therefore leads us to buy into the illusion of the separate self and obscure our perception of the divine Self.

yatroparamate chittam niruddham yogasevayaa

yatra chaivaatmanaatmaanam pashyannaatmani tushyati

When the mind, restrained by the practice of yoga, attains quietude and when seeing the Self by the self, he is rejoiced in his own Self.

Bhagavad Gita 6.20

Note here the difference between the big S-Self and the little s-self.

The Self is the Atman, knowing that it is a part of the universal Whole and one with God, and the self is an individual that is habitually over-identified with their body-mind, believing that they are separate.

If we look at ourselves in a dirty mirror, we cannot see a true reflection of ourselves, we may not be able to see our reflection at all. Yet, when we clean the mirror, our reflection is a far more accurate image of how we look.

In this same way, we cannot experience our true nature with a cluttered mind (chitta vritti) that is caught up in our external environment.

We must ‘clean’ the mind, as we would the mirror, so we can see ourselves clearly and understand that we are simply a part of the Whole.

Then, when the mind is still, we can experience ourselves as spirit.

a mans hands as he meditates on the beach

Meanings Of Raja

1. A path of yoga

In more modern times, Raja Yoga came to be used to describe Patanjali’s eight-limbed system following Swami Vivekananda’s use of the term in his 1896 book Raja Yoga. The book is his interpretation of the Yoga Sutras, adapted for readers in the West.

Ashtanga Yoga is also sometimes used as another name for Raja Yoga.

This is not the practice of Ashtanga Yoga that you may think of today, however, with its demanding, dynamic asana and performance of six series.

Ashtanga Yoga, in this context, refers to the system of yoga popularized by Patanjali. Ashtanga also means ‘eight-limbed’, and therefore Raja Yoga is sometimes referred to as this because it can be divided into an eight-part framework.

These are the same limbs that we know from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi).

Therefore, the path of raja has greatly contributed to our yogic knowledge of the mind and how to harness its powers for a higher purpose, bringing lasting and meaningful change to our lives. 

four people meditate in a raja yoga class

2. The goal of yoga

In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the most authoritative surviving texts on Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga is described as the ultimate state of yoga.

Raja Yoga is the goal of yoga that is achieved through dedicated practice of Hatha Yoga (this is what we meant in the definition by stating it was both the means and the purpose of practice).

The same goes for the Yoga Tattva Upanishad, the Upanishad of yoga philosophy, which describes four primary types of yoga:

In the Upanishad, raja is also used to mean the goal of yoga or a state that a yogi will attain.

Similarly, in the Dattatreya Yoga Shastra, Raja Yoga is taught as being a culmination of the earlier practices mentioned (Mantra, Laya & Hatha), but only reached through committed practice under the guidance of a guru.

a pink spiritual image of meditation fractals

raja in your life

So all I’ve got to do is still the mind… sounds easy, right?

The thing is, fluctuations of the mind are literally what the mind is made to do! It’s our powerhouse for being logical, analytical, communicative, and, of course, keeping us alive by coordinating the functions of our entire body.

With 95% of our thoughts being unconscious, we have become so unaware of the mind’s turbulent activity and allowing it to have free rein has become a latent habit.

This is why the practice of raja, like all of the other paths, takes discipline and commitment to our sadhana. I have heard Ram Dass say many times that the ‘ego is a terrible master but an excellent servant’, and that is exactly what this path seeks to do.

Through this practice, we train our minds to become a servant to our higher goals of yoga, and we curtail its tyrannical, unconscious dictatorship of our lives.

Raja Yoga does not mean that we must renounce our worldly possessions and move to the foothills of the Himalayas, but what it does mean is that we must learn how to direct as many aspects of our lives as possible toward attaining self-realization.

a woman meditating in a field

Yes, as the path of meditation, we must learn how to meditate and persevere with our meditation practice.

However, it’s not just meditation that will move us toward our spiritual goals. Essentially, there is not much point in practicing meditation alone without following the rest of the eight limbs.

This would be just like trying to clean our mirror on the side of a muddy highway. No matter how many times we wipe the dirt off, there will just be another car that drives past and splashes mud right back on it.

Likewise, we may meditate for an hour a day, but without learning to release our attachments and desires, cultivate prana, and let go of our ego, it’s unlikely that we will unite with our true nature.

By not living in general alignment with the ethical precepts, it’s likely that we could be going back out into the world and undoing all of the good work done through meditation.

So, start by reading about the various limbs and how to practice them. They are in order for a reason, so it’s best to follow them progressively. If you already practice some form of yoga, it’s likely you will be practicing at least one of the limbs anyway.

  1. Yama
  2. Niyama
  3. Asana
  4. Pranayama
  5. Pratyahara
  6. Dharana
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi

With this being said, you certainly don’t have to wait for ethical perfection before moving on to asana, pranayama, or concentration practices.

Above all, it takes practice, practice, and more practice!

With time and practice, Raja Yoga can lead to the total absorption of the mind into the Universal Self.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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For More On Yoga Theory:

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves. www.elizabethburns.co.uk

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