The word raja means royal, and this type of yoga helps you reach a new level of enlightenment. Raja Yoga is also called Mental Yoga and it is one of the six orthodox schools of classical yoga. This branch of yoga focuses on more than just the physical practices of yoga. Besides these, Raja Yoga emphasizes self-restraint in your everyday life and intense meditation to reach an advanced state of self-realization and awareness.
Patanjali wrote down the eight steps, or limbs, of yoga in his work “The Yoga Sutras” around 200 A.D. Raja Yoga relies on these eight steps to form a framework for your yoga practice. The limbs, or practices, focus on ethical standards, self-discipline, posture, breath control, sensory withdrawal, concentration, meditation and final liberation. You follow these limbs in their given order.
In the first two limbs, yama and niyama, you focus on ethical conduct and self-discipline. The aim of this behavior is to bring internal and external peace. Ways to practice the ethical aspect of Raja Yoga includes refraining from violence, stealing, greed and sex. Ways to practice self-discipline with Raja Yoga include honoring your guru, dedicating yourself to written studies and contemplating the meaning of life.
The physical practices of Raja Yoga include asana, pranayama and pratyahara. Raja Yoga recommends that you move through your asanas, or postures, with full awareness and without the interference of thought. Listen to your body and allow it to guide you through your poses. Raja Yoga recommends that you do breath work to control your energy. An example of breath work is alternate nostril breathing. The final physical step is pratyahara or sensory withdrawal. By detaching all five senses, you prepare yourself for true spiritual meditation.
During a traditional Raja Yoga practice, you concentrate your mind on one point of focus. The aim of this action is to bring mental calmness. Raja Yoga encourages you to focus on a single point for 12 seconds or more. This teaches you how to direct your attention inward, without external distractions. Once your senses are directed inward, you can mediate for an extended period. The final limb of Raja Yoga is samadhi, or enlightenment. After traveling through these steps, yogis reach a level of superconciousness.