There are many yogas; but yoga is only one. This is totally true.
The original Yoga is RAJA YOGA or Classical yoga or Ashtanga Yoga.
Raja Yoga means ROYAL YOGA or "Royal Union." Its main goal is the union with the Supreme. It has eight limbs that most be followed in the proper order. Usually people want to jump from the basic steps to the higher limbs, but it is not possible. This is a discipline and you need to practice every day to Master each limb.
Let's talk about the eight limbs and let's explain them:
THE EIGHT LIMBS OF RAJA YOGA:
- YAMA => Self-control.
- NIYAMA => Commitment to study and practice.
- ASANA => Postures (Mind and boy unification)
- PRANAYAMA => Breathing techniques to boost your energy.
- PRATYAHARA => Mental relaxation.
-DHARANA => Concentration.
-DHYANA => Meditation or study.
- SAMADHY. => Ecstasy or Blissful trance or Super-conscious state.
It is clear the main objective of Raja Yoga is to achieve that Super-Consciousness. It is a state beyond the boy and the mind. Usually it is depicted as a state where a drop (Regular consciousness) gets into the ocean of life (The Divine).
It is not that easy to get into that blessing state. It could take several years of PRACTICING, STUDY AND DEVOTION.
ATMAN is the root of all blessings, happiness and freedom. Samadhy is the state where you and Atman becomes one. That is what Raja Yoga offers you.
Well, how can we start in order to experiment Samadhy? You have to start from the beginning. It means you have to start with Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas and Pranayamas. So let us talk about this steps now.
Here are the five Yamas we need to practice:
- AHIMSA: No violence.
The yogi's philosophy is based on love and Compassion therefore violence cannot be accepted. Nobody has the right to hurt other being (Plant, animal or human). The exception is self-defense because you have the right to defend your life.
- SATYA: Truthfulness.
You have to be honest with yourself and the others therefore lying is not possible.
- ASTEYA: Non-stealing.
Whoever practice love and compassion and, at the same time, practice truthfulness is not able to steal. Stealing hurt other people and, often, people lie to steal. A yogi must avoid stealing at any cost.
- BRAHMACHARYA: Sexual Abstinence.
Yogis usually practice celibacy their whole life, but here I do not agree. Let me explain you. Celibacy is good for young people, but there is an age where sex activity is a need. Remember Freud who said that sex is the base of human's behavior. So, sexual abstinence is good for a time, but later it is better to understand what is sex for. Actually there is Tantra Yoga to prove the need of sexual activity with the proper person in the proper way.
- APARIGRAHA: Non-Covetousness.
Covetousness is the root of many human problems. It pushes people to steal and kill. The right philosophy is to understand that DESIRE IS THE ROOT OF SUFFERING. Yes, it is what Buddha taught. Does it mean we cannot have any desire? Humans without desire would die. That desire which pushes you to suffer is a negative desire a selfish desire. Covetousness is selfish. Obviously a good desire to improve your life or to help other beings is totally different.
THE TEN NIYAMAS:
- HRI: Remorse, understanding that you are human and therefore you, as everybody else, make mistakes. The ability to feel remorse is important to keep yourself humble. A person cannot be happy if he/she focuses on what he/she has not.
- SANTOSHA: Understanding that many people lack many things you actually have, therefore you should appreciate whatever you have. GRATITUDE is the capacity to thanks all you have.
- ASTIKA: This is being sure about the yoga path. This comes from experience. You might have a great teacher, but without practicing yoga you will never be sure about the path.
- ISHVARAPUJANA: ATMAN IS THE SOURCE OF ABUNDANCE, LOVE, FREEDOM, PEACE, HAPPINESS, ETC. Atman in within yourself. Therefore you should learn to go inside of yourself to develop devotion toward your inner Being, your ultimate reality, the divine within yourself.
- SIDDHANTA SHRAVANA: Studying the sacred books, studying the inner path toward Atman.
- MATI: Getting awareness, spiritual intelligence and will.
- VRATA: Sacred vows to Atman. All religions come from Atman. The best religion is love, which is within.
- JAPA: Chanting mantras to get the blessing of Atman.
- TAPAS: The ability to be in balance. Whatever living as a rich person or as a poor one you must learn to be happy. You have to go beyond the opposites to be really happy. Krishna told to Arjun to learn to see gold and mud as the same. Obviously they are not the same, but for the real yogi things are illusion and the appearance is not important.
This is the most popular part of yoga. Most modern yogas are based on asanas, but this is only a section of the whole.
Thanks to the different asanas a person can build strength or develop flexibility. Moreover, one can improve health and balance.
There are several routines of asanas and they change according to the teacher and the type of yoga the person is practicing and/or teaching.
In Raja Yoga, usually asanas are light not as hard as in some Hatha Yoga poses. Remember: In Raja Yoga the main focus is meditation and the unification with Atman. In Kundalini yoga the poses are related to the spinal, the chakras and the Kundalini itself.
PRANAYAMA (The science of breathing):
PRANA IS THE VITAL FORCE OF THE UNIVERSE. Prana is within every single atom. It is the most primary energy of everything. It is within the food, the water, oxygen, etc.
Pranayama is the science of breathing, the control of breathing and the proper way to breathe. Pranaymas are breathing exercises which can boost your energetic system. We all know the importance of the oxygen for the brain, the heart, etc. But Breathing properly is a lot more powerful.
Usually, people breathe in a very wrong way. We have to teach them how to breathe properly almost since the very first class. When someone cannot breathe properly then that person gets tired quickly. Meditation is not possible when breathing in the wrong way.
Breathing is so important, but we take it for granted and we do not pay attention to it. Nevertheless, in the yogic practices paying attention to breathing is a most.
Some yogis can hold the air for a long time, but the matter is not doing that. Pranayama's objective is to take the most from the prana within the oxygen to put it to work in the energetic system. This energetic system has more than 70,000 nadis or energetic subtle channels. They are not visible to the human eye, but acupuncture shows they are real.
The three main channels are: Ida, Pingala and Shushunna. We will talk about this in another section later.
PRATYAHARA (Mind relaxation):
Here is when things start getting interesting.
Usually a beginner wants to start at this point: Relaxation of the mind. A person must start with Yamas, Niyamas and Asanas before trying to calm his/her mind.
Yamas and Niyamas will help to build a balanced life and with more harmony. That is vital to improve your energetic system. A person full of anger has a very dense vibratory energetic field. So that person needs to calm his body before calming his/her mind.
Asanas will help a lot to relax the body and take off the stress from it. When someone is able to be motionless for about one hour, at least, then that person can try to go forward and try to control his/her mind. PRATYAHARA IS A STATE OF CONTROL OVER THE MIND. It is not done by force because the power of the mind and its energy will not let you to control it. So, how this can be done? DAILY PRACTICE, PATIENCE, PERSEVERANCE AND DISCIPLINE ARE THE KEYS.
The natural tendency of the mind is to be distracted. When we are in a class, for example, we pay attention to the teacher for some minutes, but our mind travels from the past to the future while the teacher talks. Our mind brings memories, words, projects, worries, fantasies, etc. It is tireless!
A once in a week practice is nothing and I underline this: A once in a week practice is nothing. Actually not even twice a week is good enough. Whoever wants to get control of the mind must be serious about this. No wonder why becoming a Master is not that easy.
Pratyahara takes a lot of practice to be achieved. If you just want to learn to relax the body is ok, it is good for your health. If it is what you want then it is ok, but that is not meditation yet.
When someone controls this stage then he/she starts experiencing what is beyond the mind. A blessing will come to his/her mind and his/her heart. The experience of Pratyahara is marvelous. You have to pay the price for it.
I bet Tou hear that we most look inside what we really like. Well, how can you look inside? You can do it creating a new faculty that you do not have. That faculty is DHARANA. No wonder why people do not know themselves. People look for the solutions of the problems, but the solution is within. People look for peace, freedom and happiness outside, but they do not look inside. People do not have the ability to look inside because they did not develop Dharana yet.
Dharana gives you the power to focus inside of you to discover your inner reality. Without that capacity you are blind and you would never understand yourself. You might think you understand yourself, but ask your friends about you and if they are sincere they might tell you things you do not even thought you had.
With a peaceful mind and the power of Dharana you will face the inner reality whatever good or not. Then you are prepared to go to the next step: DHYANA.
MEDITATION IS NOT POSSIBLE WITHOUT ALL PREVIOUS STEPS.
MEDITATION IS THE STAGE WHERE YOU CAN STUDY A VERY SPECIFIC THING UNTIL YOU GET THE TRUTH ABOUT IT. This kind of study goes far beyond the intellectual study. Sages are not intellectual, they are wise. WISDOM DOES NOT COME FROM BEING INTELLECTUAL: WISDOM COMES FROM THIS STAGE CALLED MEDITATION.
How can this stage be explained? How to talk what is beyond words? Well, all sages explain it through allegories. For example, picture a drop of water and you take it to the ocean; let it fall into the ocean. Where is the drop alone? There is not a drop anymore it is a whole ocean. The ocean is the Supreme, what is beyond words. It has not name and at the same time it has many names. It is the Tao, Brahman, the Absolute, etc. You are the drop which has to get into that ocean of wisdom and light.
Some Masters say, when they experienced that stage, they were feeling like becoming the tree in front of them, the river passing by, the flying bird going through and so on. They feel like becoming everything at the same time.
Masters say that this feeling to be separated from all other beings is a mere illusion. They say we all are one.