Our true nature
Raja Yoga says that the greatest obstacle to realising the Self are an overactive mind and excessive thinking. They also point out attachment to the body-mind and intellect complex and the egoic notion of an “I” who is separate from all the Universe. Ironically, these “obstacles”, while they are normal functions of the human mind, we forget that there is a deeper, more loving part of ourselves that experiences everything and is responsible for all of our existence. This is the way to directly experience it.
These obstacles can be overcome by slowing down the activity of your mind and resting in the One who remains after all thought and patterning ceases. This unfathomable aspect of existence is sometimes called Purusha (in Patanjali’s Sutras), Brahman in Vedanta, Shoonya (certain types of Buddhism), or simply our true nature.
The mind resists slowing down
Raja Yoga recommends meditation as a tool for slowing down the mind’s chaos so that there is one continuous thought for an extended time. Samadhi is a state of total absorption in reality. It can be achieved through dedicated practice (abhyasa), but it often takes time.
However, the mind is smart and cunning, and it doesn’t want to slow down. It will continue to think, keeping the momentum of a “me” and distracting from the beauty of the moment and the true nature of reality.
Many years ago, I used the example of a Vipassana retreat. My mind became quiet for 10 days, and I saw glimpses of a Truth that was more beautiful than words could ever express. For a few moments, this would be the case, but then my mind would start playing pop songs from the 1990s in my head. This distracted me from the true wonder of the moment.
The Upanishads: Start with your physical body
Ancient rishis or sages noticed this and other ways the mind works. They understood that meditation was not always enough to calm the mind. The Yoga Upanishads has a method for those who find the chaos in their minds too overwhelming to manage with meditation. This system helps to develop flexibility, stability, and awareness. It starts with our physical bodies and works inward towards our minds, intuition, awareness, and fitness. The majority of yoga classes today are a fraction of this type, with the ultimate goal of calming the mind and allowing us to rest in our true nature.
Patanjali – The 8 Limbs of Yoga
While historical dates and times are not clear, it is commonly believed that Patanjali took the information from Yoga Upanishads, and created his own simplified version in the Raja Yoga Sutras. Patanjali’s Sutras offer many tips to suspend the patterning of consciousness, and calm the mind.
Ashtanga, which is the 8 Limbs of Yoga, has been a part of this work. This book outlines a method for calming the mind through meditation. It starts with the fundamental principles of living and works through the physical, emotional, intellectual, and emotional aspects of the mind. Then, it helps to develop the ability to bring the mind into a single-pointed focus that leads to meditation and Samadhi.
Raja Yoga – The study of the mind
Both Raja Yoga (or Hatha Yoga) are often confused and mixed up. Although both can contribute to physical and energy well-being, Hatha Yoga comes from Tantra and focuses on health and purity within the physical as well as energetic bodies. Raja Yoga is the study of the human mind. It involves becoming aware of its habits and then transcending the body-mind/intellect complex by meditation to relax in the vast oceans of consciousness that encompass it all.