What is Raja Yoga?

What is Raja Yoga?

Patanjali saw four paths for attaining the “union” of yoga. In past posts, we have discussed Karma yoga, or the yoga of service, and Bhakti yoga, or the yoga of devotion. This path, the one of Raja yoga, is considered the “royal” path.

Raja means “king,” and the idea of Raja yoga is of ruling the body from the royal seat of the mind. This is the path of meditation and control of the mind, and these concepts will seem familiar if you have been following this blog, as Raja Yoga is another name for the eight-limbed path, or Ashtanga yoga.

The progression of Raja yoga is meant to be followed in order; each step leads to the next. You can follow the links in each section to read more about each step on the path of Raja Yoga.


The Yamas are the “don’t’s” of the path of Raja yoga. In this philosophy, avoiding these behaviours is a practice of self-purification: Ahimsa is “non-harming,” Satya is “non-falsehood,” Asteya is “non-stealing,” Brahmacharya is “non-wasting of energy,” and Aparigraha is “non-possessiveness.” The Yamas are dictates about relating to other people and are thought to be the first step towards enlightenment.


The Niyamas are the virtues to cultivate in order to follow the path of Raja yoga, and they have to do with how we relate to ourselves. Saucha is “cleanliness,” Santosha is “contentment,” Tapas is “discipline,” Svadhyaya is “self-study,” and Ishvara Pranidhana is “devotion.” The posts on each of the Niyamas discuss how to integrate these ideas and teachings into your everyday life because they cannot be separate from the way you live your life in the real world.


Asana is likely the step that you are most familiar with: Asana is the system of physical movement that underlies yoga classes the world over. Philosophically, in the path of Raja Yoga, the purpose of Asana is to prepare the body to sit comfortably in meditation. This may seem like a simple task, but spend 10 minutes in a seated position without moving and you may find that you’re ready for some stretching and strengthening!


Pranayama is about breath control. Prana is the energy that moves throughout your body; control and manipulation of the breath is the way to manage that flow of energy. Emotions and physical habits affect our breath every day, but by working to control the breath, we can help to open up emotional and physical blockages that prevent us from sitting comfortably in meditation.


Pratyahara translates as “withdrawal of the senses,” which might sound obscure and vague, but this is an important step. The value of Pratyahara is in learning to find a sense of calm and quiet among the barrage of stimuli that assaults our senses on a daily basis. To practice Pratyahara means to give yourself time and space away from the screens, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations of your daily life.

Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi

Dharana means “holding” or “steady focus”; Dhyana means “meditation”; and Samadhi means “even-minded”. These three steps are often studied together because they are all about control of the mind. Dharana is the first step in control: practice. The process of practicing single-minded concentration is Dharana – you are still able to be distracted when you are practicing. Dhyana is the next step: uninterrupted, prolonged, focused concentration on the object of your meditation, whether it is the breath, an image, or something else. Finally, Samadhi is a state of meditation where the distinction between the meditator – in this case, you – and the object being meditated on, no longer exists. In the state of Samadhi, there is no boundary that keeps you separate from your object of meditation. Samadhi is said to be a state of bliss and oneness with the Universe.

This is only a brief overview of the concepts included in the eight-limbed path of Ashtanga or Raja yoga. This is a path to follow over a lifetime, so give yourself time to explore the steps in sequence if this speaks to you.