A quick overview of Yogic Philosophy

The Five Points of Yoga

Proper Exercise

Our physical body is meant to move and exercise. If our lifestyle does not provide natural motion of muscles and joints, then disease and great discomfort will ensue with time. Proper exercise should be pleasant to the practitioner while beneficial to the body, mind and spiritual life.

Proper Breathing

Yoga teaches us how to use the lungs to their maximum capacity and how to control the breath. Proper breathing should be deep, slow and rhythmical. This increases vitality and mental clarity.

Most people use only a fraction of their lung capacity for breathing. They breathe shallowly, barely expanding the ribcage. Their shoulders are hunched, they have painful tension in the upper part of the back and neck, and they suffer from lack of oxygen. They should learn the full Yogic breathing.

Proper Relaxation

When the body and the mind are constantly overworked, their natural efficiency to perform work diminishes. Modern social life, food, work and even the so-called entertainment, such as disco dancing, make it difficult for modern people to relax. Many have even forgotten that rest and relaxation are nature's way of recharging. Even while trying to rest, the average person expends a lot of physical and mental energy through tension. Much of the body's energy is wasted uselessly.

More of our energy is spent in keeping the muscles in continual readiness for work than in the actual useful work done. In order to regulate and balance the work of the body and mind, it is best to learn to economize the energy produced by our body. This may be done by learning to relax.

Proper Diet

Besides being responsible for building our physical body, the foods we eat profoundly affect our mind. For maximum body-mind efficiency and complete spiritual awareness, Yoga advocates a lacto-vegetarian diet. This is an integral part of the Yogic lifestyle.

The yogic diet is a vegetarian one, consisting of pure, simple, natural foods which are easily digested and promote health. Simple meals aid the digestion and assimilation of foods. Nutritional requirements fall under five categories: protein, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins. One should have a certain knowledge of dietetics in order to balance the diet. Eating foods first-hand from nature, grown in fertile soil (preferably organic, free from chemicals and pesticides) will help ensure a better supply of these nutritional needs. Processing, refining and overcooking destroy much food value.

Positive Thinking and Meditation

Here is the most important point of all, we become what we think. Thus we should exert to entertain positive and creative thoughts as these will contribute to vibrant health and a peaceful, joyful mind. A positive outlook on life can be developed by learning and practicing the teachings of the philosophy of Vedanta. The mind will be brought under perfect control by regular practice of meditation.

When the surface of a lake is still, one can see to the bottom very clearly. This is impossible when the surface is agitated by waves. In the same way, when the mind is still, with no thoughts or desires, you can see the "Self" this is called Yoga.

Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

YAMA

Yama (restraints) consists of five parts: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (sexual abstinence unless intentionally procreating. Brahma: "That which contains an inexhaustible potential of creativity" Carya: " The way of living" - The way of living in Brahma's perception), and Aparigraha (non-covetousness). Ahimsa is perfect harmlessness, as well as positive love. The five directives of Yama lay down behavioral norms as prerequisites for elimination of fear, and contribute to a tranquil mind.

NIYAMA

Niyama is observance of five canons: Shaucha (internal and external purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of religious books and repetitions of Mantras), and Ishvarapranidhana (self-surrender to God, and His worship). Niyama, unlike Yama, prescribes mental exercises to train the mind to control emotions.

ASANA

Asana in the sense of a posture that one can hold for a period of time, staying relaxed and with normal (calm) breathing (or, as some sources say, "without effort"). In Sanskrit, Asana means literally "seat", the place where one sits; or posture, position of the body (any position). Asanas (in the sense of Yoga "posture") are said to derive from the various positions of animals' bodies (whence are derived most of the names of the positions). 84 asanas are considered to be the main postures, of which the highest are Shirshasan (headstand) and Padmasan (lotus). The practice of Asanas affects the following aspects or planes of the human being:

From the Raja Yoga perspective, it is considered that the physical postures and pranayama serve to prepare the body and mind for the following steps: Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi (withdrawal of the senses, contemplation, meditation, and state of expanded or transcendental consciousness, where the activity of the mind ceases and "The Knower and The Object of Knowledge Become One").

PRANAYAMA

Pranayama is made out of two Sanskrit words (prana = life energy; yama = control or modification). Breathing is the medium used to achieve this goal. The mind and life force are correlated to the breath. Through regulating the breathing and practicing awareness on it, one learns to control prana. According to Raja Yoga, there are three main types of pranayama:

There are numerous techniques of Pranayama, each with their specific goals. The main techniques are:

All pranayama practice ultimately works toward purification of the nadis (energy channels) and the awakening of kundalini shakti at the muladhara chakra. The awakening of kundalini energy (also described as the awakening of divine consciousness or wisdom), and its ascent to the crown chakra is the final goal of Raja Yoga.

PRATYAHARA

Pratyahara is bringing the awareness to reside deep within oneself, free from the senses and external world. The Goal of Pratyahara is not to disrupt the communication from the sense organ to the brain. The awareness is far removed from the five senses. Pratyahara cannot be achieved without achievement of the preceding limbs (pranayama, niyama, etc.). The awareness comes to rest deep in the inner space, and during this time the yogi's breath will be temporarily suspended. Pratyahara should not just be likened to concentration or meditation, etc. It is a yogic practice that takes on adequacy with the prior 8 limbs as prerequisites.

DHARANA

Real Yoga starts from concentration. Concentration merges into meditation. Meditation ends in Samadhi. Retention of breath, Brahmacharya,Satvic (pure) food, seclusion, silence, Satsanga (being in the company of a guru), and not mixing much with people are all aids to concentration. Concentration on Trikuti (the space between the two eyebrows) with closed eyes is preferred. The mind can thus be easily controlled, as this is the seat for the mind.

DHYANA

"Sleep, tossing of mind, attachment to objects, subtle desires and cravings, laziness, lack of Brahmacharya, gluttony are all obstacles in meditation. Reduce your wants. Cultivate dispassion. You will have progress in Yoga. Vairagya thins out the mind. Do not mix much. Do not talk much. Do not eat much. Do not sleep much. Do not exert much. Never wrestle with the mind during meditation. Do not use any violent efforts at concentration. If evil thoughts enter your mind, do not use your will force in driving them. You will tax your will. You will lose your energy. You will fatigue yourself. The greater the efforts you make, the more the evil thoughts will return with redoubled force. Be indifferent. Become a witness of those thoughts. They will pass away. Never miss a day in meditation. Regularity is of paramount importance. When the mind is tired, do not concentrate. Do not take heavy food at night.

The mind passes into many conditions or states as it is made up of three qualities: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Kshipta (wandering), Vikshipta (gathering), Mudha (ignorant), Ekagra (one-pointed), and Nirodha (contrary) are the five states of the mind.

By controlling the thoughts the Sadhaka attains great Siddhis. He becomes adept. He attains Asamprajnata Samadhi or Kaivalya. Do not run after Siddhis. Siddhis are great temptations. They will bring about your downfall. A Raja Yogi practices Samyama or the combined practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi at one and the same time.

Control the mind by Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (dispassion). Any practice that steadies the mind and makes it one-pointed is Abhyasa. Dull Vairagya will not help you in attaining perfection in Yoga. You must have Para Vairagya or Theevra Vairagya, intense dispassion."

— Swami Sivananda from Amrita Gita

SAMADHI

Meditation on OM with Bhava removes obstacles in Sadhana and helps to attain Samadhi. Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga-Dvesha (likes and dislikes), Abhinivesha (clinging to mundane life) are the five Kleshas or afflictions. Destroy these afflictions. You will attain Samadhi. Samadhi is of two kinds:

In Savikalpa or Sabija, there is Triputi or the triad (knower, known and knowledge). The samskaras are not burnt or freed.[citation needed]Savitarka, Nirvitarka, Savichara, Nirvichara, Sasmita and Saananda are the different forms of Savikalpa Samadhi. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Nirbija Samadhi or Asamprajnata Samadhi there is no triad. In lay-persons' terms, Samadhi would be described as enlightenment.