Raja yoga is literally the king of yoga practices, as Raja translates to “royal” or “kingly.” The practice is also known as Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga means “eightfold,” referring to the eight limbs of Raja yoga. The practice stresses focusing on bringing the mind and body into balance with your life force and uses various poses to create emotional contentment and spiritual balance.
Raja Yoga for Beginners
Anyone with no outstanding medical issues can practice Raja, or Ashtanga, yoga. Many poses can even be done sitting or lying down, making the practice appropriate even for people with certain physical issues or limitations. Beginners should start with less challenging poses, then move on to others as they build their yoga practice.
Raja Yoga Beginner Poses
Certain Raja yoga poses are less strenuous than others. Novices can begin with poses like the Forward Twist, Triangle Pose and Corpse Pose before moving on to more advanced poses like the King Pigeon Pose, Upward Facing Two-Foot Staff Pose, Wild Thing, Upward Bow or One-Legged King Pigeon Pose. Beginners who first master easier poses will build up the strength, balance and flexibility needed to do these more difficult poses.
Raja Yoga Breathing Exercises
Breathing techniques are central to Raja yoga. Followers of the practice believe that breathing opens the mind to power and tranquility through which they can control and regulate the nervous system. Breathing is also a door between the mind and body, in which a more soulful, spiritual and happy life may form. Breathing exercises include inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other, conscientiously drawing in air smoothly, stopping the flow of air to the lungs deliberately, exhaling for complete relaxation and controlling breath through muscular energy.
Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga
Students of Raja yoga seek to adhere to eight limbs, or practices. The first limb is control, marked by truth, honest, nonviolence and bodily purity. Second, students strive to adhere to certain rules of conduct that include having a discerning mind, living modestly and observing vows. The third limb is posture, which manifests itself through the movements in Raja yoga. Students strive to make the mind quiet so the body can be stable. The fourth limb, control of breath, encourages deep meditation. Withdrawal of sensory perceptions is the fifth limb. Through Raja yoga, students strive to focus only on the mind's meditations instead of outside distractions. This limb is closely related to the sixth limb, concentration. Students focus on mantras as they pose in order to reach the seventh limb, uninterrupted meditation. Finally, students reach the eighth limb, which is effortless meditation that symbolizes the end of the purification process.
Poppy Carpenter graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. In addition to teaching journalism to junior high students, she also covers health and fitness for "PUSH Monthly" and Angie's List.