Raja Yoga is the Yoga of growth and development through mental discipline. Patanjali is the highest authority on Raja Yoga. Of all the other Y ogas, only Raja Yoga has prescribed eight steps to practise in a scientific manner for physical, mental and emotional development.
The first step is Yama (social virtues) that deals with:
(a) Ahimsa (non-violence)
(b) Sathya (truthfulness)
(c) Asteya (non-stealing)
(d) Brahmacharya (continence)
(e) Aparigraha (unselfishness)
The second step is Niyama (personal virtues), which insists on:
(f) Soucha (purity of body and mind)
(g) Santosha (contentment)
(h) Tapas (austerity)
(i) Swadhyaya (self-study and improvement)
(j) Ishwara Pranidhana (self-surrender to God)
Yama and Niyama could be considered the Ten Commandments of Yoga meant for controlling the passions and emotions of a person and thereby paving the way for practise of higher levels of Yoga.
The third step is Asana, which refers to body postures, and physical exercises to restore and refresh the body by better circulation of blood, more effective breathing and muscular relaxation.
The fourth step is Pranayama. It refers to Yogic exercises of breath control used to relax the body and thus recharge the body’s batteries. Prana is the generalised manifestation of all forces and power in the universe. Pranayama, therefore, refers to certain exercises through which every part of the body is filled with Prana and from this vital force a certain amount of power is generated in the body. Through Pranayama one is able to exert complete control over his body, mind and emotions.
The fifth step is Prathiyahara. It is control of the senses, the intentional withdrawal from sights, sounds, smells and feelings of the external world, and selective inattention to the senses.
The sixth step is Dharna. It is deep, unrestricted, pinpointed concentration of the mind on a particular object or idea.
The seventh step is Dhyana, which is meditative awareness. For instance, there is a steady flow when oil is poured from one vessel to another; when the flow of concentration (Dharna) is uninterrupted, the state that arises is Dhyana (meditation).
The last step in Raja Yoga is Samadhi, the highest level of meditation and the supreme goal of Yoga. It is oneness – union with the Self (the Divine). In the state of Samadhi, the body and senses are at rest as if one is asleep but at the same time, the faculties of mind and reason are fully alert, like when one is wide-awake.