This branch of yoga, known as classic yoga, is the practice of using breathwork and meditation to regulate the mind and senses

During the pandemic, a client I’ll call Claire told me she had faced difficulty focusing and concentrating as she worked from home. She told me she had turned to her friend Frannie, who had been practicing yoga for a while.

Claire noticed Frannie seemed to be adjusting pretty well. “What is it about yoga that helps?” she wanted to know.

Breathwork, Frannie said. It was more than the physical movements, the part most Westerners know, hatha yoga. “I do breathwork before I move into an intuitive sequence.”

Frannie followed her yoga practice with a 10-minute or longer meditation every morning. “This helps me stay grounded and focused in my work,” she said. “Before the pandemic, and now, especially, after.”

“How did you learn to do this?” Claire wanted to know.

Frannie directed Claire to her local yoga studio, which had remained as an online presence during the pandemic.

As an integrative psychiatrist and author of Cleanse Your Body, Reveal Your Soul, I am often in the position of supporting clients as they explore the benefits of yoga, breathwork and meditation. One of the branches of yoga that best supports this work is Raja yoga.

Yoga is so much more than the poses we know as asanas. Raja yoga, with its concentration on meditation and breathwork offers many benefits that can sustain us as we emerge from the pandemic.

There are four overarching paths in yoga.

  • Bhakti (devotion)
  • Karma (action)
  • Jnana (knowledge)
  • Raja (controlling the mind and senses)

Each one is a unique path one can chose. One path is not better than the other. The path that appeals to you is the one to choose and to practice it. As the paths may overlap in certain aspects, I can bring the sense of the sacred to my yoga mat with chants (bhakti yoga) while I practice certain asanas with a focus on breath (raja yoga).

Raja yoga, also known as classical yoga, encompasses aspects of the mind and senses that allow for a unique approach to move past the entertainment of the senses which often is the cause of our various miseries in life.

Within raja yoga, there are eight branches of yoga with hatha (physical movement/asana) yoga being the one most familiar to the Western world. Raja yoga seeks to guide the person toward the means of awakening.

The methods to do so are present in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, an authoritative text in the Yogic tradition.  A physician and considered the father of Yoga, Patanjali lived in second century BCE. He is seen as the author of the Yoga Sutras. His approach was ecumenical. The principles are universal.

     The eight branches include the following:

  • Yamas (ethical principles to live by)
  • Niyama (individual observances to live by)
  • Asana (physical practice)
  • Pranayama (control of breath)
  • Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
  • Dharana (concentration)
  • Dhyana (meditation)
  • Samadhi (super conscious state)

By exploring these limbs of yoga, I hope to offer an approach that I see as focused on connecting with our Deeper Self, or Soul. This I have seen allows for the deeper questions in life be possibly supported in new and surprising ways.

It provides a possible roadmap of the challenges of our own confusions along with our own wounded approach to our life.

In coming weeks, we’ll explore the yamas and niyamas. Meanwhile, here are some vital resources:

Vital Yoga: A Sourcebook for Students and Teachers, Meta Hirschl (Prajna Publishing Company, 2010)

The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, Georg Fuerstein, Ph.D. (Shambala Press, 2003)

NOTE: Because I work in clinical settings, I am firmly committed to upholding the ethics of my profession and protecting client confidentiality. This is a vital component of the support we offer. For that reason, the characters I use in anecdotes in this blog are compilations, and I use first names only. The stories I provide here are derived from 30+ years of clinical experience, where I have been a support to people like Claire.

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