What The @#%^ is Rajadhiraja Yoga?


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Never heard of Rajadhiraja Yoga before? You are not alone. Up until a few years ago, I had not heard of it either, even though I had been practicing it for quite a while.

If you’ve heard of Raja Yoga—Vivekananda and many other great yogis’ term for the Asthanga Yoga of Patanjali—you are half way there.

As you know, Raja Yoga means the Yoga of Kings, or the Royal Path. And Rajadhiraja Yoga simply means the Royal’s Royal Path. It simply implies a more subtle, more internalized path of meditational yoga. If you meditate using concentration and a mantra, you might even practice part of it.

Rajadhiraja Yoga is part of the practice of pranayama (breathing exercise), for example. But it differs from Hatha Yoga pranayama.

Suppose you practice pranayama concentrating on your breath but without the use of a mantra. That’s Hatha Yoga pranayama. However, if you practice pranayama with your breath, the use of a mantra, and simultaneously concentrate on a chakra, as well as on the meaning of the mantra, all in one synchronized flow, that is Rajadhiraja Yoga.

Sounds like a complicated practice. But so is playing the guitar, until, that is, you become proficient in improvising and getting your ego-mind out of the way, and let yourself flow.

In other words, in Rajadhiraja Yoga we use the body and its energies (proper seat, or asana, and breathing), as well as the mind, for transmutation and transcendence into the realm of Spirit.

So, in relation to Asthanga Yoga and its eight limbs, when you practice pranayama according to the principles of Rajadhiraja Yoga, you employ pranayama (breath), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), and dhyana (spontaneous flow meditation). In other words, you practice four of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Asthanga Yoga. Even six, if you have an experience of samadii, that is.

Can you do all that while practicing one yoga posture after another in a studio togheter with 30 other fast-moving-and-breathing Hatha Yoga bodies? Only in theory. But in real life it’s not that simple; at least not if you want to experience the full benefit of the practice.

One will definitely benefit both mentally and spiritually by internalizing ones posture practice through focus on the breath or a mantra in class or at home, as many yogis do, but such exercises (japa kriya) do not give you the same benefits or the same experiences as a deep Rajadhiraja Yoga practice while sitting in lotus or half lotus in deep silence.

There is a reason why corpse pose is practiced lying down instead of standing; there is also a reason why meditation is practiced in certain asana positions—simply to enhance the full benefits of the practice.

In traditional yoga, time is divided between posture yoga practice, as in Hatha Yoga, and sitting-still-meditation practice, as in the meditation practices of Asthanga Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Rajadhiraja Yoga. For the yogis of old, there was a time and place for various kinds of practice. Mixing everything up, or just sample different techniques from the vast  smorgasbord of yoga, like we often do today, will not give all the body-mind-spirit benefits yoga has to offer.

In other words, Hatha Yoga, or posture practice, prepares the physical, energetic and mental bodies for the inner transformation that takes place during spiritual meditation in Asthanga Yoga and Rajadhiraja Yoga.

An aching, stiff, or tense body is not conducive for deep meditation. Nor is a mind going wild on multiple cups of coffee or being frazzled from too many rapid, diverse, and heated yoga movements over an extended period of time.

However, deep yoga practices such as Rajadhiraja Yoga are often able to contain the paradoxes of the body and the mind. Aging and aching bodies, as well as our restless minds can, with the power of yoga, be trained by the power of the body and mind and then transcended by the spaciousness of Sprit.

In other words, we exercise the body to relax, to detoxify, to become flexible, to enable it to endure. Therefore posture practice is a great aid for meditation.

Sometimes, though, in deep contemplation, an experienced meditator may not notice that the legs have fallen asleep or that the left knee is aching. But after meditation, he or she is reminded that the body could benefit from a detox, a knee massage and a more regular or particular asana practice.

When we slow down at the end of posture practice and end in corpse pose; when we get up and chant before meditation; when we induce wholeness and stillness and the mental space necessary for the sense withdrawal in pratyahara, and when we, in sequential fashion, bring the mind into its own essential stillness in harmony with the breath, and when we focus in on a chakra, the mantra and its spiritual meaning, then we practice Rajadhiraja.  All in one beautiful flow.

So, who developed Rajadhiraja Yoga, and how old is it? Maharśi Aśt́ávakra, while living at Vakreshvar (a place of pilgrimage in India), introduced Rájádhirája Yoga and gave the first initiation in that school to a young prince named Alarka. This likely occurred some time before Patanjali (200 BCE). In other words, Rajadhiraja Yoga is at least 2200 years old and forms the basis of the subtler, meditational aspects of Asthanga Yoga as well as the many schools of Yoga and Tantra that preceded Patanjali.

As an historical aside, it is interesting to note that Asta means “eight,” as in the eight limbs of Asthanga Yoga. Legend has it that Astavakra received this name because his body was crippled in eight places.

May Astavakra’s crippled body inspire us to overcome our own physical and mental limitations and challenges, as he overcame his own, and brilliantly conceived a form of nondual yoga that gains transformational insights from the dualistic paradoxes of life.

Like so many other forms of Yoga, Rajadhiraja Yoga grew out of the ancient practices of Shiva Tantra. Shiva is, after all, considered the King of Yoga in India, and Shaivism or Tantrism is the trunk that so many branches of yoga stem from, including Hatha Yoga.

In their subtle form, the practices of such meditational yoga is common in both Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. In Hindu Tantra, Buddhist Tantra, and Rájádhirája Yoga, the concept of Paramashiva (Great Cosnciousness, Great Void) is recognized implicitly or explicitly.

In the body-positive Rajadhiraja Yoga, as in all Tantric Yoga, the body is real, the mind is real, and the spirit is real. The body and mind are thus vehicles to express and experience the divine by transcending their body-mind limitations as witnessed and experienced while in the womb of pure Sprit.

This body-positive attitude is expressed in this passage from the Kularnava Tantra:

“For the purpose of attaining knowledge, the virtuous person preserves the body with effort. When knowledge aims at both yoga and meditation, you will be liberated quickly.”

So, the body is not viewed as sinful, limiting, or an illusion in this type of yoga practice. Nor is it simply viewed as an alluring sex symbol, as a tool of sensual attention and attraction. Rather it is viewed for what it is, a paradox of pain, grace, limitation and beauty, and all paradoxical realities can become a sacred vehicle for grounding and transformation. Pain and illness can give us as much insight as grace and beauty.

As a crippled body is no limitation for enlightenment, a fit and beautiful body is also not a goal in itself. No matter what our body looks like, it is the temple we have been gifted—a temple in which we may practice the silence of deep meditation, the translucent source of joy and peace in life.


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Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes has traveled the world as a meditation teacher, Ayurvedic practitioner, author, and is currently the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center teaching yoga, meditation, and juice rejuvenation. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurvedic Medicine at California College of Ayurveda, and naturopathic detox therapy at the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He is the author of four books, and he lives with his wife Radhika and Juno, a sweet, gentle Great Pyrenees, in the mountains near Asheville, North Carlina. Connect with him via his website: prama.org and rameshbjonnes.com.


13 Responses to “What The @#%^ is Rajadhiraja Yoga?”

  1. Another great article, Ramesh. Welcome back.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  2. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  3. Ramesh says:

    Thanks, Bob. Good to be back on Elephant!

  4. Amy Eyrie says:

    Brilliant and informative article Ramesh. As a yoga teacher I have seen students come into their first class feeling defeated by their bodies, then slowly gain enough stability to begin the process of stilling their minds. You communicate complex ideas beautifully.

  5. Ramesh says:

    Wow, thanks so much for that wonderful comment, Amy. I was aiming for simplicity when writing this, so I am glad that came across.

  6. Valerie Adams says:

    Fabulous article – just what I was looking for only can you help with the pronunciation? I want to share this with my Yoga class!

    • Ramesh says:

      Thanks for your appreciation, Priyamvada, Rajadhiraja is pronounced much like it reads: Raja–the j is pronounced like the second g in garage. Dhi is pronounced like "dee" so Raja Dee Raja.
      Hope that helps!

  7. Ramesh says:

    Thanks, Bob. It's Mozart, no flamenco, to my ears!

  8. Friide says:

    Maharishis Patanjali and Astavakra were probably comtemporaries from the same period, 200-300 years apart perhaps.. There is no evidence to show that Sage Astavakra preceded Patanjjali. Astavakra is reputed to have discovered the science of cakras and their control.

    • Ramesh says:

      yes, contemporaries, but my sources point toward Astavakra living before Patanjali. Regarding him discovering chakras and their control, I would have to disagree as the science of yoga preceded Astavakra by several thousand years. But he did contribute vast amounts of knowledge and his Astavakra Gita text is a jewel of spiritual wisdom.

  9. bhaeravii says:

    one of the best articles…short, concise, detailed, easy to understand. write more like this on different aspects of yoga people take for granted they understand….yoga meditation is far more involved than focusing on breath…

  10. Markus Rosbach says:

    Great explanation !
    To me as a teacher-trainer, these historical statements get often time questioned. My question would be if these 2 historical figures came in contact with the (historically) controversial figure of jesus. Since it is alleged that he went to India, could it not be that he became a student of these saints and brought that knowledge back to the middle east (without sharing it except to a closed circle). Where are these 2 saints alleged to have lived in india ?

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