Although in western culture yoga is mainly regarded as a form of exercise, many forms of yoga are purely mental or spiritual practices. Raja Yoga encompasses both body and mind, but the emphasis is on mental and spiritual development. Its purpose, according to its progenitor, the Indian sage Patanjali, is to unite the practitioner with the higher self. Among their own ranks, practitioners of Raja Yoga regard themselves as "heroes of mind training."
In Sanskrit, the word raja means "king," or one who has achieved self-mastery, while the word yoga itself means "union" or "connection." Having originated as early as 300 B.C., it was practiced by actual kings, most notably the eleventh century King Bhoja, who wrote an extensive and influential commentary on it.
While vestiges of Raja Yoga survive in other yogic traditions, it is not commonly practiced in the West, and in fact strict Raja Yoga practices have become rare even in India.
The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga
Like other forms of yoga, Raja Yoga is based on the eight limbs of yoga as delineated by Patanjali. While the eight limbs form a complete path to self-mastery or samadhi, which literally means to "bring into harmony," Raja Yoga emphasizes meditation and turning toward inner illumination and eschewing external sources of gratification.