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1)Yama and Niyama
These constitute the very first steps one has to take in the long journey towards Self-realization. They are like kindergarten classes, with which any secular education commences. In this sense, most of us are tiny toddlers in the field of spirituality.
Yama consists of Ahimsa (non-injury), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-covetousness), Brahamacharya (continence or self-control) and Aparigraha (non-receipt of gifts).
Niyama comprises of Shaucha (external and internal purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerites), Swadhyaya (study of scriptures) and Ishwara-pranidhana (surrender to the Divine). There is no necessity here to go into details, since they are well explained in books on Raja Yoga, especially the one by Swami Vivekananda.
For our current study here, the most important is the last, viz., surrender to the Divine. Patanjali does not insist on faith in one particular form of God, as in sectarian religions. What is needed is the appreciation of the fact that there is a higher power which governs our lives and one should consciously or otherwise offer one"s prayers to it.
2)Asana and Pranayama
These are physical practices enjoined by Patanjali to train one"s body and mind, which are the media available to us for Self-realisation. Asana means simply a firm posture, in which one can sit for long periods of time in meditation, without feeling bodily discomfort. The multifarious Asanas now in use are all meant to make the body supple and healthy, so that one can do yoga more effectively.
Pranayama is one of the most misunderstood of the yogic steps. It has been equated to breath control. It is much more than that. It is the voluntary control of energy within the body. Again, details are available in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.
3)Pratyahara & Dharana
These are mental exercises, which help in withdrawing the mind from the external world and in turning it inwards. As mentioned in the Kathopanishad, it is only a rare soul who is bold enough to turn his gaze inwards to realise the Atman within. This process is two-fold. The first step is to shut out the external world. The mind, however, by nature, abhors vacuum. Hence, the external world so shut out must be replaced by something internal and this process needs a support. The particular object on which the mind is now focused or concentrated is purely the business of the individual concerned. It is a matter between the individual and the Maker, and has nothing to do with the religion, sect, gender or age of the person concerned. Raja Yoga, in this sense, is all encompassing and gives total freedom to an individual.
4) Dhyana and Samadhi
The last two stages are Dhyana (meditation), which is the unbroken or uninterrupted flow of thought on the object of contemplation, and Samadhi, which is the ultimate state of oneness with the absolute. These are concepts which cannot be described in words, but only experienced.