Raja or Ashtanga Yoga and Hatha Yoga

Post By: Published on: December 14, 2016 Reading time: 7 minutes

School of Yoga explains hatha-yoga and rāja-yoga

Recap – The word yoga has its roots in the word yuj, meaning “to yoke”, meaning yoking of any two entities into a bond. In the practice of Yoga, this signifies weaving of conditioning (svadharma) with behaviour (svabhāva) with the intention of projecting a cohesive personality (svatantra).

  • Rāja-yoga and hatha-yoga systems are related.
  • Both require the understanding of the subtle energy called kundalini which falls under the category of tantra, an ancient Indian concept based on the intertwining of Siva with Shakti.
  • Generally, since Siva (the Identity) is the static element, the practice centers around Shakti, (the manifestation of Identity) the mobile and creative principal and this practice is called srividya”.
  • The practice of srividya revolves around the awakening of the kundalini from its position in the mūl̄adhāra and guiding it to its union with Siva at the sahasrāra.
  • In fact, both yoga systems have much in common but both use different approaches.
  • Also, both systems use āsana, prāṇāyāma and dhyāna as tools to reach samādhi.
  • However, the preparation process in each system is different.

School of Yoga explains the difference between hatha-yoga and raja-yoga



External system of preparation, also called kaula-mārga (noble path). Internal system of preparation, also called samaya-mārga (time path).
Coerces kundalini from mūl̄adhāra to sahasrāra. Coaxes kundalini from mūl̄adhāra to sahasrāra.
Kaula-mārga considers Siva static, emphasis more on Shakti, the creative energy. Samaya-mārga advocates the sameness of Siva and Shakti.
Individual’s preparation consists of shatkriya, mudra, yantra, bījākṣara-mantra. Individual’s preparation consists of yama and niyama.
Based on 64 tantras. Based on 8 steps or aṣṭāṅga.

School of Yoga explains hatha-yoga

Hatha-yoga (hatha = coercing + yoga). is a form of yoga practice where the kundalini is coerced to move from the mūl̄adhāra to the sahasrāra.

This is a metaphysical system of achieving salvation. In hath-yoga, the body, cognitive apparatus (manas), endocrine, circulatory and nervous systems (nāḍi) are optimised. Thereafter, the kundalini energy is forced through the central channel or suṣumṇa-nāḍi to the sahasrāra. However, this is different other forms of yoga practices which focus on isolating the identity through conventional means. Incidentally, there is no western equivalent or logic which can explain the subtle energy movement in hatha-yoga.


Cakra Spinal area Function Kriya
Prāṇa Ājñā Ingestion and life Trātaka
Apāna Svādhiṣṭhāna Sacral Sexuality Nauli
Vyāna Anāhata Thoracic Circulation Kapālabhāti
Udāna Viśuddhi Cervix Nervous Neti
Samāna Maṇipūra Lumbar Digestion Dhauti
Brahmana Mūl̄adhāra Coccyx Excretion Basti

School of Yoga explains preparation tools in hatha-yoga:


Shatkarma (shat = 6 + kriya/ karma = action) are 6 cleansing actions which are used to prepare the body. They are neti, dhauti, nauli, trātaka and kapālabhāti. Additionally, to understand why these 6 exercises are considered important hatha-yoga cleansing exercises, one should understand flow of prāṇa or vāyu. Vāyu are forces or energies which control certain bodily functions. Finally, the table above shows the correlation between the vāyus and the shatkriya.


This aspect of hatha-yoga is used to control the flow of motility (prāṇa). Additionally, it’s important to recognize that prāṇa, like any flow (vāyu), operates in a circuit. When it reaches the ends of the body, it has to either flow out or back into the body. Consequently, when it flows out, it is lost. However, when it is directed into the body, it acts like a capacitor, increasing prāṇa levels in the system. This is the logic behind the mudra system. The intent is to touch parts of the body which activate specific channels to induce specific outcomes.

The major locations from where prāṇa can be redirected are hands, feet, tongue and tip of the nose. The hands have many types of mudras to redirect prāṇa, depending on where the phalanges meet or are joined. The legs are used in asana position to redirect the flow of prāṇa. For the tongue, kechari-mudra is used, and for the nose, nasikāgra-mudra or nasikāgra-drishti, which means gazing at the tip of the nose is used. Another worthwhile mudra for the nose is the positioning of the fingers in nadi-śuddhi prāṇāyāma, where the flow of prāṇa is facilitated by the mudra.

Hatha Yoga Pradeepika – Chapter 3 explains mudra in great detail.


The use of yantra is more difficult to explain. Yantra are diagrams/ charts which have specific meanings for delivery of specific results.


Mantras are very relevant to development in hatha-yoga. Mantras are used to isolate the visual and kinaesthetic elements of consciousness by use of repetitive audio stimuli. The basis for this is the Saṁskṛt language itself which uses alphabets (akṣara) and meter (chandas) to produce specific vibrations which are meant for certain outcomes.

Importantly, there are certain syllables and sounds which activate certain chakras. These are called bījākṣara-mantras and are learned under a Guru.

School of Yoga explains rāja-yoga (yoga-of-a-king or eight-limbed-yoga)

Rāja-yoga or aṣṭāṅga-yoga is considered to be the rāja (king) among yoga-śāstra (a compendium of rules) because the king works at a material level. Consequently, this yoga is more attuned to normal living without having to go deep into spiritual life. By design, it has two levels- a basic activity-based experience (kriya-yoga) and an advanced internalisation experience (dhyāna-yoga).

This discipline is one of the most comprehensive and complete tools for improving situation awareness.

School of Yoga – kriya-yoga aspect of rāja-yoga has five elements;

Yama – Transaction or behaviour control – This is based on managing transactions or response to stimulus with the external surroundings with the intent of reducing agitation.

Niyama – Self Control – Ability to manage turbulence generated by change within our personality.

Āsana – Preparing the body, cleansing and making it physically fit for meeting challenges which come with internal and external change. Additionally, asanas help in managing the fallout of change and in reducing associated stress levels.

Prāṇāyāma – This compound word simply means – discipline in breathing. This discipline makes breathing, which is an unconscious and reflex action into a conscious and controlled one.

Pratyahāra – In this step, there is active isolation of the senses. Consequently, the practitioner tries to stop stimuli from increasing agitation within the logical and emotional framework. In fact, this state is the basis for further development in Yoga, the practice of dhyāna, dhārana and samādhi.

Points to ponder on hatha-yoga and rāja-yoga;

Internal Tags: Dharma (conditioning)Stress and Situational AwarenessStress and prāṇaAwareness measuresHatha Yoga PradeepikaPatanjali Yoga SutraJnana-YogaBhakti-Yoga

External TagsConsciousness

  • Do you understand hatha-yoga? What is rāja-yoga? 
  • How does kundalini energy operate? What is prāṇa?
  • What is common and what are the differences between hatha-yoga and rāja-yoga?
  • In hatha-yoga, what are shatkriya, mudra, yantra and mantra?

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