Whereas Hatha Yoga focuses on the physical body and the vital force that animates it and works through it, Raja Yoga takes as its primary focus the mental body, and more particularly, it addresses what it calls the “chitta” or mental “substance”. The intention of the practitioner of Raja Yoga is to gain mastery over the mental powers, accentuate them and use them to achieve spiritual realisation through a process of identification through trance states known as Samadhi. Raja Yoga as a science was codified by the sage Patanjali, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are considered the definitive text on the practice of this path. One of the most powerful and lucid introductions and translations of these sutras was provided by Swami Vivekananda, whose book Raja Yoga, published by the Advaita Ashrama is considered to be a standard and classic text in the field.
Sri Aurobindo describes the focus of Raja Yoga: “It aims at the liberation and perfection not of the bodily, but of the mental being, the control of the emotional and sensational life, the mastery of the whole apparatus of thought and consciousness.”
Raja Yoga recognizes that the normal mental functioning is chaotic. Sense impressions lead to a constant whirl of ideas, thoughts, emotions and feelings. The mind tends to jump around with very little ability to focus and sustain a directed action without being diverted or distracted. Attention span is generally weak.
Raja Yoga attempts to bring about control and order into the mental functioning: “The preliminary movement of Rajayoga is a careful self-discipline by which good habits of mind are substituted for the lawless movements that indulge the lower nervous being. By the practice of truth, by renunciation of all forms of egoistic seeking, by abstention of injury to others, by purity, by constant meditation and inclination to the divine Purusha who is the true lord of the mental kingdom, a pure, glad, clear state of mind and heart is established.”
This represents the starting point for the advanced practices for which Raja Yoga is known.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Introduction: The Conditions of the Synthesis, Chapter 4, The Systems of Yoga, pp. 30-31