Patanjali in an ancient exponent of raja yoga and the author of the Yoga Sutras, a series of verses about the eight steps needed to attain Self-Realization. [ref]How to Meditate, by Jyotish Novak. Chapter 13, “Patanjali’s Eightfold Path”.[/ref] No one knows when he lived or much about his life, although there are stories. [ref]”Who Was Patanjali“, Richard Rosen for Yoga Journal.[/ref]
Although Patanajali was a yogi raised in the Hindu tradition, his sutras are general guidelines for spiritual growth through right living, and are not specifically about Hinduism. They are not beliefs, but methods that can be tested by each practitioner to see for himself or herself if they actually have the benefits that they claim. [ref ]Demystifying Patanjali, Swami Kriyananda. Preface.[/ref]
It consists of eight progressive stages on the path to Self-Realization. [ref ]How to Meditate, Jyotish Novak. Chapter 13, “Patanjali’s Eightfold Path.”[/ref] Practitioners of Raja Yoga use yogic practices such as meditation to go through these stages. [ref ]Glory of Spiritual India, Hari Datt Sharma. Chapter 4, “Yoga.”[/ref]
The stages are:
Asana is the third limb on of the path that Patanjali defined. It does not mean hatha yoga postures, but the ability to sit unmoving with a straight spine for long periods of time. (Hatha yoga postures can help one to do this, if one is physically able to practice them.)
Pranayama means control over energy in the body. If one can control one’s energy, then one can withdraw it from the outer senses and up the spine, thereby raising one’s consciousness.
Pratyahara is the interiorization of one’s attention and thoughts.
Dharana is concentration; one-pointed focus.
Dhyana means steadfast meditation on God or the Higher Self.
Samadhi is complete absorption in the infinite — literally “oneness.”
There are two stages of samadhi: sabikalpa and nirbikalpa. Sabikalpa samadhi is conditional and temporary; the ego is still there subconsciously and can come back after the meditation is over. Nirbikalpa samadhi is unconditional and permanent; one cannot fall after obtaining nirbikalpa samadhi; the ego is gone for good. [ref ]Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 25, “The Eightfold Path of Patanjali.”[/ref]