Swami Vishnudevananda made the yogic teachings understandable and available to all by simplifying them into five points, showing specific ways to develop physical and mental health as well as spiritual growth:
|Proper Exercise (Asanas) – The word Asana means steady and comfortable posture. They are practiced in a systematic way in order to stretch the body, relieving tension and increasing flexibility and to improve blood circulation, oxygenating the tissues, removing toxins and carrying nutrients throughout the entire system.
|Proper Breathing (Pranayama) – Pranayama is a powerful tool to render the mind calm and clear and the intellect sharp. Through slow, deep, conscious breathing one can reduce stress and many other disorders associated with poor breathing habits.
|Proper Relaxation (Savasana) – Techniques of deep conscious relaxation, allow the practitioner to experience a complete rest for the body and mind while aware of it. It allows the body to replenish itself with energy overcoming the fatigue and the mind to become free from worries and anxieties.
|Proper Diet (Vegetarian) – There are various reasons for vegetarianism, among them are non-violence against other living creatures, environmental and economic purposes and also the subtle effect that the food has on the body and mind. Yoga teaches that foods which stimulate the mind and the system and those that make them slow and lethargic like eggs, meats, fish, onion, garlic, coffee, drugs, tobacco and alcohol, are best avoided.
|Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana) – Through the practice of the four previous points, one becomes happier and with a better approach of life. Then through positive thinking one begins to feel better about oneself and to accept the situations in life with a clearer understanding. Meditation is then achieved as the mind no longer dwells scattered on worries and preoccupations and is slowly brought to one-pointedness.
Swami Sivananda’s Yoga of Synthesis integrates the four paths of Yoga for the aspirant to develop him/herself in a complete way.
|Karma Yoga or selfless service: Also known as the Yoga of action, Karma Yoga is the core of the entire Sivananda Organization. Simply put it is the path of Yoga where one serves with no expectations of reward. The duties are performed with the feeling that one is serving God through humanity. Karma Yoga is meant to purify the ego.
|Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of devotion: In Swami Sivananda’s words, Bhakti Yoga is the easiest and surest way to attain God Realization in this present age. Through prayers, chants and worship one turns his/her emotions into devotion, developing an unconditional love towards seeing God in all of creation.
|Raja Yoga deals with the control of the mind through the study and understanding of its workings. A set of practices is prescribed to discipline and control the components of the human being: body, prana (vital energy) and mind. With the tools provided by these practices, one develops will power and clarity of mind.
|Jnana Yoga or the Yoga of knowledge: This is the intellectual approach of Yoga in which through the practice of Vedanta and a deep philosophical enquiry, one investigates the nature of the Self. This path is said to be the most difficult one and the aspirant needs some previous qualifications as well as great willpower and courage to face the Truth.
In Hindu mythology, the sun god is worshipped as a symbol of health and immortal life. The Rig Veda declares that “Surya is the Soul, both of the moving and unmoving beings”. The Sun Salutation originated as a series of prostrations to the sun. Traditionally, it is performed at dawn, facing the rising sun. In time, each of the twelve positions came to have its own mantra, celebrating aspects of the sun’s divinity.
The Sun Salutation is a graceful sequence of twelve positions performed as one continuous exercise. Each position counteracts the one before, stretching the body in a different way and alternately expanding and contracting the chest to regulate the breathing. Practiced daily, it will bring great flexibility to your spine and joints and trim your waist. It limbers up the whole body in preparation for the Asanas (postures) as taught by Swami Vishnudevananda.
One round of Sun Salutation consists of two sequences, the first leading with the right foot in positions 4 and 9, the second leading with the left. Keep your hands in one place from positions 3 to 10 and try to coordinate your movements with your breathing. Start by practicing four rounds and gradually build up to twelve rounds.
- Stand erect with feet together and hands in the prayer position in front of your chest. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed. Exhale.
- Inhaling, stretch your arms up and arch back from the waist, pushing the hips out, legs straight. Relax your neck.
- Exhaling, fold forward, and press your palms down, fingertips in line with toes – bend your knees if necessary.
- Inhaling, bring the left (or right) leg back and place the knee on the floor. Arch back and look up, lifting your chin.
- Retaining the breath, bring the other leg back and support your weight on hands and toes.
- Exhaling, lower your knees, then your chest and then your forehead, keeping your hips up and your toes curled under.
- Inhaling, lower your hips, point your toes and bend back. Keep legs together and shoulders down. Look up and back.
- Exhaling, curl your toes under, raise your hips and pivot into an inverted “V” shape. Try to push your heels and head down and keep your shoulders back.
- Inhaling, step forward and place the left (or right) foot between your hands. Rest the other knee on the floor and look up, as in position 4.
- Exhaling, bring the other leg forward and bend down from the waist, keeping your palms as in position 3.
- Inhaling, stretch your arms forward, then up and back over your head and bend back slowly from the waist, as in position 1.
- Exhaling, gently come back to an upright position and bring your arms down by your sides.
The Sivananda Yoga class offers a complete practice focusing on breathing, relaxation, and gentle stretching, that can be both challenging for advanced practitioners and relaxing for beginner students. The class begins with Pranayama, or breathing exercises, followed by sun salutations and leg raises to warm up the body. Then come the 12 basic asanas, or postures, starting with headstand and ending with standing postures. There can be any number of variations to these postures, but the basic structure is always kept the same.
Asana practice is one of the eight limbs of classical Yoga, which states that poses should be steady and comfortable, firm yet relaxed, helping a practitioner to become more aware of their body, mind, and environment.
Sitting Forward Bend
Standing Forward Bend
The 12 basic poses or asanas are much more than just stretching. They open the energy channels, chakras and psychic centers of the body while increasing flexibility of the spine, strengthening bones and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems. Along with proper breathing or pranayama, asanas also calm the mind and reduce stress. With regular practice one can ensure overall physical and mental health and the possible prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis. In time, performing the poses slowly and consciously becomes a mental exercise in concentration and meditation.