Swami Vishnudevananda closely observed the lifestyles and needs of people in the west. He synthesized the ancient wisdom of yoga into five basic principles that could easily be incorporated into one’s own lifestyle to provide the foundation for healthy living. It is around these five principles that the activities at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre are based.
Proper Exercise (Asanas) – Yoga poses help develop a strong, healthy body by enhancing flexibility and improving circulation. The Yogic physical exercises are called Asanas, a term which means steady pose. This is because the Yoga Asana (or posture) is meant to be held for some time. However this is quite an advanced practice. Initially, our concern is simply to increase body flexibility.
Proper Breathing (Pranayama) – Deep, conscious breathing reduces stress and many diseases. Yoga teaches us how to use the lungs to their maximum capacity and how to control the breath. Proper breathing should be deep, slow and rhythmical. This increases vitality and mental clarity.
Proper Relaxation (Savasana) – Helps keep the body from going into overload mode, easing worry and fatigue. During complete relaxation, there is practically no energy or “Prana” being consumed, although a little is keeping the body in normal condition while the remaining portion is being stored and conserved.
Proper Diet (Vegetarian) – Eating simple, healthy and vegetarian foods that are easy to digest notably have a positive effect on the mind and body, as well as the environment and other living beings. The Yogi is concerned with the subtle effect that food has on his mind and astral body. He therefore avoids foods which are overly stimulating, preferring those which render the mind calm and the intellect sharp. One who seriously takes to the path of Yoga would avoid ingesting meats, fish, eggs, onions, garlic, coffee, tea (except herbal), alcohol and drugs.
Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana) – These are the true keys to achieving peace of mind and eliminating negativity in our lives. When the surface of a lake is still, one can see to the bottom very clearly. This is impossible when the surface is agitated by waves. In the same way, when the mind is still, with no thoughts or desires, you can see the “Self”. This is called Yoga.
The Four Paths of Yoga all lead to the same place – union with the Divine – but help in getting there by giving options that fit different human temperaments and approaches to life. Which one fits you best?
KarmaYoga (also known as the yoga of action) teaches to act without egoistic expectations in all endeavours of daily life ~ home, work, school. It is a good path for someone who is outgoing and enjoys a certain sense of spiritual activism to help others.
Bhakti Yoga (also known as the path of devotion) is a good path for someone with an emotional nature who enjoys prayer, worship and seeking God through unconditionally loving others. The rise of kirtan or singing/chanting the names of God is a sure sign that Bhakti Yoga is a growing path around the world.
Raja Yoga (also known as the science of the mind) is the path that takes us on a comprehensive journey to understanding our mind and thoughts. Through mental control, we are able to gain control of the physical body and the life force energy known as prana. This is a good path for those who are interested in meditation and its effects on the mind.
Jnana Yoga (also known as the yoga of knowledge) is considered a good path for those with strong intellectual tendencies as it requires great strength of will and mind. Using Vedanta as a vehicle, the inquiry into the individual nature is the key to this difficult path. It is best undertaken after some of the lessons of the other paths have been well understood in order to move along towards Self-realization or profound spiritual awakening.