What is Yoga?
COMPLETE SCIENCE OF LIFE
“Yoga leads us from ignorance to wisdom, from weakness to strength, from disharmony to harmony, from hatred to love, from want to fullness, from limitation to infinity, from diversity to unity, from imperfection to perfection.”
– Swami Sivananda in “Bliss Divine”
Science of Life
Yoga is a complete science of life that originated in India many thousands of years ago. It is the oldest system of personal development in the world, encompassing in its scope, body, mind and spirit. The ancient yogis had a profound understanding of man’s essential nature and of what he needs to live in harmony with himself and his environment. They perceived the physical body as a vehicle, with the mind as the driver, the soul as man’s true identity, and action, emotion and intelligence as the three forces which pull the body-vehicle. In order to have an integral development, these three forces must be in balance.
Sivananda Yoga teaches the classical method of the four paths of yoga in order for the individual to experience this state of Peace and Harmony in the body, mind and spirit. The modern Yoga approach emphasizes the physical postures while classical Yoga includes mental and overall wellbeing.
Yoga means union or joining. When body-mind-spirit are in harmony the individual transcends separation and egoism and realizes one’s potential.
Swami Vishnudevananda is a disciple of Sivananda and brought Yoga to the West. He lived from 1927 – 1993.
What Yoga is according to Swami Sivananda
- Yoga is taking care of body/mind/spirit, not seeking after fitness or beauty, or health.
- Yoga is finding the cause of our suffering and showing the way to get out of it – to be free from it.
- Yoga is a system of education for the body, the mind, the intellect, and the inner spirit.
- Yoga is a way of life.
- Yoga is universal, not sectarian or separate.
- Yoga helps us to go to the root of our suffering, spiritual ignorance (not knowing who we really are).
- Yoga brings individual peace of mind and collective peace.
- Yoga is unity in diversity.
- Yoga is self discipline.
- Yoga is life.
- Yoga is simple life.
- Yoga is moderate life.
- Yoga helps us to deal with stress.
- Yoga helps calm emotions.
- Yoga is a balanced mind, strong and steady.
To learn more about Yoga you can consider signing up for one of our Yoga for All Levels courses where you learn the basics of what is yoga.
What is classical Yoga?
Classical Yoga is a systematic and complete system of self development handed down by a lineage of teachers. It is not coming from the creativity of one individual.
Classical Yoga is universal and not sectarian and can be practiced by all. It is a complete system in itself, with many different facets.
It is a systematic approach, practiced over a long time, and not a quick fix. The goal is Peace and Well-being.
Its teaching needs to be selfless, to insure the purity of the teaching.
What is the Real purpose of Yoga?
We practice Yoga in order to evolve in life and to get success in life. Yoga is not separate from life.
It is possible to integrate the practices in our daily routine using the 5 Points of Yoga, no matter our conditions in life (rich or poor, single or with family duties, old or young, healthy or ill), because everyone has spiritual potential and everyone wants to evolve.
We are looking for the ultimate answers to all the questions of life:
- How do I realize my potential?
- How do I best use my energy?
- How do I live a life without disease?
- What is optimal health?
- How can I live a life in peace with myself and others?
- How do I find peace and contentment in my relationships?
- How do I make clear decisions and feel better about myself?
- How do I become strong both physically and as a person to find my true calling?
- How can we have Peace?
What is Sivananda Yoga?
Sivananda Yoga, officially called the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers, teaches classical yoga in 11 ashrams and more then 30 centers around the world.
Sivananda Yoga was founded by Swami Vishnudevananda who was one of the first Indian Yogis to come to the West in the year 1957. Swamiji took the vast yogic teachings and made them accessible to the Western mind.
Swamiji first published “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga” in 1960 and spread the teachings of yoga around the world traveling to USA, Canada, Europe, South America, India, Israel and much more. His main teaching is the 5 points of yoga and the 4 paths of yoga.
5 Points of Yoga
By closely observing the lifestyles and needs of people in our modern world, Swami Vishnudevananda synthesized the ancient wisdom of Yoga into 5 basic principles which can easily be incorporated into your own pattern of living, to provide a long, healthy and happy life.
“Yoga is a life of self discipline built upon the tenets of simple living and high thinking. If you follow these five points, which compose a true holistic approach to our whole system of body, mind and soul, you will gain strength and balance in this demanding stressful world. Obstacles become stepping stones to success, and life is a school for the development of character and compassion.”
– Swami Vishnudevananda in the “Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga”
The body is a vehicle for the soul, and has specific requirements which must be fulfilled for it to function smoothly and supply the optimum mileage. The body can be compared to a car, metaphorically.
In order for the car to perform its function, it requires five things: a lubrication system, a battery, a cooling system, proper fuel, and a clear mind and responsible driver behind the wheel.
Connects the body to its battery, the solar plexus, which is a storehouse of energy. Stress and depression can be overcome by breathing more deeply with increased awareness.
Relieves the body of existing stress symptoms (including muscle tension and breathlessness) and also helps develop resistance against external stress factors. Once body and mind are freed from constant overload, they are at ease and perform more efficiently.
Promotes health and has a positive effect on body and mind. It is natural, simple to prepare, easy to digest and absorb. It is based on proper food choices and causes the least harm to other living beings and the environment.
Proper Exercise – Asana
Proper exercise act as a lubricating mechanism for the joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other parts of the body, by increasing circulation and flexibility.
The fundamental difference between Yogic exercises and ordinary physical exercises is that physical exercise emphasizes violent movements of the muscles, while Yogic exercises promote slow and conscious movements of the body, thus avoiding the build-up of lactic acid in the muscle fibers, avoiding fatigue.
The main purpose of exercise is to increase circulation and the intake of oxygen. This can be achieved by simple movements of the spine and various joints of the body, with deep breathing, and without violent movement of the muscles.
Yogic exercises are in fact called Yoga poses (asanas), an asana being a steady pose.
Yogic exercises, when done correctly, influence and positively energize all the systems of the body: the circulatory system, the muscular and skeletal systems, the endocrine system, the respiratory system, the digestive system, and most importantly, the nervous system.
In terms of muscles, Yogic exercises not only strengthen the muscles but also stretch them. There is a great emphasis on the flexibility and the youth of the spine. Swami Vishnudevananda said: “flexible spine, flexible mind.”
The correct postures are performed with awareness and concentration, accompanied by breathing and relaxation. Thus Yogic exercises affect not only the physical body but also the astral body, the energetic body and the mind.
Through the systematic and rhythmic holding of the postures with breathing and concentration we come to a state of relaxation in the posture, where the prana (or chi) is allowed to flow unobstructed through the nadis to all the organs, cells and parts of the body, revitalizing them.
The body and mind are harmonized with each other, removing tension located in the different parts of the body and the mind.
Also, in this process, the body and mind are put in alignment or in harmony with their ruler, the Inner spirit, thus giving to the practitioner a deeper sense of well being and meaning.
Yogic asanas prepare the body and mind to be strong for further practice of concentration and meditation.
Other exercises that can be complimentary to the practice of Yoga are swimming and walking. Yoga doesn’t promote any excessive exercise or the kind of exercise that develops only one aspect of the body to the detriment of other parts.
Furthermore, yoga doesn’t consider any exercise without awareness as a Yogic exercise. Yogic postures (asanas) are internally oriented, non competitive, and meditative, promoting calmness and helping the practitioner to transcend identification with the body; this is as opposed to our over-attachment to the body and to external beauty.
To learn more check out our upcoming Yoga and Health courses.
Proper Breathing – Pranayama
Yoga emphasizes breathing correctly (the Yogic full breath using the diaphragm). We substantially increase the intake of oxygen through deep inhalation and release the toxins appropriately through our deep exhalation.
Yoga teaches us to be constantly aware of our breathing patterns, and to breathe consciously in our daily life. Specific breathing techniques (pranayama) are devised to further purify the nadis, balance the breath and the energy in our system, and to store and channel the subtle energy (prana) for higher purposes.
The word Hatha is composed of the words Ha and Tha, which mean sun and moon, respectively. This refers to the balance between the prana vayu (the positive vital air) and apana vayu (the negative vital air).
Prana (vital air) in the body of the individual is a part of the universal breath. The regulation of the harmonized breath helps the Yogi to regulate and steady the mind. Pranayama needs to be practiced by all serious Yoga practitioners. Advanced practices need to be done only by those already practicing a pure lifestyle, and it is recommended that you put yourself under the supervision of a teacher in a pure environment, like an ashram.
Proper Relaxation – Savasana
Relaxation techniques, such as Savasana, cool down the system like the radiator of a car. When the body and mind are constantly overworked, their efficiency diminishes. Relaxation is nature’s way of recharging the body.
The state of our mind and the state of our body are intimately linked. If your muscles are relaxed, then your mind must be relaxed. If the mind is anxious, then the body suffers too.
3 Levels of Relaxation
We can say that there are three levels of relaxation: physical, mental and spiritual; there are also three levels of tension, or stress: physical stress, mental stress and spiritual stress. Relaxation is actually very scientific.
Physical stress comes from poor eating habits, sedentary living, repetitive movements of the body, and poor posture. Modern life, especially in big cities, is full of stress as modern working and living conditions are full of pressure, and devoid of prana and relaxation.
Mental and emotional stress comes from a hectic lifestyle, highly demanding jobs, distractions of the mind, low vitality due to lack of prana, and negative emotions such as anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, and anxiety.
Spiritual stress comes from not know how to find stability in the ever changing phenomenon of life.
The solution is to achieve the three levels of relaxation:
Physical relaxation is achieved through the systematic practice of conscious relaxation (Savasana) and correct posture.
Mental relaxation is achieved through correct breathing, concentration of the mind and positive thinking. A distracted mind is always anxious. A mind concentrated on a positive object is more relaxed and recharged.
Spiritual relaxation is a deeper type of relaxation, when we become content, a detached witness of the body and mind. Swami Vishnudevananda states that being free from identification with the body, the mind, and ego consciousness is the only way to reach a state of complete relaxation. (ref. CIBY p. 203)
Through complete relaxation we live in the solid present, overcome our fears of death and of the future, and welcome life’s demands with strength and courage, able to guide our mind, control our desires and choose better priorities.
Check our stress relief and relaxation courses.
Also check our upcoming Yoga Health Camps.
Proper diet – Vegetarian
Correct nutrition and diet gives proper fuel for the body and the mind without creating toxins and digestive problems. Optimum utilization of food, air, water and sunlight is essential.
There is medical evidence that a balanced vegetarian diet is extremely healthy and provides everything the body needs. The Yogic vegetarian diet is sattvic (pure), and helps to calm the mind, and to reveal the spirit as well as nourish the body.
The body needs food for two purposes: as fuel to supply energy, and as materials to repair body tissues. For repairing and building tissue, the body needs: 1. protein; 2. carbohydrates; 3. fats; 4. minerals.
These elements are found in larger proportions in vegetable tissue than in animal tissue. Nuts, peas, beans, soy bean products like tofu, and milk contain protein. Wheat, oats, rice and other grains are mainly carbohydrates.
All protein foods and vegetable oils provide the fats, and the main supply of organic minerals and vitamins comes from fruit and vegetables.
A vegetarian diet is a natural diet, fresh and wholesome, full of fiber and alkaline in nature, energy producing, and easy to absorb and to eliminate.
To maintain a sattvic diet, free from rajasic and tamasic influences, avoid stimulants and depressants such as caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs of all kinds, overly spicy food, onions, garlic, overcooked food, old food, frozen food, canned food, sodas and processed foods, as well as all meat.
Yogis advocate “ahimsa”, the principle of non-violence, non-injury and respect for life. Everything our body and mind needs for growth can be provided from the vegetable kingdom.
By avoiding eating animal flesh we nourish ourselves in a natural and healthy way.
The vegetarian diet helps in the performance of asanas as the body and the joints becomes more flexible. It is a wonderful way to prevent heart disease, arthritis, obesity, and a good remedy for many chronic diseases.
Gradual Change to Vegetarian diet
Changing to a vegetarian diet can be gradual and life transforming. It consists not only in deciding to stop eating meat, but in learning a new way of life, by being conscious of how you nourish yourself.
It includes not only being aware of what you eat, but also how you eat. Yogis promote taking time to cook, and to eat consciously in a regular manner, with appropriate intervals between meals to allow the digestive fire to activate and digest the food.
Proper diet includes periodic fasting as well, to give a break to the digestive system, purify body and mind, and to make the mind more perceptive, more sattvic, and more conducive to concentration, contemplation and meditation.
Check out our upcoming courses on diet and nutrition.
We also have retreats on detoxification and rejuvenation.
Positive thinking and meditation
“There is a power contained in thought. This is very subtle, yet it does exist, and is extremely powerful.
Whether a person is aware of it or not, he is constantly transmitting and receiving thoughts…Thoughts control our lives, mold our characters, shape destiny, and affect other people.”
– Swami Vishnudevananda in “Meditation and Mantras”
What is thought?
Thought is a powerful force or energy which can build and can destroy. It is real.
We need to be aware of the nature of our thoughts in order to improve our life and to keep meditating and ultimately realizing our perfect positive nature.
Negative thoughts are like toxins produced by the mind that is not purified. They are only temporary symptoms, not ourselves.
Thought, though invisible, is the origin of action and the material world.
We make a mistake when we think that the material world of objects is more real than the world of thought.
We are constantly swimming in an ocean of thoughts, attracting certain thoughts and repulsing others depending on the quality of the thoughts we keep in our mind.
The best way to improve our life is to constantly keep positive thoughts in our mind and to be able to change negative thoughts to positive thoughts.
Power of thoughts
Be aware of thought influences. We need to be aware of the thought that is surrounding us as it is affecting our thinking.
Try to keep positive company, live and work in positive environments, be in nature, and take yoga retreats to retune our mind to positive thoughts.
Also, learn internal techniques to keep the mind at a high wavelength, so instead of being victims of our environment, we will be agents of positive change. Being in company of the wise is the easiest and most powerful way to shift our thinking to be more positive.
This is called Satsang, company of the wise.
When you live in an ashram founded by enlightened masters, you are in Satsanga. The vibrations of all the chanting, teachings and all the good thoughts of people who visited or lived in the ashram remain in the thought atmosphere and help you.
It is like taking a bath in a pool of pure water. If you mix with polluted thought environments, you will pick up negative thoughts that you would not normally have.
We have courses coming up on positive thinking.
On this Yoga Poses section we will discuss the components of a basic Sivananda yoga class which can be from 1 to 2 hours. Additionally, we will give some general guidelines to follow when doing the yoga practice. Finally we will also list out the benefits of this yoga practice.
Quote: “Through the physical poses of Hatha Yoga, the nervous system is toned, enabling it to withstand the experience of rising energy. Hatha Yoga awakens the kundalini by disciplining the body and purifying the nadis. (The astral channels through which flows the prana).”
– Swami Vishnudevananda in “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga”
Sivananda Yoga Class
1. Beginning prayer and a short relaxation (savasana)
2. Breathing (Pranayama) (15 – 20 minutes)
3. Sun salutations (Surya namaskar)
4. The 12 basic yoga poses (asanas)
5. Some additional yoga poses (asanas) and variations
5a. An example of a properly sequenced yoga practice session
6. Final Relaxation (15 minutes)
7. General Guidelines to follow in a Yoga Class
8. Benefits of the Yoga Poses and Pranayama practice
#1 Beginning Prayer and Initial relaxation
The Sivananda Yoga class always starts with a few minutes of initial relaxation followed by the chanting of 3 OMs and the beginning prayer (Gajananam).
The practice of prayer before the Yoga session, done mentally or verbally, helps to set the inner mood and create the proper mind set for the practice. The prayers also invoke the Gurus’ and teachers’ blessings for a successful practice.
Pranayama can be performed before or after the session of asanas. For practical reasons, practicing before is better. In fact, pranayama can be performed more than one time throughout a day. In order to practice 15 to 20 minutes is all that is needed
The 2 basic pranayamas are:
Kapalabhati – (shining skull – forceful breath)
It is said that this pranayama cleanses the lungs and awakens energy. Through this practice all of the old stale air in the lungs is exchanged for new fresh air. We normally practice 3 rounds of 60 – 80 pumping (quick exhalations) followed by breath retention from 45 seconds to 1 minute.
Anuloma Viloma – (alternate nostril breathing)
Anuloma Viloma or alternate nostril breathing is a practice to slow down and manipulate the air flowing in the nostrils. By controlling this air flow we actually start to control the subtle prana and control the mind.
In a practice session we will do 10 rounds starting on the left and ending on the left side. The count we follow is 4-16-8. Inhale for 4 seconds, retain for 16 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds.
Use the thumb and the ring finger on the right hand to hold the nostrils, and not the index finger. Keep the index finger and the middle finger turned in the palm of the right hand. Keep the sitting posture relaxed and comfortable.
During this practice we keep the breathing even and steady not too fast or too slow. By doing this we regulate the breath and the flow of prana or subtle energy. During the practice you can focus at the point in between the eyebrows.
Rest and relax in Savasana for a few minutes after the pranayama session, enjoy the flow of energy.
#3 Surya Namaskar (Sun salutations)
This is a warm up exercises comprising 12 postures, performed continuously without a break, without variations or pauses. Each round is 12 positions. The minimum number of rounds is 8 or better 12.
Every movement is accompanied with the breath. The Sun Salutations can be done slow or fast as desired. All muscles and ligaments are exercised, preparing for the asana session.
Check out our Yoga Beginner courses to learn more.
1 - Exhale
2 - Inhale
3 - Exhale
4 - Inhale
5 - Retain
6 - Exhale
7 - Inhale
8 - Exhale
9 - Inhale
10 - Exhale
11 - Inhale
12 - Exhale
#4 The 12 basic yoga poses (asanas)
These 12 basic yoga poses (asanas) in the Sivananda system give you the full benefit of the practice session. Additional yoga poses can be added but the basic 12 yoga poses MUST be included.
We have Weekend Retreats where you can learn thoroughly these postures.
#5 Additional Yoga Poses
These are some of the additional yoga poses added to the basic session according to capacity of the student and the time available.
The guideline is that you need to be able to hold the basic posture for three minutes before you start the advanced poses. Please refer to the Section 5a with the sequence of the postures to know in which order to perform them.
Check out our Yoga Teacher Training Course where we learn all of these poses and more.
Knees to Ears Pose
Sitting side stretch
Legs apart forward bend
Yogi Sleep Pose
Foot behind head pose
Half lotus forward bend
Full Splits Pose
Side Crow Pose
Sitting Warrior pose
Side Angle Pose
# 5a Sequence of Yoga Poses and Variations
This is the structured sequence of a Sivananda yoga class listing basic yoga poses and also the more advanced variations. The structure of the Sivananda yoga class must always follow this order. The 12 basic yoga poses are numbered (1) – (12) within each section:
1 – The headstand cycle:
Leg raising exercises and variations
Dolphin exercise for beginners
Half Headstand for beginners
Leg variations and arm variations for advanced
Scorpion pose for advanced
2 -The shoulderstand cycle:
Shoulder stand (2)
Candle pose and other variations
Plough pose (3) and variations
Bridge pose and variations
Wheel pose and variations
Fish pose (4) and variations
3 – The Forward bend cycle:
Full seated forward bend (5)
Single leg forward bend
Half lotus forward bend
Butterfy and leg cradling
Foot behind the head pose
Inclined plane and variations
4 – The Backward Bend cycle
Cobra pose (6)
King cobra pose for advanced
Half locust and Locust poses (7) and variations
Bow pose (8) and variations
Crescent moon pose
5 – The sitting cycle
Half spinal twist (9)
Cow face pose
Sitting Warrior pose
Shooting bow pose
Leg behind head pose
Splits and variations for advanced
6 – The balancing cycle
Crow pose (10)
Standing forward bend (11)
Standing Splits and variations for advanced
Triangle (12) and variations
#6 Final Relaxation
Lie down with legs and arms open, palms turning up. Breathe rhythmically using the abdominal breath. Systematically, tense each and every muscle from the toe to the top of the head and release them. This tension release exercise helps the flow of prana and induces the muscle to let go of tension.
Use the mind to sweep the body from toe to head, naming consciously each and every muscle or organ, suggesting to them to relax. Allow yourself to let go of the part of the body in question, and return it to nature, releasing your identity and your attachment to it. Allow yourself to feel relaxed while resting in your subtle body.
Savasana can be performed many times a day and specially for at least 10 minutes after a Yoga session. It is the most painless and effective method to recharge yourself physically and mentally.
- Eat at least 2 hours before the asana session. It is difficult to perform asanas with a full stomach. Also, do not eat or drink half an hour after the session.
- The best time is early morning, after meditation.
- Find a cool and ventilated, quiet place with an even, level floor. The best place is a space reserved for Yoga and meditation, with an altar. It is suggested not to do Yoga in the bedroom as the energy is more tamasic.
- Perform the sequence of the postures in order. This will ensure the proper flow of energy.
- Try to hold each posture for at least one minute to three minutes. It is said that holding for three minutes is the minimum time required to get all the benefits of the postures.
- Breathe consciously during the performance of postures. When holding the posture, the breath becomes calm and the mind focused.
- When holding, know where to concentrate for the specific posture.
- If there is tension, focus your attention on the tension, breathe consciously while focusing on the area, sending prana to the muscles or ligaments, and during every exhalation try to progress a little more.
- Yoga is not a competition, so try to do what you can but observe your limit. Always try to feel comfortable. Never push yourself to the point of exhaustion.
- Be aware of your body throughout the session. Keep your mind focused inward and enjoy the practice.
- Always relax in between the postures, with deep breathing to restore the prana and avoid fatigue.
- If there is no time, stick to the basic 12 postures without variations, you will get the maximum benefit anyway.
- For beginners, take the time to practice headstand by preparing your arm strength with Dolphin.
- The headstand cycle goes first and the standing cycle goes last because of the spiritual principle of turning inward first to find inner balance (headstand inverts all energies, stimulating the highest chakra, going against normal tendencies, after which the energy is flowing properly) then tuning the mind outward and trying to achieve balance and composition with worldly activities (standing postures are performed with the focus on external object to ground oneself).
- The sequence of the postures follows the chakras, stimulating the chakras from the top down.
- Keep the mind inspired by being aware of the physical and mental benefits of each posture.
- Keep the spine flexible with forward bend, backward bend and spinal twist. Please remove this sentence
- Achieve balance through posture and counter posture, on both the right and left sides, holding the postures on each side for an equal length of time.
- If you do variations, make sure that you have time for the basic postures first. Do not skip postures.
- It is better to practice in silence without music or chanting.
- It is better to practice asanas with eyes closed, creating an inner focus.
- Do not compare or compete with each other when perform in group.
- Group performance of asanas brings about awareness of collective energy.
- It is better to perform the asanas without any props. It is a very natural way of exercising.
- Use light and loose fit cotton clothing for better efficiency.
- Use a sticky Yoga mat for better performance.
- Always spend at least 10 minutes in Savasana at the end; this is the cream of the session.
- To maximize the benefit of the session, keep the energy internalized and calm and do not rush right away into worldly activities.
- Do not take a bath right away but allow the prana to remain for some time.
- Practice daily, or at least 4 times a week, for 1-2 hours for maximum benefit.
Pranayama and the 12 basic yoga poses
There are numerous benefits to a regular yoga practice physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Some of the most important benefits are listed out below.
(Cleansing Breathing Exercises)
- Cleanses the nasal passages and the entire respiratory system.
- Strengthens and increases the capacity of the lungs and the ribcage muscles.
- Eliminates excess carbon dioxide, permitting red-blood cells to take more oxygen.
- Refreshes and invigorates the mind, increasing alertness.
- Stores prana (vital energy) in the solar plexus (navel) region.
(Alternate Nostril Breathing)
- Cleanses and strengthens the entire respiratory system.
- Harmonizes the entire system and calms the mind.
- Increases the flow of oxygen from the lungs to the blood and enables more carbon dioxide (and other waste) to pass from the blood to the lungs for elimination during exhalation.
(The Sun Salutation)
- Makes the spine flexible. Stretches and strengthens all the major muscle groups of the body.
- Improves intake and flow of oxygen, stimulating the respiratory system and bringing increased blood flow, warmth and energy to the whole body.
- Relaxes the nerves, regulates breathing and focuses the mind.
(The Relaxation Posture)
- Allows the body and mind to rest and recharge.
- Distributes prana throughout the body.
- Enables the benefits of the asanas to be assimilated.
- Facilitates the elimination of toxins.
- Strengthens the respiratory and circulatory systems.
- Increases oxygen supply to the brain and sympathetic nervous system, improving memory and concentration.
- Relives pressure on the lower back and aligns the spine.
- Relieves varicose veins (as does the shoulderstand)
- Stimulates the pineal and pituitary glands.
- Counteracts nervous disorders and anxiety.
- Regulates the thyroid gland. Improves metabolism and heat production and proper growth of muscle and bone.
- Benefits heart rate, heart contractibility and blood pressure.
- Stimulates and regulates the parathyroid gland which helps to maintain proper calcium levels in the body.
- Prevents blood from stagnating in the veins of the lower limbs.
- Increases flexibility in the neck and spine and opens up the spinal discs, rejuvenating the entire spine.
- Nourishes the spinal nerves.
- Strengthens muscles of the back, shoulders, and arms.
- Massages the internal organs.
- Relieves indigestion and constipation.
- Removes stiffness from the entire length of the spine, bringing increased blood supply to the back.
- Corrects round shoulders.
- Increases lung capacity, strengthens and cleanses the respiratory system. Relieves asthma.
- Stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands.
- Regulates mood, emotions, and stress.
PASCHIMOTHASANA (The Sitting Forward Bend)
- Stimulates digestive organs. Increases digestive fire.
- Invigorates all internal organs; reduces body fat.
- Regulates the pancreas, which controls carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar levels
- Mobilizes joints, especially the hips.
- Invigorates the entire nervous system.
- Alleviates disorders on the urinal-genital system.
- Massages and stretches deep and superficial back muscles.
- Increases flexibility of the spine.
- Relieves hunchback, back pain and lumbago.
- Tones the abdominal organs, ovaries, uterus and adrenal glands.
- Strengthens the abdominal wall and lumbar muscles.
- Improves digestion. Massages the pancreas, liver, and kidneys.
- Promotes flexibility of the cervical region of the back.
- Strengthens the biceps, deltoid muscles and back.
- Reduces lower back pain and sciatica.
- Increases space between the vertebrae.
- Promotes flexibility of the entire spine.
- Invigorates and massages the digestive organs.
- Alleviates constipation and indigestion.
- Regulates the pancreas.
- Strengthens the abdominal muscles.
- Prevents rheumatism of the legs, knees, and hands.
- Prevents ossification of the bones.
ARDHA MATSYENDRASANA (The Half Spinal Twist)
- Keeps the spine elastic.
- Increases synovial fluid of the joints.
- Stimulates glucose release. Tones the sweat glands.
- Massages the abdominal muscles and digestive organs.
- Relieves constipation and other digestive problems.
- Strengthens and stretches the hands, arms, wrists, and shoulders.
- Increases breathing capacity
- Increases power of concentration.
- Promotes physical and mental balance.
- Removes lethargy.
- Tones and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.
PADA HASTASANA (The Standing Forward Bend)
- Lengthens the spine and makes it supple.
- Mobilizes the joints and invigorates the entire nervous system.
- Increases the blood supply to the brain.
- Decreases abdominal fat.
- Relieves sciatica and low back pain.
- Tones of the spinal nerves and abdominal organs.
- Promotes hip and leg flexibility.
- Strengthens the pelvic area.
- Massages and stimulates the liver and spleen..
The Four Paths of Yoga
COMPLETE SYNTHESIS OF YOGA
What kind of Yoga does Swami Sivananda teach? Swami Sivananda teaches the synthesis of yoga. He promotes complete yoga life by combining the practice of Karma Yoga (selfless service), Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga (systematic control of body, breath, and mind, culminating in meditation), and, last but not least, Jnana Yoga (or Vedanta philosophy), which is the philosophical teachings of the True Nature of the Self and of the Universe.
His teaching is summarized in his most well known slogan: “Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize”
The tenets and practices of these 4 paths of Yoga are further explained in subsequent sections.
It is important to remember however that all the paths lead ultimately to the same destination: ultimate peace and health.
(Path of Selfless service)
Karma Yoga – the Yoga of action – is the path chosen primarily by those of an outgoing nature. It purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. By detaching yourself from the fruits of your actions and offering them up to the welfare of others, you learn to sublimate the ego.
(Path of Devotion)
Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, which appeals particularly to those of an emotional nature. Bhakti Yogis are motivated chiefly by the power of Love and sees the Universe as the embodiment of Love.
(Path of Mind control)
Raja Yoga is the science of physical and mental control. It offers a comprehensive method for controlling the waves of thought by tuning our mental and physical energy into pure energy.
(Path of Knowledge)
Jnana Yoga – the Yoga of Knowledge and wisdom – is the most difficult path, requiring tremendous strength of will and of intellect. Taking the philosophy of Vedanta, the Jnana Yogi uses his intellect to enquire into his own nature, dissolving the veils of ignorance and illusion.
PATH OF SELFLESS SERVICE
Quote: “The first step in the spiritual path is the selfless service to Humanity”
– Swami Sivananda in “Sivananda Upanishad”
What is Karma?
Karma literally means “action”. Action always comes with the consequence of the action.
The law of karma is the law of action and reaction, illustrated by the well known saying “what we reap is what we sow”, and also the law of retribution, which explains that “what we receive is the result of what we did in the past”.
Nothing is by accident, merit, demerit, honor, or dishonor; any happening in our lives is the result of karma.
3 kinds of Karma
It is said that there are three kinds of karma: past karma, present karma and future karma.
The three are inter-related and can be summed up thus:
The present karma is the result of the past karmas, and is our reaction to the past, and will determine our future karmas.
What is Karma Yoga?
“Work done in the right attitude becomes consecrated; becomes a sacred act. A life consecrated in doing selfless acts will become a divine life.” – Swami Sivananda.
The problem is that we are very attached to our actions and our works; we constantly identify with our actions and take pride in what we are doing.
Our ego is very much invested in our talents, skills, knowledge and activities. It takes detachment towards our actions in order to see ourselves and our actions in a different light.
How to practice Karma Yoga?
#1 Right Attitude
It is not what you do that counts, it is the attitude while doing it that determines whether it is a job or Karma Yoga (i.e., a binding or a liberating job).
#2 Right Motive
This is similar to right attitude; it is not what you do that counts but your real motive behind it. Your motive must be pure.
#3 Do Your Duty (Swadharma)
Often our specific duty in life is referred to as “Dharma”, which means righteousness.
Performance of duty frees the soul, and non performance of duty keeps the soul in bondage.
#4 Do your best
Whatever you do, do your best. You will incur demerit if you do not give your best.
Do not do work in a sloppy manner because no one is watching or because the work is not for you. Give your best effort.
#5 Give up results
It is the desire for action that binds the individual. (I am the doer is wrong knowledge.)
It is detachment from action (I am only the instrument is right knowledge) that will dissolve the Karmic seeds.
Detachment from results also means detachment from the type of job itself. There are neither inferior nor superior jobs.
#6 Serve the Self in All
Do unto others what you would like to have done to yourself.
Love thy neighbor as thyself. Adapt, adjust, accommodate. Bear insult, bear injury. Unity in diversity.
We are all parts of the same body. Practice humility in action. Beware of power, fame, name, praise, and censure.
#7 Follow the Discipline of the Job
Every work experience has something to teach you. Try to do your best and the lessons of your work will be rich.
Each job involves different requirements in terms of time, degree of concentration, skills or experience, emotional input, physical energy, and will.
#8 Qualifications of a Karma Yogi
A Karma Yogi should have an amiable, loving, and sociable nature. He should be able to move and mix with everybody without distinction of caste, creed, or color. He should have perfect adaptability, mercy, and cosmic love.
He should be sympathetic and tolerant. He should be able to adjust himself to the habits and ways of others. He should always have a cool and balanced mind.
PATH OF DEVOTION
Quote: “Love is divine. Love is nectar. Love is the greatest power on earth. Love alone can transform the world. Love alone can bring peace on this earth. Love alone can conquer hearts of others.”
– Swami Sivananda in “Bliss Divine”
What is Bhakti Yoga?
Swami Sivananda says in Bliss Divine, “Bhakti is continuity of devotion. Bhakti is attraction to the Divine, just as there is attraction of the needle to the magnet.
Bhakti is love for love’s sake. There is neither selfish expectation nor fear. Bhakti is no emotionalism, but it is tuning the will and the intellect as well towards the Divine.
What is Love?
Swami Sivananda says, “Love is the law of life. To love is to fulfill the law. To live is to love. To love is to live. You live so that you may learn to love. You love so that you may learn to live in the Eternal.
This world needs leaders filled with sympathy, cooperation, love, sacrifice, compassion, and tolerance. The saints, seers and prophets of all religions have spoken of love as the end and aim or goal of life.
Live in love. Breathe in Love. Sing in Love. Eat in Love. Drink in Love. Talk in Love. Pray in Love. Meditate in Love. Think in Love. Move in Love. Die in Love.
Purify your thoughts, speeches and actions in the fire of love.
You will become a changed being. You will enjoy the highest peace and bliss.”
Community, Friendship, and Respect
Yoga encourages pure love and respect to others. The yoga resort provides an opportunity to develop good relationships with others, and to develop love and support in selfless relationships.
PATH OF MIND CONTROL
Self Discipline and Self Control
Raja Yoga is the path of systematic analysis and control of the mind. Compiled by Patanjali Maharishi, Raja Yoga is also known as Ashtanga Yoga, because its practices can be divided into eight limbs.
Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and Mantra Yoga are all parts of Raja Yoga. The goal is to control the chitta vrittis, or thought waves, and thus attain the super-conscious state of mind, the final goal.
Ashtanga Yoga – The eight limbs
#1 Yamas – the restrictions
- What not to do.
#2 Niyamas – the observances
- What to do
#3 Asana – steady pose
- For spiritual pursuit, as for any other pursuit in life, a healthy and strong system is essential. A steady mind presupposes a steady body.
- Control of the vital energy
- Withdrawal of the senses from objects
- Concentrating the mind upon either an external object or an internal idea, to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
- Meditation is defined as an unbroken flow of thought with the exclusion of other sensual perception.
- Super-conscious state
Practice of concentration
Concentration is holding one thought in the mind for a period of time.
Concentration brings power to the mind and makes the mind one-pointed, thus allowing peace and happiness to shine through.
Concentration implies effort and perseverance to bring the mind back to focus.
There are many exercises for concentration; for example, allowing the mind to think on a topic and everything related to the topic but nothing outside of the topic.
The mind is like a sheep tied to a post, and has to move in a smaller circle. The fewer thoughts you have in the mind, the more Peace you have. The more thoughts in the mind, the less Peace you have.
Concentration is like gathering the rays of the mind and applying them on a particular topic.
PATH OF KNOWLEDGE
Quote: “Solve first the, “Who am I?” problem. All other problems will be automatically solved.”
– Swami Sivananda, in “Sivananda Upanishad”
Vedanta literally means “the end of knowledge”. The Philosophy Vedanta is so called because it explains what the end is and how to achieve it.
It is a philosophy that teaches the unity of life, or oneness of consciousness. It is the sublime philosophy which boldly proclaims that the individual Soul (the jiva) is identical with the Supreme Soul or Brahman.
Sat Chit Ananda
Sat means existence absolute. It means that we are the immortal soul and we have never been born and we never die. Our body is to work out karma and it is temporary.
Chit means knowledge absolute. It means that we are the self of all; we know everything because we are the consciousness of all. We are the witness or observer of all changing phenomena, all changing names and forms.
Ananda means bliss absolute. This means that all our sufferings are illusory.
It is like when a tiger is chasing you in a dream, and you get very scared. The only thing which you can do to escape the tiger is to wake up.
It is like the analogy of mistaking a rope for a snake. A person walking in the dark thinks that he has stepped on a snake, and he gets afraid and starts to run; he almost has a heart attack. But, with light, we realize that it is a mistake; it was just a rope.
At no time was there a snake. The snake is only in his mind. At no time was there friends or enemies; they are only in your mind.
Happiness is our true nature
Unhappiness and negativity are unreal.
There is a story of the baby lion that thought that he was a sheep because he was raised by a mother sheep and lived with sheep all his life. He forgot his true nature as a lion until another lion (the Guru) came, and showed him his true nature. Then he roared like a lion instead bleating like a lamb.
Thus knowing that nothing can in reality hurt us and that the Self is all the time there, we face our challenges with courage instead of being weak.
We are all the time complaining and crying out of attachment and desires because we have forgotten our true nature as Sat Chit Ananda.
The practice of Self Enquiry, or “Who am I?” and the practice of Discrimination (right thinking) ultimately help us to face our illusions and remove our identification with the Not-self or with our changing mind, thus realizing our true Self as Sat Chit Ananda.
Ultimately, all the yoga practices are bringing us to realize our true nature and free us from the suffering that comes from identifying with our body, mind, and our ego. This is the real goal of yoga.