About Yoga

“The Yogi regards the physical body as an instrument for his journey toward perfection.’

Swami Vishnu-devananda

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that translates to mean join, unite or merge. It is both an art and a science designed to align the human mind to a state of equilibrium, balance and unity with the universal consciousness. Yoga developed from early eastern philosophy. The main sources are found in The Upanishads, a sub-section of The Vedas, which are Hindu scriptures revealing the ‘the end of knowledge’. The oldest records date back to between 800-400BC and they explore the questions of who and what we are and the essential nature of Brahman, the universal consciousness (governing force of nature, supreme spirit).

Yoga can be divided into four main strands and the area we have adopted in the West is primarily Hatha yoga. This is a system designed to maintain optimum health in the body and mind so that it is a fit vehicle for spiritual evolution. However, yoga is such that it can be practised for more practical reasons.

Through a series of postures (asanas) the body becomes alert and flexible, drawing strength from the core. The breathing techniques (pranayama) develop stamina whilst working on the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body and mind. The relaxation techniques enable the body and mind to let go of tension, be in the moment, and enjoy pure presence.

The practice of yoga not only encourages and develops a strong and supple body, but also improves mental activities and discipline such as positive thinking, single pointed focus and concentration.

Yoga is non-competitive. Even within a group setting a good teacher will encourage the practitioner to develop at their own pace, and ultimately steer them to become the master of their own body. There are moderations to most asanas to suit every individual.

Sivananda Yoga

Swami Sivananda is one of the most important figures to bring yoga to the modern world. He devised a system of practices, which were then instigated in the west through his disciple the late Swami Vishnu-devananda. He set up headquarters for Sivananda Yoga in Canada in the 1960’s, and worked tirelessly so that it is now an organisation that is recognised internationally.

A typical class begins with relaxation, followed by pranayama (yogic breathing), several rounds of Surya Namaskara - a dynamic sequence, followed by a series of selected asanas (postures) that are sustained for a period of time. Each class ends with ten minutes full relaxation as this enables proper assimilation of the lesson. Read more.

Swami Vishnu-devananda
Swami Sivananda

“The Yogi regards the physical body as an instrument for his journey toward perfection.’

Swami Vishnu-devananda

The five principles of yoga

Devised by Swami Sivananda, for the aspiring student of yoga.

1. Proper Exercise

Yoga asanas (postures) are designed to strengthen the body; develop core stability; tone the body and improve flexibility; improve coordination and balance; aid digestion; improve circulation and nourish the spine; and enable prana (life force/vital energy) to reach the nerves. Prana is a subtle energy found in the air that can be consciously drawn into the body and stored, bringing great vitality and strength. Asanas also help to detoxify the body and keep youthful looks and demeanour.

2. Proper Breathing

Breathing correctly is fundamental in the development of stamina and strength. In yoga there are two main functions of breath: to bring more oxygen to the blood and the brain, and to control prana (life force/vital energy). Specific work on the breath is called pranayama, and there are various techniques that are used in general yoga practice. These inspire more effective ways of breathing, teaching when and how to use the different parts of the breathing mechanism for different purposes. Correct breathing encourages stress release and can also help to maintain good posture.

In a Sivananda yoga class particular attention is paid to three techniques:

  • The full yogic breath, this connects the three different parts of the breathing mechanism
  • Kapalibhati (the pumping breath), a heat inducing technique which cleanses the respiratory system
  • Anuloma Viloma (alternate nostril breathing), to harmonise and rebalance the energy in the body.

3. Proper Relaxation

To calm the mind and help relieve stress, reduce excessive use of prana (life force/vital energy), rest the spine and muscles, and rejuvenate the body.

4. Proper Diet

This is a pure diet based on natural, unprocessed food and efficiency in eating. Vegetarians eat at the highest end of the food chain deriving much energy from food rich in vital energy. This can be most directly obtained through foods growing closest to the sun’s rays. Being mindful to reducing the suffering of animals and minimising damage to the earth is also an important consideration.

5. Meditation - Mindfulness

The application of mindful thought and action helps to develop an awareness and insight into the body and mind as it is in the moment. Such practice prepares the mind for meditation, through which one’s true nature can be realised.