Sivananda Yoga

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

Swami Vishnu-devananda

Yoga Light Centre yoga teacher Ceri Lee explains the origins of Sivananda Yoga and the five elements that, according to this system, comprises a balanced yoga practice.

What is Sivananda Yoga?

With so many different names for yoga classes it can become a minefield when searching for the right class for you. Hatha yoga is a generic title and refers to the physical aspect of yoga. Classes with this title usually comprise of a selection of classical asanas (postures), found in the first written texts about yoga, and modifications that can be made for these postures. They may be less sequence based, gentle in approach and focus also on the natural breath and relaxation. Whereas Dynamic Yoga, although also classically based, incorporates sequences of postures that work to increase the aerobic activity of the practitioner, to get the blood flowing and warm the muscles. Breath techniques may also be employed to intensify the experience

Sivananda yoga is a cross between these two varying styles of yoga practice and was designed in the middle of the 20th century by Swami Sivananda, an Indian doctor by trade, he was also a dedicated yogi, and 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. Between them a class was devised that combined the three major facets of hatha yoga in equal measure and formulated in such a way that followed the line of the spine and chakra (energy)centres for optimum physical development and energy release. 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 an indefinite time. Each class ends with ten minutes full relaxation as this enables proper assimilation of the lesson.

Sivananda Yoga became one of the first organisations to open a school of yoga and devise a Yoga Teacher training Course accessible for westerners to study in a selection of Ashrams (spiritual development centre) and Sivananda centres around the world, including India, the Bahamas, France, California. Canada and more that have sprung up in recent years, see more about Sivananda Yoga.

Sivananda Yoga also puts emphasis on the spiritual; that ultimately yoga is a spiritual practice – the physical aspect of the practice is to maintain the health of the body and mind so that it is a fit vehicle for the soul. Within the teachings of Sivananda yoga, the other strands of yoga – Karma yoga (selfless service), Bhakti yoga (devotional worship through chanting and/or prayer) and Jnana yoga (yoga wisdom) are also encouraged. Raja yoga (scientific approach of regulating thought waves) is the fourth strand within which Hatha Yoga, the physical practice of yoga most recognised in the west, is contained.

As part of his teachings, Swami Sivananda devised a set of principles for the aspiring student of yoga to use as a guide in their own practice and lifestyle choices.

The five principles 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 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.

When these 5 principles are taken equally into account, the yoga aspirant is more likely to make progress on the yogic path and find the inner peace and balance that is ultimately the meaning and purpose of yoga.

Anuvittasana, standing back bendThe Yoga Light Centre offers Sivananda Classes with Ceri on Tuesdays 10–11.30am. Ceri has trained and is certified in General as well as Advanced Teacher Training with Sivananda Yoga. Over the years she has spent many months in India and the Sivananda Yoga Headquarters in Canada assisting her teacher Prahlada Reddy, whilst working as a Karma Yogi on the ashrams. She has absorbed much of the Sivananda Yoga philosophy which she applies to her current teaching and practice. Click here for more info