Sivananda Yoga – a holistic approach to life

Ceri Lee explains the origins of Sivananda Yoga and the Five Principles of Yoga that comprise a balanced yoga practice.

With so many different names for yoga classes it can become a minefield when searching for the right class for you. With so many different styles it is helpful to know that hatha yoga is a generic title and refers to the physical aspect of yoga found in the first written texts. All varying yoga styles are a form of hatha yoga with a unique approach to practice.

What Is Sivananda Yoga?

“Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realise.”

Swami Sivananda

Sivananda yoga is named after Swami Sivananda (1887-1963). an Indian doctor by trade and dedicated yogi. He devised a system of hatha yoga practices, which were instigated in the west through his disciple, the late Swami Vishnu-devananda (1927-1993). He built the Sivananda Yoga headquarters in Canada and worked tirelessly to make yoga accessible to the western world.

Sivananda session outdoors in India

Sivananda Yoga combines the three major facets of hatha yoga together with a practice formulated to follow the line of the spine and chakras (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 centres around the world.

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

Swami Vishnu-devananda

Sivananda Yoga is strongly guided by the spiritual aspects of practice. Whilst the physical aspect of the practice is to maintain the health of the body and mind, the purpose is that it is a fit vehicle for the soul. Consequently the 4 strands of yoga, found in the scriptures, are given equal merit.

4 Strands of Yoga

  1. Karma yoga – selfless service
  2. Bhakti yoga – devotional worship through chanting and prayer
  3. Jnana yoga – yoga wisdom
  4. Raja yoga – scientific approach of regulating thought waves and within which Hatha Yoga 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:

  1. To bring more oxygen to the blood and the brain
  2. 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 2 techniques:

  • 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.

According to the teachings of Sivananda Yoga, when these 5 principles are taken equally into account, the yoga aspirant is more likely to make progress on the yogic path and better equipped to reach samadhi, illumination, an inner peace that is the ultimate meaning and purpose of yoga.

Click here for more about Sivananda Yoga.

Ceri trained and is certified in General as well as Advanced Teacher Training with Sivananda Yoga. She has spent many months in India and Canada assisting her teacher Prahlada, whilst working as a Karma Yogi on the ashrams. She has absorbed much of the Sivananda Yoga philosophy and applies it to her current teaching and practice.

Ceri Lee BA (hons) is a senior yoga teacher, midlife mentor and owner of the Yoga Light Centre, an independent yoga studio with guest accommodation in North Wales. From here she teaches weekly Sivananda Yoga classes and records her specialist online series. She offers midlife mentorship programs, 1-1 yoga tuition, and regularly runs yoga retreats around the world.