What is Yoga?
Yoga is a Sanskrit word and comes from the root Yuj which means ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’.
Yogic practices are used to unite the mind, body and soul within the individual – and unite the individual with God (or the whole).
Yoga is the sister science of Ayurveda and when both practices are combined, brings one peace of mind, good health and longevity.
Yoga classes are now so popular in the West, but most only cover the Asanas (postures) which is just one of 8 Limbs of Yoga. The Asanas were developed so that the practitioner would become strong and flexible enough to sit in meditation for long periods of time. There are some Yoga teachers and centres offering Pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation in their classes and courses, however this is not all that common.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali consist of the 8 Limbs of Raja Yoga and are sometimes referred to as Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga literally translates to mean eight limbs:
ashta = eight | anga = limb
The 8 Limbs of Yoga are listed below:
- Yama (restraints)
- Niyama (observances)
- Asana (steady pose)
- Pranayama (control of breath)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (illumination/super-conscious state)
The goal of Yoga is contained in the first of the Sutras as follows:
योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध:
— Yoga Sutras 1.2
This Sutra translates to mean: Yoga is restraining the activities of the mind.
Raja Yoga (mind control) is one of the four paths of Yoga: the others being Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Karma Yoga (selfless service) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge).
Sivananda Yoga is not a style of yoga, but a way to fully experience the classical pure teachings of this ancient practice.
Swami Vishnudevananda summarised yogic philosophy taught by his guru Swami Sivananda into five principles or what is called the Five Points of Yoga so it would be easy to understand and incorporate into one’s daily life:
- Proper Exercise (Asanas) – act as a lubricating routine for joints, muscles and other parts of the body by increasing circulation and flexibility, massaging the internal organs during the process. The Asanas not only produce physical benefits, but are also mental exercises in concentration and meditation, promoting optimum good health.
- Proper Breathing (Pranayama) – deep rhythmical breathing techniques which increase the oxygen intake and connect the body to the solar plexus where tremendous potential energy is stored. This energy is released for physical and mental rejuvenation. Control of prana (subtle energy) leads to control of the mind.
- Proper Relaxation (Savasana) – a vital part of keeping the body and mind healthy. By deeply relaxing all the muscles of the body and slowing down the pace of one’s breath, one can thoroughly rejuvenate the nervous system and attain a sense of inner peace. Yoga teaches three levels of relaxation – physical, mental and spiritual.
- Proper Diet (Vegetarian) – eating with awareness. A yogi takes food which has the most positive effect on the body and mind, and the least negative effect on the environment. A lacto-vegetarian diet is recommended.
- Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana) – positive thinking helps to overcome negative thought patterns and relieves stress. Meditation is well-known to improve concentration, bring peace of mind and spiritual strength.
The Sivananda yoga class begins with relaxation, chanting an opening prayer of Sanskrit mantras, Pranayama and Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) which first relaxes the practitioner, then focuses the mind and warms the body. Then 12 basic Asanas are performed in a certain sequence and developed over time depending on the experience of the practitioner, from beginner through to advanced forms. The practice ends with deep relaxation through auto suggestion and chanting a closing prayer. Generally this practice would take 1.5 hours to complete once there is knowledge of the sequence.
Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963)
“Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realise”
Swami Sivananda was one of the greatest masters of the 20th Century. He trained and worked as a doctor before renouncing the world for the spiritual path and later became a world-renowned sage and jivanmukta (attained self-realisation). Swami Sivananda taught the Yoga of Synthesis in which all four paths of yoga – Bhakti, Karma, Raja and Jnana Yoga are combined into one for a balanced spiritual life. In Rishikesh, India he founded the Sivananda Ashram in 1932, the Divine Life Society in 1936 and the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy in 1948. He was the author of over 200 books, pamphlets and journals. Swami Sivananda entered Maha-Samadhi (the departure of a realised master from the physical world) on 14 July 1963. His life was a radiant example of service to humanity and he is the inspiration for the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and Ashrams worldwide.
Swami Vishnudevananda (1927-1993)
“Health is Wealth, Peace of Mind is Happiness, Yoga shows the way”
Swami Vishnudevananda as a teenager came across a paper entitled 20 Spiritual Instructions written by Swami Sivananda and decided to visit his ashram in Rishikesh. Swami Sivananda left such an impression on him that he vowed to return as soon as possible. He entered the Sivananda Ashram in 1947 at age 20 and became a close disciple of Swami Sivananda, took sannyas (became a monk) and was the first professor of Hatha Yoga at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy. In 1957 Swami Sivananda sent him to the West to spread the ancient teachings of yoga with the words “People are waiting“, and he established yoga camps in Montreal, Quebec; a retreat in Nassau, Bahamas; Vrindavan yoga farm in California; an ashram in Woodbourne, New York; and two ashrams in India, one in Neyyar Dam, Kerala, and the other in Netala just outside Uttarkashi. Today there are many more centres and ashrams worldwide carrying on the teachings of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda. Swami Vishnudevananda was also the author of many books. He founded the T.W.O. (True World Order) which aims at promoting world peace and flew many peace missions dropping flyers and flowers over war-torn countries. He developed the Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training course in 1969 which to date has more than 30,000 graduates. Swami Vishnudevananda entered Maha-Samadhi on 9 November 1993.
If you are interested to know more about Sivananda Yoga, please see these websites or feel free to contact me with any questions.
Sivananda Yoga Worldwide: www.sivananda.org
Sivananda Yoga Australia: www.sivananda.com.au