Sivananda yoga is a form of yoga developed by Swami Sivananda and spread around the world by his disciples, Swami Vishnudevananda. Unlike many yoga styles which focus mainly on physical postures, Sivananda yoga emphasizes a balanced and integrative approach, teaching that practitioners that contemporary not only attain physical agility but also mental clarity, emotional and spiritual elevation.
So what exactly is Sivananda yoga? What are the core principles or what sets it apart from other yoga traditions? Let’s explore Sivananda yoga with LotusBuddhas in the following article.
What is Sivananda yoga?
Sivananda yoga, a traditional form of classical Hatha Yoga, is rooted in the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh, India, and was brought to the West by his disciple, Swami Vishnudevananda, in the 1960s. The system emphasizes a holistic approach to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being and is structured around five main principles, which provide a comprehensive framework for practitioners.
Sivananda yoga is underpinned by the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, which posits the non-duality of the self and the Supreme. Thus, while the external practices of asanas, pranayama, and dietary regulations are critical, the ultimate goal is self-realization or the realization of one’s true nature.
In the realm of yoga education, the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers, established by Swami Vishnudevananda, have played a significant role. These centers offer training courses, retreats, and workshops globally, ensuring the teachings of Sivananda yoga are accessible to a wide audience.
History of Sivananda yoga
Sivananda yoga traces its lineage to Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963) of Rishikesh, India. Born as Kuppuswami in Tamil Nadu, he was a practicing medical doctor before renouncing worldly life and adopting the monastic order. His medical background significantly influenced his approach to yoga, emphasizing its therapeutic and holistic benefits.
Upon his renunciation, Kuppuswami traveled extensively throughout India, immersing himself in spiritual practices. Eventually, he settled in Rishikesh, a town nestled in the Himalayan foothills, and known as the yoga capital of the world. It was here that he took on the monastic title ‘Swami Sivananda’ and founded the Divine Life Society in 1936. This institution was pivotal in disseminating spiritual teachings, emphasizing an integrative approach that combined various paths of yoga: Bhakti (devotion), Jnana (knowledge), Karma (selfless action), and Raja (meditative discipline).
Swami Sivananda’s teachings were distilled into practical and easily accessible principles, ensuring that both the laity and monastic community could engage with and benefit from them. His emphasis on a holistic approach to health and well-being resonated deeply with a global audience.
One of his most illustrious disciples, Swami Vishnudevananda, was instrumental in propagating Sivananda yoga in the West. In 1957, on the instructions of his guru, Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnudevananda traveled to the West to address the lack of genuine spiritual teachings available there. By 1959, he had established the first Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Montreal, Canada. The center became a hub for teaching the principles and practices of Sivananda yoga to a Western audience.
Swami Vishnudevananda recognized the need for structured training to produce competent yoga teachers. This insight led him to establish the first Sivananda Teacher Training Course in 1969. This course, characterized by its rigorous and immersive nature, has since been replicated across Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres globally and has produced thousands of teachers.
The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers, under the aegis of Swami Vishnudevananda, proliferated across North America, Europe, and eventually, other parts of the world. These centers have been pivotal in maintaining the authenticity and purity of Sivananda yoga teachings while adapting to the needs of different cultures and communities.
The principles of Sivananda yoga
Sivananda yoga is grounded in five core principles (Five Points of Yoga). These principles were articulated to offer a comprehensive approach to well-being, encompassing the physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions of human existence.
- Proper exercise (Asanas): This principle asserts the significance of physical postures, or asanas, in maintaining a healthy and disease-free body. Sivananda yoga traditionally emphasizes twelve basic postures, ensuring a balanced physical workout that stretches and tones all major muscle groups, enhances spinal flexibility and improves circulation. By practicing these asanas, one ensures the optimal function of the body’s internal systems.
- Proper breathing (Pranayama): Breathing techniques or pranayama, are essential in Sivananda yoga. They serve to regulate the flow of prana, or life force, throughout the body. Pranayama practices optimize the intake of oxygen, facilitating the efficient removal of waste gases and toxins. This purification of the nervous system not only enhances physical health but also aids in calming the mind and enhancing mental clarity.
- Proper relaxation (Savasana): Recognizing the strains of modern life, Sivananda yoga underscores the importance of proper relaxation. By practicing Savasana, or the corpse pose, between asanas and at the end of a session, the practitioner allows the body to absorb the benefits of the preceding asana, rejuvenating and restoring energy. This deep relaxation technique also serves to relieve stress, fatigue, and tension, culminating in a state of tranquility and heightened awareness.
- Proper diet (Vegetarian): Nutrition plays a critical role in one’s overall well-being. Sivananda yoga promotes a balanced, vegetarian diet comprised predominantly of sattvic (pure) foods. These are foods that are natural, easily digestible, and promote both physical health and mental clarity. Conversely, tamasic (dull) or rajasic (over-stimulating) foods, which can cloud the mind or agitate the body, are discouraged.
- Positive thinking and meditation (Vedanta and Dhyana): Central to Sivananda yoga is the cultivation of a disciplined and focused mind. This principle emphasizes the role of positive thinking and meditation in achieving mental equilibrium and clarity. Grounded in the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, which propounds the non-dual nature of existence, meditation in this context is seen as a pathway to self-realization. By controlling and steadying the mind, practitioners can attain a deep state of peace, transcending the transient nature of worldly concerns.
You see, the principles of Sivananda yoga offer a systematic and structured approach to achieving holistic health. If you integrate these principles into your daily life, you can achieve a harmonious balance between body, mind, and spirit, paving the way for a more purposeful and enlightened existence.
12 Basic poses in Sivananda yoga
In addition to the five points of yoga, the school of Sivananda yoga emphasizes a systematic sequence of 12 basic asanas, each meticulously designed to ensure holistic physical and energetic benefits. This sequence ensures that the spine and its nerve centers undergo balanced and thorough stretching in all directions, promoting overall health.
- Sirshasana (Headstand): Termed the king of asanas, the headstand enhances blood flow to the brain, stimulating the pituitary and pineal glands, which are pivotal for our overall well-being.
- Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand): Often referred to as the queen of asanas, this pose enhances the functioning of the thyroid gland, benefits the heart and lung function, and rejuvenates the spine.
- Halasana (Plow Pose): This posture stretches the spine and shoulders, stimulates the abdominal organs, and aids in the management of stress.
- Matsyasana (Fish Pose): Complementing the shoulder stand, this asana stimulates the thymus gland, enhances lung capacity, and stretches the chest and neck.
- Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend): Beneficial for the spine, adrenal glands, and the pelvic organs, this pose also calms the mind and relieves stress.
- Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): Strengthening the spine and stimulating the digestive organs, this asana also expands the chest and improves lung function.
- Salabhasana (Locust Pose): A powerful back strengthener, this pose benefits the lower spine, pelvis, and the lower abdomen.
- Dhanurasana (Bow Pose): Stretching the entire body, this asana revitalizes the spinal nerves, tones the organs, and enhances flexibility.
- Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Spinal Twist): This pose revitalizes the spine, liver, and kidneys, and enhances the functioning of the digestive system.
- Kakasana (Crow Pose): Enhancing balance and concentration, this pose strengthens the arms and wrists.
- Padahastasana (Standing Forward Bend): Stretching the spine and the back muscles, this pose also promotes blood flow to the head and is calming for the mind.
- Trikonasana (Triangle Pose): This asana offers a comprehensive stretch for the legs, spine, and chest, enhances equilibrium, and invigorates the nervous system.
When starting to practice Sivananda yoga, LotusBuddhas recommends approaching these asanas with patience, humility, mindfulness, and a willingness to learn the unique abilities of your body.
While the poses above provide a foundational framework, you should remember that yoga is not about achieving “perfect” posture but about a journey of self-discovery and inner harmony. As always, consulting with experienced teachers and following their instructions can ensure safe and effective practice. Furthermore, although these asanas serve as the core of the Sivananda sequence, they are complemented by pranayama and relaxation techniques, creating a holistic yoga regimen.
Benefits of practicing Sivananda yoga
Sivananda yoga brings many benefits to practitioners. Rooted in a holistic model, the practice of Sivananda yoga can lead to improvements in various aspects of health and well-being.
- Physical benefits:
- Enhanced flexibility: Regular practice of the prescribed asanas stretches and tones the muscles, leading to increased flexibility.
- Strengthened musculature: The asanas help in building muscle strength without promoting hypertrophy, thereby offering a balanced body physique.
- Improved circulation: The physical postures, combined with pranayama, boost blood circulation, ensuring optimal delivery of nutrients to cells and efficient waste removal.
- Balanced metabolism: The combination of asanas and a sattvic diet helps regulate metabolism, aiding in weight management and ensuring optimal digestive health.
- Enhanced respiratory efficiency: Pranayama techniques maximize lung capacity and enhance the efficiency of oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange.
- Mental benefits:
- Stress reduction: The combined effects of asanas, pranayama, and meditation result in a marked reduction in stress and anxiety levels.
- Improved concentration: Dhyana or meditation, a cornerstone of the Sivananda system, hones focus and concentration.
- Enhanced clarity and cognition: The holistic practice, especially meditation, can lead to sharper cognition and improved decision-making capabilities.
- Emotional balance: Regular practitioners often report increased emotional stability and resilience, attributed to the meditative and reflective components of the practice.
- Spiritual benefits:
- Self-awareness: Rooted in the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, Sivananda yoga encourages introspection, leading to heightened self-awareness and self-understanding.
- Enhanced inner peace: Meditation and positive thinking principles foster an inner tranquility that remains undisturbed by external perturbations.
- Connection to the universal: The spiritual teachings embedded in the practice cultivate a sense of unity with the larger cosmos, diluting feelings of separateness and individual ego.
- Path to self-realization: The ultimate aim of Sivananda yoga is to pave the way for self-realization, allowing practitioners to recognize their true nature, transcending the material and the ephemeral.
- Lifestyle benefits:
- Balanced diet: The emphasis on a vegetarian, sattvic diet ensures optimal nutrient intake, promoting overall health.
- Discipline: Regular practice instills discipline, leading to positive lifestyle changes and habits.
- Holistic health perspective: The five principles of Sivananda yoga foster a holistic view of health, encouraging practitioners to view well-being as an integration of body, mind and spirit.
As LotusBuddhas shared, with a structured and holistic approach, Sivananda yoga offers benefits that span areas from physical, mental to lifestyle. If you adhere to its principles and practices, you can cultivate a life marked by health, harmony and increased self-awareness.
Differences between Sivananda yoga and other yoga styles
Like many other traditions, yoga is no exception. Drawing on ancient wisdom, today’s yoga has evolved into many different styles and practices, each offering its own perspectives and methods.
While Sivananda yoga is based on a holistic approach that includes five main tenets, other styles of yoga emphasize different aspects or techniques. In this section, LotusBuddhas will give a comparative analysis that can shed light on the differences between Sivananda yoga and other popular yoga styles for your reference.
- Sivananda yoga:
- Holistic approach: Rooted in five principles, namely proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, and positive thinking and meditation.
- Sequence: Traditionally focuses on a set sequence of twelve foundational postures.
- Integration: A comprehensive integration of asanas, pranayama, relaxation, vegetarian diet, and Vedanta philosophy.
- Pace: Generally slower-paced, allowing practitioners to deeply internalize each posture.
- Hatha yoga:
- Foundation: Often considered the basis for most physical yoga styles.
- Focus: Emphasizes balance and uniting opposites, concentrating on asanas and pranayama.
- Pace: Typically slower-paced, with emphasis on mastering individual postures.
- Ashtanga yoga:
- Sequence: Involves a specific sequence of postures that practitioners follow in the same order.
- Intensity: More vigorous compared to Sivananda, linking each movement to breath in a flow.
- Tradition: Developed by Pattabhi Jois, based on ancient yoga manuscripts.
- Vinyasa or Flow yoga:
- Dynamics: Often compared to Ashtanga but without a fixed series of postures.
- Breath: Emphasizes the synchronization of movement with breath, creating a dynamic flow from one pose to another.
- Variety: Sequences can vary widely depending on the instructor’s approach.
- Iyengar yoga:
- Alignment: Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, this style emphasizes precise alignment in postures.
- Props: Pioneered the use of props like belts, blocks, and walls to make postures accessible and to correct alignment.
- Hold: Postures are held for extended periods to deeply understand and perfect them.
- Bikram yoga:
- Environment: Practiced in a hot, humid room (around 105°F with 40% humidity).
- Sequence: Comprises a set series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises.
- Rigidity: The sequence remains consistent, and deviations are not encouraged.
- Kundalini yoga:
- Energy focus: Aims to awaken the kundalini energy located at the base of the spine.
- Components: Incorporates asanas, meditation, mantra chanting, and pranayama to achieve spiritual awakening.
- Intensity: Can be intense and transformational, addressing the spiritual and psychological aspects of the practitioner.
Although all styles of yoga are rooted in the same philosophical roots, their methods, emphasis, and techniques can vary greatly. Choosing a style of yoga often depends on an individual’s preferences, goals, and physical capabilities. Regardless of the style chosen, however, the basic goal of yoga remains consistent: to unite body, mind and spirit.
Famous Sivananda yoga centers in the world
The increasing popularity of Sivananda yoga globally is thanks to the merits of Swami Vishnudevananda. Currently, many yoga centers and Sivananda ashrams are established all over the world. These centers serve as centers for spiritual learning, yoga practice, and holistic living. Here are some globally famous Sivananda yoga centers:
- Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, Bahamas: Located on Paradise Island, this ashram offers an idyllic setting for spiritual rejuvenation. It provides an array of courses, workshops, and teacher training programs, catering to both beginners and seasoned practitioners.
- Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp, Quebec, Canada: Established in 1963 by Swami Vishnudevananda, this was the first Sivananda center in the West. Nestled in the Laurentian Mountains, it provides a serene environment for yoga practice and meditation.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyar Dam, India: Situated amidst the lush greenery of Kerala, this ashram is a prominent center for yoga teacher training courses and advanced studies. The tranquil setting by the Neyyar Dam lake further elevates the spiritual experience.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Meenakshi Ashram, Madurai, India: Located near the famous Meenakshi Temple, this ashram offers a unique blend of ancient spirituality and modern amenities. The center provides various programs, from beginners’ courses to advanced meditation retreats.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Nataraja Ashram, Chateau-d’Œx, Switzerland: Set against the backdrop of the Swiss Alps, this ashram offers an invigorating environment for yoga and meditation. Its location in the alpine meadows makes it an ideal retreat for those seeking solace in nature.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Zinal Conference, Switzerland: An annual event that attracts yogis and spiritual teachers from around the globe. It serves as a platform for sharing insights, research, and developments in the field of yoga and spirituality.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Kutir, Uttarkashi, India: Situated by the banks of the Ganges in the Himalayas, this center is an epitome of spiritual tranquility. Its proximity to the sacred town of Gangotri makes it a sought-after destination for spiritual seekers.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, Los Angeles, USA: One of the premier centers in the US, it offers a range of programs, classes, and workshops tailored to the diverse needs of the urban population.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, London, UK: Serving as a spiritual oasis in the bustling city, the center offers regular classes, workshops, and satsangs, fostering a community of practitioners and seekers.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, Tokyo, Japan: Catering to the unique cultural nuances of Japan, this center offers programs and classes that integrate the essence of Sivananda yoga with the local ethos.
Although these centers are geographically dispersed, they share a unified vision of disseminating the teachings of Sivananda yoga. Through structured courses, and outreach programs, they aim to propagate the holistic benefits of yoga and provide a haven for spiritual growth and well-being.
In Vietnam, Sivananda yoga also has branches located in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Lat. If you have the opportunity to visit Vietnam and want to find a reputable place to practice yoga, you can visit Sivananda yoga Vietnam: https://sivanandayogavietnam.org/
Are beginners suitable candidates for Sivananda yoga?
Sivananda yoga is adaptable and caters to practitioners of all levels, including beginners. Lectures emphasize mastering the basics before progressing, making it accessible to beginners.
What is the significance of the twelve basic asanas in Sivananda yoga?
The sequence of the twelve postures is designed to ensure that the spinal column is systematically and thoroughly stretched in all directions. This sequence promotes optimal circulation to all vital organs and aids in the harmonious functioning of the body’s systems.
Why is a vegetarian diet emphasized in Sivananda yoga?
A vegetarian diet, considered sattvic or pure, aligns with the non-harming principle of yoga (ahimsa). It supports physical health, aids in the refinement of the mind, and is conducive to meditation and spiritual practices.
How does Sivananda yoga approach meditation?
Sivananda yoga’s approach to meditation is rooted in the teachings of Vedanta and the practices of dhyana. Meditation is seen as a tool for self-realization, cultivating inner peace, and attaining higher states of consciousness.
How can one get certified as a Sivananda yoga instructor?
Numerous Sivananda yoga centers and ashrams worldwide offer teacher training courses. These typically span a month and cover both theoretical and practical aspects of yoga. Upon successful completion, participants receive certification.
Do Sivananda yoga classes incorporate chanting and scriptures?
Classes often commence with the chanting of mantras, and teachings from scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita or the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali may be integrated into lessons, emphasizing the spiritual dimension of the practice.
Are there specific contraindications or precautions to consider before starting Sivananda yoga?
While Sivananda yoga is generally suitable for most people, those with specific health concerns should consult a healthcare professional before beginning any yoga practice. Additionally, it is helpful to notify the yoga instructor of any medical conditions or concerns to ensure safe practice.