These 5 principles constitute the essence of the teachings of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers. To clarify the science of Yoga and make it accessible to the majority of seekers, Swami Vishnu-devananda extracted its essence and presented it in these universal principles for physical and mental health as well as spiritual growth.
Our physical body is meant to move and exercise. If our lifestyle does not provide natural motion of muscles and joints, then disease and great discomfort will ensue with time. Proper exercise should be pleasant to the practitioner while beneficial to the body, mind and spiritual life. Sivananda yoga teaches Sun Salutations and the 12 Basic Asanas.
Yoga teaches us how to use the lungs to their maximum capacity and how to control the breath. Proper breathing should be deep, slow and rhythmical. This increases vitality and mental clarity.
Long before the invention of cars, planes, telephones, computers, freeways and other modern triggers of stress, the Rishis (sages or seers) and Yogis of yore devised very powerful techniques of deep relaxation. As a matter of fact, many modern stress-management and relaxation methods borrow heavily from this tradition. By relaxing deeply all the muscles the Yogi can thoroughly rejuvenate his nervous system and attain a deep sense of inner peace.
Besides being responsible for building our physical body, the foods we eat profoundly affect our mind. For maximum body-mind efficiency and complete spiritual awareness, Yoga advocates a lacto-vegetarian diet. This is an integral part of the Yogic lifestyle.
Here is the most important point of all, we become what we think. Thus we should exert to entertain positive and creative thoughts as these will contribute to vibrant health and a peaceful, joyful mind. A positive outlook on life can be developed by learning and practicing the teachings of the philosophy of Vedanta. The mind will be brought under perfect control by regular practice of meditation.
Yoga means Union. Union between the individual self and the Universal Self; union between Body-Mind-Spirit. Yoga is not just a system of physical exercises. It is a classical system of personal development of body, mind, spirit. There are four main paths to attain this Union which brings health, happiness and peace of mind: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga (Hatha Yoga) and Jnana Yoga. Each path is suited to a different temperament or approach to life. All the paths lead ultimately to the same goal. The lessons of each path need to be integrated if true wisdom is to be attained. Swami Sivananda’s approach is the synthesis of all these paths in daily life. The courses and programs at the ashram reflect these teachings.
The ashram is run entirely by dedicated karma yogis. By acting selflessly, without thought of personal gain or reward, and by detaching from the fruits of actions and instead offering them to God, the Karma Yogi purifies the heart and sublimates the ego.
Through prayer, worship and ritual, the Bhakti Yogi surrenders to God, channelling and transmuting emotions into unconditional love or devotion. Chanting or singing the praises of God form a substantial part of Bhakti Yoga.
This path is often called Ashtanga, or eight-limbed yoga. It is the path of body, breath and mind control, and meditation. Hatha yoga is part of Raja yoga. It offers a systematic method for controlling the waves of thought. The chief practice of Raja Yoga is meditation. When body and energy are under control, meditation comes naturally.
This is vedantic meditation and self-enquiry. Requiring tremendous strength of will and intellect, the Jnana Yogi uses intellect to inquire into his or her own true nature and into the nature of reality. Before practicing Jnana Yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths - for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realization can become mere idle speculation.
When Swami Vishnu first came to the West in 1971 he wanted to teach the esoteric aspects of yoga. However after arriving to the West he saw how we needed a simple solutiong to bring back good health. The Sivananda Yoga class is a complete yoga practice focusing on breathing, relaxation, and gentle stretching. The class can be both challenging for advanced practitioners and relaxing for beginner students. The class begins with Pranayam, or breathing exercies, followed by Sun salutations and leg raises to warm up the body. Then comes the 12 basic asanas, or postures starting with headstand and ending with standing postures. There can be any number of variations to these postures, but the basic structure is always kept the same.
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