Sivananda Yoga is a form of Hatha Yoga brought to the West in 1957 by Swami Vishnudevananda at the urging of his Indian teacher, a medical doctor named Swami Sivananda. Vishnudevananda founded the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres based on Swami Sivananda’s teachings with a mission to spread peace, health, and joy through yoga. To date, there are over 60 Sivananda locations around the world.
Sivananda Yoga integrates four paths of yoga: Karma Yoga (selfless service), Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Raja Yoga (eight limbs of yoga), and Jnana Yoga (yoga of knowledge). The entire practice revolves around “Five Points of Yoga”:
- Proper exercise (asanas, or postures)
- Proper breathing (pranayama)
- Proper relaxation
- Proper diet
- Positive thinking and meditation
Pertaining to proper exercise, there are 12 main asanas practiced in different variations: Headstand, Shoulderstand, Plough, Fish, Seated Forward Fold, Cobra, Locust, Bow, Spinal Twist, Crow, Standing Forward Fold, and Triangle Poses. Sun Salutations traditionally begin the practice, and Savasana always ends the practice. Some chanting may occur during class.
Sivananda breathing practices focus on teaching deep, slow abdominal breathing to help support the movement of prana, or life force. Relaxation practices are three fold, with a focus on physical relaxation, which can be attained during Savasana; mental relaxation, which can be achieved by bringing proper attention to the breath; and spiritual relaxation, which is achieved by understanding one’s own true nature.
Sivananda’s proper diet is a lacto-vegetarian diet, which is said to bring about maximum body-mind efficiency. Finally, positive thinking and meditation are achieved by following the 14 points of meditation, which outline meditation techniques. Thirty minutes of daily meditation is recommended.
Sivananda Yoga classes are appropriate for all yoga practitioners. The classes tend to move at a gentle pace with long holds for each posture, and provide a well-rounded practice for any student.