Sivananda Yoga can be summarized by five principles for physical and mental health, as well as spiritual growth:
1. Proper Exercise - The Yogic physical exercises are called Asanas (which means "steady pose" in Sanskrit). Asanas strengthen the health, strength and flexibility of the spine, and also affect the internal organs and endocrine system.
2. Proper Breathing - Yoga teaches us how to use our lungs to their maximum capacity and how to control the breath. This increases vitality and mental clarity.
3. Proper Relaxation - During complete relaxation, there is practically no energy or "Prana" being consumed. In order to achieve perfect relaxation, yogis use three methods: Physical, Mental and Spiritual relaxation.
4. Proper Diet - The yogic diet is vegetarian, consisting of pure, simple, natural foods.
5. Positive Thinking and Meditation- All happiness achieved through the mind is temporary and fleeting. To achieve lasting happiness, we must first calm the mind, concentrate the mind, and finally transcend the mind. Sivananda Yoga emphasizes proper exercise (asanas), proper breathing (pranayama) and proper relaxation (savanna) to bring the body and mind into balance. A typical Sivananda Yoga class runs for around 90 minutes and includes 12 hatha yoga asanas. The teacher gives the instructions (and demonstrates as needed), but does not do the asanas or pranayama with the students. This is so the teacher can focus completely on the students and support them during the class with modifications and/or adjustments. Each class follows the same structure:
-Initial savasana and opening prayers -Pranayama: alternate nostril breathing (anuloma viloma) and skull shining breath (kaphalabati) -Asanas: Sun salutations, followed by 12 asanas -Final savasana and closing prayers
The sequence is designed for people who are new to yoga, but still carries tremendous benefits for long-time practitioners. Unlike modern yoga trends that emphasize physical fitness and flexibility, the primary goal of Sivananda Yoga is to promote mental, physical and spiritual harmony. It doesn't matter how deep you can go into a pose. The poses can be modified to suit your specific needs, and you will still get all of the benefits.