By closely observing the lifestyles of people, Swami Vishnudevananda, a renowned authority on hatha yoga and raja yoga, synthesised the four paths of yoga into five basic principles that can be easily incorporated into a daily lifestyle providing the foundation for healthy living. It is on these five principles that the activities of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres are based.
PROPER EXERCISE (Asana)
The twelve classical postures exercise every part of the body, stretching and toning the muscles and joints and entire skeletal system, increasing circulation and working on the internal organs, glands and nerves keeping all systems in radiant health. By releasing tension they also liberate vast resources of energy. As yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul on its journey towards perfection, the asanas are designed to develop not only the body, they also broaden the mental faculties and spiritual capacities.
PROPER BREATHING (Pranayama)
Pranayama teaches us how to use the lungs to their maximum capacity and how to control the breath. Many of us use only a fraction of our lung capacity for breathing, resulting in poor physical and mental health. Control is achieved through specific breathing exercises and makes the mind calm and clear as well as increasing strength and vitality.
PROPER RELAXATION (Savasana)
Yoga teaches us powerful techniques of deep relaxation. Our stressful lifestyles make it difficult for us to relax. We forget that rest and relaxation are nature’s way of recharging and are an essential ingredient for physical and mental health. By consciously relaxing every muscle of the body and controlling the breath we rejuvenate the nervous system and attain a deep sense of inner peace.
PROPER DIET (lacto-vegetarian)
Yoga promotes a lacto-vegetarian diet based on seasonal, local, fresh food such as fruit, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetables. Besides being responsible physical health, what we eat profoundly affects our mind. The yogic diet keeps the body lean and limber and the mind clear and sharp as well as protecting life and the environment.
POSITIVE THINKING AND MEDITATION (Vedanta and Dhyana)
Through various methods of controlling our own thoughts, including the powerful technique of meditation and through vedantic studies, we are led to inner peace, integration and harmony. When we harbour negative thoughts our actions are disturbed and unbalanced. Thoughts of worry and fear are destructive to ourselves and those around us. Opposite thoughts of cheerfulness, joy and courage heal and soothe. Our thoughts are the real cause behind our success and happiness.
The sages of ancient times devised four paths of yoga to suit different approaches to life. These four yogas are not exclusive to each other and are incorporated as a synthesis in the teaching at our Ashrams.
Karma yoga teaches us how to work and serve selflessly without attachment, egoism and expectation of reward. We learn to serve others with tolerance and patience, with no feeling of grudge or remorse, nor to expect thanks or gratitude or appreciation for our actions. We experience the immeasurable joy of work for work’s sake and of service to all. Acting selflessly, with the attitude of service purifies the heart, removes selfishness and prepares us for some of the higher practices of yoga.
The path of bhakti yoga or the yoga of devotion is the path of channeling and transmuting our emotional nature into pure, unselfish, divine love. It is love for love’s sake. It destroys restlessness and distraction of the mind. Bhakti is intense devotion and supreme attachment to a higher source. Through faith, prayer, and worship we surrender to a higher power and develop unconditional love. It is the direct approach to the ideal through the heart.
Raja yoga is the practice of controlling the mind, leading to meditation and higher levels of consciousness. Based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, raja yoga outlines an eight-step process of attaining stillness of the mind. It takes us through each step from laying a firm foundation of ethical behaviour to the final step of the super-conscious state (samadhi).
Jnana yoga (the yoga of knowledge) is the intellectual approach to spiritual evolution. It demands a subtle, sharp intellect to grasp its fundamental principles. For that reason this path can only be approached once we have established a firm foundation in the other three paths. Through the study of the philosophy of vedanta, that proclaims we are of one supreme consciousness, we learn of our essential divine nature.