What is Yoga?
Yoga means union. Union of the individual with the supreme, or union of one's body, mind, and spirit so that our actions, our words, and our thoughts are in alignment. Yoga is not a religion but a spiritual practice that can be incorporated into one's daily life no matter what religion you follow, whether it is Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, or Atheist.
Sivananda Yoga is a classical and holistic healing system which stretches and tones the entire body; it helps both body and mind gain and maintain a natural healthy state. The practice emphasizes proper exercise, relaxation and breathing – each ninety-minute Asana practice begins with breath work and closes with a full body and mind relaxation.
The teachings of Yoga go far beyond simply physical exercise or stretches. Even the Asana part of Yoga, which is not purely physical, has mental and spiritual benefits.
By closely observing the lifestyles and needs of people in our modern world, Swami Vishnudevananda synthesized the ancient wisdom of Yoga into 5 basic principles, which can easily be incorporated into your own pattern of living, to provide a long, healthy and happy life.
The five points of Yoga are:
Proper Exercise - Asanas
Proper Breathing - pranayama
Proper Relaxation - Savasana
Proper Diet - Vegetarian
Positive Thinking and Meditation - Vedanta and Dhyana
The Body is a vehicle for the soul, and has specific requirements, which must be fulfilled for it to function smoothly and supply the optimum mileage.
Proper Exercises act as a lubrication mechanism for the joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and other parts of the body by increasing circulation and flexibility. Yogic exercises are in fact called asanas, or steady pose; when done correctly, influence and positively energize all the systems of the body. In terms of muscles, yogic exercises not only strengthen the muscles but also stretch them. There is a great emphasis on the flexibility and the youth of the spine. The correct postures are performed with awareness and concentration, accompanied by breathing and relaxation. Thus yogic exercises affect not only the physical body but also the astral body, the energetic body and the mind. The body and mind are put in alignment or in harmony. Yogic asanas prepare the body and mind to be strong for further practice of concentration and meditation.
Proper Breathing: Yoga emphasizes breathing using the diaphragm. Increase the intake of oxygen though deep inhalation and release the toxins appropriately through our deep exhalation. Breathing techniques (pranayama) are devised to further purify the nadis, balance the breath and the energy in our system, and to store and channel the subtle energy (prana) for higher purposes. Balance the regulation of the harmonized breath helps the Yogi to regulate and steady the mind.
Proper Relaxation techniques such as Savasana cool down the system. Our hectic modern and fast lifestyle brings about physical, mental and spiritual stress. Stress comes from our difficulty to adapt to new challenges, and our lack of vital energy (prana) to cope with demands. Physical relaxation removes tension and allow the flow of prana, mental relaxation keeps the mind focused on neutral and uplifting objects like the sound of the breath or the mantra OM and from withdrawing the mind from sensual stimulations. Spiritual relaxation comes when we connect with our Inner Self and become a detached witness to the body and mind. Retiring the body. Mental and emotional stress comes from a hectic lifestyle, highly demanding jobs, distractions of the mind, low vitality due to lack of prana, and negative emotions such as anger, hatred, jealously, fear and anxiety. Physical relaxation, mental relaxation, spiritual relaxation is a deeper type of relaxation, when we become contact, a detached witness of the body and mind.
Proper Diet: Correct nutrient and diet gives proper fuel for the body and mind without creating toxins and digestive problems. The Yogic vegetarian diet is sattvic (pure), and helps to calm the mind and to reveal the spirit as well as nourish the body. A vegetarian diet is a natural diet, fresh and wholesome, full of fiber and alkaline in nature, energy producing, and easy to absorb and to eliminate. It is a wonderful way to prevent heart deceases, arthritis, obesity and a good remedy for many chronic diseases.
Positive thinking and meditation: Thought creates destiny. A positive thought can create a positive personality or character that will bring about your future destiny. One needs to be responsible for one’s thoughts because one’s thoughts affect the invisible thought world, and in turn, affect the environment and the people around you positively or negatively. There are many positive thinking techniques coming from the classical four paths of Yoga.
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.
Karma Yoga, the Path of Action - 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.
Bhakti Yoga, the Path of Devotion - Through mantra, chanting and respect and love for all beings, the Bhakti yogi surrenders the ego, channeling and transmuting emotions into unconditional love or devotion.
Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga, the path of strengthening body and mind leading to Meditation. This path is often called classical eight-limbed Yoga. It is the path of body, breath and mind control, and meditation. Hatha yoga is pareparation? Yes preparation to 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.
Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Knowledge - 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 lessons of needs to be established in 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.
*Page content courtesy of Sivananda Yoga Farm, Grass Valley, California.