About Sivananda Yoga
Sivananda is a pure form of classical hatha yoga promoting traditional and authentic yogic techniques, practices and attitudes.
The yoga taught in our studio in Bromley follows the Indian tradition of knowledge passed from teacher to student over a period of many hundreds of years. The lineage followed here was founded by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century CE, although the knowledge precedes this date by many thousands of years.
One of the first teachers to bring these practices of yoga to the west was Swami Vishnudevananda sent by his yoga master Swami Sivananda in 1957. He established what is now the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Organisation. All of our teachers have trained in the Sivananda tradition.
The 5 points of yoga
There are many different aspects of yoga. In order to simplify and clarify the topic, Swami Vishnudevananda summarized the vast science into 5 principles of Yoga which are easy to understand and to include in one's daily life.
1. Proper Exercise (Asanas) :
How does yoga compare to other forms of exercise?
There are many different systems of exercise that develop the body through movement.
Whilst the yogic practices do develop the body they also strengthen the mental faculties and spirit as well.
A yoga posture is called an Asana or steady pose.Asanas are meant to be held for some time in a steady and relaxed way. Of course learning to relax in a posture takes time and doesnt happen over night. In the beginning we concentrate on increasing flexibility, strength and concentration.
According to yoga scriptures there are about 8,400,000 different yoga postures.In a Sivananda class sequence we practice 12 very powerful postures and variations of these poses. The 12 basic postures brings out the essence and all major benefits of this wonderful system.
How do yoga asanas affect the body?
The asanas mainly work on the health of the spine, its strength, mobility and flexibility. They help to lubricate the joints, and stretch and lengthen the skeletal muscles. The spinal column houses the nervous system. By maintaining the spine's flexibility and strength through exercise, circulation is increased and the nerves are fed a healthy supply of nutrients and oxygen.The Asanas stimulate and massage the internal organs and can have a positive impact on the endocrine system (glands and hormones).
2. Proper Breathing (Pranayama) :
The breathing exercises are called Pranayama. Prana means energy by learning to control our breath
we are also learning to control the flow of subtle energy.
There are many powerful Pranayama techniques.In a basic Sivananda class, we practice 4 main exercises:
1 ) Deep Abdominal Breathing : Deep abdominal breathing brings air to the lowest and largest part of the lungs.Breathing is slow and deep, and proper use is made of the diaphragm.
2) Full Yogic Breathing: The full yogic breath is a full body breath. Beginning with a deep abdominal breath and continuing with the inhalation through the intercostal and clavicular areas. A great way to slow down the heart rate and so calm the mind when stressed, tense or anxious.
3) Anuloma Viloma(alternate nostril breathing): In Anuloma Viloma we alternate the breath from right to left nostril and retain the breath in between. We inhale through one nostril to the count of 4, retain for 16 and exhale through the other nostril for 8. This exercise is balancing for the left and right side of the brain and increases energy levels, concentration and mental balance.
4) Kapalabhathi (pumping breath exercise): Good for cleansing the lungs of stale air and toxins. An energising exercise that brings plenty of fresh oxygen to the brain hence its name Kapalabathi means Shining Skull.
Why practice breathing?
Breath is life force without breath there is no life. We breathe every minute of every day, mostly unconsciously for survival. But conscious breathing can bring tremendous awareness and richness to life experience.The yoga scriptures teach that the mind, thoughts and emotions are intricately linked to the breath. If we can control our breath we can control our own minds and vice versa.
A Yoga practitioner experiences a deep connection with body and mind through breath. Proper breath control can take a lifetime. If we practice daily and do our best we will experience many benefits.
The Problems of Shallow Breath:
Most people use only some of their lung capacity for breathing. They breathe shallowly, barely expanding the ribcage. This can create hunched shoulders and tension in the back and neck. Also emotionally we can remain quite disconnected through shallow breathing.
Beyond the yoga class:
In a yoga practice we dont just focus on the breath when we practice our pranayama exercises. We keep the mind on the breath, and attempt to keep the breath steady and rhythmical (to the best of our ability) throughout the entire yoga practice. This is an excellent meditation that can even be taken beyond the yoga class and into daily life.
Deep abdominal and full yogic breathing can even be done whilst sitting at the desk at work to encourage focus, concentration, new energy and a sense of calm.
3. Proper Relaxation (Savasana) :
When the body and the mind are consistently overworked, their natural efficiency to perform diminishes.
With our busy lifestyles even our relaxation choices can be quite stimulating.
Watching telly stimulates the mind and the senses with a barrage of information and visual stimulation. A pint at the pub may be a fun and enjoyable evening but is again stimulating to the nervous system. Many of us with our fast paced dynamic lifestyles have even forgotten that we need to relax and recharge at all.
Even while trying to rest, if we are unable to let go of muscular and mental tension, we are still expending a lot of unnecessary physical and mental energy. Overtime the inability to relax properly can create stress disorders and physical and mental discomfort.
A lot of the time more of our energy is spent keeping the muscles in continual readiness for work, than in the actual useful work done.
During complete yogic relaxation there is practically no energy being consumed. So deep relaxation is encouraged. In the yoga practice we learn three levels of relaxation Physical, Mental, Spiritual.
4. Proper Diet (Vegetarian) :
We are what we eat !Many of us sense that our diets are not really supporting us in our daily lives. Our energy can feel sluggish and our minds foggy and we wonder if it might be to do with our diet?We can find ourselves bloated or constipated or suffering from irritable bowel and other digestive disorders. We gain weight, we loose weight, we comfort eat, we overeat,we under-eat and so it goes on...
Yoga is very much a practice of finding balance.Proper Diet simply means finding a comfortable and healthy way to eat that fully supports a positive and healthy body and mind.
In a strict yogic diet we would avoid overly stimulating foods like garlic, onion, wine, alcohol, vinegar and caffeine.As well as heavy foods that are low in vital energy such as meat and fish.It is suggested however that any change in diet is practised slowly and thoughtfully.
The yoga scriptures make some suggestions to keep the body healthy and the mind balanced and calm through use of diet.Invigorating pure and healthy foods that are easy to digest and high in sunlight energy are a strong feature of the yogic diet including pulses, grains and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The study of health in the yoga scriptures is called Ayurveda.
5. Positive Thinking and Meditation (Vedanta and Dhyana) :
The mind is a vast expanse of conscious and unconscious thought, knowledge and wisdom. According to yoga we use but a fraction of our mental capacity.Often we can get stuck in very limited ways of thinking. Unconscious patterns of negative thought can hugely impact on our state of mind, mental and physical health, and emotional well being.
Unlike Western studies of the mind, yogic thought is not particularly interested in what constitutes mental illness, but keeps its focus very much on what constitutes radiant, positive and good mental health.
Techniques of positive thinking are taught in yoga. These techniques help us to learn to replace old worn out habitual modes of thinking, with uplifting, invigorating thoughts and ideas, that allow the mental faculties to expand and grow.