I love to visit Sivananda Ashram set in beautiful tropical forests in the hills of Kerala. Just across the lake by the Ashram is a lion sanctuary, you hear them roaring whilst you are meditating as the sun rises and they wake up, it’s amazing!
Yoga isn’t just about exercise, when fully embraced it’s a lifestyle. At the ashram you have the opportunity to experience living by their 5 points (or principles) of yoga. It can be a bit of a challenge at times but the positives absolutely outweigh the hard bits every time.
Following is a little explanation to what Swami Sivananda believed to be the 5 points of yoga for physical and mental health, plus spiritual growth;
1) Proper Exercise – Asana
The yoga poses you do in a yoga class are called Asana, which means “comfortable seat”. The idea is to get into the pose and then just to be able to be in it comfortably as long as you wish, with no force
Asana are designed to be a non violent way of creating strength and flexibility in the body as well as having many other healing affects. They all have their own unique benefits such as calming the nervous system, balancing hormones, releasing tension, releasing emotions, opening the heart, to energize, to calm, the list is endless.
Practicing asana helps you to get out of your mind and into your body, it helps you to go within, to connect with your Spirit and higher consciousness. This is the meaning of the word Yoga – Union.
2) Breath – Pranayama
It’s important to link the asana with the breath, without doing that it’s just exercise. As well as asana yogi’s also practice pranayama which are various breathing techniques.
Pranayama, yogic breathing, helps us to breathe fully, deeply, to use the lungs to their maximum capacity, take in more oxygen and also to be able to control the breath,
Thoughts are forms of energy, prana, so if you control your breath you can also control the mind. If you consider what your breath is like when you are stressed, usually it’s shallow and quick paced. We forgot to breathe deeply when we have a lot whizzing around our mind. So when you hold your breath, you also pause the mind.
Just try it now, close your eyes and take 10 long deep full belly breaths, completely filling yourself from belly to chest with air and then release it all out again really slowly. Notice how different you feel after 10 breaths like this.
There are many different yogic breathing techniques all designed for different purposes, for example to calm the mind, to energize, to detox the system and to balance the mind.
3) Proper Relaxation
Stress causes dis-ease in the body so it’s important to make time for proper relaxation in your day.
Savanasa, corpse pose, is one of the most important asana in your Yoga practice. When we are in Savasana at the end of my class I guide you though a process of auto suggestion telling each part of the body to relax. This calms the nervous system and helps you to relax deeply.
This is something you can do for your self at home too. Start off by lying down on the floor feet open to the side and palms facing up. Tense each part of the body and then relax it. Next consciously move from toes to head saying “I am relaxing my toes” “I am relaxing my feet” “I am relaxing my ankles” and so on, work your way up to your head.
When our mind is focused like this our mind is free of everything else and we feel good. Mental enjoyment comes from focusing the mind, concentration. At Sivananda they taught us that if we can keep the mind quiet then everything can be enjoyable!
The equivalent of doing this for 10-15 minutes is an hours sleep. Rest and relaxation is natures way of recharging our battery’s but so often we forget or ignore this.
4) Proper Diet
A yogic diet is one that considers what affect food has on the mind. Our mind is stronger than our body, we can go beyond pain with our mind, it controls everything.
Yoga advocates a vegetarian diet, in the ashram they told us “don’t make your stomach a graveyard for dead animals”! I ate meat when I first went there but gave it up after my second visit. One thing that really got to my conscience was why should an animal die for my ego just because I like to eat meat? Also the violent cruel energy around killing something then gets taken in to our bodies when we eat the meat, I didn’t fancy taking in that energy.
The yogic diet is based around the 3 Guna’s, or qualities of nature;
Sattva – white/gold – pure, Spring/Autumn, peaceful, healthy for body and mind. Vegetables, fruit, milk, lentils.
Rajas – red – energy, movement, motion, summer, stimulation. Sweets, chocolate, salty food, spice, chilies, bitter food, food that stimulates senses.
Tama – black – death, winter, lethargy, darkness, lazy, rotten, heavy, dull……you get the drift! Mushrooms, garlic, onion, over ripe foods, vinegar, meat, fish.
I learnt there that cutting out sugar, chili, onion and garlic really helps to calm the mind and the stomach.
A healthy diet would be mainly Sattva with a bit of Rajas. They say do not be dependent on any food for making you feel good. Eat to live, do not live to eat!
5) Meditation & Positive Thinking
Our mind creates our experience of life. Sivanada taught that our mind is in 2 parts;
1) The higher mind which is close to our Self, to love, compassion and unity.
2) The mind at the instinctive level, a lower level, this mind can take us away from our true self.
Positive thinking is using the higher mind. The goal is to have knowledge of the Self, who you truly are.
The most important aspect of positive thinking is to be present, there are no problems in the present. Right now in this moment, is there anything really wrong?
Asking yourself positive questions helps to develop positive thoughts, questions such as:
What am I grateful for today?
Who do I love and who loves me?
What can I do to make today fantastic?
With meditation Sivananda taught to be the director not the actress. As an actress you get caught up in certain roles, and you become the role. As the director you can direct your own life, your thoughts, you can be strong with the mind and be disciplined on what you focus on. Discipline is key to your freedom.
That was a very brief summary of the Sivanana 5 points of yoga. You may like to experiment with focusing on one a week/month just to see where it takes you. If you fancy a trip to the ashram and have any questions about it please do let me know, I love sharing my experience of being there,