I was first introduced to yoga when I was 13 years old. I was taught Sivananda's classic sun salute by my Uncle who's a gym teacher and would practice it each morning when I would wake up and also before my swim practices or meets. When I left for college my college yoga teacher was a Sivananda trained teacher who expanded my knowledge of all that yoga had to offer with the Sivananda Companion to Yoga book which was and always will be my yoga bible! The 5 principles of yoga that Swami Sivananda emphasizes made so much sense to me then and only furthered my study and practice of yoga (hence the reason I'm a yogini and teacher now!), and I'd love to share them with you.
Sivananda is one of the world's largest schools of classical yoga. It's follows a set system of asanas, pranayama and meditation with an emphasis on healthy living principles. The mantra of Sivananda yoga is 'simple living and high thinking.' According to Sivananda tradition, the body is a carrier for the soul. This metaphor extends into the 5 Principles of keeping the body healthy throughout it's lifetime. The Sivananda school of yoga devised these points to help encourage yoga practitioners to better understand and embrace all the integral elements essential in order to keep healthy, balanced and centered.
The Essential Practice: Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, and Realize.
1. Proper Exercise (Asanas)
The modern lifestyle does not provide natural motion of muscles and joints. Because of insufficient muscle length (flexibility) and muscle strength our bodies develop disease and discomfort over time. Our physical body is meant to move and exercise. Proper exercise should be pleasant to the practitioner while beneficial to the body, mind and spiritual life.
2. Proper Breathing (Pranayama)
Most people do not utilize the optimum capacity of their lungs. Yoga teaches us how to use the lungs to their maximum capacity and how to control the breath. Proper breathing should be deep, slow and rhythmical. This increases vitality and mental clarity, while eliminating stress and tension.
3. Proper Relaxation (Savasana)
Because of the fast-paced life styles most of us live combined with external stimuli, we are continually switching our bodies into the classic "fight or flight" syndrome. Stressful situations arise, we tense up, the situation passes and we continue to carry the stress and tension. Over time, this has a tremendous cumulative effect. Yogis of yore devised very powerful techniques of deep relaxation. By relaxing deeply all the muscles the Yogi can thoroughly rejuvenate his nervous system and attain a deep sense of inner peace.
4. Proper Diet (Vegetarian)
Besides being responsible for building our physical body, the foods we eat profoundly affect our mind. For maximum body-mind efficiency and complete spiritual awareness, Yoga advocates a vegetarian diet. This is an integral part of the Yogic lifestyle. (*While I am a vegetarian, I do NOT encourage this diet to all. Everyone has different dietary needs and while the vegetarian diet is pure and beautiful, it may not be practical for some.)
5. Positive Thinking and Meditation (Dhyana)
This last point is the most important point of all. We become what we think. Yoga teaches us to entertain positive and creative thoughts which contribute to vibrant health and a peaceful, joyful mind. The mind will be brought under perfect control by regular practice of meditation.
Keep it fresh!