Five Principles of Yoga
The five principles of yoga are essentially guidelines to be followed while practicing yoga asanas. These fundamental points are associated with Swami Sivananda’s style of yoga, but are now being increasingly adopted by nearly all forms of Hatha Yoga.
While working as a doctor, Kuppuswamy cured a wandering sanyasin, who in turn introduced the impressionable doctor to yoga and to the ancient Indian philosophy of Vedanta. Deeply influenced by the yogi, the doctor set out in search of a guru. After spending 10 years under a guru, Swami Sivananda — as he came to be known — established the Divine Life Society and became a prolific yoga teacher. It was his disciple Swami Vishnu-devananda, who traveled west and established the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta chain of centres. Today, there are over 30 centres and Sivananda Yoga ashrams all over the world.
Although there are over thousands of well-documented asanas, Sivananda Yoga concentrates on 12 basic postures — namely, shoulder stand (Sarvangasana), plough (Halasana), fish (Matsyasana), forward bend (Paschimothanasana), cobra (Bhujangasana), locust (Shalabhasana), bow (Dhanurasana), spinal twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana), crow pose (Kakasana) or peacock pose (Mayurasana), standing forward bend (Pada Hasthasana) and the triangle (Trikonasana). Surya namashkar, shavasana, pranayama and meditation are also part of the Sivananda practice.
The five principles of yoga are to be used as a framework to get the best from a yoga practice. Yoga is increasingly being seen as merely another exercise form to achieve physical fitness. However, achieving physical and mental health, as well as spiritual growth, is the desired goal of a yoga practice. The five principles of yoga as propounded by Swami Vishnu-devananda are:
- Proper exercise (asanas): Ancient yogi’s believed that in order to live in harmony with the environment you need to have a fit body as well as a fit mind. As with any machine, our bodies are meant to move and exercise. Inactivity combined with our stressful lives, a polluted environment and a host of new diseases has led to a largely unfit and unhealthy population. Yogic physical exercises or asanas have been designed to work on all parts of the body. Yoga builds muscle tone, improves the strength and flexibility of the spine and joints, regulates the metabolism and improves blood circulation. Proper exercise also boosts your immune system and helps to ease physical tensions. Yoga asanas combined with proper breathing are designed to regulate the physical and physiological functions of the body.
- Proper breathing (pranayama): Breathing exercises are called pranayamas, which means to control the prana. The word prana means vital force or life-giving force. Yogis believe that the art of correct breathing is vital for good health. Most people breathe in a shallow fashion, using only a part of their lung capacity. Pranayama teaches you to regulate and become aware of the length and duration of your inhalations and exhalations. All breathing exercises are performed sitting down, keeping the spine, neck and the head in a straight line. You are taught to breathe from your diaphragm, thus increasing your lung capacity which, in turn, sends more oxygen to all parts of your body.
- Proper relaxation (savasana): The stresses of modern living keep most of us in a constant state of physical and mental tension. Complete and proper relaxation recharges our bodies, and regulates the functioning of the body and mind. Practicing savasana, or the aptly termed ‘corpse pose’, helps to revitalise the nervous system, making you feel relaxed and refreshed.
- Proper diet: What we eat affects not only our bodies but our minds as well. Yogis recommend a vegetarian diet consisting of pure, simple natural foods that are easily digested. Vegetarian foods are said to calm the mind and sharpen the intellect. A proper diet also means eating in moderation and eating only when one is hungry.
- Meditation (dhyana): Meditation is the act of concentrating your mind on either an object or inwards on your own thoughts or on a mantra. By concentrating the mind, you not only relax your body and mind, but also sharpen your thinking. Swami Vishnu-devananda says: “By turning the mind's concentration inward, upon the self, we can deepen that experience of perfect concentration. This is the state of Meditation.”
References and Useful Websites
- Meditation (Dhyana)
- The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, by Swami Vishnu-devananda; Three Rivers Press, April 18, 1995
- The Sivananda Companion Book of Yoga, by the Sivananda Yoga Centres