Sivananda: The Universal Practice

Sivananda yoga is a practice close to my heart because it was my first self-practice and took me on a big journey of self-growth. Most of my classes now take principles from Sivananda and I’m still very inspired and connected to the practice.

Sivananda is a style of Hatha yoga – single postures in isolation. Swami Sivananda was a doctor in India and he saw a gap in medicine for optimal health, so he created this sequence of 2 pranayama (breathing exercises) followed by 12 poses for the health of the mind and body.

Why is Sivananda yoga a great self-practice?

Sivananda is a set sequence and when beginning a self-practice the body and mind need repetition and familiarity. It helps to create a routine and practice at the same time of the day. You are more likely to see depth in poses and your body responding from repetition. It removes the obstacle and internal dialog of ‘what should I practice today’ so your mind can be introspective. You will notice the days when your mind is quiet and when it is moving, naturally increasing your self-awareness.

The poses are accessible for all levels – and where needed the sequence can be condensed to suit your ability. It’s not an intimidating practice.

Sivananda removes the fluff of other practices and the 12 poses cover the key poses in yoga, if you master these you have a solid foundation of flexibility and strength through the whole body.

The full traditional practice includes chanting and pranayama (breathing techniques). It’s a holistic practice that introduces the concept of yoga beyond just poses. As a beginner the breathing exercises can be simplified and developed over time.

What are the benefits?

Relaxation: There are multiple Savasanas (periods of relaxation), the full sequence should leave you feeling calm and relaxed. Sivananda has moments of exertion where the heart rate increases followed by moments of stillness where you can observe the effects on your body from the poses. It allows us to practice being quiet with ourselves and the discipline of not rushing through the practice.

Improves back flexibility, strength and posture: The specific order of the poses promotes strength and flexibility in the spine. This will improve your posture and health of the nervous system – which is connected to the health of the brain, whole body and mind. Most of us don’t have a lifestyle that is conducive to a good posture, this is a great practice to keep through all stages of your life so you can age feeling mobile.

Grounding: There is an epidemic of anxiety in western culture, more than ever we need to ground down to balance this heightened feeling of anxiety.

Why is the sequence grounding?

Energy: There are many poses that are close to the ground: the multiple savasanas slow down the practice and slow us down. The earth’s telluric energy grounds us down.

Ha-tha yoga is the balancing of the Ha (male, solar, active, positive) and Tha (female, lunar, passive, negative). Telluric energy is more negative and its important to have this grounding passive element to the practice. As a student I notice many modern Vinyasa classes don’t feel balanced in this way – the majority of the class is a fast paced standing flow. A practice with both dynamic and passive elements will create a feeling of balance.

Chakras: The sequence has been defined to move through the chakras from the Crown Chakra (at the crown of the head) to the Root Chakra (at the base of the spine) bringing the energy down. This is unusual and the reverse structure of many yoga styles.

The root chakra is associated with feeling grounded, connected to the earth, secure, safe, and believing the world will provide for us. Ending the class with a single standing posture signifies our connection to the earth. Strengthening the legs that eventually will create a feeling of stability in the pose.

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