Anyone who has stepped foot in a yoga studio understands that the practice of yoga is a lot more than just exercises. But with so much information about yoga as a spiritual discipline and way-of-life, the whole thing can get pretty confusing. Even the yamas and niyamas can seem overwhelming.
The best, and most simple guidelines I have received come from the Sivananda Yoga and Vedanta Center. They are easy to understand and realistic to incorporate into your life.
According to Swami Sivananda, following a yogic lifestyle requires five basic principles:
1. Proper Exercise
There is no denying that regular exercise is good for you. Swami is referring to proper exercise here as the practice of yoga asanas. He insists that everything your body needs can be gained by a consistent, well-balanced asana practice.
As opposed to other forms of exercise like running or weight training, yoga is a total body workout. It strengthens the body, improves circulation, helps with flexibility, and stimulates the endocrine system. Regular exercise keeps the immune system healthy, relieves stress, and improves sleep. Work on the cardiovascular system improves the effectiveness and efficiency of the heart muscle, reduces blood pressure, and improves circulation to the entire body.
Practice your yoga postures every day!
2. Proper Breathing
This refers to pranayama practice. Control of prana, or energy, is obtained through the practice of breath control. Exercises like Anuloma Viloma (alternate nostril breathing) and Kapalabhati (breath of fire) stimulate the nervous system, detoxifies the cardiorespiratory system (through the elimination of gaseous waste), and conditions us to maintain a calm and steady breath during times of physical or emotional stress.
When the breath is calm, the mind is calm.
3. Proper Relaxation
Proper relaxation refers to both efficient and adequate sleep, and relaxation between asanas in the form of Savasana.
The capability to relax the body in a supine position while maintaining consciousness resets the internal equilibrium (homeostasis). When Savasana is practiced during asana class and the body is able to relax, it can heal and repair itself more effectively.
Proper balance in the body throughout the day by maintaining a well-planned schedule, time for healthy meals, and daily asana practice sets you up for adequate rest at night. Being able to fall asleep quickly, stay asleep throughout the night, and awaken refreshed takes practice and planning.
People tend to take sleep for granted, pushing limits throughout the day by ingesting caffeine in the afternoon or evening, eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime, and not allowing enough time for the brain and body to wind down before turning in for the night. Then they wonder why their sleep is restless and the mind is busy.
Proper relaxation is a staple, not a luxury.
4. Proper Diet
The most fundamental ingredient behind this principle is simply choosing foods that are Sattvic.
What are Sattvic foods? They are bland (not overly spicy or fattening), whole (not processed or pre-packaged), fresh (think garden), and plant-based. They are also in moderate quantities, and limited to 2-3 meals a day. The proper yogic diet is meant to sustain the body and mind without emotional eating, binging, or giving into cravings.
5. Self-Study (or Inquiry) and Positive Thinking
By asking questions, we seek to find the truth.
Swami Sivananda encouraged his students to never stop asking questions, to continue seeking answers to better understand ourselves and the world around us. Learning this fundamental truth brings us compassion towards all beings, awareness about our environment, and a continued longing for peace and understanding.
Positive thinking in this regard is of utmost concern. Always seek the truth with a positive attitude, bringing joy to others through kind words and actions. What good is learning if it brings suffering? Have a good sense of humor, be child-like (not child-ish), and smile to all you see.
Do you follow Swami Sivananda's teachings? Share with us what you've learned!