“Yoga is a life of self discipline built upon the tenets of simple living and high thinking.  If you follow these five points of yoga, which compose a true holistic approach to our whole system of body, mind and soul, you will gain strength and balance in this demanding stressful world.  Obstacles become stepping stones to success, and life is a school for the development of character and compassion and the Realization of the Divine all-pervading-Self” Swami Vishnudevananda

By closely observing the lifestyles and needs of people in our modern world, Swami Vishnudevananda synthesized the ancient wisdom of Yoga into 5 basic points which can easily be incorporated into your own pattern of living, to provide a long, healthy and happy life.

The five points of Yoga are:

  1. Proper Exercise
  2. Proper Breathing
  3. Proper Relaxation
  4. Proper Diet
  5. Positive Thinking and Meditation

The body is a vehicle for the soul, and has specific requirements which must be fulfilled for it to function smoothly and supply the optimum mileage. The body can be compared to a car, metaphorically. In order for the car to perform its function, it requires five things: a lubrication system, a battery, a cooling system, proper fuel, and a clear mind and responsible driver behind the wheel.

1. Proper Exercise – Āsana

The physical yogic exercises are called āsanas, a term which means steady pose. This is because the yoga āsana (or posture) is meant to be held for some time. As Yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul on its journey towards total alignment, āsanas are designed to develop not only the body but to also broaden the mental and spiritual capacities.

Basic Philosophy

Our body is meant to move and exercise. If our lifestyle does not provide natural motion of muscles and joints, then disease and discomfort have all the more opportunity to arise. Perhaps a bit contrary to what we have been taught in the West for years (“no pain, no gain”), Yoga is a philosophy that teaches the principles of going with life – including how we exercise. According to Swami Vishnudevananda, proper exercise is actually of the idea: “no pain, no pain”. By practicing the yoga postures not as mere calisthenics, but with awareness of the muscles used, of the breathing, of the relaxation – the mind learns to become detached from the senses little by little and the body strengthens in balance.

Health Benefits

The body is as young as it is flexible. Yoga exercises focus on the health of the spine, its strength and flexibility. The yoga system of exercise can be compared to no other in its complete overhaul of the entire being. Performed slowly and consciously, the asanas go far beyond mere physical benefits, becoming mental exercises in concentration and meditation.

Daily Practice

Swami Vishnudevananda, the founder of Sivananda Yoga, recommended daily practice of the 12 Basic Āsanas for optimal health. Traditionally our practice begins with Sūrya Namaskār, the sun salutation, and leg raises before the āsana practice, and includes proper relaxation, or Śavāsana, throughout and and at to complete the class so that we assimilate the benefits we receive during our practice.

2. Proper breathing – Prāṇāyāma

Prāṇāyāma, the science of breath control, consists of a series of exercises especially intended to keep the body and mind in vibrant health.

Introduction

Breath is life. We can live for days without food or water but deprive us of breath and we die in minutes. In view of this, it is astonishing how little attention we pay in normal life to the importance of breathing correctly. To a Yogi there are two main functions of proper breathing: to bring more oxygen to the blood and thus to the brain; and to control prāṇa or vital energy, leading to the control of the mind.

There are three main types of breathing: abdominal (deep), chest (middle), and clavicular (shallow) breathing. A full Yogic breath combines all three, beginning with a deep breath and continuing the inhalation through the intercostal and clavicular areas. Deep abdominal breathing is essential for ventilating the major part of the lungs.

Full Yogic Breath

1.     Clavicular breathing

The shoulders and collarbone are raised while the abdomen is contracted during inhalation. Maximum effort is made, but a minimum amount of air is obtained. This technique is how the majority of us naturally breathe. It is the shallowest and least effective component of the full Yogic breath.

2.      Chest breathing

This technique is done with the rib muscles expanding the rib cage, and is the second component of the full Yogic breath.

3.      Deep abdominal breathing

Breathing is slow and deep, and proper use is made of the diaphragm. This technique is the most effective aspect of a full Yogic breath, for it brings air to the lowest and largest part of the lungs.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Anuloma Viloma, or Alternate Nostril Breathing, is one of the main forms of Prāṇāyāma, or breath control. Literally meaning “control of prāṇa”, Prāṇāyāma consists of specific breathing techniques that encourage the absorption of prāṇa into the body’s subtle energy channels (nāḍīs) and energy centers (cakras), enhancing overall vitality and well-being.

Alternate Nostril Breathing corrects many negative breathing habits, as well as helping us to balance how we use the two sides of our brain – the logical left side and the creative right side. Research has shown that there is a connection between this and the airflow in our nostrils: when the right nostril is more open, the left brain hemisphere is more active, and vice versa.

Kapalabhati

If beginning outside an ashram or not under observed guidance, it is recommended that you start this exercise only after practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing for one or two months. This is because with many people it takes quite a time to get the diaphragm to move in a proper way during breathing.

In Sanskrit, kapala means ‘skull’ and bhati means ‘shines’. Therefore the term Kapalabhati means an exercise that makes the skull shine. It is considered to be so cleansing to the entire system that, when practiced on a regular basis, the face shines with good health and radiance.

3. Proper relaxation – Śavāsana

In our increasingly interconnected world, many of us are finding it more and more difficult to be in our natural state of feeling truly relaxed. Even while surfing the web, watching tv, reading a good book, socializing with friends – many of us are still expending a great deal of physical and mental energy simply through our ever-running underlying tension – constantly keeping our muscles on some level of “alert”.

In order for us to properly regulate and balance the work of the body and mind, the great Yogis teach that we need to learn to economize the energy produced by our body. We use three methods to help assimilate this process: “Physical”, “Mental”, and “Spiritual” relaxation. While each stage is very rewarding, the great Yogis say that relaxation is not fully realized until we experience that space of spiritual relaxation, a state that becomes more and more present with each day of practice.

  1. Physical Relaxation

Relaxation in the Sivananda tradition begins with our diet, but because that involves more of our habits and tendencies (a more challenging aspect for us to initially influence) we will leave that for the next step in the Five Points of Yoga. In this section we are going to focus on learning how it is we go about experiencing relaxation through our āsana practice.

In our āsana practice, the physical relaxation practice begins with our lying down in a corpse pose, with arms and legs both spread apart roughly 30 degrees from our body. We are not trying to do or to be anything, we are not trying to be anywhere but where we are… allowing ourselves to fully relax… Feeling the earth beneath us.. As we ground into our experience, we subconsciously are beginning to let the tension go. As we engage this process of letting go, the yoga class instructor enrolls a mental autosuggestion. We use the power of the subtle mind to help us in this process of relaxing our tightened muscles. The autosuggestion passes through the muscles all the way from our toes to our head. Then, slowly, messages are sent to the kidneys, liver and the other internal organs.

  1. Mental Relaxation

When experiencing mental tension, it is advisable for us to breathe slowly and rhythmically for a few minutes. Soon the mind will become calm. You may experience a kind of floating sensation. If you have a personal mantra, gently begin repeating it to yourself. If you do not have a personal mantra, you can repeat the mantra “om” as you visualize the light rising within. Mantra and breath work are a fundamental component of mental relaxation.

  1. Spiritual Relaxation

However much we may try to relax the mind, all tensions and worries cannot be completely removed until we reach spiritual relaxation. As long as we unconsciously choose to identify with the body and mind, we will have worries, sorrows, anxieties, fear, and anger. These emotions, in turn, will continue to bring us tension.

Yogis know that unless a person can withdraw from the body-mind idea and separate herself (or himself) from the ego-consciousness, there is no way of obtaining complete relaxation. Instead the Yogi identifies with the all-pervading, all-powerful, all-peaceful and joyful Self, or pure consciousness within. The Yogi knows that the source of all power, knowledge, peace and strength is in the Self, and not solely in the body. We gradually tune into this by training our thoughts to subconsciously assert our real nature, that is: “I am that pure consciousness or Self”. With this identification with the Self, we complete the process of Yogic relaxation.

4. Proper Diet – Yogic Diet

Besides being responsible for building our physical body, the foods we eat profoundly affect our mind, our senses, as well as our environment. Today, let us begin by getting familiar with the fundamentals.

Yogic Diet

The Yogic diet is a lacto-vegetarian one, consisting of pure, simple, natural foods which are easily digested and promote good health. Simple meals aid the digestion and assimilation of foods. On the counter-side, processing, refining and overcooking often destroys much of the nutritional benefits. Nutritional requirements fall under five categories: protein, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins. We should have a certain knowledge of dietetics in order to balance the diet. Eating foods first-hand from nature, grown in fertile soil (preferably organic, free from chemicals and pesticides) helps ensure a better supply of these nutritional needs.

Nutritionally Beneficial

Yoga professes that the sun is the source of energy for all life on our planet; it nourishes the plants (the top of the food chain) which are then eaten by animals (vegetarian), which are then eaten by other animals (carnivores). The food at the top of the food chain, being directly nourished by the sun, has the greatest life promoting properties. The food value of animal flesh is termed as a “second-hand” source of nutrition, and is considered inferior to what they call natural sources of food. These natural foods (fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains) have, in varying quantities, different proportions of these essential nutrients. As source of protein, these are easily assimilated by the body. However, Yogis share that second-hand sources are often more difficult to digest and are of less value to the body’s metabolism.

Enough Protein?

The short answer is yes. Though people often worry about whether they are getting enough protein in their daily intake, Swami Vishnu teaches that the quality of the protein is far more important than the quantity alone. Dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds are a great source of protein and provide the vegetarian with more than an adequate supply.

Simple, Natural, Fresh

A healthy motto is: “Eat to live, not live to eat”. It is best if we understand that the purpose of eating is to supply our being with the life-force, or Prāṇa, the vital life energy. So the greatest nutritional plan for the Yoga student is the simple diet of natural fresh foods.

Subtle Effects

As Yogis, we give attention to the subtle effect that food has on our mind and astral body. We therefore avoid foods which are overly stimulating, preferring those which render the mind calm and the intellect sharp. One who seriously takes to the path of Yoga would also avoid ingesting meats, fish, eggs, onions, garlic, coffee, tea (except herbal), alcohol and drugs.

Of course any change in diet should be made gradually. Start by substituting larger portions of vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts until finally all flesh products have been completely eliminated from the diet.

Many Benefits

The Yogic diet helps us attain a high standard of health, keen intellect and serenity of mind. To really understand the Yogic approach to diet we have to become more familiar with the concept of the 3 Guṇas, or qualities of nature.

5. Positive thinking & Meditation – Vedānta & Dhyāna

According to Swami Vishnudevananda, Vedānta & Dhyāna (Positive Thinking and Meditation) is the most important of all the 5 Points of Yoga, for we become what we think. Yoga teaches us that a positive outlook on life can be developed by learning and practicing the teachings of the philosophy of Vedānta; and the mind will be brought under perfect control by regular practice of meditation and living a Yogic lifestyle.

What is Thought?

We have waves of heat, light and electricity in science – in Yoga we also have thought waves. Thought has tremendous power. Everybody is always experiencing the power of thought unconsciously to a greater or lesser degree. Every thought that we send out is a vibration which never perishes.

Yoga – A Transformative Power

We must be very watchful in nipping non-positive thoughts in the bud. Only then will we be truly happy. A spiritual thought has yellow color. A thought charged with anger and hatred is of a dark red color; a selfish thought has a brown color and so on. Each thought is a link in an endless chain of causes and effects, each effect becoming a cause and each cause having been an effect; and each link in the endless chain is welded out of three components: desire, thought and activity. A desire stimulates a thought; a thought embodies itself as an act. Our actions constitute the web of destiny.

Yoga – Living in Action

A positive Yogic lifestyle automatically generates positive thoughts. Āsanas help move the prāṇa and remove mental blockages. Prāṇāyāma balances energy and supplies new energy to the body and mind. Śavāsana removes stress. Proper diet provides vital energy and meditation recharges and purifies thoughts.

Everyone has the power to transform his or her thoughts from the negative to the positive. As thought is immediate, one needs to master these different thought tools at our disposal as a negative thought becomes more serious over time, by the power of repetition. There are methods offered through all paths of Yoga – Rājā, Karma, Bhakti and Jñāna – there are methods for whatever path suits one best. If this topic is of deep interest to you, perhaps consider enrolling in the Teachers Training Course, for you will find it incredible. For now we will summarize by offering this brief introduction and will continue with a few points to remember regarding meditation and learning to control the mind.

7 Points of Meditation

  1. Sit in a steady, comfortable, cross-legged position with spine and neck erect but not tense.
  2. Before beginning, command the mind to be quiet for a specific length of time. Forget the past, present and future.
  3. Breathe in a rhythmic nature – inhale for three seconds and exhale for three seconds. Regulation of breath also regulates the flow of prāṇa, the vital energy.
  4. Allow the mind to wander at first. It will jump around, but will eventually become concentrated, along with the concentration of prāṇa.
  5. Select a focal point on which the mind may rest. For people who are intellectual by nature, this may be the Ājñā Chakra, the point between the eyebrows. For more emotional people, use the Anāhata or Heart Chakra. Never change this focal point.
  6. Focus on a neutral or uplifting object, holding the image in the place of concentration. If using a Mantra, repeat it mentally, and co-ordinate repetition with the breath. If you don’t have a personalized Mantra, use Om. Never change the Mantra.
  7. Regularity of time, place and practice are important. Regularity conditions the mind to slow down its activities with a minimum of delay.

The original source was published here.

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