Swami Vishnudevanada came to the west in the 1960’s to help spread the power of Yoga after dedicating 10 years of study under the great Indian Saint, Sri Sivananda Maharaj. In order to help build the foundations of the profound practice of Yoga into the modern day life in North America, Swami Vishnu created the 5 Points of Yoga: Proper Exercise; Proper Breathing; Proper Relaxation; Proper Diet; Positive Thing & Meditation.
When we develop the habit of incorporating these basic foundations in our life, we lighten the weight of life we feel physically and mentally stepping into the freedom of authentic being. There is nothing more beautiful than tapping into our truest self, moving through experience with love and gratitude for the life we are living. Yoga is a way of being, our sadhana (practice) is carried out in every aspect of our lives, our thoughts, words and actions are shaped by our daily practices. We root ourselves on our Yoga and meditation mat and eventually our practice becomes our expression as we branch out into the world.
The following is a brief overview of the 5 points of Yoga. You can read more about these foundations in Swami Vishnu’s book “The Complete Illustrated Guide to Yoga”.
I am a firm believer in cardiovascular exercise, not only for keeping the heart and lungs strong and healthy, but also to help keep our body and mind invigorated. However, for the purpose of Yoga, ‘exercise’ is the practice of asana (postures) that aim to increase circulation and oxygen intake, lubricate joints, improve flexibility (especially the spine) and ultimately bring our mental activities and emotions under control.
When we gently move our bodies through the asanas, we develop strength through control, awareness by being present in our bodies and encourage energy flow through movement and stimulation. Whether or not we realize it or not, practicing asanas is a form of meditation. As we practice we increase our focus and awareness of our physical and mental bodies moving us deeper into our inner sense and feeling of peacefulness. This is why most people feel grounded yet light after an asana class.
If Yoga asana is not your thing, try Tai Chi, Qigong, dance or other martial arts that are considered ‘mind-body’ exercises working with co-ordinating the breath with movement and help focus the mind.
In Yoga, we practice breathing exercises called pranayama. In the Sivananda lineage, we begin to learn breath control and expansion by understanding the mechanics of the respiratory system and proper use of the diaphragm before moving forward to a focused practice of kapalabhati (cleansing and strengthening the lungs) and anuloma viloma (creating energetic equilibrium in the body).
Developing control and awareness of the breath not only enhances your physical performance (ask any athlete) but also plays a vital role in creating a focused and calm mind. There is a direct link between the breath and the mind: when the breath is steady and deep, the mind is calm and clear, when the breath is rapid, shallow and irregular, the mind is agitated and clouded. Check in to your own breath in different situations (relaxing reading a book verses running late for an important meeting) and you will begin to understand the dynamics of breath.
Developing a pranayama practice is one of the most valuable tools for overall wellbeing and crucial for the spiritual aspirant. The practice of anuloma viloma aims to purify the Nadis (energy channels) in the body, necessary for the energy of the kundalini to awaken and begin to flow through us. As we purify, we begin to live in greater clarity and focus, we feel healthier and more purposeful, more connected to the life energy around us. Even if you do not consider yourself a spiritual aspirant, you will still experience the life changing effects of pranayama.
You might be surprised at how little we actually relax. Even in our sleep, the tensions of the day follow us under the covers and continue to stimulate our body and mind through the night. Our minds are constantly engaged, whether it be from the enormous amount of media, computers, phones or to-do lists, thinking of the past or future, we are dealing with thousands of thoughts every second! This over stimulation can really reek havoc if we do not find a way to offer the body, mind and spirit time to rest.
The mind and body are closely linked to one another, thus the importance of learning to still the mind so the body can be relaxed. This is easier said then done, especially at the beginning, but like everything, it just takes practice. When trying to relax, allow the mind to rest in the breath, watching it as it flows through the nostrils, into the lungs and out again as it will help the mind focus on something other than random thoughts. Auto-suggestion (which is used in sivasana in most traditional based asana classes) is helpful in which you mentally repeat the suggestion of relaxation to various parts of the body working from your toes to your head. Repeat each part three times at it allows the suggestion to work into the sub-conscious, deepening the relaxation even more. If you would like to guided, Yoga Nidra is a great tool that guides the thoughts through total relaxation and penetrates deep into the subconscious.
We require food for two main purposes: to supply energy and repair cells. The timeless saying that “you are what you eat” stands in its literal sense. The Yogic diet consists of fresh, organic and whole vegetarian food that will supply the body with all the carbohydrates, protein, fat and minerals it requires for optimal performance. When we eat a properly, not only does our body perform well, but so does our mind. We feel light, energetic, clear and happy because we are fueling and repairing ourselves with natures bounty in it’s purest form… not processed with added sugar, chemicals, fillers, etc.
It is important to note that every person has a different physical and mental constitution that will require individual dietary needs, which is why working with a Nutritionist or Ayurvedic Practitioner is very helpful. A great place to start is becoming aware of the foods that you are eating, and work to increase the amount of fresh, organic, whole foods on your plate.
Positive Thinking & Meditation
The purpose of meditation is to be able to still the mind so we can see beyond the osculating waves of the mind and experience the well of truth. Swami Sivananda says “meditation is the only royal road to the attainment of freedom”, it offers the opportunity to quiet the minds constant chatter and settle into that peaceful space where we feel content and peaceful. A consistent practice of meditation yields many benefits both physically (ex. lowered blood pressure, improves immune system, energy levels and heart rate) and mentally (ex. increases mental strength, focus and memory, decreases anxiety, stress and depression). Daily meditation, even for 5 minutes begins to create a clearer mind that helps us move through our lives with greater ease and joy. Imagine flowing through stressful situations with more focus, being able to be present, listen, speak and to use your senses wisely instead of reacting emotionally… this is what happens when we make space between thoughts.
A great place to start a meditation practice is to take 5 minutes and sit comfortably, either cross legged or in a chair, just making sure that the spin is straight. Set a timer so you don’t have to look at your watch and close your eyes and take a few deep breaths and tell the body to relax. Just watch your breath as you inhale slowly through the nose, and exhale just as slowly… just watch, allow your focus to be on the breath. If the mind wanders (as it naturally will) just observe what the thought is then go back to the breath. Japa meditation is a great technique where you choose a mantra or word that means something to you and continue to repeat it mentally with each inhale and exhale. This is were the mala or rosary comes in as you move your thumb over one bead for each mantra repeated which really helps keep the mind focused.
Positive thinking is really the key to contentment, and it’s beyond positive or negative, it’s about acceptance.
The thoughts we have shape our perspective on life, they fuel our energy, effect our health and create the reality we live in. When we choose positive thoughts we make the space for more positive energy to enter our life, we invite abundance, radiate love and reduce stress and anxiety. When we choose negative thoughts, we only attract more of the same. However it really is more than just choosing positive over negative, it is learning to accept what is for what it is and moving forward the best that we can. We cannot change what has happened, but we can choose how we move though it.
Changing our thought patterns takes time, and it starts with being aware of our thoughts, thinking habits and how we are reacting both mentally and physically to a given situation. Once we gain this awareness, we can begin changing the patterns by substituting more positive thoughts for the negative and also by reflecting on how we are reacting. One of the greatest questions we can ask ourselves when working with our thoughts and actions is whether or not we are harming ourselves or others… and we might be surprised at how much harm we really are inflicting. It is important to understand that harmful thoughts and actions are really just conditioned responses we have developed from lifetimes of experience, societal influence, environment and are not our true nature. We are capable of changing them if we choose, we are able to choose joy over misery if we Will it.
When we develop a more loving and positive outlook on life, we begin to move through life more easily as we lessen our attachment to the changing tides of life and learn that the only thing we can truly control in life, is how we work with our own mind.
Love & Gratitude