Sivananda yoga

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Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres (SYVC)
FounderSwami Vishnudevananda
Practice emphases
Pranayama, asanas, relaxation, diet, vedanta philosophy, and meditation
Related schools

Sivananda Yoga is a spiritual yoga system founded by Vishnudevananda; it includes the use of asanas (yoga postures) but is not limited to them as in systems of yoga as exercise. He named this system, as well as the international Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres organization responsible for propagating its teachings, after his guru, Sivananda[1] with the mission 'to spread the teachings of yoga and the message of world peace'[1] which has since been refined to 'practice and teach the ancient yogic knowledge for health, peace, unity in diversity and self-realization.'[2]

Some other yoga organizations follow Sivananda's teachings, including the Divine Life Society, Bihar School of Yoga, Integral Yoga (Satchidananda) and the Chinmaya Mission, but use different names for their yoga systems. Sivananda Yoga is the yoga system of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre organization and is based on Sivananda's teachings to synthesize the principles of the four paths of yoga (Yoga of Synthesis) along with the five points of yoga compiled by Vishnudevananda.[3] The four classical paths of yoga consist of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.[4] These are Proper Exercise (āsana), Proper Breathing (prāṇāyāma), Proper Relaxation (śavāsana), Proper Diet and Positive Thinking (vedānta) and Meditation (dhyāna).[5]

Starting in 2019, the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres have dealt with widespread allegations of sexual abuse and rape by its founder Vishnudevananda and at least one other high-level leader of the organization.[6][7]


Karma Yoga[edit]

Sivananda Yoga, and the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre organization that propagates its teachings, is run on the principles of selfless service, or karma yoga.[8] The core belief in the need for volunteer workers propagated by the Sivananda Yoga tradition is that serving others is an essential practice to open the heart, as it diminishes selfishness and egoism, and brings practitioners closer to understanding the unity underlying all of creation.[8] This practice of emphasizing the importance of selfless service was inherited from the teachings on karma yoga by Swami Sivananda.[9]

Growing from Hierarchy into 'Unity in Diversity'[edit]

Swami Vishnudevananda was the head of all operations of Sivananda Yoga and the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre since its being established in 1959 until shortly before his death in 1993, when he assigned the responsibility of spreading the Sivananda Yoga teachings to an executive board of loyal disciples. The executive board now includes eight yoga acharyas, a term that means 'spiritual teacher'. Like many spiritual teachers, these acharyas are referred to by their spiritual names given to them as part of this particular tradition rather than the given names provided to them at birth.[10]


The Divine Life Society's Sivananda Temple at Muni Ki Reti, Rishikesh

Swami Sivananda established the first Sivananda Ashram in 1932. His mission was to serve humanity by sharing his deep understanding of yoga, and in 1936, he founded the Divine Life Society to publish and freely distribute spiritual material. To make the teachings more accessible, he developed the Yoga of Synthesis, a combination of the formal doctrines of yoga – the four paths of yoga – that he summarized as follows: 'Serve. Love. Give. Purify. Meditate. Realize.'[1]

Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh followed Swami Vivekananda's vision of yoga as having four parts, but asanas became more important in his teaching. In 1959, one of his main pupils, Swami Vishnudevananda, was sent to set to the West to continue these teachings.[1] The Sivananda asana program had "a profound effect"[11] on the development of modern yoga as exercise, which strongly emphasizes asanas.[12] Another of Sivananda's pupils, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founded the influential Bihar School of Yoga in 1964.[12]

Allegations of sexual abuse and rape of female followers by Vishnudevananda started to become public in 2019 when his assistant Julie Salter posted her testimony about sexual abuse committed against her by the guru to Facebook on 10 December 2019.[13] Since then, other followers have come forward with similar accounts.[14]


Five points of yoga[edit]

The Sivananda Yoga training system aims to teach an authentically Vedic system of yoga and believes that retaining the vitality of the body is a byproduct of the discipline and not the goal. The system philosophies are summarised in Vishnudevananda's 5 principles:[15]

  • Proper exercise: āsanas[15][16] Enhances the flexibility of the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments and stimulates circulation. Flexibility and strength of the spine keep the body youthful.[8]
  • Proper breathing: prāṇāyāma[15][17] Connects the body to the solar plexus, which is considered a storehouse of energy. Stress and depression can be overcome by breathing more deeply with increased awareness.[8]
  • Proper relaxation: śavāsana[15][18] Relieves the body of existing stress symptoms (including muscle tension and breathlessness) and also helps develop resistance against external stress factors. Once body and mind are freed from constant overload they are at ease and perform more efficiently.[8]
  • Proper diet: vegetarian, including fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and milk.[15] Such foods are sattvic. Less suitable are rajasic foods like spices, fish, or stimulants such as tea, coffee, and chocolate; and tamasic foods like meat, alcohol, onions, and vinegar.[19]
  • Positive thinking and meditation: vedānta and dhyāna[15][20] Eliminates negative thought patterns and provides an experience of inner peace by controlling the mind through meditation. Sivananda Yoga considers this to be the key to peace of mind.[8]

Twelve basic asanas[edit]

Sivananda Yoga identifies a group of twelve āsanas as basic.[21] Emphasis is on mastering these twelve basic āsanas first, from which variations are then added to further deepen into the practice. The twelve asanas in the Sivananda Yoga system follow a precise order, allowing for a systematic balanced engagement of every major part of the body - with the primary intention being to allow the prana, or life force energy, to circulate more freely.[22]

A session of hatha yoga typically starts with practitioners resting in śavāsana, continuing onto prāṇāyāma (breathing exercises) kapalabhati and anuloma viloma, followed by 6-8 rounds of sūrya namaskār, before the standard program of the 12 basic āsanas. A hatha yoga session averages between 90–120 minutes.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d "Sivananda Lineage and Vision". Inspirasï. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Sivananda Yoga". Inspirasï. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Teachings – Sivananda". International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  4. ^ Swami, Vishnudevananda (1978). Meditation and Mantras. New York: OM Lotus Publishing. ISBN 978-0-931546-01-3. OCLC 5166096.
  5. ^ Yoga Mind & Body. Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre (London, England) (New ed.). London: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. ISBN 978-1405315333. OCLC 456830658.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ "The Documentary Podcast, Guru: Living a lie". BBC World Service. 15 June 2021.
  7. ^ "Missbrauchsvorwürfe in der Yoga-Szene" [Allegations of abuse in the yoga scene] (in German). 5 November 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f SivaOmAdmin. "International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres". International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  9. ^ "Karma Yoga". Divine Life Society. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  10. ^ SivaOmAdmin (10 February 2019). "Executive Board". Sivananda International. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  11. ^ Singleton, Mark (2010). Yoga Body: the origins of modern posture practice. Oxford University Press. pp. 104, 135–137, 152, 216, 219. ISBN 978-0-19-539534-1. OCLC 318191988.
  12. ^ a b Strauss, Sarah (2005). Positioning Yoga: balancing acts across cultures. Oxford and New York: Berg. pp. 97–100. ISBN 978-1-85973-739-2. OCLC 290552174.
  13. ^ Salter, Julie (10 December 2019). "Julie Salter". Facebook.
  14. ^ Kaur, Ishleen (15 June 2021). Guru: Living a lie (Podcast). Guru: Yoga - Power - Abuse. BBC. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  15. ^ a b c d e f "What is Yoga?". International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  16. ^ "La signification et les effets des Asanas et des Pranayamas - Le langage du corps".
  17. ^ "What is Pranayama?". Yoga: Magazine of the Bihar School of Yoga.
  18. ^ "All about Yoga: What is Savasana?". Spirit Voyage. 5 June 2012.
  19. ^ Lidell 1983, pp. 80–85.
  20. ^ Frawley, David (2000). "Introduction to Vedanta". Vedantic Meditation. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1556433344.
  21. ^ "The 12 Basic Asanas". Sivananda London Yoga Vedanta Centre. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  22. ^ "12 Basic Asanas | Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch | Yoga | New York". Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  23. ^ Lidell 1983, pp. 29–31, 66–67.

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