Swami Vishnu-Devananda condensed the essence of the yoga teachings into five principles for physical and mental health as well as spiritual growth. These are the core teachings of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and Ashrams.
Our physical body is meant to move and exercise. If our lifestyle does not provide natural motion of muscles and joints, then disease and great discomfort will ensue with time. Proper exercise should be pleasant to the practitioner while beneficial to the body, mind and spiritual life.
There are numerous modern physical culture systems designed to develop the muscles through mechanical movements and exercises. As Yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul on its journey towards perfection, Yogic physical exercises are designed to develop not only the body. They also broaden the mental faculties and the spiritual capacities.
The Yogic physical exercises are called Asanas, a term which means steady pose. This is because the Yoga Asana (or posture) is meant to be held for some time. However this is quite an advanced practice. Initially, our concern is simply to increase body flexibility.
The body is as young as it is flexible. Yoga exercises focus on the health of the spine, its strength and flexibility. The spinal column houses the all-important nervous system, the telegraphic system of the body. By maintaining the spine’s flexibility and strength through exercise, circulation is increased and the nerves are ensured their supply of nutrients and oxygen. The Asanas also affect the internal organs and the endocrine system (glands and hormones).
Swami Vishnudevananda recommended daily practice of the 12 Basic Asanas. Traditionally, Yogis practice Surya Namaskar, the sun salutation, before the Asanas.
Asana is one of the eight limbs of classical Yoga, which states that poses should be steady and comfortable, firm yet relaxed helping a practitioner to become more aware of their body, mind, and environment.
The 12 basic poses or asanas are much more than just stretching. They open the energy channels, chakras and psychic centers of the body while increasing flexibility of the spine, strengthening bones and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems. Along with proper breathing or pranayama, asanas also calm the mind and reduce stress. With regular practice one can ensure overall physical and mental health and the possible prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis. In time, performing the poses slowly and consciously, becomes a mental exercise in concentration and meditation.
Find out how to do the Sun Salutations & Asanas:
9. Half spinal twist – ARDHA MATSYENDRASANA