Proper Exercise, Proper Breathing, Proper Relaxation, Proper Diet, Positive Thinking & Meditation
Swami Vishnudevananda was known for his contemporary style of teaching the philosophy and practice of yoga. It was because of his modern style of teaching that people in the West could embrace the ancient practice of yoga.
Keeping in mind the lifestyle needs of the modern men and women, Swamiji synthesized the ancient wisdom of yoga into five basic principles, namely:
1.Proper Exercise – Āsana
2.Proper Breathing – Prāṇāyāma
3.Proper Relaxation – Śavāsana
4.Proper Diet – Vegetarian
5.Positive Thinking & Meditation – Vedānta & Dhyāna
These points promote radiant health and create a harmonious lifestyle. The courses and programs at the Sivananda centres and ashrams across the world are based on these five points.
Swami Vishnudevananda gives the analogy of an automobile to explain these points where the body is compared to a car which requires lubrication (Proper Exercise), the battery (Proper Breathing), the radiator (Proper Relaxation), fuel (Proper Diet) and a responsible driver (Positive Thinking & Meditation).
Proper Exercise – Āsana
Just like a car requires lubrication, so do the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons in our body. Regular practice of āsana (yoga posture) increases flexibility and benefits all the body systems by increasing circulation.
A yoga posture is meant to be performed slowly and consciously and held for a period of time.
The yoga āsanas provide physical as well as mental benefits.
By focussing on the health of the spine, these postures ensure the overall well-being of the body.
As yoga postures are practiced with conscious breathing, relaxation and awareness, they help to develop mental control and concentration.
Proper Breathing – Prāṇāyāma
Proper breathing connects the body to its battery, the Solar Plexus where tremendous potential energy is stored. This energy is released for physical and mental rejuvenation through specific yoga breathing techniques.
Yogic breathing practices are called prāṇāyāma which means to control the prāṇā or the subtle energy in the body. Control of prāṇā leads to control of the mind.
Most people are shallow breathers and they suffer from lack of oxygen which results in fatigue and low levels of energy. Prāṇāyāma boosts energy levels through the conscious regulation of breath.
Proper Relaxation – Śavāsana
Proper relaxation does for the body what the radiator does for the car.
Just as heat needs to be reduced from the car engine, the effects of stress need to be released from the body and mind.
When continually over-worked, the efficiency of the body and mind diminishes. Relaxation is recharging of the body and mind to keep them functioning at an optimum level.
In yoga, three levels of relaxation are considered:
Physical relaxation: Attained by the process of auto-suggestion whereby attention is brought to individual body parts to consciously relax them.
Mental relaxation: By focussing on the breath, slowly the mind becomes calm.
Spiritual relaxation: To transcend all tensions and worries, one goes beyond the mind to experience the inner silence.
Śavāsana (corpse pose) implies complete relaxation of body, mind and soul.
Proper Diet – Vegetarian
Proper diet provides fuel for the body. The yogic diet is a lacto-vegetarian one consisting of pure, simple, natural, non-processed foods which are easily digested and promote good health. Processing, refining and over-cooking destroy the nutritional value of food.
A yogic diet considers the subtle effects of food on the mind. Food that calms the mind is incorporated in the diet and food that dulls or stimulates the mind is avoided.
Vegetarian diet is also an expression of ahimsa (non-violence), an important precept to follow for evolution to higher levels of consciousness.
The yogic attitude towards food is “eat to live, not live to eat”; to eat with consideration of oneself and of the planet as a whole.
Positive Thinking & Meditation – Vedānta & Dhyāna
Just as a responsible driver is needed to control the car, positive thinking and meditation is needed to control the mind.
A positive outlook on life can be developed by learning and practicing the teachings of the philosophy of Vedānta (the end of knowledge, a description of the ultimate nature of the Truth). Regular practice of meditation brings the mind under perfect control. It purifies the intellect and the lower nature is brought under conscious control.
By transcending the mind, meditation ultimately brings about a state of lasting happiness and absolute peace.
Swami Sitaramananda talks about the five points of yoga in this video.