There are Different Yogas?!?
Oh yeah! Many different yogas exist. To avoid any confusion it's best to define what we mean by yogas. Yoga means union and refers to a mystical state where one is experiencing perfect merging of the individual consciousness (Jivaatman) with the Cosmic Consciousness (Paramatman). It defines the goal of spirituality. But yoga also refers to any technique bringing the practitioner to that goal.
Yogas as Paths
God is one but names are many. Truth is one but paths are many. Swami Vishnu-devananda
Truthfully there are at least thousands of such yoga techniques. They can be practiced individually or in combination. These yogas have been classified into four paths or margas. Some examples of these yogas are dhyana yoga (meditation), hatha yoga (physical and energetic path through postures, breathing, etc.), karma yoga (yoga of action), and japa yoga (repetition o a mantra)
Yogas as Traditions or Schools
The tradition of yoga is at least several thousand years old and has been transmitted through the millenia via the system of direct transmission from a guru (teacher and master) to a student. The succession of a given line of teacher to student to student is called a Guruparampara. Throughout India countless such lineages exist, all presenting a different mix of practices, theoretical teachings and philosophies.
Since the 20th century the world has associated the word yoga with the wonderful practice called hatha yoga. Different systems have evolved into different traditions and for the sake of simplicity they have been labeled as Iyengar yoga, ashtanga yoga, Sivananda yoga, etc.
So What is Sivananda Yoga Then?
It refers to yoga as taught by the great Master Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. Sivananda yoga is somewhat of a misnomer because Swami Sivananda never intended to create a new brand of yoga and because he did not invent anything new.
He was an incredible Master resulting in a great number of followers from all around the world but also, and this is very unusual, a few dozens of his close disciples became advanced masters and gurus themselves. Many of them are listed in the dedication page of the excellent book 'Meditation & Mantras' by Swami Vishnu-devananda. These Yogis went all around the world spreading the teachings.
Sivananda Yoga as Hatha Yoga
When most folks talk about Sivananda Yoga they mean the typical yoga class involving 12 basic postures, two breathing exercises, and a deep final relaxation. The 12-posture sequence is also called the Rishikesh series as it originates in the region of that little town in the foothills of the Himalayas.
- Characteristics of Sivananda yoga also include:
- Mantra/prayers at beginning and end of yoga classes
- Longer holding of postures
- Pranayamas at the beginning or end of class
- An overall awareness and focus on breathing and the pranic dimensions of the practice
Sivananda Yoga as an Integral Path
Swami Sivananda was at once an orthodox and a revolutionary. His bold contributions - bold in those days, things we take for granted by now - include opening up yoga to the whole world by making English the official language in his ashram and in the writing of his 200+ books. He also liberally taught and initiated students of all castes, countries, and creeds - men and women alike.
If you could summarize his teachings and influence in a few words, they would be 'the revival of the yoga of synthesis'. Most paths and lineages tend to specialize in a limited number of practices belonging to one or two of the four paths. His genius was to recognize that all aspirants can benefit from a well-rounded daily sadhana containing jnana, bhakti, raja, and karma yoga while putting the most time and energy in their discipline of predilection.
Sivananda Yoga as an Organization
To make matters a tad more complicated Swami Vishu-devananda, out of devotion and respect to his Gurudev, named the organization that he setup in the 1960's "Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers" (SYVC). This has been one of the most visible groups representing the great Master. To anyone belonging to this group in any capacity 'Sivananda' or 'Sivananda Yoga' became synonymous with SYVC to the point that SYVC owns the copyright for the term!
Here I feel the need to mention a few Sivananda influenced groups which are also very significant.
First of all and most important is the Divine Life Society which is headquartered in Rishikesh. Swami Sivananda founded this group which has branches worldwide. Their web site offers free downloads of many of the books by Swami Sivananda in pdf or html formats. Other organizations include:
- Integral Yoga Institute founded by Swami Satchidananda
- Advaita Yoga Ashrama, owner of this web site and which is an offshoot of SYVC
- Yoga Vidya, extremely dynamic group based in Germany and founded by my beloved teacher Sukadev. These days I do a lot of my teaching there.
- Bihar School of Yoga founded by Swami Satyananda and run by Swami Niranjananda. Special mention to their books and publications. Outstanding in every way. To get you started feel free to try Yoga Nidra and Kundalini Tantra
- Keep in mind there are many, many more ...
I hope this short essay brought clarity to the subject and that it will contribute to the most important thing as far as your spiritual progress is concerned ...
An ounce of practice is worth tons of theory. Swami Sivananda