Sivananda Yoga 101: All About The Vedantic Yoga School Based On Selfless Service

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*Disclaimer* This article features information about Swami Vishnudevananda. We firmly condemn his actions and see him as the abuser that he is. We stand with the victims and hope that our articles can shed light on the truth.

Sivananda Yoga is a style of yoga that was founded by Swami Vishnudevananda. It is a system of yoga postures or asanas and relaxation techniques that is encapsulated in a 90-minute class.

Vishnudevananda named the school and system of yoga after his guru Swami Sivananda. The teachings of Sivananda have been incredibly influential to other teachers and styles of modern yoga.

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

  • The Sivananda method: principles, asanas, benefits
  • Swami Sivananda
  • Swami Vishnudevananda & Abuse Allegations
class of yogis in modified triangle pose

What is Sivananda Yoga?

There are many types and styles of yoga, which range from Restorative to Rocket Yoga. Sivananda combines elements of Vinyasa Flow with Hatha Yoga to create a balanced approach to yoga.

Sivananda Yoga features a substantial amount of sun salutations which require you to take a breath with each movement. They generally feature in the warm-up section of the practice.

Sivananda Yoga is a fusion of movement and relaxation.

While the sun salutation element will get your heart rate up and your body moving, the more static postures, which are held for a longer period of time, encourage you to relax the body and the breath, making it a very balanced practice.

A long savasana and meditation are used to promote relaxation.

Five key principles of Sivananda Yoga

Sivananda yoga is a spiritual practice that draws on classical yoga to help the student to come to a place of self-realization. 

Sivananda practices combine yoga asana with pranayama, meditation, and relaxation as a way to gain control of the mind.

two yogis doing pranayama in a yoga class

Sivananda Yoga is an approach to living well which includes a healthy approach to vegetarian eating as well as positive thinking. Mastery of the mind is key – this is a mind, body spirit practice.

The five key principles of Sivananda Yoga are said to reduce stress and improve energy, as well as focus the mind and create a sense of connection to the universe. These principles were honed by Swami Vishnudevananda. They are:

1. Asana

This entails the physical postures and movements that make up a class.  An asana practice makes for a healthy body and can help calm the mind.

2. Pranayama

This is the use of breathing exercises. Prana means energy or life force, and learning to harness this energy can help not only with physical health but also with controlling the mind.

3. Relaxation

Optimized relaxation is important for mental and physical well-being. This is different from sitting in front of the tv and zoning out.

Practicing relaxation and reducing stimulation is a super important tool. Yoga is a great way to start learning how to relax – especially in more gentle forms.

4. Meditation

Meditation within Sivananda Yoga includes positive thinking which is said to improve mindset and energy levels.

Meditation is the focusing of the mind – often on a single object. There are many health benefits associated with this practice such as improved sleep and decreased anxiety.

5. Diet

Having a plant-based diet rich in healthy and nutritious foods is an important facet of Sivananda Yoga. Balance is key in this style of yoga, and what you eat is no exception.

a table of food for a healthy diet

Asanas Practiced

As well as sun salutations Sivananda includes twelve basic asana postures.  They are:

The class most often concludes with around fifteen minutes of relaxation.

class in Sivananda Yoga in forward fold


There are a wide range of benefits associated with practicing Sivananda Yoga. Like all yoga practices, this style can help with many mind-body conditions. Some of the reported benefits include:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Relaxation
  • Overall improvements in health and well-being
  • Increased stability
  • Improved concentration and focus
  • Positive outlook
  • Spiritual growth

New to Sivananda Yoga?

If you’re new to Sivananda Yoga or new to yoga in general, it can often be intimidating and overwhelming. Here are a few pointers to reassure and help you:

  • Wear comfortable clothes.

Clothes with stretch in them are ideal – denim won’t cut it.

  • Avoid eating a heavy meal before practicing.

If you’re hungry before practicing, have something light like a smoothie. Make sure you are well hydrated too.

  • Use props. 

E.g. blocks and blankets. They are a really great way to make your arms longer in poses and help you reach the ground. They can also help you find more stability and improve your balance. Props are not just for those starting out – they can be part of a lifelong practice.

yogi practicing in their bedroom with props
  • Consistency.

In order to see the benefits, it’s important to build and maintain a regular practice. Try and show up to practice when you can.

  • Yoga for all.

Sivananda is a pretty accessible practice if you have a good level of fitness because it is generally fairly gentle in its approach.

Who was Swami Sivananda?

Swami Sivananda was born in 1887, and he died in 1963.

Sivananda was an allopathic doctor who ventured into the yoga world to become an influential healer and spiritual leader.

He believed that yoga was key to a person’s well-being and overall health. As a yoga teacher he leaves behind a legacy known as Sivananda Yoga.

Born Kuppuswami he was initiated by his Guru Vishvananda into the Sannyasa in 1924 and became Swami Sivananda. Sivananda was a true healer, and even as a renunciate monk, he continued to serve people by providing medical attention to those in need.

In 1932 Sivananda founded the Sivananda Ashram, which subsequently became The Divine Life Society headquarters. Swami Sivananda lived most of his life living near Rishikesh, and he was deeply committed to providing health care.

Swami Sivananda shared the teachings of Vedanta and yoga in over 200 books. Swami Sivananda was a great influence on many other teachers and schools, such as Swami Satchidananda (Integral Yoga) and Swami Satyananda (Bihar School of Yoga).

“This world is your best teacher. There is a lesson in everything. There is a lesson in each experience. Learn it and become wise. Every failure is a stepping stone to success. Every difficulty or disappointment is a trial of your faith.

Every unpleasant incident or temptation is a test of your inner strength. Therefore nil desperandum. March forward hero!”

– Swami Sivananda
Swami Sivananda

Who was Swami Vishnudevananda?

Abuse Allegations

Since 2019 allegations of rape and sexual abuse have surfaced against Swami Visnudevananda. Julie Salter, assistant to Vishnudevananda came forward about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hand of her guru via social media in 2019.

This is not an isolated case.

Who was he?

Swami Vishnudevananda (1927- 1993) was the disciple of Swami Sivananda. He was sent to the USA in 1957 by his Guru to disseminate the teachings of yoga.

His teachings concentrate Sivananda’s teachings into the five primary principles in order to make them accessible to all people.

Swami Vishnudevananda was born in Kerala. As a student of Sivananda’s, he was both a hatha yogi and karma yogi. He was known as the flying yogi as he learned to fly and flew to “troubled areas of the world”.

Swami Vishnudevananda was the author of The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga which was published in 1960. He also created an international brand through Sivananda Yoga opening international centers and yoga schools. 

There are around 45,000 Sivananda teachers globally.

The teaching of both Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda were heavily influenced by Raja Yoga and the teachings of Patanjali as well as the Bhagavad Gita.

Karma Yoga

Sivananda Yoga and its associated centres are rooted in the selfless service that is Karma Yoga. It is a global organization that is led by volunteers who have become known as “karma yogis.”

class of yogis in savasana

Tasks include preparing meals, centre maintenance, yoga teaching, and elements of running a business.

The Sivananda tradition has Karma Yoga at its heart.

It believes that by serving others, practitioners are serving their own spiritual growth by diminishing selfish acts and egoism. This brings practitioners closer to oneness and self-realization.

Eager to practice Sivananda Yoga?

Following Vishnudevananda’s death the running of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre was left in the hands of some of his closest disciples.

As mentioned, there are many Sivananda teachers teaching internationally and if you’re looking to try out a class, then there is likely to be one near to you or one providing online Sivananda Yoga classes.

If you’re looking for a more immersive approach, then why not try out the Sivananda Yoga Farm

The Sivananda Yoga Farm in California was established by Vishnudevananda in 1971.

“The Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm is a peaceful oasis where people from all over the world come together to practice yoga, meditation and rediscover their true self.”

What next?

Looking to find out more about the man behind Sivananda? Why not check out Sivananda’s biography and teachings?

Photo of author
Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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