Swami Sivananda (1887 – 1963) was an Indian spiritual leader and a legendary Yoga teacher. His life was dedicated to service to humanity. For this reason he became a medical doctor and served the poor in Malaysia for many years. Eventually he gave up his medical career, chose for a life of renunciation and settled down in Rishikesh. He taught people how to keep the body healthy and strong by practicing yoga asanas, pranayama and kriyas.
Sivananda developed a sequence of 12 basic Yoga asanas, structured in such a way it stimulates and balances the chakras. Asanas are much more than just stretching. They open energy channels while increasing flexibility of the spine, strengthening bones and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems. Along with proper breathing (pranayama), asanas also calm the mind and reduce stress. With regular practice one can improve overall physical and mental health.
Performing the poses slowly and consciously, becomes a mental exercise in concentration and meditation. Asanas should be steady and comfortable, firm yet relaxed helping a practitioner to become more aware of their body, mind, and environment.
Following is the Yoga sequence of Swami Sivananda. This sequence offers a complete and balanced yoga practice. Of course variations are possible by adding asanas or doing variations of these asanas, but this sequence has proven to be a very useful starting point.
The sequence starts with the headstand, the most important yoga asana, stimulating the crown chakra. This chakra is the centre of spirituality, enlightenment, dynamic thought and energy. When unbalanced, there may be a constant sense of frustration, no spark of joy, migraine, headaches and depressions. Stimulating the Crown Chakra is very beneficial for improving concentration, will power, and focus.
2: Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), 3: Halasana (Plough)
Vishuddha Chakra (Throat Chakra)
The head stand is followed by the shoulderstand and plough which stimulate the throat chakra. This chakra is the centre of communication and sound. It is also the location of expression of creativity through thought, speech and writing. If out of balance, one may feel timid, be quiet, feel weak or be unable to express his or her thoughts.
After working on the throat chakra, the fish stimulates the heart chakra. This chakra is the centre of personal power, the place of ego, passions, impulses, anger and strength. Matsyasana opens the chest and heart completely, thus stimulating the Heart Chakra and helping you to feel cheerful, have self-respect, be more expressive, feel able to take on new challenges and have a strong sense of personal power.
5: Paschimothanasana (Forward Bend), 6: Bhujangasana (Cobra), 7: Shalabhasana (Locust), 8:Dhanurasana (Bow), 9:Ardh Matseyendrasana (Half Spinal Twist)
Manipura Chakra (Solar Plexus Chakra)
The solar plexus chakra is located between the belly button and the bottom of the rib cage. These asanas stimulate it by compressing it, pressing it into the floor or squeezing it. This chakra is called the Chakra of the life force. It is the seat of the element fire within the body. By balancing it, one removes fear of fire and frees himself from disease. When it is out of balance, you may suffer from digestive difficulties, liver problems, diabetes, nervous exhaustion and food allergies.
10: Kakasana (Crow), 11: Uttanasana (Standing forward bend), 12: Trikonasana (triangle)
Swadhisthana Chakra (navel/sacral Chakra)
Located in the lower abdomen, the sacral chakra is the centre of the basic needs for sexuality, desires, creativity and self-esteem. Balancing it improves the ability to relate to other people in an open and friendly way and helps to feel more emotionally balanced. When it is out of balance, you may feel emotionally explosive, manipulative, obsessed with thoughts of sex or may lack energy.
From these twelve basic asanas, hundreds of variations stem. Everyone is of course free to add some asanas and to modify the sequence to suit one’s personal needs, but this sequence is a good starting point to always have a balanced and well structured practice.