Secrets of the Sivananda Yoga Sequence
Question: Would you explain the reason for the order of the 12 basic postures in the Sivananda Yoga Sequence?
Answer: Yogic practices by nature are fundamentally spiritual practices, including the yoga asanas. They have a higher, lofty spiritual purpose that is Self-Realization, or the realization of our true nature. And we attain this goal by following different methods, including hatha yoga. But then yogic practices also have what is called side benefits. Side benefits can be things like health, peace of mind, physical powers, mental powers, psychic powers, spiritual powers, and so on. When we speak about asanas, they have a lot of therapeutic benefits, a lot of health benefits, and have a profound effect over the physical body, although their purpose or their goal is not precisely the physical body. Yoga asanas are assuring an even supply of prana, or life force, to all the parts of the physical body. An even supply of prana is assured not only for the physical body, but also for all the other subtle bodies. Once the distribution of the life force is enhanced, the blood flow is also enhanced. Yoga asanas assure the even and harmonious flow of blood to all the parts of the body. On top of it, they assure a good flow of nerve impulses to all the parts of the body, thus affecting the endocrine system. The endocrine system is the bodily system that secretes hormones into the blood, and thus creates what we call hormonal balance in the physical body.
The yoga asanas are doing all these things, and then of course, the sequence that the yogis are following, specifically Swami Vishnudevananda’s sequence, is a very special sequence. This is a very special sequence because if you notice, the sequence starts with Shirsasan. Now, the headstand affects the crown of the head. The crown of the head in the astral body parallels what we call the Sahasrara Chakra, the crown chakra. Then you do the shoulderstand, then you do Plough, then you do Fish. All these three affect the thyroid gland that parallels the Vishudha Chakra, the throat chakra. The headstand affects the crown chakra and the third-eye chakra; which are the head chakras. Then when you do the shoulderstand, you affect the thyroid gland that parallels the Vishudha, which is the throat chakra. Then, when you do postures like Cobra or Locust, and so on, you affect the area of the kidneys and the suprarenal glands that sit on the kidneys, that parallel the Swadhishatana Chakra, which is the chakra in the area of the sexual organs. Of course, specifically for ladies, practices like Cobra will affect the area of the sexual organs where the sexual glands are located. Then, when we do postures like, for example, Siddhasana, we affect the Muladhara Chakra, which is the root chakra.
The order of the asanas parallels the flow of the chakras during what we call the time of creation. This follows creation. Then, when you do Shavasan, your attention and energies go the opposite way. You start from the bottom of your feet and you withdraw the energy up. You focus on the bottom of your feet and step-by-step you withdraw the energy up to the top of your head and this follows what we call the dissolution of creation. In one practice you go through the whole cycle of creation, and the dissolution of creation, on the subtle level, on the level of nadis, chakras, and so on. By going through the whole cycle of creation, and dissolution when practicing yoga, this has a profound effect on the nadis.
For example, postures such as Half Spinal Twist. What the half spinal twist does is that you have the three primary nadis — Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna — and they are entangled, they choke each other. Specifically, they choke the Sushumna and do not allow the prana to flow through the Sushumna, through the central channel. When you do things like spinal twist, you are freeing these three nadis and you are freeing the Sushumna from being choked. Thus, allowing the prana to flow through this channel. Similarly, when you do the triangle on the left side and on the right side, you are opening these three channels, so the Sushumna is not choked. Then, when you do things like Paschimothan Asana, or head to knee posture, you are encouraging the flow of the prana into the Sushumna, into the central channel. All of these processes, which happen on an energetic level, have a profound effect over the physical body. They affect the physical body on many, many levels because the physical body is governed and controlled by the astral body and by the matrix of nadis and chakras and so on, that control all the activities within the physical body. If you have a healthy astral body, surely you are going to have a healthy physical body. And this is what the asanas are doing.
Swami Swaroopananda is a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda. A practicing yogi from a very young age, Swami Swaroopananda has dedicated his life to the practice and teaching of yoga. He taught in Yoga Teacher Training Courses around the world and is currently teaching advanced yoga philosophy courses and lectures internationally. He is Director of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat and acharya (spiritual director) for the Sivananda centers and ashrams in the Bahamas and the Middle East. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres.