Sivananda Yoga: Putting the Fundamentals in Focus

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With all the different kinds of yoga classes offered around the city, it can be confusing to get started or even just wrap your head around all the different possibilities.

If you’d like to go back to the basics and learn more about the spiritual discipline behind yoga, Sivananda offers traditional yoga classes that integrate chanting and meditation. Whether you’re a yoga beginner or a long-time practitioner, this authentic practice is a good fit for everyone, and it can help you maintain a healthy body and a peaceful mind and spirit.

The non-profit Sivananda organization was named after Swami Sivananda, an influential, 20th century spiritual teacher, and was founded by one of his disciples, Swami Vishnudevananda, who took the practice all the way to the West, establishing the first center in Montreal, Canada, in 1959. Since then, the organization has opened nearly 60 yoga centers around the world, so you can easily take your practice along with your luggage as you move or travel around.

What makes Sivananda unique is their commitment to preserving the authenticity and tradition of yoga—a discipline that dates back thousands of years. This commitment makes for a completely different experience from the yoga-inspired workouts offered at fitness centers around town. Sivananda distills the basic teaching of yoga to five points: proper relaxation, proper breathing, proper exercise, proper diet (vegetarian) and proper thinking and meditation. By following those guidelines, people can achieve a well-balanced sadhana (spiritual discipline) and make a positive change in their lives.

Curious to know more, although we didn’t have much prior yoga experience, Tokyo Weekender tried one of the evening classes, a gentle practice suitable for the end of a long workday. Located only a few minutes’ walk from Koenji station, the Sivananda center is a peaceful haven that seems worlds away from Tokyo’s hustle and bustle. The studio itself is spacious and tastefully decorated with some Hindu statues, and the faint smell of incense automatically made us feel relaxed. Although most classes are held primarily in Japanese, it’s very easy to follow the instructions and movements even if you’re not a proficient Japanese speaker.

Instructor Vijay Surya leads a class
Instructor Vijay Surya leads a class

After unrolling the yoga mat and starting off with some basic stretches and breathing exercises, the lesson smoothly evolved into a few postures, which we later found out were part of the 12 basic postures of the Sivananda practice. Most students in the class had varying skill levels, so we were encouraged to go according to our own pace: we even managed to achieve some of the more challenging poses with the help of the skilled and friendly instructor. Combining some physical exertion and meditation, as well as chanting and some relaxation practice, the 90-minute class flew by and left us feeling completely relaxed, our muscles fully stretched from the workout.

At Sivananda, “Morning Satsanga” (meditation, chanting and talks about spiritual subjects) are also available starting as early as 6 am—anyone can drop in for free (donations are welcome), it is followed by “Asa-Yoga”(morning yoga), a 60-minute short yoga class, which is an ideal way to start the morning and get relaxed before a day at work. They recommend starting with the beginner classes, and then joining the open classes held throughout the week, which are ideal for those accustomed to the Sivananda basics. English-speaking teachers are available most of the time, but it’s best to call or email the centre to let them know in advance when you would like to attend the class. The staff are happy to answer any questions. In addition, private classes are also available for those who’d like to catch up and move on to the next level.

–Vivian Morelli

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