Yoga isn’t exercise. Because in yoga we work slowly and with awareness in postures and we coordinate breathing with movement. Yoga also involves breathing practices (pranayama) and relaxation or meditation techniques. Exercise mainly benefits the body; yoga is about mind and body – physical and mental health.
Satyananda Yoga is a gentle form of yoga that is taught in a slow and systematic way that is actually deeply transformational and heals us physically and emotionally. Satyananda Yoga consist of asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing practices) cleansing practices, yogic philosophy, mind focusing techniques and meditation.
In this form of yoga the focus is on slow progression, and on training our awareness to focus on inner sensations; the postures are simple and gentle (in the beginning). This practice expands our awareness by developing and strengthening areas of our brains such as the precuneus, pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus, so that we become more conscious and have a stronger sense of self. Essentially this means we will begin to feel more calm and relaxed, and have a deeper sense of inner peace.
The asanas will help us to release physical tension in our bodies and, coupled with the deep relaxation technique of Yoga Nidra, will increase our awareness of bodily tension so that we learn to be able to relax at will.
Satyananda Yoga is a particularly accessible form of yoga for complete beginners because it starts so gently and students feel the benefits of relaxation almost immediately. The physical benefits get stronger as the postures gradually get stronger and students adjust to the practice.
Take for example the seemingly simple practice of Pawanmuktasana Series 1 (PMA 1) (link to 36 min video on YouTube). In this simple sequence, whilst not getting up from the floor for the first three or so sessions, beginners will learn the importance of not straining and practicing in a reasonably effortless way without over exertion. Learning to systematically work each joint of the body, from the ground up, develops a single pointed awareness of the entire body, joint by joint, contributing to a sense of physical and mental peace.
The focus is on the development of one’s whole being (mental, emotional, physical and spiritual) rather than just the physical. Practices such as Yoga Nidra work to transform one’s mind, letting go of mental tension.
Satyananda Yoga encompasses the full Eight Limbs of yoga and keeps meditation as the cornerstone of yoga, honouring its 6,000 years of heritage. Formal cross legged meditation is only introduced when the practitioner is ready and a systematic path to meditation is possible (usually not until year 2 or 3 of classes). Before this more advanced postures are taught, breathing practices become more advanced, and topics such as chakras, nadis, shatkarmas and karma yoga are introduced.
Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh was Swami Satyananda's guru, and the main ashram for the school, which is otherwise known as Bihar School of Yoga, was established by Swami Satyananda and lies in Bihar in the North East of India.