was born in South India into a Brahmin family. As a boy, he was studious and had a natural inclination for spiritual and religious practices. Brilliant and selfless as he was, he worked toward a career in medicine.
When practicing medicine, Swami Sivananda had the life-changing opportunity to cure a monk in Malaysia. This monk in turn introduced him to Yoga and the Vedanta. From that day forth, he was filled with the urge to help people on a deeper level. As a result, he took his vows of renunciation in the Himalayas. For the next ten years, he intensely engaged in
spiritual practices and austerities. After that period, many grew attracted to his teachings and his spiritual inspiration.
Today, Swami Sivananda is known to be one of the most renowned Yoga teachers in the world. He managed to spread his teachings around the world by writing over 200 books on Yoga and Philosophy, and by sending his disciple Swami Vishnudevananda
into the West to found the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres.
Swami Vishnudevananda established the first centre in 1959 in our own home, Montreal. Today, there are approximately 60 Sivananda locations worldwide, including ashrams, yoga centres and associated centres. Even more impressively, the Sivananda Teachers' Training Course (TTC) has trained over 35 000 teachers.
The centres' widespread popularity comes to no surprise when you know that the teachings offered are nothing short of authentic. The centres make sure to preserve the teachings' purity and traditions that originated thousands of years ago.
Boutique / Photo: Solange Statsevich
From the outside, the centre looked rather small, but as I walked in, I realized that I was wrong; the place was a lot more spacious than it looked. The centre was pleasantly infused with the aroma of spices, which made me even hungrier, since it was recommended not to eat 2 hours before the class for the sake of not disrupting the practice. As soon as I made sense of where I was, I forgot all about my growling stomach.
In the first few minutes upon entering the centre, I was already transported. I felt as though I was in a Hindu temple in India. The centre felt incredibly authentic--and its spirit undeniable.
At the door, the receptionist greeted me with a warm smile and asked me to remove my sneakers. After signing up for the free trial class, I was guided into the women's changing room where I left my coat and other winter-survival essentials.
Studio / Photo: Solange Statsevich
When I entered the studio, I was even more in awe. The orange walls and perfectly polished floors inspired a feeling of warmth and peace. On each side of the window hung portraits of both Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda. Below the window was a shrine with their photographs placed on each side of a flickering lamp.
The free trial class
As we waited for the remaining students to walk in, Karuna, our Yoga instructor, asked each of us to pull up a mat and a cushion. When everybody settled in, she sat before us and introduced Sivananda Yoga. She explained that Swami Vishnudevananda condensed Swami Sivananda's teachings into 5 principles: proper exercise (Asana), proper breathing (Pranayama), proper relaxation (Savasana), proper diet (vegetarian), along with positive thinking and meditation (Dhyana).
The great thing about this class is that it is comprised of philosophical teachings, health advice, and Yoga exercises. After a brief but succinct introduction, our instructor emphasized the importance of sitting upright, which is to aid our breathing. She also recommended sitting on a cushion to help maintain a good posture.
Śankara doing the Sun Salutation / Video: Solange Statsevich
After showing us a few breathing exercises, Karuna demonstrated the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar). As she went along, she provided detailed explanations--tips and warnings too. She also made clear why the Sun Salutation is crucial to perform at the beginning of every routine: it gets our cardio going, lubricates the joints and prepares the body for exercise. She then asked us to perform it. She proved to be helpful as she came to the aid of each student who struggled. We performed the Sun Salutation several times together until everybody was able to do it well enough.
Śankara in Scorpion pose / Photo: Solange Statsevich
Our teacher then spoke about the importance of doing Yogic exercises or Asanas, which is a term that means steady pose. "To reap full benefits from these exercises," she said, "it is important to maintain the poses for a longer period of time, but beginners shouldn't worry about that too much." Not only do the Asanas benefit our internal organs, but also our endocrine system. These exercises focus on the spine's health: its strength and flexibility. Swami Vishnudevananda recommended practicing all 12 Asanas on a daily basis.
Shoulderstand / Photo: Solange Statsevich
Karuna demonstrated the most difficult Asana to master first--the Headstand (Sirshasana). Of course, we weren't asked to do the pose; it took her six months to achieve it! After seeing our astonished faces, she said, "There are no shortcuts to improve our flexibility and strength; practice makes perfect!" We did, however, a different inverted pose--the Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) followed by the Plough (Halasana). She encouraged everybody to try the poses, but discouraged anyone who felt sharp cramps.
Sitting Forward Bend / Photo: Solange Statsevich
Following instructions was easy as Karuna demonstrated the poses slowly and clearly. She showed us a few other positions, such as the Fish (Matsyasana), the Sitting Forward Bend (Paschimothanasa), the Cobra (Bhujangasana), and the Triangle (Trikonasana), before speaking about the importance of relaxation.
The Corpse Position / Photo: Solange Statsevich
"Relaxation is an absolute necessity at the end of every Yoga class to understand what we just did," said Karuna. As we settled into the Corpse Position (Savasana), she provided a guided relaxation, helping us move from physical to mental and spiritual relaxation. Deep relaxation rejuvinates the nervous sytem and allows the feeling of complete inner peace. The Corpse Position helped me achieve that.
We ended the class on a moving note by chanting OM together. "OM is your best companion. It bestows Liberation directly," said Swami Sivananda himself. Karuna then performed a beautiful chant in Sanskrit, thanked and wished us a happy continuation.
Post-class thoughts and feelings
The class surprised me. I wasn't expecting such a rich experience from a trial class. I noticed a change--many ones in fact. I went from feeling exhausted to feeling completely re-energized. For the rest of the evening, I noticed that I was breathing more deeply and walking more upright. The next day, my muscles were sore. I knew at that moment that the class did everything it set out to do.
What truly touched me was my sudden feelings of blissful joy and peace. I felt a wave of optimism rush through me. I couldn't help but imagine how I would feel on a daily basis if I continued attending the centre's Yoga classes.