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Yoga Sequences

Learn About Sivananda Yoga and Then Try This Classical Sequence

Try this classical Sivananda Yoga sequence which is designed to help practitioners develop self-awareness through self-mastery.

The Sivananda practice is deeply rooted in classical yoga and a dharmic relationship that guides and motivates teachers and students to grow in their quest for awareness and knowledge of the universal, spiritual nature of Self. Ultimately, Self-realization comes through self-mastery based in practice.

In Sivananda Yoga, asana is always balanced with pranayama and relaxation, offering indirect control of the mind. A healthy vegetarian diet supports the practice. Finally, meditation coupled with positive thinking work directly to master the mind. Through these five principles, the practitioner comes to know and feel firsthand what is healthy, gives energy, reduces stress, focuses the mind, cultivates integrity, and connects to the flow of universal life.

These tenets came from Swami Vishnudevananda, a senior disciple of Sivananda Yoga founder H. H. Swami Sivananda. Swami Sivananda was an allopathic medical doctor born in the late 19th century who skillfully integrated vast portions of the universal teachings of yoga and Vedanta and shared that knowledge in more than 200 books. He saw yoga as a tool that practitioners could use for self-healing and to realize both the sacred unity and diversity of life.

See also A Guided Meditation to Connect with Your Core Self

Swami Vishnudevananda, a yogi with exceptional mental focus and devotion, was the first of Swami Sivananda’s disciples sent to the West, in 1957. He systematized his guru’s practice and distilled the vast teachings of yoga into five points in order to make them accessible and relevant to everyone. Swami Vishnudevananda was one of the main international authorities on hatha and raja yoga of his time, authoring The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, published in 1960. In 1969, he created the first Sivananda Yoga teacher training and the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, which have trained more than 45,000 yoga teachers worldwide “to practice and teach the ancient yogic knowledge for health, peace, unity in diversity, and Self-realization.” The teachings not only offer a complete hatha yoga experience, but also link the practice with the sage Patanjali’s raja yoga and the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita (service, meditation, devotion, and Vedanta philosophy).

Swami Sivananda’s teachings greatly influenced the development of future yoga gurus and their schools of yoga, including Swami Satchidananda and Integral Yoga and Swami Satyananda and the Bihar School of Yoga.

See also The First Book of Yoga: The Enduring Influence of the Bhagavad Gita

Behind the Sequence: Methodology

Sivananda asana practice, created by Swami Vishnudevananda, relies on a core sequence that includes a balanced set of 12 postures followed in a prescribed order, interspersed with periodic relaxation poses, such as Savasana (Corpse Pose). Each asana either augments or counterbalances the preceding one. A Sivananda Yoga practice also includes pranayama and opening and closing relaxations. The practice’s intention is to cultivate a meditative mental state, a sadhana, or self-study, that evolves into a focused ritual designed to awaken awareness of Self and sacred Presence. 

The core sequence can be modified to accommodate either physical ability or time restraints. That means the sequence can be condensed into a 30-minute maintenance routine, or it can be extended to three hours for a deep dive into pranayama and each posture. Practiced rapidly, the postures maximize time while building strength, balance, and flexibility. Practiced slowly, each posture becomes a meditation. 

All practice begins in Corpse Pose, with eyes closed and long, rhythmic breathing. Corpse Pose is followed by Dhyana Slokas (meditation chants) to tune attention and intention. Pranayama is near the beginning of shorter practices and near the end of longer practices. Practice always ends with a 10- to 15-minute Corpse Pose and a closing meditation, accompanied by chanting. As you follow this sequence, take at least 3-second inhalations and 3-second exhalations with each posture. Breaths become longer with practice. We warm up for the core sequence here with Sun Salutations.

Sequence – Part 1

1. SAVASANA

None

Corpse Pose

1 minute

TIP: Transition from busy thoughts to silence and awareness on the mat.

2. SUKHASANA

None

Easy Pose

5 minutes

TIP: Chant Dhyana Slokas, if you know them, or meditate.

3. ANULOMA VILOMA

None

Alternate Nostril Breathing

5-10 Rounds

Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril for 4 seconds. Then close the left with your ring and pinky fingers and hold your breath for 6 seconds. Release the right and exhale for 8 seconds.

4. CORPSE POSE

None

1 minute

TIP: Return to Savasana between postures so your body can absorb the effects of each pose.

5. TADASANA

None

Mountain Pose

On an inhalation

6. MOUNTAIN POSE WITH PRAYER POSITION

None

On an exhalation

7. BACKBEND

None

On an inhalation

8. UTTANASANA

None

Standing Forward Bend

On an exhalation

9. ANJANEYASANA

None

Low Lunge

Right leg back on an inhalation

10. PLANK POSE

None

Retain breath

Sequence – Part 2

11. KNEES, CHEST, CHIN

None

On an exhalation

12. BHUJANGASANA

None

Cobra Pose

On an inhalation

13. ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA

None

Downward-Facing Dog Pose

On an exhalation

14. LOW LUNGE

None

Right leg forward on an inhalation

15. STANDING FORWARD BEND

None

On an exhalation

16. BACKBEND

None

On an inhalation

Repeat, stepping back with your opposite leg. Do 12 rounds.

Sequence – Part 3

17. SIRSASANA

None

Headstand

Hold for as long as feels comfortable

TIP: There are 8 steps to Sirsasana in Sivananda Yoga: 1) Sit on your heels, with forearms on the floor. Clasp opposite elbows to measure the right distance. 2) Interlock your fingers, making a triangle with your elbows and hands. 3) Place the top of your head on the floor, supporting it with your clasped hands. Make sure your weight is distributed evenly between your elbows and hands, and isn’t in your head. 4) Straighten your legs and lift your hips. 5) Walk your feet toward your head until your hips are over your shoulders. 6) Bend your knees and raise your heels toward your buttocks. 7) Stay here until you feel secure. 8) Extend your legs into the full pose. Make sure no weight is on your head or neck. Mentally affirm “my arms are my legs,” which encourages your brain to reconfigure your postural orientation from feeling “topsy-turvy” to having a majestic new sense of balance. Do not practice if you have a neck injury, high blood pressure, glaucoma, or a detached retina. Practice Dolphin Pose instead to strengthen your core, shoulders, and triceps.

18. BALASANA

None

Child’s Pose

10 seconds

19. CORPSE POSE

None

1 minute

20. SARVANGASANA

None

Shoulderstand

Hold for as long as feels comfortable

TIP: Be sure to maintain the natural curve of your cervical spine. Use blankets under your shoulders if you feel any strain in your neck.

21. HALASANA

None

Plow Pose

Hold for as long as feels comfortable

TIP: Move slowly and focus on rhythmic breathing, while tuning in to the posterior stretch of your legs and back and the pressure on your abdominal organs.

22. CORPSE POSE

None

1 minute

23. MATSYASANA

None

Fish Pose

Hold for as long as feels comfortable

TIP: If your head doesn’t touch the floor, place your hands closer to your feet. Back off if you feel neck pain. Most of your torso weight should be on your arms, not head.

24. CORPSE POSE

None

1 minute

Sequence – Part 4

25. PASCHIMOTTANASANA

None

Seated Forward Bend

Hold for as long as feels comfortable

TIP: Press through your heels. Lengthen your back with each inhalation and fold from your hips with each exhalation

26. REST

None

30 seconds

TIP: Make a pillow with your hands, turn the head to one side. Bring your toes together and let the heels drop outward

27. COBRA POSE

None

Hold for as long as feels comfortable

TIP: Focus on compressing your spine equally from neck to tailbone

28. REST

None

30 seconds

29. SALABHASANA

None

Locust Pose

Hold for as long as feels comfortable

TIP: Repeat 2-3 times to build strength.

30. REST

None

30 seconds

Sequence – Part 5

31. DHANURASANA

None

Bow Pose

Hold for as long as feels comfortable

TIP: Pressure on the abdomen creates powerful local blood circulation in the enteric nervous system. Focus on balanced contraction of your neck and upper back muscles, and activate your thigh muscles while lifting your feet.

32. CHILD’S POSE

None

30 seconds

33. ARDHA MATSYENDRASANA

None

Half Spinal Twist

Hold for as long as feels comfortable.

Switch sides.

34. CHILD’S POSE

None

30 seconds

Allow the concentration you use in the asanas, as well as the rhythm of your relaxed breath, to progressively turn the mind inward—building inner peace, balance, and joy.

35. KAKASANA

None

Crow Pose

Hold for as long as feels comfortable

TIP: Crow helps you develop determination and concentration.

36. CHILD’S POSE

None

30 seconds

37. PADA HASTASANA

None

Standing Forward Bend

Hold for 1 minute

TIP: Focus returns to stretching, effortless breathing, and relaxation.

38. TRIKONASANA

None

Triangle Pose

Hold for 30 seconds on each side

TIP: Muscle contraction, muscle stretching, balancing, and deep breathing come to the fore in the final posture. All capacities developed during the sequence are applied simultaneously.

39. FINAL CORPSE POSE

None

10 minutes

40. EASY POSE

None

At least 5 minutes

Practice ends with Mahamrityunjaya mantra, which includes Sanskrit prayers for the health, peace, and liberation of all beings.

See also What’s Your Style? Explore the Types of Yoga

About our experts

Teacher Swami Sivadasananda is a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda and director of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres in Europe. He is the author of Yoga, Your Home Practice Companion and Sivananda Beginner’s Guide to Yoga.

Teacher Srinivasan is a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda and director of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch in Woodbourne, New York. He has directed Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres in Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City.

Model Swami Paramananda is a senior Sivananda teacher who trains yoga teachers at Sivananda centers in New York, Chicago, the Bahamas, and India. Learn more at sivananda.org.