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The Five Pillars of Health

By Sarah Isaacs
from Natural Health Focus

How can we live in a way that supports our own health and also the health of other people, other animals and the different ecosystems on our fragile earth?

Swami Vishnudevananda has summarised the ancient wisdom of yoga into five principles or pillars of health that can guide us. These principles are:

  • proper exercise
  • proper breathing
  • proper relaxation
  • proper diet and
  • positive thinking & meditation.[1]
Proper exercise

Being active builds muscle flexibility and strength and lubricates the joints. This is true whether we are gardening, running, walking in nature or moving at work or in the home. Sometimes the first step to better health is to find ways to become more active. This might be as simple as standing up more often to stretch or taking a walk to the shops instead of driving.

The yoga postures or asanas are designed to promote the flow of energy around the body. Practised slowly and consciously these also build our mindfulness muscles, bringing mental clarity and focus.

To choose what type of exercise would best suit you, you might like to consider the following questions:

  • What would I enjoy doing?
  • What level of activity would suit me now?
  • Will this bring greater health to my body?
  • What impact would this have on the planet ( such as embodied energy of equipment, distance needed to travel etc.)
Proper breathing

Proper breathing is essential for mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Efficient breathing gives us more energy by supplying more oxygen to the body and expelling gaseous waste. It uses the whole of the lungs’ capacity and helps release tension in the neck and shoulders.

The breath is also a bridge between the body and mind. When we are stressed or anxious, our breathing becomes shallow. Just taking three slow breaths can help calm our body and expand our chest. You might like to pause and try that now. Do your shoulders feel a little looser and your heart a little lighter?

Pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) are specific exercises designed to rejuvenate both the body and the mind. Swami Saradananda in her book The Power of Breath explains how these exercises improve clarity of thought and mood, ease anxiety and stress, boost energy- and even ease stomach cramps.[2]

Proper relaxation

Proper relaxation brings our stress levels back down to zero and re-energises the body and mind. Yoga nidra and other progressive relaxation exercises release the tension in the muscles so the blood can circulate more freely. A relaxed body carries over into a relaxed mind and allows sleep to be deep and refreshing. Adequate sleep is necessary for us to manage our emotions and for memory consolidation. [3]

Proper diet

Wholesome food is fresh, organic and preferably locally grown. Research has shown that “Regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other plant foods has been negatively correlated with the risk of the development of chronic diseases.”[4]

The yogic diet is a vegetarian one with healing herbs and spices. Overeating, caffeine, refined sugar and alcohol are avoided. Swami Vishnudevananda recommends we ‘take responsibility for the planet by eating with consideration.’ and that ‘The yogi will consume foods in minimum quantity with the most positive effect on the body and mind and with the least negative impact on the environment and least pain to other beings.’

Positive thinking & meditation

Often we rush through our lives, too busy to notice what is around us. If you stop now and listen, what can you hear? What can you see if you look away from the screen? Stopping and just being aware of what is going on at this very point in time can be deeply healing.

This mindful pause is about cultivating a kind, curious and compassionate attitude to what is happening around us. It can create what the famous mindfulness & meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hahn called ‘ a moment of peace, freedom and happiness’.[5]Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve sleep and to have positive effects on depression. [6]

Taking the First Step

After reading this article, you might like to sit down and think of one small, enjoyable change you could make that would support your health and that of the planet. You might like to do this until it becomes a habit and then move on to the next positive change, slowly and surely building a stronger foundation for health.

‘Obstacles becomes steppingstones to success and you learn that life is a school for the development of character, compassion and realisation of the divine all-pervading Self.’ Swami Vishnudevananda.



[2]The Power of Breath. Swami Saradananda. Watkins Media Ltd. ISBN 978-1-78678-018-8

[3]Rasch B, Born J. About sleep’s role in memory. Physiol Rev. 2013 Apr;93(2):681-766. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00032.2012. PMID: 23589831; PMCID: PMC3768102

[4]Liu RH. Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Adv Nutr. 2013 May 1;4(3):384S-92S. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003517. PMID: 23674808; PMCID: PMC3650511.

[5]The Art Of Living Thich Naht Hahn Penguin random House ISBN 9781846045097

[6]Saeed SA, Cunningham K, Bloch RM. Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. Am Fam Physician. 2019 May 15;99(10):620-627. PMID: 31083878.

More about the author

Sarah Isaacs
Sarah Isaacs
– Natural Health Focus

Sarah Isaacs is a naturopath, herbalist and nutritionist with degrees in medicine and neuroscience. She is also a trained mindfulness and meditation teacher and habit change facilitator.

Sarah is the owner/ manager of Natural Health Focus, a holistic wellness service whose mission is to nourish people's mental, physical and emotional health. Wellness & nutritional consultations plus health programmes are available online including:

Mindful Eating Programmes-  how to eat in a way that brings joy and health.

Stress Less Programmes-  how to cope better with stress and have a calmer life.

''My passion is to share simple, natural ways of healing- and living- with others. Whatever health challenges we face, it is always possible to feel better by supporting our own body's ability to heal.”