Celebrating 60 Years of Sivananda Yoga in the West
Oct 30, 2017
Swami Sivananda was a great saint who synthesized the various systems of Yoga into one comprehensive practice/lifestyle. Although he never set foot in this country he has had a profound impact on Yoga here today through his students, including Indra Devi, Swami Satchidananda (founder of Integral Yoga) and Swami Vishnu-Devananda. Back in India in 1957, Swami Sivananda sent the young Swami Vishnu-Devananda to the west to teach Yoga telling him, "They're waiting."
Swami Vishnu-Devananda arrived in San Francisco in 1957 with 10 Rupees and a mission to spread Yoga and Vedanta in the west through "Sivananda Yoga".
60 years later, the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and Ashrams are sprinkled all over the globe. After setting up Ashrams (a spiritual retreat center or monastery) in Quebec, New York and California, he went to the Bahamas and established an ashram there. There are also three in India, one in Austria and one in France. There are more than 20 centers that provide daily classes and other programs.
Swami Sivananda was a pioneer of modern Yoga in the way he combined various paths - Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga (Vedanta) into one comprehensive system. He covered all the bases, Swami Sita joked, "So there is no excuse."
Swami Vishnu-Devananda was a pioneer of Yoga in the west. He pioneered the format of a teacher training course, the popular Yoga vacations offered at the ashrams and children's Yoga programs. It was these children's programs that attracted me to Sivananda Yoga, along with the philosophy and other aspects that make it so well rounded and comprehensive.
In 1960, Swami Vishnu published The Complete Illustrated Guide to Yoga (6 years before BKS Iyengar's Light On Yoga). This book introduced first thousands and then millions of people to the practice of Yoga.
He summarized the system of Yoga into "A simple and natural program involving five main principals."
5 Points Of yoga:
- Proper Exercise (Asana)
- Proper Breathing (Pranayama)
- Proper Relaxation (Savasana)
- Proper Diet (Vegetarian)
- Positive Thinking and Meditation (Vedanta and Dhyana)
He was a tireless karma yogi, working selflessly to serve thousands. He also became known as "The Flying Swami" for his peace missions in the sixties. With a plane painted by Peter Max, he flew around the world spreading the philosophy of Yoga and the message of peace. Instead of a typical passport, the Swami crafted one of his own. It read:
Name - Swami Vishnu-Devananda, randomly born on the Earth
Date of Birth - Immortal
Residency - Earth
Weight - Immeasurable
Height - short as well as tall, big as well as small
Hair - snow white
Eyes - Intuitive
Present address - Street- Planet Earth; City - Vaikuntha (the abode of Lord Vishnu); State - God.
He took this passport and flew with Peter Sellers to Belfast amidst their civil war. It happened to be Sellers' birthday (As well as Swami Sivananda's) and he told Swami-ji he would do anything for him and his peace mission. The Swami responded, "Why don't you come and fly with me to Belfast? We will go and do some chanting, and drop some flowers and leaflets, and do the first ever peace bombing in a country."
In 1983, he flew an ultralight plane over the Berlin Wall - from West to East. In a TV interview before his flight, he was reminded how dangerous this was. He responded by saying that so many people were dying for war, he was willing to die for peace. He flew his mission (which did receive tremendous media attention) crash-landed in a farmer's field and when the authorities caught up to him, they did know what to make of it all so they just let him go. (The Wall was dismantled in 1989 and this ultralight plane is on display at the New York Ashram).
It is his wisdom, dedication, sense of humor and passion for peace that guide and infuse the content and spirit of our trainings, workshops and classes.