History Of Integral Yoga
The founder of Integral Yoga, Swami Satchidananda was born in Tamil Nadu, India in 1914. He attended agricultural school, and he then work for his uncle’s business that imported motorcycles. He then became a manager for India’s National Electric Works. Although he got married and had children during this time period, his wife died five years later. Following her death, Satchidananda left his children with his mother so he could go on a spiritual quest.
On his journey, Swami Satchidananda found his way to Ramakrishna Tapovanam, an ashram where he cared for orphaned children. He also studied with Sri Ramana Maharshi there, but he left the ashram because he could not handle Maharshi’s cancer and subsequent treatments and suffering. Swami Satchidananda next traveled to Rishikesh where the great Swami Sivananda resided. Sivananda appointed him to monkhood in 1949 and also became his guru.
Swami Sivananda discovered that Swami Satchidananda had gifts for teaching and healing, so he sent him to other parts of India and Sri Lanka. At the Kandy Thapovanam ashram in Sri Lanka, Swami Satchidananda started to modernize many yogic practices. At first, his contemporaries and those devoted to classical yogic philosophies were skeptical, but soon it became clear that it was a natural evolution.
By 1966, Swami Satchidananda had moved to the United States. He came to work with artist and disciple Peter Max, and he spoke for large audiences at venues such as Woodstock (where he did the opening meditation) and Carnegie Hall. He stayed in the United States and eventually became an American Citizen.
Swami Satchidananda found interest in Sri Aurobindo’s style of integral yoga, and Swami Satchidananda trademarked the name “Integral Yoga.” The Integral Yoga Institute was founded on New York City’s Upper West Side in 1966. In 1970, a brownstone on the West Village’s 13th Street became Integral Yoga’s home. Swami Satchadananda also opened an ashram called Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville in 1979. The ashram still operates today and is a wonderful place to immerse yourself in practice.
Swami Satchidananda died in 2002, but his ashrams and studios are still bustling with teachers and students who wish to continue the lineage of the great yoga master.
Philosophy Of Integral Yoga
Swami Satchidananda did not copy Sri Aurobindo’s Integral yoga, but he did draw from many of his philosophical beliefs. However, the two styles should not be confused. Aurobindo’s yoga has more to do with the psychic being, while Satchidananda’s yoga promotes consciousness through the branches of yoga.
Swami Satchidananda talks about what Integral yoga strives to achieve, “The goal of Integral Yoga, and the birthright of every individual, is to realize the spiritual unity behind all the diversities in the entire creation and to live harmoniously as members of one universal family. This goal is achieved by maintaining our natural condition of a body of optimum health and strength, senses under total control, a mind well-disciplined, clear and calm, an intellect as sharp as a razor, a will as strong and pliable as steel, a heart full of unconditional love and compassion, an ego as pure as a crystal, and a life filled with Supreme Peace and Joy.”
Swami Satchidananda had a simple motto, “Easeful, peaceful and useful.” He believed this applied especially to religion. Although yoga is not a religion, this motto definitely comes into play in Integral yoga. Integral yoga, according to Satchidananda is actually the basis for religion rather than a religion itself. It is a method for combining the mind, body, and soul, which is similar to the “oneness” that religion seeks.
Integral Yoga Practice
Integral yoga is Hatha based. Satchidananda says about Hatha yoga, “The human body is a temple. Keep it strong and supple. Treat it gently. Never ignore the body, because it’s the most important instrument. Whatever you do, you need a body. That’s why the ancient Yoga teachings always emphasized taking good care of the body.” Although mental aspects are important in Integral yoga, they can manifest through the physical body.
In Integral yoga, nutrition is a vital element of taking care of the body. This is so important to the practice that the Integral Yoga Instititute in New York City has a food store attached: Integral Yoga Natural Foods. Satchidananda says, “Everything that comes from nature, without any artificial change, should be clean. Yoga asks that you lead a natural life and stay away from all the poisons, all the toxins, so that your body can be more supple and free.”
Asana practice, a component of Hatha yoga, is fairly gentle. There are many opportunities for relaxation and meditation within a class. The difficulty of the class increases with the level, and there is less relaxation as the difficulty progresses, but the goal is inevitably the same as a beginner class: to yield an environment for the practitioner to find balance between his or her mind, body, and soul.
Another aspect of Integral yoga that isn’t as prominent in other styles of yoga is japa. Japa is the concentrated repetition of a mantra, and it often uses mala (beads) to keep track of the repetitions. The repetitions are not only for aiding concentration, but also to create vibrations in the body. Integral Yoga Institute in New York prides itself on being a premier venue for Kirtan, which is call and response chanting. In addition to chanting in class, Integral Yoga Institute hosts frequent Kirtan workshops. It also attracts Kirtan artists from around the globe.
Integral yoga’s name truly is suggestive of its subsequent practice. It seeks to integrate many of the branches of yoga to create a comprehensive and harmonious experience for its students. Integral yoga teachers teach all over the world, and there are teacher trainings in several locations. A trip to one of Yogaville’s many retreats is also a great way to understand the yoga. The retreats are suited for many levels of practitioner, and again, as the name suggests, desire to integrate all aspects of life to promote further exploration into the self and beyond.
By Alex Zaglin