This month is Guru Poornima and we will take a look at the life of Swami Satyananda Saraswati whose life and work has profoundly influenced Ashram Yoga and the whole world of yoga. He was a sannyasin, yoga teacher and guru in both his native India and the West.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati was born in 1923 in the foothills of the Himalayas into a family of farmers. In 1943, at the age of eighteen, he left his home in order to seek a spiritual master. In a short time he met his guru – the great Swami Sivananda Saraswati – and came to live at Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh. Swami Sivananda gave him the name Satyananda and initiated him on the banks of the river Ganges on 12 September 1947.
Swami Sivananda described him as a ‘versatile genius’ who ‘did the work of four people’. He served in different departments at the ashram for over 12 years doing physical labour, editing the ashram’s Hindi journal, writing various articles and composing poems in both Hindi and Sanskrit. He wrote a translation and commentary in the English language of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad by Swami Sivananda.
In 1956, after receiving the instruction from his guru to spread yoga from door to door and shore to shore, Swami Satyananda wandered throughout India as a mendicant traveling through Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma and Ceylon for the next 7 years, extending his knowledge of spiritual practices.
He eventually found his way to Munger, in the province of Bihar, where he founded the International Yoga Fellowship and the Bihar School of Yoga. He lectured and taught globally for the next twenty years, including tours in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, North America, and Colombia and authored over thirty textbooks on yoga and spiritual life.
Bihar School of Yoga
By 1983 Bihar School of Yoga was well established and recognized throughout the world as a reputable and authentic centre for learning yoga and the spiritual sciences. At the peak of his accomplishment, Swami Satyananda renounced all that he created. He handed the active work of his ashram and organization to his spiritual successor Swami Niranjanananda and in 1988 departed from Munger, never to return again.
He moved to a small town called Rikhia and lived in seclusion performing advanced yogic techniques and austerities for extended periods of time. On 5 December 2009, he passed away.
Swami Satyananda’s teachings emphasize an integrated yoga with an emphasis on Tantra. This system addresses the qualities of head, heart and hands – intellect, emotion and action – and attempts to integrate the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of yoga into each practice.
Swami Satyananda brought the yogic side of Tantra to the forefront. In 1971, Tantra Yoga Panorama was published in which the concepts of Tantra were outlined as applicable to the needs of today’s society.
Swami Satyananda codified the wisdom of yoga in ancient Tantric scriptures and made it accessible to the modern aspirant. He defined the pawanmuktasana series, the shakti bandhas and the grouping of the various asanas according to position.
Pranayama, prana vidya and the role of mudras and bandhas were scientifically explained by him and made generally available for the first time. Swami Satyananda classified and expounded the techniques given in the Tantras as a series of different stages and levels of pratyahara such as antar mouna, and different stages of meditation. He created the technique of Yoga Nidra based on the Tantric system of nyasa.
His influence on the world of yoga cannot be overstated. His teachings have improved the health and lives of millions of people. At Ashram Yoga, we are very grateful for his life and teachings and every year we recognise him on Guru Poornima.