Before Swami Satchidananda Came to America
In the late 1960s, Americans knew almost nothing of Yoga. There were no Hatha classes at the local YMCA. Health food stores contained only bottles of vitamin supplements and photos of bodybuilders. Few understood the meaning of karma. When most people thought of a Yogi, they remembered a popular cartoon man sleeping on a bed of nails. All that changed when Sri Swami Satchidananda arrived on these shores in 1966.
A New Synthesis of an Old Tradition
He taught what he termed “Integral Yoga,” a combination of physical and spiritual practices, of psychological and philosophical approaches to life. He encouraged selfless service to others, which would help anyone discover and maintain the peace and happiness that were, he said, the birthright of all. His message resonated with many people in the 1960s who were looking for something greater and deeper than what they perceived as a superficial, materialistic, and unjust society. His talks drew crowds of young seekers.
The Growth of Integral Yoga
Swami Satchidananda taught classes in Hatha Yoga, led Kirtan chants, and offered Yoga in the living room of a large apartment at 500 West End Avenue. Soon the classes and lectures moved to a larger venue, the Universalist Church on Central Park West. In August 1968, a group of students, mostly hippies, took up residence in an apartment adjacent to 500 WEA so that they could immerse themselves in the Yogic lifestyle.
His followers in New York City set their sights on planning and organizing a public lecture for him to deliver in the world-famous Carnegie Hall. The Hatha demonstration and lecture took place in January 1969 in the renowned venue in front of a standing-room-only crowd. In August 1969, Swami Satchidananda was invited to give the invocation at the opening of the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. There he said to 400,000 people, “The entire world is going to watch this. The entire world is going to know what the American youth can do for humanity.”
Integral Yoga Institutes, teaching centers, and ashrams opened in the late 1960s and early 1970s across America. Those centers, and Integral Yoga Institute’s public talks and retreats, drew thousands of people from all walks of life to the teachings of Integral Yoga. Some were attracted when they simply saw Swami Satchidananda’s photograph; others said they had had visions of him long before they ever actually learned of or met him. Many have described the experience of connecting with this teacher in these words: “…and that was it!” Some knew they would dedicate their lives to this guru and his teachings, and many have considered themselves his students ever since.
By 2002, Swami Satchidananda had made eight world tours and had logged nearly two million miles of travel around the globe. In his footsteps, Integral Yoga International, a worldwide organization, grew with branches on six of the seven continents.
From the green waters and pink houses of Bermuda, to the inland villages of Nigeria, Integral Yoga has taken root around the globe. Swami Satchidananda ‘s visits to these places made deep impressions in which many seeds were planted. Over the years, Swami Satchidananda came often to water and weed, to love, and to nurture. “I don’t belong to any one country or organization,” he always said.
Quick growth was never his goal. Always, it was each devotee’s unfoldment that took precedence over the growth of the Integral Yoga organization as a whole. Today, a new Integral Yoga International is emerging in response to the needs of the times-a sweet manifestation of those early seeds.
While Integral Yoga Hatha Teacher Training (TT) programs have been conducted in the USA for many years, the first TT program in German took place in 2002, and in 2003, the first ones in both Italian and Spanish. In 2002, Integral Yoga activities in the United Kingdom became so full that the centers instituted a UK Council to oversee them. In 2003, for the first time in Integral Yoga history, a program for Teacher Trainers took place at the Integral Yoga center in Portugal.
Integral Yoga programs are now being taught around the world by Swami Satchidananda’s senior monks and Yoga teachers.