From the green waters and pink houses of Bermuda, to the inland villages of Nigeria, Swami Satchidananda‘s visits to many countries made deep impressions in which many seeds were planted. He was invited back to water and weed, to love, and to nurture them.
Coming to the West
In 1965, Conrad Rooks, a young American film director (“Siddhartha”), and heir to the Avon cosmetics fortune, came to Sri Lanka. Deeply moved by Swami Satchidananda’s quiet wisdom, Mr. Rooks quickly became his ardent student. When urgent business called him to Paris and made it impossible for him to return to Sri Lanka, Rooks sent the swami a round trip ticket to Paris so that he could continue his study of Yoga. Swami Satchidananda felt that Divine Providence had given him this unsolicited invitation and decided to heed this call.
Everywhere he went on his trip to the West—Jerusalem, Rome, Paris, Brussels, London, Berlin—people were moved by his humble demeanor, his practical wisdom, his clear and concise answers to questions. When Rooks saw how much benefit Westerners were receiving from his instruction, he suggested that Swami Satchidananda return to Sri Lanka via the United States.
Artist Peter Max, who had just met the swami in Paris, was delighted at the prospect of his coming to America and arranged for him to stay with his family for a two-day visit to New York City. (photos: Swami Satchidananda in New York City in 1966; group photo with first members of New York Integral Yoga Institute; Swamiji speaking in Belgium; Conrad Rooks seated with Swamiji; Peter Max with Swamiji.)
On the first day of his visit, Max invited a small group of his friends to meet Swami Satchidananda. They, like so many other young Americans of the 1960s, were filled with questions about the meaning of existence; they were searching for truth in a tumultuous world that seemed ridden with hypocrisy, injustice, and violence. In Swami Satchidananda they found someone with wisdom and deep understanding and who conveyed a sense of balanced peacefulness that they had never before experienced.
Responding to their ardent pleas, Swami Satchidananda extended his stay from two days to a few weeks. It became five months and then his students sought a more permanent residency for him. Soon, Peter Max’s small apartment could not accommodate all of the throngs of young people wanting to meet Swami Satchidananda, so his new American students rented a place where he could teach Yoga classes and give talks. Thus, in 1966, the Integral Yoga Institute was founded and grew into Integral Yoga International, a global organization.
“Swami Satchidananda was one of the early pioneers in bringing the knowledge of Yoga and Vedanta to this country. Had it not been for his contribution we wouldn’t have seen the popularity of Yoga that we see today, which is mainstream. I salute him for helping to change the course of the world.”
Swami Satchidananda’s travel throughout the United States expanded rapidly over the next four decades during which there were requests for him to speak at thousands of programs at: houses of worship, colleges and universities, Yoga centers, peace festivals, health expos, medical centers, and conferences. Poet Allen Ginsberg introduced his first public talk in New York City. He was interviewed by Life magazine in 1968. A 1969 sold-out talk at Carnegie Hall foreshadowed the later part of 1969: his opening the Woodstock Festival. That talk led to many requests like recording an album of Yoga questions and answers for Columbia Records.
During the 1970s, he developed Yoga programs for drug rehabilitation centers and prisons. His interfaith and global peace work also began to blossom. He became an advisor to many interfaith organizations. He was invited to meet Secretary-General U Thant at the United Nations and to participate in many UN programs. He visited the Capitol, where he met with senators and congressmen. He spoke at the Conference on Nuclear Disarmament at Stanford University. He was spoke at many monasteries and convents and began developing interfaith retreats, services, and conferences.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Integral Yoga thrived under Swamiji’s guidance. Integral Yoga centers took root in almost every state. He founded three ashrams (residential Yoga communities including Yogaville, Virginia), opened the all vegetarian Integral Yoga Natural Foods in California, New York, and Virginia. In 1976, he developed the first integrative health center in America, which was featured in Prevention magazine. He was among the first to create a certified Yoga teacher training program and the first Yoga magazine (Integral Yoga Magazine) in America.
The first North American country Swami Satchidananda visited outside the USA was Canada. He traveled there nearly every year over the many decades. He gave public talks, talks at Yoga centers and Hindu centers, addressed graduating trainees at the National Institute for Community Drugs Program, spoke at McGill and Concordia Universities, the University of Toronto, and participated at numerous interfaith conferences (photo: interfaith program in Montreal, late 1980s). The Integral Yoga Institute of Montreal was established and continues to offer programs in English and French.
Swami Satchidananda gave programs in the Bahamas and Bermuda. He was often invited to the Caribbean, where his students who lived on the various islands would ask him to speak to their Hindu communities, Rotary Clubs, and to offer Yoga retreats and programs, which he also did in Mexico.
Europe: Western and Eastern
Meanwhile his European students, who had met Swami Satchidananda in 1966, asked him to return to Europe. He returned in 1967 for the 2nd International Yoga Convention in Belgium, and over several decades made over 20 tours throughout western Europe. In 1972, the British Wheel of Yoga made him their honorary president and in the early 1980s, he was featured on the front cover of the first issue of England’s first Yoga magazine.
He was often a guest speaker at programs sponsored by the British Wheel of Yoga, the Italian and German Yoga Federations, among many others. In the late 1970s, Mr. Gerard Blitz, the President of the European Union of National Yoga Federations (EUNYF) invited Swamiji to be a guest speaker at the EUNYF conference in Zinal, Switzerland, a tradition that endured for the next fifteen years. (photo: Swamiji gives the opening talk at the Zinal conference, mid-1980s.)
He also traveled to Eastern Europe twice, as part of a citizen-diplomacy delegation. In 1985 and 1986, he went to Finland and the Soviet Union for 10-day tours by two peace organizations. In addition to meetings with government officials, clergy, and leaders from a variety of professions, he gave a Yoga program at the Indian Embassy. When asked, “What fears do you have about going into the Soviet Union?” Swamiji replied, “I fear that I have no fear.” (photo: Swamiji meeting with a Russian Orthodox bishop, 1986.)
Today, Integral Yoga Europe is thriving with centers and teachers throughout Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Gibraltar, Germany, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, and Norway. European Integral Yoga centers offer regular classes, workshops, teacher training programs, and special events. Integral Yoga Europe hosts a biennial reunion of teachers from the various countries, with a 5-day program hosted by a country. (photo: 2019 European Reunion, France.)
Asia, Southeast Asia, Asia Pacific and Africa
Swami Satchidananda often explained in his humble way, “I never go anywhere myself. I only go if invited and the ticket is sent to me.” This was true of the more than 30 tours of Asia he made in his many years of service to the world. Almost every year he traveled to India and Sri Lanka, often taking groups of western students to experience the birthplace of Yoga firsthand. Swamiji was invited to speak at numerous Yoga, peace, vegetarian, and other conferences. He was guest speaker at the World Scientific Yoga Conference in New Delhi. He spoke at colleges and universities in Manila, and the Philippines. He was invited by the Harilela family to inaugurate, along with Christian leader Billy Graham, their flagship hotel in Hong Kong, which often hosted Swamiji’s Yoga programs. He received invitations to speak at Hindu Temples and Yoga centers, universities and health centers, as well as Rotary Clubs in India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. He also traveled to Dubai, Israel, and Ghana, where he gave Yoga programs.
Today, Integral Yoga centers in India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Taiwan are thriving. His talks and books have been translated into Indian languages, Chinese, and Japanese. In 2019, Integral Yoga centers began opening in mainland China.
Australia and Oceania
In 1970, Swami Satchidananda made his first visit to Fiji during his first world tour. He returned to Fiji in 1971 and 1979. (photo: Swamiji standing outside a village hut in Fiji in 1979.) During these visits, he gave public talks, spoke at Hindu temples in Suva and Nandi, and was invited to meet with the Indian ambassador to Fiji. In 1971, Swamiji traveled to Australia and New Zealand for the first time, as part of his second world tour. He gave a series of talks in Australia and a talk at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
In 1974, he was invited as the special guest speaker at the International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA) Convention in New Zealand and its convention in Australia in 1979. At that time, he became an Honorary Patron of the IYTA, which had its headquarters in Australia. (photo: with IYTA co-founder, Swami Nirmalananda/Roma Blair.)
In January of 1979, Nambassa—a three-day music, crafts and alternative lifestyles festival on Phil and Pat Hulses’ 400-acre farm in Golden Valley, north of Waihi, New Zealand—drew over 75,000 concert-goers. Hoping to re-create the Woodstock Festival experience, Swami Satchidananda was invited to open the very first Nambassa festival (because he was, as Wikipedia notes: “Known among the 1960s counterculture as the man who opened the original Woodstock festival of 1969, and as the sage from India who introduced the art of to the west.” (photo: Swamiji onstage at Nambassa 1979.)
During the 1980s, Swamiji made four more tours to Australia, including stops in Tasmania and New Zealand. While on these tours, he often spoke at IYTA programs and conferences as well as Yoga centers and universities. Also during this time, the first Integral Yoga Institute was established in Sydney and then in several other cities. In the early 1980s, Fred Krishna Koch, founded the Ontos Retreat Centre in Victoria, Australia, based on the principles and practices of Integral Yoga. He consulted with Swami Satchidananda on developing this Centre into a residential ashram and Yoga retreat centre. It flourished for a number of years and now is Ontos Farm. The main Integral Yoga centre in Australia is located in Melbourne.
In 1975, Swami Satchidananda’s first South American trip was to Venezuela, where he gave talks in various cities including a lecture at the Central University of Venezuela. In 1990, he was invited by Mataji Indra Devi to tour Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. He presided over the Second Annual All-South American Yoga Teacher’s Congress held in Argentina where he told the teachers, “The real way of teaching Yoga is to show it in your life.” Swamiji clearly inspired his audiences and today there are many Integral Yoga teachers and several Integral Yoga centers in Argentina and also Brazil. (Photo above: A visit to Iguazu Falls, Argentina)