Author Archives: Prem Anjali

Helpful Hints for the Practice of Yama and Niyama

Helpful Hints for the Practice of Yama and Niyama

By Swami Karunananda

The first two limbs of Raja Yoga are called yama and niyama. They consist of five precepts each and constitute the ethical foundation of Yoga. Sri Swami Satchidananda said: “All spiritual life should be based on these principles. They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.”

Ultimately, the goal in spiritual practice is to make the mind calm and clean. Such a mind is like a crystal clear lake; we can see to its depths and experience our true nature, which is supreme peace and joy. Without adherence to yama and niyama, it would be impossible to keep the mind calm and clean always.

By working with these precepts, we come to a deeper understanding of our attitudes and behaviors — the ways we treat ourselves, others, and the world around us. This insight leads to personal transformation and spiritual awakening. This benefits not only ourselves, but helps to bring peace and comfort, healing and light, to others.

Below are some practical hints on how to explore these precepts so they become integrated into your daily life and spiritual practice.

  1. Goal Setting: Honestly evaluate your capacity. Then, be specific and practical in setting a goal. Make your goal challenging, but attainable; if you apply proper effort, you will succeed. If you make it too hard, you will only set yourself up for frustration and failure, and give your mind an excuse to give up. This is a trick of the mind that can undermine your progress. Don’t try to reach too far, too fast. Slow and steady wins the race. Even if you are focusing on what may seem like a small, mundane thing, what you’re really doing is cultivating greater awareness that can then express in other areas of your life.
  2. Consequences: Designate a consequence in case you slip. Let it be another beneficial practice: like more pranayama, meditation, service, or a dietary observance. That way, you will be continually asserting your mastery over the mind. Be creative; make it fun. Lovingly, patiently, skillfully win over any inner resistance, so that your mind becomes your ally on your spiritual journey.
  3. Positive affirmations: State what you wish to develop clearly, succinctly and in the present tense—as if you already possess it. If you practice mantra japa, repeat your affirmation several times before the silent repetition of your mantra. When you do that, the power of the mantra goes to fulfill the intention behind your affirmation. It’s also very helpful to repeat the affirmation several times upon arising and before retiring at night. That way, you will be continually integrating the virtue you are developing into your character and expressing it more and more in your life.
  4. Pratipaksha Bhavana: This yogic technique helps to overcome negative patterns by consciously cultivating the opposite positive ones. It can be combined with alternate nostril breathing. As you inhale, visualize that along with the breath, you are drawing into yourself the positive quality you wish to develop. Feel like it is filling you completely. When you exhale, visualize that the negative pattern is leaving with the breath. While it’s difficult to change emotional and behavioral habits directly, this single technique can help a lot. Because it is so simple, it can bypass the mind’s resistance to change. Try practicing for ten minutes, twice a day, for a month, and you will see the benefits.
  5. Inspiration: Find out more about others who have developed and expressed in their lives the virtue you’re practicing. You can draw examples from the saints and sages of the various faith traditions or from leaders in different fields, such as: education, government, science, technology, business, sports, or the arts. If you look around you, you can draw inspiration from family members, colleagues, teachers, students, and friends. Seeing the virtue expressed in the lives of others can make your goal feel more accessible and serve as a powerful motivator for your practice.
  6. Personal accountability: Every day, pause, reflect, and record your progress in a spiritual journal. A few moments a day in this way will help you to stay on track and deepen your spiritual discernment. A greater understanding of the meaning, benefits, and power of the virtue you are developing will be revealed to you.
  7. Support: This is very important on the spiritual path. We can draw support from the Higher Power through prayer and our sincere, heartfelt efforts. We can also draw support from one another—from a spiritual buddy, a mentor, a teacher, or a friend. This can help to reinforce our commitment, as well as be a source of valuable feedback, as our journey unfolds.

YAMA (Abstinence)
1. Ahimsa Non-violence
2. Satya Truthfulness
3. Asteya Non-stealing
4. Brahmacharya Continence (or moderation)
5. Aparigraha Non-greed

NIYAMA (Observance)

  1. Saucha Purity
  2. Santosha Contentment
  3. Tapas Accepting pain and not causing pain
  4. Svadhyaya Spiritual study
  5. Isvarapranidhana Devotion, dedication and surrender to the divine


  Swami Karunananda is a senior disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda. In 1975, she was ordained as a monk into the Holy Order of Sannyas. She has had over 40 years experience teaching all aspects of Yoga and specializes now in workshops, retreats, and teacher training programs that focus on the science of meditation, the philosophy of Yoga, personal transformation, and Yoga breathing techniques for better health and wellbeing. She developed, and for 25 years has taught, the Integral Yoga Teacher Training programs in Raja Yoga and in Meditation.

Swami Karunananda served as president of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville in Virginia and in California, as well as director of the Integral Yoga Institutes in San Francisco and in Santa Barbara. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees, and as the chairperson of the Spiritual Life Board at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, Virginia.

Interested in fostering interfaith understanding and harmony, she is featured in the interfaith documentary entitled, With One Voice. She also compiled and edited the Lotus Prayer Book, a collection of prayers from various faith traditions, and Enlightening Tales as told by Sri Swami Satchidananda. She served as contributing editor for The Breath of Life: Integral Yoga Pranayama, as well as a senior writer for the Integral Yoga Magazine. In her book, Awakening: Aspiration to Realization Through Integral Yoga, she describes the spiritual path and provides guidance for the journey.



Four Locks, Four Keys: A Simple Approach to Relationships

Four Locks, Four Keys: A Simple Approach to Relationships

By Beth Hinnen

When I first studied Raja Yoga, or Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, in my Yoga Teacher Training Class of 2001 at the Integral Yoga Institute, New York City, I clearly remember Swami Ramananda saying something like, “First your mind talked you into eating the ice cream, then it started saying you shouldn’t have eaten the ice cream (dramatic pause)—how can you trust your mind?” I have been asking myself that question ever since.

Lucky for me, the Yoga Sutras give clear instructions on bypassing the mind, not getting caught up in its whirlwinds of “do it; no, don’t do it; do it; ah, you shouldn’t have done that.” The Sutras’ aim is to help calm those whirlwinds, slow them way down so I can see, hear between the gaps for other options of action, options I like to think come from life, Divine Consciousness, True Self. I became so enamored with the Sutras that I received Teacher Training for them and taught several Raja Yoga classes to new Yoga Teacher Trainers in New York. Each time, I was amazed at the wisdom, the simplicity, the practicality, of the Sutras.

Of course, the most well known Sutra is the second one, Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodah, the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga. To me, this is the lynchpin around which all other sutras revolve. No matter what sutra we look at, it comes back to this truth. We experience union, or Yoga, when the mind’s whirlwinds calm down. However, as Patanjali proceeds through the first pada, or section of the Sutras, “On Contemplation,” there arises what Swami Satchidananda called the “Four Locks, Four Keys” sutra. Amidst the encouragement to practice devotion to God (Ishvara Pranidhana) followed by other devotional and contemplative practices, we find the Four Locks, Four Keys, a practical-as-can-be sutra that gives responses to four major types of behavior people exhibit. The lock is a human behavior that can trigger whirlwinds; the key is what keeps the mind unlocked from the whirlwinds to experience Yoga. In this sutra, Patanjali isn’t talking about practicing contemplation, he’s offering a quick fix, an immediate response to everyday situations, a simple approach to relationships. To keep our mind calm, we need only practice the key that fits the lock.

The sutra (as translated by Reverend Jaganath Carrera) reads, “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity toward the non-virtuous, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” Here, Patanjali is giving us attitudes to cultivate, not actions to take. We focus on how our heart approaches a situation, not on what our mind says we should do.

Let’s look at cultivating friendliness toward the happy. This one seems like a no-brainer.

I am walking down the street and a fellow whistling and smiling comes toward me. If I were in an undisturbed calmness of mind, I could keep that state, according to the sutra, by responding to such behavior with friendliness, which might be a smile, nod, or even a hello. That seems simple enough. However, what if the fellow’s happiness triggers a sense of comparison in me, that I am not that happy, only calm. I can just hear the vrittis now, “What’s he so happy about? Did he win some money? Get a big promotion? What’s wrong with me?” It is easy to see how quickly the vrittis can spin a calm mind into a whirlwind of stories! And imagine if I meet this fellow and I don’t have a calm mind.

Instead, I’m thinking about a million things, including how to get a very important report out by the end of the day. I’m worried and unhappy, invisible vrittis encircling me much like Pigpen’s dirt cloud in the Peanuts comic strip, saying, “you are a failure, you won’t get the project done, everything is going to blow up! And why is that person so happy?” My mind could become even more agitated seeing a happy person. However, if I heeded Patanjali’s words, trusted them and responded without thought, and felt friendly toward this fellow, what might happen? A smile might break my agitated thought pattern, my body reading a signal of happiness, and suddenly, my mind might calm (or at least there would be a break in the vrittis) and I am in a position to experience Yoga, or union, joining a fellow human in a happy feeling.

Two exciting things come from the example above. First, this sutra can work both ways. We can keep a calm mind showing friendliness toward the happy, and, we can calm a whirlwind mind by doing the same thing! Second, when we use it to calm our minds, it can happen instantly. It only takes a moment to drop the vrittis and experience Yoga. Amid all the concentration guidance in the first pada of the Sutras, which can sometimes sound challenging, Patanjali gives us this chance to experience instant Yoga (or not fall out of it) simply by responding with a particular attitude to a particular behavior.

The second lock and key is cultivating compassion toward the sad. Again, this seems so straight forward. Yet, many of us have different definitions of compassion. To some it means to be “nice,” to others it might mean “tough love.” Again, Patanjali doesn’t give us any guidance on action, only on attitude so it would be helpful here to explore what compassion means. According to Merriam-Webster, compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Pema Chodron has been know to define compassion as “an armless mother watching her child fall into a raging river.” Brene Brown suggests compassion is “allowing another to be vulnerable, exposed, loved, and accepted all at the same time;” and also that, “compassion is a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.”

For me, compassion has a sense of suffering alongside, without having to do anything to fix the other person. And while this may sound contrary to the dictionary definition, I don’t believe it is. I believe that suffering alongside and allowing someone to have the very human experiences of sadness, grief, trauma, and not push those emotions aside to feel better or get over them, can be the most healing, transformative, helpful action (or perhaps, non-action) we can share. However, I project that in our Western society, this may be one of the most challenging behaviors to exhibit, as being sad seems to indicated being a loser. Typical vrittis might sound like, “Get over it! Ugh, how miserable this person is. Why do I have to hear this?” Hardly anyone wants to recall their own sad times to feel compassion for someone else going through it. Mostly we want to drag that person out of sadness so we don’t have to acknowledge our own grief

However, I have found being alongside someone who is sad, knowing I don’t have to change them, the situation, or fix anything allows me to experience compassion—I can relax and allow, let the person be vulnerable and exposed while still loving and accepting them. We are equals, and it feels natural, even easy, and from that, my mind clears and calms. I don’t have to do anything except be there, be compassion. And, as we saw before, it can work the other way. Say I have been practicing the contemplations Patanjali offered in the first pada; devotion to God, mantra repetition, pranayama, and meditation, and from those I have a calm mind. Now I can be alongside another person who feels depressed, anxious, lost, or hopeless without my mind racing with vrittis, and I can hold space for that person to experience very real, deep and human emotions without being judged. And with that calm mind, in the absence of vrittis, life or Divine

Consciousness can drop in (like an insight or an intuition) an action that might be helpful; holding the person’s hand, praying, singing and dancing, listening, sitting in silence, asking how to help. Compassion can be expressed in unlimited ways.

The third lock/key is delight toward the virtuous. Again, this seems simple, especially when it comes to heroes like Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and Sri Swami Satchidananda. It becomes much more challenging when it hits closer to home. If my friend and I decide to eat healthier, and my friend sticks to the commitment and I don’t, can I show delight toward my friend? Typical vrittis would most likely attack me and my friend! “She’s a show-off, a goody-two-shoes. I’m lame, a loser, and fat.” Again, I turn to Merriam-Webster for a definition of the attitude of delight: “recognition with joy; after (de-) light.” Light shines and we de-light! Patanjali is offering that by dropping the vrittis in each of these locks and keys we can resonate with, experience, be, True Nature. I imagine life, Divine Consciousness delighting when my friend sticks to her commitment to eat healthy. And I can choose to experience the same. And it all can happen in an instant!

The more we explore this, the more it appears that the Four Keys: friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity (which we are getting to) could all be included in the definition of True Nature. It could be that Patanjali’s attitudes are simply discreet aspects of experiencing Yoga. In this instance then, delighting in my friend’s success could calm the vrittis and give me the energy to recommit! In some ways, I see the keys continually unlocking the mind (or keeping it unlocked), so that the mind gets out of the way for the next key to work in a new situation!

The last lock/key is equanimity toward the non-virtuous. In all my years of teaching, this one seems to cause the most head shakes and grumblings. “When someone cuts me off in traffic (or on the way to the subway), I’m supposed to smile and be nice?” In a word, yes. Because Patanjali’s whole point of the Sutras is for you to experience Yoga, union. It doesn’t comment on what other people are supposed to experience, be or do. For me in particular, with respect to this part of the sutra, it doesn’t matter what someone else’s behavior is, I can always maintain a calm, peaceful mind. It is important what I do, not what anyone else does. My well-being is not at the mercy of someone else; it is all up to me.

And yet, when I look at Merriam-Webster’s definition of equanimity: “awareness of mind; right disposition, even mind,” smiling and being nice, actions, are not part of it. Again, Patanjali wants us to cultivate a heartfelt attitude. Perhaps what strikes me most about this lock and key is to not make things worse, to not spiral down. Mostly I want to maintain a calm mind in this situation, because out of all the “lock behaviors,” this one has the highest likelihood of turning harmful. And what I’ve discovered when I can keep a calm mind is that no matter what the behavior is, happy, sad, virtuous, non-virtuous, that behavior becomes information, not a judgment or a statement on who we are as humans. It’s only the vrittis that want to come up with a story, judgment or critique about what happened.

For instance, if I say something to my spouse who instantly gives me a look that I have always interpreted as severe disapproval, rather than going to a knee-jerk reaction of anger I can choose to interpret that look as information. Something caused my spouse to have that expression. Was it really what I said? By practicing equanimity, I can calmly ask about the “look” and it could easily be that while I was talking, my spouse had a moment of extreme pain from an old knee injury that caused the expression! Which leads to another beautiful part of this sutra; I don’t have to figure anything out. I need only respond how Patanjali suggests, show equanimity, even mind, toward the “look” and keep my calmness at which point, I can ask for clarification. And if it is disapproval, that equanimity can allow for endless response options that don’t include anger and may even lead to an openhearted discussion that could benefit the relationship.

In the end, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are aimed at encouraging me, and all spiritual students, to experience Yoga, Divine Consciousness, a calm mind. There is no quicker way for me to do that than to practice this sutra and above all, to practice it toward myself. For what more important relationship is there in my life, than the one I have with myself? When I’m happy, I shall treat myself with friendliness and not let vrittis try to shame me out of feeling happy—same with sadness, virtuous, and non-virtuous behaviors. Whatever I practice with others, I practice with myself, for I am as deserving as any other human being to be approached with friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity.


   Beth Hinnen began her Yoga teaching path with the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Program in 2001. Afterward, she took the Intermediate, Advanced, Raja, and Prenatal trainings. With over 1,000 hours in Yoga certifications (including Structural Yoga Therapy), Beth taught in the New York City area for over 10 years, both privately and in classes. In 2013 she moved back to her native state, Colorado, to open a common-denominational spiritual center named Samaya (“right timing” in Sanskrit) following Sri Swami Satchidananda’s teaching, “Truth is one, paths are many.” She currently also studies Buddhism.


Is Pain Inevitable?

Is Pain Inevitable?

By Beth Hinnen

In this final article of a series looking at several of Patanjali’s sutras, we come to quite an amazing one buried in the Second Pada: pain that has not yet come is avoidable (2.16). This is very similar to, I would even say, exactly, what the Buddha taught: that suffering can end—as stated in the Third Noble Truth—though we hardly seem to get there because the first two Truths (there is suffering and suffering stems from desire) are so compelling that we stay focused on those. And yet, Buddha said there is an end to suffering, a choice that can be made. The opposite of suffering is what Patanjali offers in the second sutra: union with Divine Consciousness, the experience of Yoga, the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff.

And just how do I equate pain and suffering? In the second article of this series (Fact or Fiction: What Do You Believe?), we explored Patanjali’s definition of painful vs. painless vritti, the latter based on direct experience, clear inference or authoritative testimony, what I termed: Knowledge. Painful vritti, misperception (he said hi to me, we’re getting married tomorrow!), conceptualization (I bet aliens will be arriving any day!) and memories (oh to be young and energetic!) sound a lot like suffering caused by desire—the act of wanting something other than what is. And so in this article, I propose that the pain Patanjali refers to is the suffering of Buddha’s teachings.

With that, we still have the thorny issue of actual pain, that moment of experiencing a knife cutting into a finger, a bone being broken. Or emotional/mental pain, a stabbing feeling that comes with an experience, arguing with a spouse, losing a job, a loved one dying. Physical pain lasts as long as the painful event itself, however long it takes to have the injury addressed, and the body given time to heal. This leaves us with emotional/mental pain, the type that is most susceptible to turning into pain that can be avoided, and the suffering that Buddha offered can end. In a simpler way of suggestion, any pain can turn into pain/suffering when it lasts longer than the event that created the pain. Radical? Perhaps.

Before we go there, how about we just avoid painful events altogether? Sounds pretty simple. Until we begin to eliminate what could cause us pain and we realize that we no longer can use a knife, so cooking and eating are out. So is any kind of exercise that can result in a broken bone. And well, relationships can be painful, so never doing that again. Nix the family, friends, future mates. Ah yes, becoming a hermit in a cave might be just the ticket. Except, well, hunger, cold, and loneliness can be painful. This avoidance is termed aversion by Patanjali in sutra 2.8: “Aversion is that which follows identification with painful experiences.”

A student could argue that aversion naturally follows those painful experiences. Except a more advanced student would point to the word, “identification” in the definition. It is when we identify with the painful experience, when we believe it is what we are, that aversion becomes a follow-on action. Now we are back to the third and fourth sutras. When the vritti are restrained, we experience Divine Consciousness, Yoga. Otherwise, we identify with the vritti and believe that is what we are. The painful experience is us. It becomes a loop that is hard to get out of. When we avert or avoid, we are identified with memories of painful experiences and, no longer being present, we cannot experience Yoga (nor the chance to see that maybe this current event repeat is not painful). So aversion actually keeps us stuck in pain.

Indeed, Patanjali highlights this very issue with sutra 2.17: “The cause of that avoidable pain is the union of the Seer and Seen.” What Patanjali states from the beginning is that we are the Seer, Divine Consciousness. Yet, somehow, instead of staying in the role of Seer, or even more active, keep seeing, we instead slip into the role of believing we are what is seen—a static, inanimate object or event that is “dead” since it is no longer happening because the moment it happened in is gone. We identify with a painful event and continue to “feel” the pain long after the event has ended.

An example of this is an employee being called into the boss’ office, sitting down and hearing that the job she has been doing is being eliminated and so her employ is being terminated. In the moment of hearing that information, several things can happen. One, she can hear it and feel immediate sensations in the body, a clenching of the stomach, a stabbing in the heart, a pounding in the head, common sensations associated with emotional/mental pain. Two, she could go into shock, a sense of ears plugging up, heart stopping, numbness and basically delaying any reaction to the information. Or three, she could react with aversion, a disbelief, a pushing away of the words being delivered in the moment. This last could be accompanied by any set of sensations from scenario one or two. And here is where the initial shock or pain of finding out that information can turn into pain or suffering. The employee walks out of the office and the vritti begin, “What?! I gave my life to this company and this is how I’m repaid?” or “My boss has always hated me, always! I never stood a chance!” or “What am I going to tell my family? This is embarrassing, shameful, horrible!”

These vritti are painful. Most likely, none of them are based in knowledge, and even if there is some fact to the amount of time dedicated to working, the boss-employee relationship, the reaction of family, not one of the above thought whirlwinds is helpful to the person who just got laid off! In the moment of termination, the employee feels what she feels—pain, anguish, rejection, hurt—and what happens next is a bunch of thought whirlwinds that keep that pain going in the next several moments (hours, days, months) after the employee walks out of the office. The event, the termination, is over. It happened once. And the painful vritti that come up keep the event happening again, and again, and again, and again. Now pain turns into major pain or suffering. Not to mention what happens when the employee goes back and tells her co-workers what happened, reliving the entire event over again, perhaps with characterizations of the key players, perhaps an additional flourish of detail that didn’t happen but made management look bad and the employee look good (now we can begin to see how memories are not a basis of knowledge), and then the employee goes home and does it all over, again.

How do we not get drawn into vritti that keep the painful event playing in our heads? Patanjali offers a simple way to immediately shift our perspective, sutra 2.33: “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana.” And as simple as this is, it can be deceptive. The opposite, or positive thoughts, are only effective when they are based in knowledge. Hence, having just been fired, to have someone tell me the opposite—that I haven’t been fired—is not factual. Nor is, “the company made a big mistake.” Well, not according to the company. And a classic response, “You’ll find another job in no time.” Who knows when anyone will find another job? These vritti are as unhelpful as the ones that were berating.

So which vritti would be positive and based in knowledge? These will vary widely between individuals and will depend on what resonates with a person’s heart. A few that come to mind are, “Ouch! Didn’t see that coming, even though I know I did the best I could,” or “It hurts to lose this job; however, I still enjoy this field of work and will see what else is available,” or “This is not fun, and yet, I’ve been wanting a change of scenery, and now I can act on that.” Perhaps it is, “Gosh, I’ve never enjoyed working with my boss. Here’s a chance to find a work relationship that supports me.” Or, “I’m terrified to tell my family. I wonder who I can ask to help me find a way to talk to them about this.” These vritti all have in common 1) acknowledgement of the event; 2) acknowledgment of the pain; and 3) no repeating the painful event.

Of course, in the aftermath of such an event, pain will most likely be felt again. In the example above, say the employee, a Yoga student by the way, is driving home. She is focusing on her breath, on driving and even so, intermittent flashes of being fired pop up in her mind (memory) and that initial stabbing pain of the event returns. She allows herself to cry, curse, feel heartbroken, and then she returns to her breath and driving the car. She sees her mind vacillating between the event (now in the past) and what is happening in this moment, driving the car, taking a breath. She realizes that when she focuses on driving or breathing (an action that conveniently is always happening in the now), she is calmer. Which leads her to create a mantra, “I am breathing, I am driving, I am breathing, I am driving.” She sees how the pain passes (most scientific research supports that feelings/emotions last anywhere from 30–90 seconds) and with the mantra, is practicing Pratipaksha Bhavana. The “positive” thoughts are simply what is true in the moment, that she is breathing and that she is driving. Coincidentally, this is her direct experience in the moment, what is actually occurring; it is knowledge.

Another way to work with pain is to consider it a wake up call. In sutra 2.1, Patanjali offers “Accepting pain as help for purification, study, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in practice.” Tapas is the Sanskrit word for “accepting pain” and has the additional definition of being “a purifying flame.” Just like the body produces a fever to kill germs, painful events give us the opportunity to “burn away” the painful vritti by not believing them.

Returning to our intrepid yogini who just got fired, while driving home she started to see how a constant recalling of the original event led to pain or suffering. At first, she attended to her breath, or to driving, a one-pointed focus associated with devotion (from the third article, Practice, Study or Devotion: Which Path to Take?). Then she started using a mantra, doing Japa Yoga, repeating what is true in the moment. Not only did pain itself became a trigger to choose practicing Patanjali’s teachings, in doing so the yogini builds a foundation of peace and calm as a direct experience—while simultaneously lessening the pull of, or purifying, the painful vritti clamoring for attention. Her spiritual health increases and in the future, she becomes more immune to the painful vritti. The added bonus is that, in a state of Yoga, she can now be open to Divine Consciousness which could offer any number of helpful insights, such as how she might like to approach a relationship with a new boss (perhaps taking cues from the first article, Four Locks, Four Keys: A Simple Approach to Relationships), or starting a new career that she has always wanted to pursue, or simply how to tell her family the news in a direct and compassionate way.

Ah, but Patanjali says we can avoid future pain all together, not just get out of the cycle of it. And this brings us to sutra 2.26, “Uninterrupted discriminative discernment is the method for its removal.” The “it” is ignorance, the reason why the Seer identifies with the Seen (sutra 2.24). We don’t know, we haven’t had enough experience to recognize when we are identified with Divine Consciousness and when we are identified with painful vritti (and I would wager, it’s because we are identified with the painful vritti 99.9 percent of the time, we come to feel like it’s what is “real”). And, since this mis-identification is the cause of avoidable pain, when we remove it, we avoid the pain completely. It is no mistake that Patanjali uses “discriminative discernment,” two words that have almost identical meanings, in this sutra, highlighting that we really need to get it, to double down on recognizing what is the Seer and what is Seen, to know when we are identified with the Seer (experiencing Yoga, calm, peace, joy, unconditional love) and when we are identified with the Seen (experiencing pain or suffering). And he encourages us to do it in every moment, uninterrupted.

Once again, we return to the example. Imagine the yogini has been practicing discriminative discernment all day as she is called into her boss’ office. She sits down, and the boss gives her the news. She feels a sharp inhale of breath, a moment of holding it, and in releasing the breath recognizes that she is still alive. All that has happened is her job has ended. She is still goodness, love, compassion, vibrancy, yes, Divine Consciousness, that she has always been. It is the job that has ended, not her being. Divine Consciousness has been through this kind of event countless times, and Divine Consciousness has continued past such an event, into a new job, a new career, a smaller apartment, unemployment, selling possessions to make ends meet, another new job, into a divorce, into a new relationship, out of that relationship, back to school, on to retirement, welcoming babies that will go through similar, if not the exact same, events as the yogini has.

In the end, we cannot avoid losing jobs, losing loved ones, getting sick, and having bouts of memory that bring up such events again and again. What we can do is avoid future pain when, and after, we go through such events by choosing Yoga. We do this by turning away from the painful vritti and focusing on what is true now, in this moment, even if it is simply the breath moving in and out. In this way, we become grounded in the knowledge that we are Divine Consciousness, and we experience peace, joy, and unconditional love no matter what is happening.


    Beth Hinnen began her Yoga teaching path with the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Program in 2001. Afterward, she took the Intermediate, Advanced, Raja, and Prenatal trainings. With over 1,000 hours in Yoga certifications (including Structural Yoga Therapy), Beth taught in the New York City area for over 10 years, both privately and in classes. In 2013 she moved back to her native state, Colorado, to open a common-denominational spiritual center named Samaya (“right timing” in Sanskrit) following Sri Swami Satchidananda’s teaching, “Truth is one, paths are many.” She currently also studies Buddhism.

Yoga for Diabetes

Yoga for Diabetes

By Rachel Zinman

In her book, Yoga for Diabetes: How to Manage Your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda, Yoga teacher Rachel Zinman presents a highly motivational and personalized guide that will enable readers to incorporate Yoga into their daily diabetes management plan. Rachel was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008. In this article, she shares her journey and what she’s learned about living and thriving with diabetes. She also includes an overview of asanas that are especially useful in managing diabetes.

The first time I tried Yoga, I was 17. I didn’t know anything about Yoga but I liked the way it made my body feel, light and free. Yoga also pushed my body to its limits, I loved the challenge but at the same time there were some red flags. My persistent practice led to a radical detoxification. It felt like everything I had poured into my young body both physically and emotionally was being scrubbed clean. Every time I mastered a pose I’d have some sort of reaction.

I didn’t know it at the time but that was the start of my journey with diabetes. I wasn’t symptomatic, I didn’t have unusual blood sugar readings but I knew something wasn’t right. Through my 20’s and 30’s I practiced daily and eventually began to teach.

When I was first diagnosed with LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults) at the age of 42, I was floored. By then, I’d been teaching Yoga and training teachers for over 25 years and was supposed to be an example of someone who “lives” Yoga. But there I was, so sick I couldn’t get out of bed.

Type 1 diabetes is usually thought of as a disease that strikes in childhood, but of the 400 million people worldwide suffering with diabetes about 10 percent are diagnosed with LADA.

When I educated myself more about my condition, and that a LADA diagnosis describes the slow destruction of insulin-producing beta cells… I knew that Yoga had played a pivotal role in helping me to preserve my insulin production and stay sensitive to the insulin I was still producing. More importantly it helped me stay positive.

No matter what type of diabetes one has, it’s stressful.

In my own experience of living with diabetes, Yoga encourages me to breathe and connect with myself. When my mind is focused on a posture there’s just no room for stressful thoughts

But there are also many other benefits: Weight loss, better sleep, increased insulin sensitivity, balanced emotions, flexibility, strength, increased breathing capacity, better concentration, and a sense of joy and wonderment in spite of adversity.

Initially, being a Yoga teacher trainer, I wanted to create a specific training for Yoga teachers on how to meet the needs of someone living with diabetes in their Yoga class. When I shared my idea with a close friend she suggested I think bigger.

Why not write a book specifically for people living with diabetes and their caregivers and share all the tips and tricks I’d used to thrive in spite of my diagnosis? It could also be a user manual for Yoga teachers.

Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions. It’s estimated that one in three Americans will soon have diabetes. That’s a lot of people who could benefit from Yoga!

Once I had the idea, I knew what I wanted. A book that was beautiful and encouraging, the sort of book you keep picking up not only because of the content but because the photographs are so engaging.

One of the big challenges when living with diabetes is to stay motivated. When we’re not constantly checking our blood sugar levels or counting carbs, we’re dealing with higher levels than we’d like (called Hyper Glycaemia) or dangerous lows (called Hypo Glycaemia). Living with diabetes is a rollercoaster and we can and do suffer from burnout.

That’s why the book is more than just Yoga postures, breathing practices, and meditations that are specific to diabetes. It’s about Ayurveda and how Ayurveda has been treating diabetes for thousands of years. Helping the person to determine their unique constitution, the book assists them in finding the right practices for them and their type of diabetes.

When I first started experiencing symptoms I was encouraged by my Yoga teacher to use Ayurveda, to help manage my condition. It was a revelation to discover that Ayurveda, the sister science to Yoga has been treating diabetes for over 4,000 years. In Ayurveda diabetes is called Prameha, which means major disease, because it affects every organ and every cell in the body.

Besides writing a book full of practical techniques and benefits it’s my personal journey of how Yoga has supported me to live with this condition for the last nine years.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

o I am stronger than I think. When I feel depleted a posture like handstand encourages me to go the distance.

o Yoga inspires bravery! When I feel insecure, I throw myself into a difficult pose and will myself to rise to the challenge.

o Yoga opens me in the toughest moments, giving me the go-ahead to let the tears fall.

o And Yoga enables me to accept that life is a constant balancing act. No matter how much I want to be in control there are going to be highs and lows. The practice can feel ordinary or super real. Really it makes no difference. Ultimately, It’s the one doing the practice that matters.

Embracing this, knowing this, has made all the difference.

As a long time Yoga teacher and practitioner who was diagnosed with diabetes in adulthood I feel absolutely grateful that I was introduced to Yoga long before my diagnosis. Without Yoga I don’t think I would have adjusted as well as I have to managing my condition.

Ayurveda categorizes diabetes into two types (curable and incurable) It also goes one step further in seeing the disease as manifesting in the three doshas, Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and a small amount of water), and Kapha (water and earth). Vata diabetes is divided into 4 types, Pitta diabetes into 6 types, and Kapha diabetes into 10.

With such a complex and detailed for treating diabetes, the physical practice of Yoga can be of immense benefit, especially if the person knows their Ayurvedic constitution. Knowing the right practice for your constitution and the type of diabetes you have means you can work with more awareness to manage your health.

However, as a beginner or someone wanting to bring Yoga into your daily life with diabetes there are certain postures that benefit all types of diabetes and address specific symptoms common to the disease.

Below are my top 6 picks for an all round practice for any type of diabetes. These poses:

  • Increase circulation
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase insulin sensitivity
  • Promote weight loss
  • Support the digestion
  • Improve mood

DISCLAIMER: Integral Yoga Magazine offers information only, no medical advice. You should consult a health care provider before starting any new exercise regime. This is particularly important if you are overweight, pregnant, nursing, regularly taking medications, or have any existing medical conditions. This website may not be tailored to your current physical and mental health. We accept no liability whatsoever for any damages arising from the use of recommendations in this article or on this website.

Down dog (Adho Mukha Savasana): This pose is an inversion, lowers blood pressure and reduces stress, while nourishing the spine. It’s also great for weight loss, circulation and improving mood.

Start on your hands and knees
Lift your sitting bones high to the ceiling
Your sitting bones are the apex of the pose
Spread your fingers wide as you place pressure into your thumb and forefinger
Feel the inner upper arms working towards each other
You can have the legs straight or slightly bent if you feel that there is too much weight in your arms and upper body
Breathe deeply here.

Warrior 2 pose (Virabhadrasana 2): This pose strengthens the thigh and the muscles around the knee. It helps to increase insulin sensitivity due to the strong muscular action of the front thigh.

Stand with the legs one legs length distance apart
Turn your front foot out and bend the front knee, stacking the knee over the ankle
Turn the back hip and back foot in slightly so there is no tension in the lower back
Raise the arms to shoulder height and gaze over the front hand
Try and hold this pose for at least 15 breaths

Chair pose (Utkatasana): This pose also builds core strength to support the lower back.

Stand with the feet inner hip width apart
Sit down like you are about to sit in the chair
Your knees should stay parallel to each other
Make sure your chest stays open and you feel the abdomen engage
Raise the arms to shoulder height
This is another great pose to strengthen the legs and increase your insulin sensitivity
You can move in and out of this pose to pump the thighs and help your thigh muscles work even harder

Revolved right angle pose (Parivrtta parsvakonasana):

Come onto your hands and knees.
Step your left foot in between your hands and bring your torso upright so you are in the Low Lunge position
Check to make sure your front knee is stacked over your ankle and that your back hip and back knee are in line
As you move into the pose, your hip will come slightly forward out of alignment
Place your hands in prayer position at your heart
Inhale and turn your torso to the left
Exhale and place your upper right arm against your outer left thigh
The more you lever your upper arm against your outer thigh, the more deeply you can twist
The deep twist massages the internal organs and improves digestion
It brings nourishment into the discs between the vertebrae of your spine increasing circulation
Take 5 deep breaths here twisting deeper on the inhalation and resting in place on the exhalation
Turn back to center on your final exhalation. Return to your hands and knees and repeat on the other side

Forward facing hero pose (Adho mukha virasana): This pose stretches the spine and supports the nervous system and it lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.

Sit upright and take your big toes together and your knees mat width apart
Slowly walk your hands forward until your spine extends
Keep your arms shoulder width apart
You can rest your forehead on the floor or turn your cheek to one side

Reclining buddha pose (Supta baddha konasana): This posture increases circulation to your pelvis, supports your reproductive and hormonal system, and is a calming and grounding posture.

Lie on your back, bending the knees and bringing the soles of the feet together
The feet can be close to the groin or further away depending on what’s comfortable
Close your eyes and place your hands on your belly
Breathe deeply and relax for 20 breaths


   Rachel Zinman was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008. It took six years for her to accept her diagnosis of type 1 LADA diabetes. She started Yoga in high school when she was 17 and by the age of 19 she was hooked. Rachel is passionate about the deeper aspects of Yoga and its ability to heal and inspire. She has spent the last 30 years practicing enthusiastically as well as teaching nationally (in Australia) and internationally since 1992. Rachel was a professional dancer from a young age and trained as a Waldorf educator teaching in both Australia and New York City.

She is also a published poet and author, award-winning musician, mother, partner and amateur filmmaker. Interested in all aspects of health and wellbeing, she started her blog, Yoga for Diabetes, to share with the online diabetes community how Yoga has helped her to manage her diabetes.

Rachel’s articles on Yoga and diabetes have been featured in Diabetes Daily, A Sweet Life, Insulin Nation, Beyond Type 1, LyfeBulb, Diabetes Counselling Online, Diabetes Alive, Veranda Magazine, Yoga Trail, Yoga4tv, Cleans for a Cure, Mind Body Green and DoYouYoga and most recently in the #1 bestseller, Unleash Your Inner Diabetes Dominator.

Yoga for Diabetes was listed as one of the best blogs for January 2016 by Diabetesmine, and was named best blog in the April 2017 issue of Low Carb Magazine. Rachel is a featured expert for several online resources for Yoga and diabetes. Rachel Zinman’s book, Yoga for Diabetes: How to Manage Your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda is available here.





Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life

Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life

An Interview with Brother Chidananda

Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life is a new book by Sri Mrinalini Mata, president of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). In this interview, Brother Chidananda, a long time SRF monk who works alongside Mataji, discusses how her new book captures the essence of what it means to be successful on one’s spiritual path.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): How would you define success?

Brother Chidananda (BC): I think the title of Sri Mrinalini Mata’s new book, Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life, is an excellent definition. Success in life, and certainly in the spiritual field, means to bring out into expression the inherent qualities of our own divine essence—the soul, or atman.

IYM: What are those qualities?

BC: All the wonderful things we wish we could abide in 24/7: bliss, love, even-mindedness, peace, the ability to always stay in the calm center of our being. And from that calm center we would be able to respond to the challenges that come up in our daily lives. Whatever events occur, we can learn to meet them with an undercurrent of divine consciousness, divine happiness, and spirit of seva or divine selflessness. As Paramahansa Yogananda expressed it: “To be able to stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”

IYM: How can we stand unshaken?

BC: To start, we first need to be very realistic about the obstacles—the things in ourselves and in the world around us—that make that kind of living a real challenge. It’s not something that’s effortless. The very beginning of real progress in spiritual life is the acceptance of the fact that it’s a fight. Success in life isn’t meant to be handed to us on a silver platter. Spiritual consciousness isn’t meant to be effortless or taken for granted.

In one sense, that’s the message of the whole Bhagavad Gita, which I consider the greatest of Yoga texts and therefore the greatest scripture of true success in life. The message of the Gita is couched as the story of two warring clans. Paramahansa Yogananda explained its deeper symbolic meaning, interpreting the Gita from the point of view of Yoga, showing that it is about the war between different aspects of our own being. One part of us is usually driven by ego, selfishness, ungoverned and unlovely emotions—the dark side of our mortal nature. The other side is our divine potential and abilities that are resident within each one of us, calling us to live in the consciousness of our divine nature. It is a daily battle that can only be won by starting and ending each day with introspection, with self-analysis, as we review our actions, attitudes, and reactions to all that occurred that day.

So, one aspect is to recognize that life is a battle. Where to go from there? We start by trying to inculcate, in our daily activities and attitudes, those divine qualities we’re trying to have our lives revolve around. That is the subject of Mrinalini Mata’s book.

IYM: How can we cultivate those qualities?

BC: She talks about how Paramahansa Yogananda stressed the absolute necessity of having a daily practice of meditation. Meditation is a word that—just like Yoga itself—is used in a lot of different ways. Meditation, when you understand its true, transformative power, is so much more than a period of sitting quietly, feeling calm and harmonious. Meditation is a very disciplined application of the mind and soul’s concentration power to contact and bring out into expression that innate divinity that which is latent within each one of us.

As long as the mind, heart, feelings, and surface emotions of our human nature are in a state of constant reactivity, upheaval, likes and dislikes, this incessant chatter masks and obscures the calm depths of the divine consciousness we’re trying to contact. Meditation is a disciplined practice to take our awareness beneath the level of restless and conflicting emotions—to a deeper level of consciousness where there’s light, divinity, calmness, and the awareness of a higher reality where is perfect.

When our minds and faculties are operating only through the physical instruments of perception, the senses, we are tricked and deluded into thinking that this material world is what is real. Maya or delusion sucks us into the most serious and fear-generating emotions. Meditation—by withdrawing the prana, the life energy, and consciousness from the outer instruments that are focused on the outer drama—allows us to gradually discover what we have in ourselves, which is much more real and substantial than the ephemeral show of ups and downs. Our inner lives then become much more real to us than the passing show. The ability to dwell in that consciousness is exactly what Paramahansa Yogananda meant when he talked about learning to stand unshaken.

IYM: Did Paramahansa Yogananda primarily prescribe a path of bhakti, of devotion to God?

BC: Those who have read his writings know he had a very devotional relationship with the Divine. However, the disciples who lived around him, including Mrinalini Mata, who had the chance to be in his company and get to know him through day-to-day interactions, invariably describe him using the words, “perfect balance.”

As you know, Yoga is so universal and all-embracing because it allows for the incredible diversity of people’s temperaments. Some relate more to the feeling aspect, the devotional path of a personal relationship between oneself and the all-loving Divine Beloved, Mother, Father, Friend. Of course, doesn’t appeal to all, but it doesn’t have to. There is Jnana for those who are drawn more the path of discriminative understanding; Karma Yoga, for those whose orientation is more toward activity and selfless service; and Raja Yoga with its science of concentration and meditation.

To whichever path of Yoga you are personally drawn, by making an effort to discipline your life and your daily actions, and to guide them by the precepts of Yoga, you’re going to be uncovering that divine nature within yourself and learning to manifest it in daily life. If you get fixated on any one aspect of Yoga in isolation, very likely the expression of your soul, of who you really are, will be to some degree a bit one-sided.

Perfect balance is the essential nature of the divine atman, the spark of spirit in each of us. Those who are manifesting divine consciousness in daily life are able to pull out of themselves whatever is most appropriate in every situation in which they find themselves. We live in a world where constantly changing circumstances require constant discrimination to choose what is right. There’s no formulaic set of rules and guidelines that tell us how to apply spiritual truth in any given context. It can’t be reduced to a formula; it’s a state of being constantly grounded in your divine being, and from that awareness to bring out whatever is appropriate in any particular situation.

For example, consider when you have to deal with challenging people in the workplace or in the business world. There’s a time when strength or adherence to principles is essential. At another time, love, forgiveness, and the motherly or softer aspect of the Divine is the best response. To be in touch with one’s soul, or atman, is to have a complete palate of divine responses. We all would like to have a card with precise instructions that we can pull out of our pockets as we’re trying to figure out what to do in a challenging situation. I don’t think that exists! But, we can have an ongoing, intuitive guidance or prompting from within about what is the divine way, the healthy way to respond in a given situation.

IYM: Not too many people have an enlightened sage or Guru by their side who says, “Here’s what you do next.”

BC: We might think that would be convenient, but it would make us complete spiritual basket cases! It would not prod us to develop our own discriminative abilities or inner strength. Taking a little time, first thing in the morning and before retiring at night, to enter into the inner stillness will help us face the unendingly diverse challenges to our peace of mind and emotional stability, and will reinforce the connection to our divine nature. That is our only realistic hope of preserving the divine attitude and manifesting divine qualities during our daily lives.

IYM: Would you share something about your personal journey?

BC: As a teenager, when I first saw a book on Yoga somehow that word awakened a desire in me to learn more. The typical goals and ambitions of material life didn’t really speak to me. I hoped there was something more to life. The turning point came when I read Autobiography of a Yogi. I was a student at the University of California in San Diego, which was close to the Self-Realization Fellowship center in Encinitas, where Paramahansa Yogananda had lived for years and written Autobiography of a Yogi. I began to attend some of the programs and meditations there.

IYM: There’s a huge variety of choices that any of us has when we begin a spiritual path. How did you know that SRF was the one for you?

BC: Autobiography spoke to me on a very deep level. It wasn’t only what the book said, but the spiritual presence I felt behind the words. There is a photo of Paramahansaji taken one hour before he left the body; it is called “the last smile.” I felt a divinity pouring out of the photo; and found myself thinking, “Anyone who can radiate that kind of consciousness just from a picture is the real deal.” So, I enrolled for the course of teachings.

IYM: Did you feel Paramahansa Yogananda was your Guru even though he was no longer in the body?

BC: I wasn’t born yet when Paramahansa Yogananda left his body in 1952. But, think about it: How is it that all these years since Paramahansa Yogananda left the body, thousands and thousands consider him to be their guide? The answer to that comes from an understanding that the Guru-disciple relationship takes place on a non-physical level of being. If one is in contact with a true Guru, the physical aspect is the tiniest tip of the iceberg.

I was fortunate to work closely with senior disciples such as Daya Mata, Mrinalini Mata, and others who were with the Master for decades. From them I learned that regardless of whether the Guru is living in the physical body or not, the relationship and the spiritual training takes place on the interior level. I’m utterly convinced of this. It is a basic fact of my daily existence; he is as real or more so than the people I encounter in my outer life, as long as I keep inwardly in tune with him.

IYM: How is it that SRF has been able to successfully carry on his vision and grow since he left his body?

BC: The first question some asked after his Mahasamadhi was, “How can we go on without him?” But he had implanted his consciousness in those he trained; and they made the commitment to devote their lives and ambitions solely to carrying on the spiritual legacy that he put in place. So even 50 or 60 years after his passing, it’s still alive.

The next question was: “Fine, but what happens after that first generation of disciples is gone?” It’s a natural question, but you also begin to see that the answer to those concerns is, again, that the relationship with the Master doesn’t take place on an outer level.

Paramahansa Yogananda was very foresighted. He wanted to build his work for the long term, to ensure that it would remain true to his vision and spirit.

IYM: How did he do that?

BC: One thing he did was to invest a lot of his energy and guidance in the monastic order of SRF. Because for a spiritual organization to endure, to remain true and not constantly shift course depending on the which way the wind blows, it has to be built on a foundation of individuals who are 100 percent vowed and committed. This doesn’t imply that monastics are necessarily superior to the many thousands of lay people who are the heart and soul of his legacy around the world. But he felt that in order for the vision to endure you have to have a solid core of non-negotiable principles, and that is what he built into his monastic order.

Daya Mata and Mrinalini Mata continued that ideal during their leadership. I always saw that for them, even with the administrative issues and the global outreach of the work, there was nothing of higher priority than to do everything possible to kindle and nurture the flame of divine longing in the monastics, knowing that this work will live or die depending on that. Our Guru used to say that, spiritually speaking, the reason Christianity has endured all these centuries is not because of its institutionalized political power, great wealth, or material clout; but, because of a handful of individuals who were God-realized saints—St. Francis, St. Teresa, Padre Pio, to name a few.

These were truly yogis, even though they didn’t use that word. So it is with SRF: Guruji said that to the degree that there are souls who have that deep, one-on-one interior relationship with the Divine, and with the Guru, his work will go on; that is what makes a living teaching. And the way to that consciousness is what Mrinalini Mata has outlined in her book—not just for those of us living in the ashram but for all who are looking for success on the spiritual path, and therefore in life.


   Brother Chidananda—whose name means “bliss of the infinite Divine Consciousness”— has been a monk in Self-Realization Fellowship’s monastic community for more than 35 years. He has assisted Sri Mrinalini Mata in her work of editing and publication of numerous books by Paramahansa Yogananda, including The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You and God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita. Since the publication of this article (Winter 2014), Sri Mrinalini Mata made her transition, and Brother Chidananda was appointed President of SRF in August 2017. For more information, please visit the Self-Realization Fellowship website.

~ From Integral Yoga Magazine, Winter 2014



The Path of Modern Yoga

The Path of Modern Yoga

By Elliott Goldberg

In his book, The Path of Modern Yoga, Elliott Goldberg shows how Yoga was transformed from a sacred practice into a health and fitness regime for middle-class Indians in the early 20th century and then gradually transformed over the course of the 20th century into an embodied spiritual practice—a Yoga for our times. In this excerpt from his book, Goldberg illuminates the contributions specific of Sri Swami Sivananda, the Guru of Integral Yoga founder Sri Swami Satchidananda.

To accommodate his growing number of disciples, in 1936 [Swami] Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society, headquartered in an ashram in Rishikesh, picturesquely nestled in a Himalayan hill on the banks of the Ganges. The society also served as his base for spreading his brand of yoga. His missionary ambitions were far reaching. “It is wrong to suppose that Yoga-Asanas are purely meant for the Indians and that they are ideally suited to Indian conditions,” he emphatically stated in1938. In fact, the “remarkable efficacy of Yoga-Asanas as the means of building up a radiant and healthy body” in Westerners has already been proven by his smattering of devoted followers in Europe and America. “Yoga-Asanas can be practiced and are intended not only for India and the Indians but for the whole world and the humanity at large.” From the late 1930s to the late 1960s Sivananda yoga became the prominent hatha yoga export around the world. Its importance in the spread of hatha yoga to the West, in particular, is inestimable.

Branches of the Divine Life Society opened in the West in four stages. In the first stage (late 1930s to late 1940s) Western disciples (including Harry Dikman in Riga, Latvia; Louis Brink Fort and Edith Enna in Copenhagen, Denmark; Boris Sakharov in Berlin, Germany; David Ledberg in Stockholm, Sweden; and Ernest Hackel in Los Angeles, California), who learned Sivananda’s style of yoga by reading his books and corresponding with him, founded yoga centers.

In the second stage (late 1940s to early 1960s) Westerners (such as the German-born Canadian Sylvia Hellman, who received the Divine Light invocation, a standing meditation in which one accepts that one is a channel of Divine Light, and was given the name Swami Sivananda Radha in 1956) journeyed to the Sivananda’s burgeoning complex, where, after being systematically trained (in a course including meditation and lecture courses as well as asana practice), they received certification in Sivananda’s method and returned home to teach.

In the third stage (mid-1950s to late 1960s) Sivananda sent Indian disciples throughout India and to other countries to disseminate his method of yoga. His two best-known missionaries were Swami Vishnu-devananda and Swami Satchidananda. Vishnu-devananda was dispatched to the West by his master in 1957 with a ten-rupee note (less than a dollar) and the words: “Go, people are waiting. Many souls from the East are reincarnating now in the West. Go and reawaken the consciousness hidden in their memories and bring them back to the path of Yoga.” He founded a Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Montreal in 1959 and in Quebec in 1962 and established a retreat in the Bahamas in 1967. Satchidananda founded Integral Yoga (the trademark name given by him to Sivananda’s yoga) in New York in 1966. In Yoga Journal’s Yoga Basics, yoga teacher Mara Carrico and the editors of Yoga Journal credit these men’s efforts, especially the “brilliant and innovative promotional skills” of Vishnu-devananda, for the “Sivananda organization blossom[ing] into an international entity.”

In the fourth stage (1960s and 1970s) students of Sivananda’s first generation of Indian disciples opened their own Sivananda centers. For example, in the United States Marcia Moore and her husband opened the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1962, and Sita Frenkel and her husband founded a branch of the Divine Life Society in Harriman, New York, in 1964. In Great Britain Barbara Gordon and Judy Stalabrass opened the Sivananda Yoga Centre in London in 1968.

By the early 1960s almost all Sivananda teachers taught the same basic yoga class, which followed Sivananda’s selection and sequence of postures. Sivananda had further distilled the yoga regime of twenty postures that Van Lysebeth had learned into the famous Rishikesh series of nine postures, which unfold in a perfect rhythm of pose and counterpose. The main concern, as cultural anthropologist Sarah Strauss points out, was that “everyone know what the trademark sequence of postures is, so that they will be able to join classes at any one of the centers worldwide, without feeling that they are outsiders.”

Promoting Yoga

In 1936 [Swami] Sivananda formed the Divine Life Society (DLS). In reframing his community at the ashram in Rishikesh, on the edge of the sacred Ganges, as an official spiritual organization, he did more than solidify his growing following; he created the means for disseminating his yoga system. The critical evolution of the DLS took place after World War II, mainly due to the establishment in 1948 of the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy, a formal yoga training center, located within the ashram grounds. It attracted not only disciples (residents) but also lay members (visitors). “And, to crown it all,” writes Van Lysebeth in “The Yogic Dynamo,” his tribute to his guru, “[Sivananda] accepted people from the west, and even females!” A magnanimous and magnetic spiritual teacher, he encouraged these students not only to practice yoga but also to teach yoga by forming small groups when they returned home.

Sivananda published books and pamphlets through the DLS press, the Sivananda Publication League. (He would eventually author over two hundred books.) Through the English-language publications, his teaching reached many foreigners. One of them was [André] Van Lysebeth, who began receiving instruction from Sivananda by correspondence in 1949. (He was awarded a diploma from the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy in 1963, when he met Sivananda for the first time, shortly before the guru died.) Van Lysebeth’s epistolary relationship with Sivananda wasn’t unusual; the first Sivananda centers in Europe were founded by men and women who’d read Sivananda’s books and corresponded with him but hadn’t studied with him.

During his more than 7,500-mile All-India Tour (his only major tour of India) in 1950, Sivananda established local and regional branches of the DLS throughout India. Then, in the 1950s and early 1960s, he sent his disciples, including the swamis Vishnu-devananda, Satchidananda, Satyananda, Venkatesananda, and Omkarananda, around India and/or the rest of the world to form branches of the DLS (or DLS-inspired but unaffiliated organizations). Their students, in turn, opened Sivananda yoga centers.

Sivananda was nicknamed “Swami Propagandananda” by his detractors for his dissemination of yoga far and wide. Van Lysebeth notes that “they disapproved of both his modern methods of diffusion, and his propagation of yoga on such a grand scale to the general public. . . . He encouraged a yoga practice which was possible for everyone: some asanas, a little pranayama, a little meditation and bhakti; well, a little of everything.” The critics predicted that in the materialistic West, yoga would “degenerate into a minor branch of hygienic gymnastics, nothing more. This was considered as a complete betrayal of yoga and the great rishis.”

In actuality, although he always promoted yoga as health prevention and cure, Sivananda primarily advanced yoga as relief from the stress brought about by the conditions of modernity. “Life has become very complex in these days,” he wrote in1939. “The struggle for existence is very acute and keen. . . . A great deal of continuous mental and physical strain is imposed on modern humanity by its deadening daily work and unhealthy mode of life.” To provide a more immersive physical and mental relaxation experience than could be found in sessions at local Sivananda centers, he developed what social historian Sarah Strauss calls a yoga “oasis regime”: a “‘yoga vacation’ . . . that essentially reproduces the European spa experience—another classic ‘oasis regime’—with, quite literally, a new twist.” In Rishikesh (and later at DLS ashrams around the world), his followers partook in yoga retreats that enabled them to “engage in an ascetic lifestyle for a short while, in order to improve not only their own hectic lives but also the world around them, when they go back home.” In taking a break from their worldly social life, they became (at least temporarily) jivanmukhtas.

A jivanmukhta is one who is liberated while still embodied. “‘Liberated in life,’” explains historian of religion Mircea Eliade, “the jivan-mukta no longer possesses a personal consciousness—that is, a consciousness nourished on his own history—but a witnessing consciousness, which is pure lucidity and spontaneity.” Traditionally, a jivanmukhta is distinguished from one who is liberated while separated from the body—that is, when dead. Sivananda was influential in redefining jivanmukhta in the 20th century by changing the meaning to one who attains absolute freedom not only while alive but while still involved in the activities of everyday life, distinguished from one who withdraws from society to achieve enlightenment. This new formulation, observes Strauss, “reflects the fact that this ideal was well suited to the lives and goals of the emergent middle classes in India and the West. It did not require them to give up the basic structures and activities of everyday life, but only to reformulate their attitudes and concepts of self and others through the addition of yogic practices.” In fact, being this new type of jivanmukhta didn’t even require students to sacrifice their personality (which is made up of the memories of one’s own history); they needed simply to rejuvenate their spirit.

Some, even today, may consider Sivananda’s teachings as a key symptom of yoga’s modern decline. But there’s no disagreeing with Van Lysebeth, who argues that thanks to Sivananda—his teachings, disciples, and books—“thousands of westerners now practise yoga. Yoga has given meaning to their lives, given them back their health [Van Lysebeth himself was cured of constipation], and helped them to survive in a difficult world.” Sivananda’s gentle style of yoga with its standard format helps people in India and the West keep their bodies healthy and their minds quiet and calm.

Nevertheless, even Van Lysebeth concedes that the traditionalists weren’t entirely wrong in saying that Sivananda’s simple messages awakened people’s interest in yoga but “completely cut [yoga] off from its deep roots, which lead us back to the origins of our own being and all of the cosmos.” Yet Sivananda himself intimated a way to experience exactly this depth of yoga practice within his system. In his 1939 yoga manual, he proposed a guided imagery relaxation exercise—which more accurately should be called a meditation—for Savasana, Corpse Pose: “Imagine that . . . your body [is] floating in this vast ocean of spirit. . . . Feel that Lord Hiranyagarbha, the ocean of life, is gently rocking you on His vast bosom. Feel that you are in touch with the Supreme Being.”

Any asana session (whether practiced in isolation in a room in the basement of a house, in a class at a yoga center down the block, or as part of a four-day retreat that includes pranayama, study, presentations, and seated meditation at an ashram in the Bahamas) can be used to practice this or similar meditations. That is, any single asana session may be considered as a kind of oasis regime: a period of temporary withdrawal from the concerns of everyday life with its demands set by clocks and calendars, a period of contemplation in which we can live in the eternal present, outside of time, using our body as a vehicle to becoming open to Being.

Elliott Goldberg is one of the few scholars in the emerging field of modern Yoga studies. He has presented papers at the Modern Yoga Workshop at Cambridge University and at the American Academy of Religion (AAR). He lives in New York City. His new book, from Inner Traditions, is available from Integral Yoga Distribution, Amazon, and most other retailers.