In the more than fifty years since Swami Satchidananda brought peace into the chaos of 450,000 young people at a massive rock concert, his Integral Yoga teachings continue to be shared around the world. Heart surgeons, construction workers, people with HIV/AIDS, teachers, police, veterans, nurses, students and parents on every continent are living increasingly healthier, happier lives because of Yoga and meditation. Yoga in America used to be for athletic, skinny, straight, white women. Today’s Yoga practitioner is just as likely to be plus-sized, Gay, Black, Asian or Hispanic, physically challenged or recovering from addiction, fighting cancer, or coping with autism. Tens of thousands are doing Yoga in their chairs or beds because that’s where they are stuck, for now.
Yoga will help change that for some, improve it for all. The global movement called Accessible Yoga began with a student of the late Swami Satchidananda, who strongly supported the core concept of Yoga for all—no matter their circumstances. At Swami Satchidananda’s Yoga centers around the globe, workshops are offered for the Yoga of Recovery—a beacon for alcoholics and other addicts, Yoga for senior citizens, Yoga for amputees for military veterans, for the broken of body and even of heart. He was at the forefront of bringing Yoga programs into prisons and drug rehab centers following Woodstock. Integral Yoga Global was the first organization to train the most number of Yoga teachers with the first Yoga teacher training certification course in America.
The over 5,000 Integral Yoga teachers have schools and studios throughout the US, Europe, China, and many places in between. These teachers positively touch the lives of thousands upon thousands of students as they share the Yoga practices and teachings and invoke Swami Satchidananda’s universal message of peace, kindness, and compassion. Students of Swami Satchidananda’s like Haris Lender who founded Kidding Around Yoga, has brought this practices to over a million school children—the children who will shape the future of our world. Sonia Sumar, founder of Yoga for the Special Child, has adapted these practices and trains teachers and therapists to work with children who have special needs.
From the moment he chanted, “Om,” from the Woodstock stage in 1969, calming the young people at the music festival on a farm in upstate New York, Swami Satchidananda attained rock star status—much to his own surprise. The festival rapidly became legend as did he. Today, the humble Guru is no longer in the body, but his pioneering teachings of interfaith respect and the scientific disciplines of his system for peaceful, easeful, and useful (selfless) living called Integral Yoga are practiced by an ever-widening global audience. Integral Yoga’s principles and specific methods are increasingly being integrated into the practice of medicine, the training of police officers, and the enlightened treatment of prisoners. Like the teacher, the organization he founded to serve the world, is low-key but influential as more human beings seek to find happiness within themselves.
Swami Satchidananda’s legacy can be seen through his students and the work they have been doing on behalf of humanity. These students are physicians, therapists, educators, poets, musicians, engineers and architects, and Yoga teachers who have enriched their own lives with the teachings of the Woodstock Guru, which begin with stretching, breathing, meditation, and an organic vegetarian diet.
In the ever-expanding universe of Integral Yoga and its related systems is the profound contribution made to the medical field. It is here that Swami Satchidananda made the deepest and perhaps most unexpected contribution to changing the way doctors think and the actions they take on behalf of their patients. In the pre-Satchidananda era of medicine in America, millions every year would develop clogged arteries and damaged hearts thanks to their diets rich in dense animal fats. Tens of thousands would die every year as a result. Many of them young and in terrible pain. At the time, Western medicine was developing tools with which to effectively treat some of the conditions. Cardiac patients who survived did so with the help of delicate, expensive surgery and powerful medicines. Then along came Dean Ornish, a young physician who was a student of the Woodstock Guru.
When Dean Ornish first met Swami Satchidananda, he was an exhausted, depressed medical student who wasn’t sure he wanted to keep living. Swami Satchidananda helped Ornish get past his depression and taught him how to apply yogic principles to Western medicine. The result is a quiet revolution in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. Ornish published a ground-breaking peer reviewed medical journal (The Lancet) article that announced to the world that he had repeatedly reversed heart disease in his heart patients by having them do Yoga postures, Yoga breathing, meditation and switching to a high fiber, vegetarian diet—what today has come to be known as “lifestyle medicine.” Swami Satchidananda spoke about groundbreaking ideas in talks during the 1970s at Johns Hopkins, the American Medical Students Association Conferences, and at numerous university medical centers and hospitals throughout the United States. Until Dr. Ornish published his results, no physician had ever proven that heart disease could be reversed. And he proved it with what the Woodstock Guru taught him.
At the University of Virginia’s School of Nursing, Dr. M. Mala Cunningham, PhD is a Clinical Assistant Professor. Her actual job is to serve as a wise and dynamic connector between yogic medicine and the UVA medical staff many of whom have never so much as taken a single Yoga class. Cunningham oozes self-confidence, deep knowledge, and a playfulness which allows her audiences of classically trained medical professionals to laugh about the degree of difficulty for melding their Western concepts of the disease model and the Eastern practices of medical Yoga. Like Dr. Ornish, psychologist Cunningham is a first-generation student of Swami Satchidananda. Also like Ornish, Cunningham’s work is forcing new thinking by thought leaders in American medicine who are under pressure to cut costs while making people healthier. Applying Swami Satchidananda’s teachings turns out to have exactly the effect the policy makers are seeking. Demonstrating and integrating that knowledge is an ongoing challenge in a system which has always resisted change emanating from outside.
Swami Satchidananda never expected instant adoption of his teachings by the West. He counseled patience, “Individual rain drops make mighty oceans,” he said. The power of his Yoga teachings lives on in Cunningham, Ornish, Sumar, Lender, and the many other pioneers adapting Yoga for special applications to serve various populations of his students all across the planet. Each of them is a lighthouse in a dark and dangerous time. As so much of the world seeks comfort in divisiveness, hatred, and tribalism, those who share the vision and ideals of Woodstock embrace global peace and harmony. As Swami Satchidananda instructed: “If you want a more peaceful world, start with yourself.”
About the Author:
Jeff Ananda Kamen is an Award-winning journalist and the author of Warrior Pups: True Stories of America’s K9 Heroes and co-author with Robert Kupperman of Final Warning: Averting Disaster in the New Age of Terrorism. His New York Daily News Magazine cover story, “Facing the Terrorists,” provided readers with extraordinary access to the NYPD’s storied Bomb Squad. His news reporting and documentaries on national security, law enforcement, race relations, and politics have been featured on radio TV and in print for more than forty years. Kamen has reported for NPR, NBC News, ABC and CBS Radio, CBC and Mutual News. Jeff’s documentary, “Outside the Wire,” for the Air Force won the top prize for Pentagon-produced films in 2005. Watch Kamen’s 1973 documentary, “Yoga for the City,” featuring Sri Swami Satchidananda here.