The Development of Satyananda Yoga or Bihar Yoga
In this world, tradition is present at the back of every human achievement. The main purpose of tradition is to allow transference of eternal values from one generation to another. All our present knowledge about the world and ourselves we inherited through tradition developed over the ages by various civilizations. Tradition brings about the expansion of society and flourishing of culture. What it would be like if each generation needed to try to find cure for tuberculosis, reinvent the wheel or X-ray all over again? Every discovery is based on previous discoveries and knowledge. Tradition grants stability to life and is the pillar of evolution. The essence of each tradition is to maintain continuity. In Sanskrit, tradition is called parampara. Parampara literally means continuity, something that is present here at this moment and will still be here tomorrow. If there are any interruptions, it is no longer tradition. Tradition is even more significant in the spiritual life. All contemporary yoga practices somebody created long time ago, someone else improved and altered them, and somebody experimented with them and passed them over to students. Bihar School of Yoga is traditional yoga school based upon teachings of Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda.
To understand the development and expansion of Bihar Yoga or Satyananda Yoga tradition, it is necessary to review the development of yoga in general and the unique place of Satyananda Yoga in the entire tradition of yoga.
The Origin of Yoga
The origin of yoga faded away in the obscure onset of the history of the world. As soon as a man was formed, he began to examine things, to experiment with himself and to work on his own improvement. It is believed that yoga in the past was a part of global culture as it had been practiced in various parts of the world. Although many evidences prove that yoga was not restricted just to India (Egypt, Colombia, Scandinavia …), still yoga tradition has been completely maintained in India only, probably because of its protected geographical position.
The Vedas and the Tantras as Roots of Yoga
Yoga has its origins in two great Indian traditions, the tantras and ancient Vedas. Tantra is system that directly leads to enlightenment. It has never been a mass movement and usually has just a few followers. The basic practices of tantra are mantra, yantra and mandala. One branch of tantra is known as yogachara, for people who practice tantra through yoga. The practical part of yoga originated from this system of tantra.
The Vedas represent the oldest original scripture preserved. In four large volumes, they offer evidence of human endeavors to know oneself and the world around. The last part or the last chapter of each Veda contains one of the Upanishads. The Upanishads reveal the deepest and highest truths about creation of the world, meaning of life, purpose and goal of man. In Vedic tradition, yoga is explained in the Upanishads. Each Upanishad deals with particular philosophical theme, with distinct teaching.
Northern and Southern Schools of Yoga
For thousands of years, wise and holy men (rishis, munis, tapasvis, sadhus) had practiced yoga in India, secluded from the world, in forests, caves and jungles. They were mostly situated in the Himalayas, in the valleys along the Ganges and Narmada river. Ancient sadhus and sannyasins conveyed their knowledge to only few disciples who first had to pass the tests of endurance and mental strength. Or¬dinary people did not practice yoga. Very little was known of it and it was meant only for the chosen few, who were ready to dedicate their lives to it.
Sixty years ago, only the philosophical side of yoga became recognized, but nobody mentioned its practical side. People continued to believe that yoga was meant just for renunciates, sadhus and sannyasins, who lived in seclusion, completely im¬mersed in contemplation, meditation, reflection, solitude and introversion. Yoga was regarded as path to self-realization and liberation that an ordinary person could not follow without renouncing his ambitions and desires, his family and his attachments to the worldly affairs. Therefore, yoga was mainly philosophy, a form of discipline meant to increase one’s spiritual, mental and physical strength, and improve life conditions. The theoretical knowledge of yoga started to be revealed to the public at the end of XIX and during the first part of XX century by Ramak¬rishna’s disciple Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Kuvalayananda, Baba Ram Das, Swami Sivananda, Yogi Ramacharaka (alias Wil¬liam Walker Atkinson), and others. All of them already followed an established tradition or school of yoga.
The Southern School of Yoga
Yoga actually emerged from anonymity in the beginning of past century in two authentic schools of yoga: the Southern school and the Northern school. The Northern school crystallized around the Ganges and Narmada rivers in Himala¬ys. The Southern school of Yoga was established after few young men had includ¬ed some elements of yoga in military training. It gradually advanced into a system of dynamic yoga exercises. The most important idea of the Southern school is that ultimate perfection is achievable through total perfection of the physical body. The main propagator of the Southern school of yoga was T. Krishnamacharya, the teacher of Deshikachar and Iyengar. They all propagated hatha yoga. Most contemporary schools of hatha yoga originate from the Southern center of yoga from the early XX century.
The Northern School of Yoga
The Northern school of Yoga was more engaged in control of the mind based on teachings of Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”. This is primarily meditative yoga. In the “Yoga Sutras”, the emphasis is laid on the management of the mind and its thoughts, while hatha yoga is only referred to as way to keep up a healthy body for better meditation. For this reason, raja yoga or Patanjali’s yoga became recognized as the Northern school of yoga. In the Northern school of yoga, there are different paramparas, traditions and cultures. Although it may seem predominantly relied on raja yoga, it also contains components of other main branches of yoga, such as jnana yoga, kriya yoga, kundalini yoga, bhakti yoga, and even hatha yoga. One thing all these yogas have in common is discipline. Discipline enhances human nature, enables realization of human spirit and awakens men’s innate potential so he becomes balanced, mature and perfect human being.
It was only in the last sixty years that yoga became known to the public. Vision¬ary sadhus believed that yoga would become the need of the future generations. In the Northern School of yoga, Swami Sivananda was the first who started to introduce yoga to the general public. He is the originator of the Satyananda Yoga tradition. Swami Sivananda made great revolution in yoga by taking it out of phi¬losophy and making it practical. Even though he was a sannyasin of Dashnami order that follows Vedantic tradition, he introduced yoga practices to his sannya¬sin disciples. He taught them hatha yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, kriya yoga, kundalini yoga, mantra yoga, and every kind of yoga that existed in the scriptures. This combination of different practices he called “Yoga of Synthesis”.
Swami Sivananda was determined to propagate yoga, to remove the veil of mysti¬cism around it and to enable everyone to improve his or her life through yoga. Many brahmins at Rishikesh of that time criticized him because he offered such sacred and sublime teachings to the general public. Without paying much atten¬tion to their objections, he continued to print pamphlets, booklets and books, and to distribute them to everyone. Swami Sivananda introduced yoga in a simple manner, demonstrating that it was equally accessible to sannyasins, as well as to householders.
Many of his disciples proceeded from the ashram in Rishikesh with mandates to spread yoga. Each disciple adopted a particular subject, particular branch of yoga to propagate. Swami Satchidananda, founder of the Integral Yoga Movement in the USA, emphasized combination of hatha yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga. Swami Vishnudevananda, whose main centre is in Canada, established many Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers for teaching hatha yoga worldwide. Swami Ven¬kateshananda taught raja yoga in Mauritius. Our guru, Swami Satyananda, also received a mandate to spread yoga but as integral yoga with components of all other yogas and emphasis on tantric yoga.
Integral Yoga of Swami Satyananda
The system of tantra integrates practices of kundalini yoga, kriya yoga, mantra yoga, laya yoga, the advanced stages of pratyahara and dharana, meditation and samadhi. From the Vedas Swami Satyananda took the components of karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga as well as the concept of chakras. He combined systems of meditation from both the tantras and the Vedas, and in 1974 published these meditations in the book “Meditations from the Tantras”. The very first study of meditation was published in 1965 in the book “Mechanics of Meditation: Prac¬tices for Peace”. Sri Swamiji was the first to present and publish the practical side of tantra, the yogic side. In 1971, he published the book “Tantra Yoga Panorama” (after the seminar on tantra held in 1968 in Vienna) in which he explained the concepts of tantra and the need to apply its practices in modern society.
After leaving Rishikesh in 1956, with the blessings of his guru Swami Sivananda, Swami Satyananda traveled throughout India with intention to feel the pulse of the people and their needs. He traveled extensively by train, by car, on foot, on an elephant, on the bullock cart, all the way from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, from Pakistan to Burma. During his travels, he became aware that dry Vedantic philos¬ophy could not help people; instead, it was necessary to offer them some practical basis. He found it in the tantras through yoga. Swami Satyananda had a visionary insight that yoga would become the need of society, not as way to salvation, but as practical method that could provide fast and effective relief to all psychosomatic imbalances that affected physical, mental, emotional, moral or spiritual health.
With this intention, Sri Swamiji developed two approaches for preserving and restoring good health in a positive way: the first one is to develop integrated, open and balanced personality, and the second one is to encourage people to face the life. In the first approach, practices of raja yoga are used for understanding of human nature, mind, psyche and spirit. Karma yoga is suitable for overcoming immediate obstacles like frustration and ego. Bhakti yoga is best for channeling of the emotions, and jnana yoga for attaining peace of mind and tranquility within and without. Kriya yoga, kundalini yoga, nada yoga, swara yoga, mantra yoga and many other yogas are advisable for the ability to go deeper into yogic prac¬tices. This was one of the approaches propagated by Sri Swamiji for the develop¬ment of personal integrity.
The second approach became a lifestyle, the ability to take different looks on life, to consider pain and suffering as indicators of human effort and entanglement in one’s own karmas. The teaching and training in lifestyle also took different forms. A large number of people came to yoga expecting to get rid of stress. Contrary to their expectation, Sri Swamiji taught them how to incorporate yoga in daily life. He offered an altered way of life by reviving the tradition of sannyasa and encouraged everyone that it was their spiritual right to become a sannyasin once in the lifetime. Through sannyasa, the ancient path of sacrifice and dedication to spirituality, Sri Swamiji taught many people how to integrate yoga into daily life.
He assisted many people by teaching yoga as therapy for numerous diseases. To many he demonstrated how to experience inner peace through yoga. Moreover, he helped everyone according to their needs and made yoga useful and applicable to all.
The Expansion of Yoga since 1963 – BSY
“I made the decision to live in this world and to re-establish a system of yoga with all sincerity and honesty.”
When Swami Satyananda had established the Bihar School of Yoga in 1963, it symbolically represented the ultimate fulfillment of Swami Sivananda’s desire to develop an integrated path of yoga. In 1964, during the first public conference in Munger, Sri Swamiji said, “Munger will become the centre of yoga for the whole world and it will find its place on the world map.” Today we witness that his words are coming true.
Sri Swamiji was the first yoga teacher from India who came to the West to teach yoga. In 1968, he commenced his first world tour and during subsequent six months planted the seeds of yoga outside India. He talked about yoga in a very practical way, providing the scientific facts and making yoga understandable and acceptable to all. Sri Swamiji always carefully planned what he would teach on each trip. He taught asanas, pranayama, mudra, bandha, shatkarmas, pratyahara techniques, chakra techniques, techniques of kriya yoga, kundalini yoga, and consequently he annihilated all the people’s prejudices about yoga. He encour¬aged everybody to practice yoga and offered them hope. His style of explain¬ing yoga was rather unique. Swami Satyananda has covered every dimension of yoga – physiological, psychological and spiritual. He did not see anybody merely as physical body, but as individual composed of the qualities of the head, heart and hands – intellect, emotion and action, and tried to approach all three aspects equally. Today the Satyananda / Bihar Yoga system represents one of the rare sys¬tems trying to integrate physical, psychological and spiritual dimension of yoga in every yoga practice.
Prior to Swami Satyananda, nobody taught pranayama. Pranayama was constant¬ly a taboo, both in Europe and in India. From India, yoga slowly spread all over the world with Sri Swamiji playing the vital role in its expansion. He offered and shared his knowledge wherever he went. During his visits to Satyananda Yoga centers around the world, whether in the UK, the USA, South America or Aus¬tralia, each time he offered a new and different set of teachings and in this way gradually enlarged the knowledge of yoga. Although during programs one might not have the impression of receiving much of previously unrevealed knowledge, later it would became completely clear that at each program there was a system¬atic transference of ancient knowledge enough for a lifetime.
“Swami Satyanada gave yoga a new life, a new birth. He revitalized yoga; otherwise, yoga would be completely forgotten and lost. That is why Swami Satyananda is Pa¬tanjali of today.”
Swami Satyananda adopted “Yoga of Synthesis”, the yoga system of his teacher Swami Sivananda, and combined it with practical and applicable aspects of Ve¬danta, yoga and tantra to create Satyananda Yoga or Bihar Yoga system. Today Satyananda Yoga™ is known and recognized all over the world as a classic, authen¬tic, integral and traditional school of yoga. Satyananda Yoga™ utilizes the original ancient yoga practices performed in the traditional way, but adjusted to the con¬temporary needs of men. Besides hatha yoga, it includes bhakti, raja, jnana and karma yoga, as well as some other branches of yoga (mantra, laya, swara, etc.).
Satyananda Yoga Classes consist of asanas (physical positions) to bring harmony to the body and mind, pranayamas (breathing exercises) for awakening of the vi¬tal energy, and relaxation and meditation exercises to calm and balance the mind and give personal stability. This is highly flexible system, easily adaptable to the needs of each individual and suitable for people of different age groups, physical fitness and health conditions.
Swami Satyananda has brought to light the old hidden teachings of tantra, mother of all philosophy. He gave accurate, detailed, and systematic explanations of the old systems of yoga and tantra. We should keep in mind that the very first teacher of Swami Satyananda was Sukhamani, a tantric adept. He grew up practicing all the practices that he later on modified and introduced to the public.
Antar Mouna, pranayama, pavanmuktasana series, shankhaprakshalana, pra¬na vidya and kriya yoga are just some of the valuable practices that Sri Swamiji revealed in a methodical, systematic and simple way and as a result enabled ev¬eryone to benefit from them. What is even more significant is that he removed the veil of mysticism around yoga and introduced it to the public, revitalized and renewed. He wanted to make yoga accessible to all levels of society and to help people evolve physically, mentally, emotionally, as well as spiritually. Yoga nidra, his largest contribution to yoga, is practice derived from tantric system of nyasa. Recognizing the potential of nyasa through research and experimentation, Swami Satyananda created his own nowadays universally recognized alternative by com¬bining systematized relaxation practice and pratyahara.
Swami Satyananda’s teaching is focused on total and balanced growth of man. The homogeneity of human nature and personality is achieved through adequate co¬ordination, collaboration, connection, and manifestation of the respective char¬acteristics of head – intelligence, heart – feelings, and hands – action. This is yoga darshan, the vision of yoga developed by Swami Satyananda.
The Aim and Overall Contribution of Satyananda / Bihar Yoga
Satyananda Yoga aims to preserve the classical yoga, the ancient tantric and yogic teachings, as well as knowledge of the Upanishads, without alterations or addi¬tions. Its main goal is to maintain sacredness and purity of that invaluable system for the development of the full potentials in man. Satyananda Yoga revives and reveals the ancient yogic and tantric exercises improved by personal experience and presented in a modern, demystified way.
Satyananda Yoga is not a static system, but a system that keeps evolving and contributing to the progress of society. Constant research of yoga and system¬atic study of ancient texts continues so that significant work of the ancient sages would not be completely forgotten. Everything related to the development of hu¬man nature and personality becomes revealed again.
Practical components of Satyananda Yoga brought to light different practices that currently form integral part of every yoga class in the world. As penicillin or electricity, invented long time ago, today are taken for granted, even so many yoga practices are today considered as integral part of yoga owing to Swami Saty¬ananda.
The contribution of Swami Satyananda can be recognized and acknowledged in each of the main branches of yoga. Hatha yoga is improved with asanas such as pavanmuktasana series, pranayamas are categorized, and shatkarmas simpli¬fied. The entire series of pratyahara practices from raja yoga originates from the practical part of tantra. Pratyahara was for the first time explained and system¬atized through simple but deep exercises, antar mouna and yoga nidra. Bhakti yoga was cleared of ritualistic, devotional idolatry and sentimental approach, in order to focus and channel the unruly emotions and enable man to open him¬self to life. Furthermore, through advanced levels of bhakti yoga we can develop definite connection and awareness of something higher and greater than our own self, but nevertheless present in our lives. Bhakti yoga teaches us to believe, to have confidence and to develop a sense of respect. Kundalini yoga is revealed, brought to light and systematized in a way that allows gradual and steady progress in awakening our inner potentials. Jnana yoga, generally considered as the high¬est and most inaccessible yoga reserved only for aspirants of rather sattvic nature, was made more accessible to people through simple practices such as spiritual diary. Swami Satyanada taught karma yoga along with other practices as a way to spiritualize daily activities, and to make of every action, performed in relaxed and detached way, a powerful method of transformation. In his ashram, karma yoga is part of daily routine and through practical examples, principles and at¬titudes, daily life may be transformed into spiritual path. Once the principles and attitudes of karma yoga are studied and experienced in ashram environment, they can easily be applied in ordinary life.
In his later years, Swami Satyananda taught us in what way karma yoga led to pure selfless service or sewa. To his last day he quietly, without words, continued to introduce sewa to thousands of people who came to Rikhia just to get tiny ex¬perience of this divine way of life.
There is almost no field of yoga that Swami Satyananda did not improve, deepen or contributed. All yogas we encounter today, at every yoga class in the world, every single yoga nidra or the way of asanas and pranayama are performed, the words used in teaching yoga or in web articles and in hundreds of books from other yoga traditions, all of it is signed with invisible hand of Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
- Method of practicing asanas – slowly, consciously, connected with breathing, with eyes closed. In this way, prana is awakened and consciousness evolved. Con¬sequently, asana is performed from pratyahara, asana as meditation rather than physical training.
- The sequence of asanas – He systematized succession of performed asanas for proper growth of the body and right balance of energy.
- He categorized asanas in separate groups: a series of asanas from vajrasana, standing asanas, bending forward asanas, backward asanas, balancing asanas, re¬verse positions, and so on.
- He promoted pavanmuktasana series and put them ahead of classical asanas.
- Yoga Therapy – He explained the therapeutic effects of each practice.
- The book “Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha” (APMB) represents perhaps his greatest contribution.
It was initially published in 1968 and had only seventy pages. Current edition has over 500 pages and is a complete tutorial for hatha yoga. It is absolutely bestselling book in yoga literature, and all yoga instructors and students of yoga, regardless of what kind of yoga they practice, keep this book at their home.
Swami Satyananda has emphasized the importance of gradual progress in asana practice. In Satyananda Yoga, practice begins with a group of asanas that are easy to perform in order to prepare the body for more advanced asanas. Swami Saty¬ananda systematized the order of performing asanas and paved the way for full and complete development of the body, on all levels. He emphasized that our at¬titude during asana practice is more important than actual performance. When eyes are closed and mind focused on everything that body does, on each move¬ment, even if it is practice of hatha yoga, one can spontaneously enter into a state of pratyahara and the mind may attain the state of complete peace.
Swami Satyananda also specified the healing properties of each asana and taught them as yoga therapy for maintenance of good health.
Before Satyananda yoga system, traditional asanas were taught at yoga classes from the very beginning – asanas such as paschimotanasana, chakrasana, padma¬sana, majurasana, bhujangasana, sarvanhasana and others. These are advanced asanas difficult for modern man with dormant body energy, stiff physical body and stressed mind. For that reason, Swami Satyananda brought forth pavanmuk¬tasana series to prepare the body properly. There are three different series of pa¬vanmuktasana practices. The first one is anti-rheumatic series. It affects all the joints in the body and makes them flexible and supple, awakens prana, removes toxins, performs lymphatic drainage. Another group of pavanmuktasana series is anti-gastric. It eliminates irregularities in functioning of the lower abdomen, awakens energy, facilitates blood circulation, stimulates digestion and energizes the entire body. The third group is called shakti bandha, and it consists of ener¬gizing exercises that remove blockages in the energy or pranic level so that prana may flow freely to increase energy levels in the body. After at least six months of practicing these series, our body becomes completely flexible, healthy, energized and full of vitality. This series of pawanmuktasana practices Swami Satyananda renewed, described in detail, and transformed in complete and separate systems.
- He introduced pranayamas as an integral and mandatory part of yoga sadhana.
- He revived, revealed, and demystified breathing exercises. Before him, people were afraid of pranayama. Nobody taught pranayama.
- He systematized and classified pranayamas to cooling, warming, relaxing, revi¬talizing, purifing, soothing.
- He explained functioning, benefits and therapeutic properties of pranayamas.
- He systematized each practice by degrees and created special system for the expansion of pulmonary capacity, from preparatory exercises to developing of kumbhaka. In this way, he ensured harmless and gradual progress.
Swami Satyananda introduced pranayamas as part of daily yoga exercises, as part of yoga sadhana. He openly taught pranayamas, demystified them and made them accessible to everyone. Some forty years ago pranayamas were considered dangerous and inappropiate. In other organizations, pranayamas were not taught as part of yoga class, just asanas. Only teachers of Satyananda Yoga tradition ex¬plicitly taught pranayama. Pranayama techniques that are currently taught all over the world represent the teaching of Swami Satyananda. He systematized and categorized them – which pranayamas are warming, which soothing, which cool¬ing or balancing, how they function or influence the different states of conscious¬ness, during different time of day, in different climates, with different frame of mind, how to develop inhaling, exhaling and capacity to hold one’s breath. Swami Satyananda taught everybody in this way.
Mudras and Bandhas
Sri Swamiji was the first to explain the role of mudras and bandhas in thorough and scientific manner. Previously, mudras and bandhas literally represented just an idea, a concept. They have never been explained in practical and scientific manner. The book “Moola Bandha” is an example of the profundity of knowledge Sri Swamiji passed on to his disciples. A practice that was previously considered mystical and was taught only in privacy of the guru-chela (disciple) relationship became disclosed and explained in detail. Now everyone can understand it, prac¬tice it and benefit from it.
It is not commonly known that Swami Satyananda also simplified the entire sys¬tem of hatha yoga shatkriyas by combining several techniques into one simplified version – purna shankhaprakshalana. Shankhaprakshalana is the exercise that you will not find in any other yoga literature, and techniques like basti, dhauti, nauli and neti are presented as separate techniques. How many people nowadays would do complicated purification practices? So today, we all benefit from these simplified but powerful shatkarmas.
Swami Satyananda was the first to describe the process of prana vidya and its huge potentials. In its rather elementary form, this practice is known today as reikhi or some other form of pranic healing. This advanced practice was rarely taught and never was put on paper until the publishing of the book “Prana Vidya” in the Bihar School of Yoga.
There are only two systems of kriya yoga in the world. One stems from Babaji who is considered its founder. Many teachers belonged to this line of teaching, but most renowned were Paramahamsa Yogananda, Sri Yukteswar and Lahiri Mahasaya.
The other system of kriya yoga came from tantras and was brought forth by Swa¬mi Satyananda. When kriya yoga was considered a secret knowledge that should be transmitted only from guru to disciple in a very private, intimate form, Swami Satyananda started a three-year correspondence course in kriya yoga. The prod¬uct of that course was the book “Kriya Yoga”, the only existing, most comprehen¬sive and authentic encyclopedia of yoga.
It was Swami Satyananda who linked yogic concepts with the body. He explained which chakra corresponds to which nadi or energy channel, to which gland of internal secretion, to what state of mind or level of consciousness. Many scien¬tists and researchers later studied this subject and referred to the practices and theoretical knowledge presented by Sri Swamiji. In kundalini yoga, he left us a systematic sequence of practices leading to awakening and charging of energy centers or chakras, in a strictly controlled, gradual and above all, harmless way.
Meditation – Pratyahara
Swami Satyananda declared that yoga nidra practice was developed as combina¬tion of ancient practices and personal experience, and with regard to the needs of modern aspirants. Today, this practice is protected since it is a trademark of Bihar or Satyananda Yoga and is called the Satyananda Yoga Nidra ™. Satyananda yoga nidra is a systematic method of inspiring complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation developed by Swami Satyananda from traditional tantric practice of nyasa.
The need for relaxation is a priority of men in today’s hectic society. Yoga nidra leads into a state of deep relaxation and if practiced regularly brings about abiding inner peace and tranquility. Swami Satyananda established yoga nidra as the first practice of pratyahara (according the system of raja yoga of Patanjali). He clas¬sified the stages of yoga nidra on a scientific basis so that the state of pratyahara gradually deepens and relaxation increases. At present, Satyananda yoga nidra is known in every corner of the world, but hardly anyone knows the true origin of this practice. The practice of yoga nidra is by itself a capital contribution to humanity.
Antar Mouna and Ajapa Japa
Since the creation of the world, people were tormented by their mind. Already in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asked Krishna, his teacher, how to cope with his mind? Today this issue seems to be more relevant than ever. Taking into account various factors that currently trouble man, Swami Satyananda developed a com¬plete system of pratyahara, the process through which consciousness extends to the mind. He defined the concept of pratyahara, its practicability and techniques. In his book, “The Four Chapters on Freedom” he revived classical teachings of raja yoga and gave commentaries on Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”. Swami Satyananda insisted that together with techniques of pratyahara one should always develop qualities of yama and niyama. He divided into stages pratyahara technique Antar mouna and turned it into complete system to develop awareness and attain com¬plete pratyahara.
Swami Satyananda also restored and developed other systems of concentration and meditation that he had found in tantras such as, chidakash dharana and aj¬apa japa. For thousands of years, ajapa japa was just discussed and mentioned in various texts, but nobody actually defined it as a practice. Swami Satyananda explained the stages of ajapa japa, the movement of breath, physic passages for breath and mantra. He gave us practical and comprehensible concept and struc¬ture of this exercise so that it may be practiced without difficulty.
Another mandate of Swami Sivananda and focus of Swami Satyananda’s endeav¬ors was publishing. A collection of books that came out of BSY is the most com¬plete and most appreciated collection of books on yoga in the world.
Each of ten different orders of sannyasa as established by Shankaracharya had its respective duties and mission. The duty of Saraswati sannyasa of Dashnami order is to preserve the sacred knowledge. As a sannyasin of Saraswati tradition, Swami Satyananda was dedicated to making valuable collection of books on yoga. Dana vidya, the gift of knowledge, the distribution of knowledge and offering of ancient teachings was in the center of Swami Satyananda’s attention.
Books published in BSY covered a wide range of topics: from the practical side of yoga, yoga philosophy, classical texts (Upanishads and Yoga Sutras), tantra and its practices, practicable yoga and many other. BSY books are well written, in simple and understandable language, as a direct result of the experiential knowledge supported with knowledge from ancient scriptures collected throughout experi¬mental work. Satyananda Yoga books are recognized today as the most respected and most valuable manuals. They are part of the curriculum at many universities around the world and are quoted by doctors and scientists engaged in deeper study of human nature and its possibilities. One of the earliest books, “Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha” (APMB), is a true bestseller and permanent number one on the lists of yoga literature in the world. Swami Satyananda’s magnum opus on tantra and yoga, popularly known as “Kriya Yoga” (“A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya”) is presently considered a col¬lector’s specimen. Everything you ever wanted to know about the body, mind and spirit for the first time was collected and presented in clear, precise and easily un¬derstandable language. Swami Satyananda did not have any intention to develop a philosophical teaching, but only wanted to show us the way to self-development. Everything he wrote was very practical and very applicable.
Experimentation and research
Experimentation and research represent the central subject of Satyananda/Bihar Yoga. While he was still in the ashram of his guru in Rishikesh, he attentively observed Swami Sivananda while teaching yoga to his disciples. However, he did not gain knowledge only from his teacher but he also studied various schools of thought and the scriptures. He used to say, “Experiment with everything first, adopt it later.”
As soon as Swami Satyananda established Bihar School of Yoga in 1963 in Munger, he started a series of training courses for yoga teachers. It was his wish to offer people deeper, more comprehensive and experiential knowledge and understanding of yoga. He also believed that everyone should experience the yogic lifestyle, to learn how yoga can calm the mind and thoughts and influence the entire environment we live in. People flocked to him from all over the world. Australia, Japan, Europe, England, North and South America, as well as India, are just some of the countries from which people used to come to this small place in India, to learn yoga. At his courses, Swami Satyananda encouraged the idea of scientific research on yoga exercises. The first serious research on asanas was conducted in Poland in 1968 by Dr. T. Pasek and V. Romanovski from the Department of Physiology at Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw. Thorough experiments were carried out on sirshasana (headstand) and other major asanas to determine their effets on the brain, circulation, respiratory and digestive systems. In 1968, Dr Sreenivas, director of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases in Patna, Bihar, began first research on the effects of yoga on heart disease. This research was conducted for six months, and its results were published in the book, “The Effects of Yoga on Hypertension”.
Sri Swamiji encouraged each yoga teacher to select one area in which to specialize. In this way, he created many experts for various fields of yoga. For example, Dr. Swami Shakaradevananda from Australia carried out researches on pawanmuk¬tasana series, with regard to muscular movements during asana practice. Swami Arundhati researched shatkarmas and their effects on high blood pressure.
Before Swami Satyananda’s time, yoga was taught as a set of physical exercis¬es. However, after the first research results were revealed, this concept of yoga changed altogether. Other organizations, not related to BSY, independently began to conduct experiments and researches in the field of yoga. One of the greatest contributors to the yogic research was Swami Rama, the founder of the Hima¬layan Institute, in the USA. He had exposed himself to public experiments and on one of them, he knowingly and voluntarily stopped his heartbeat for an ex¬tended period. Swami Nadabrahmananda, a proficient nada yogi, who was able to completely stop his breathing (kumbhaka) for the entire forty-five minutes, made another significant contribution. He was closed in a special chamber with no air and all the time played tabla, a very demanding percussion instrument. Similarly, many yogis and swamis in India subjected themselves to scientific experiments and studies in order to draw attention to the benefits and tremendous potential of yoga. In this way, they promoted better understanding of yoga and at the same time opened the door to a significant shift in yoga doctrine.
From the very beginning, Swami Satyananda started experimenting. He had tried out various methods from the scriptures and made them practicable. In this way, he created pavanmuktasana series, shakti bandhas and organized various asanas according to their position (standing up, from vajrasana, backward and forward bending). The system of pranayamas now taught all over the world was also cre¬ated at that time. In the field of meditation, Sri Swamiji offered various practices from the tantras, which he subsequently taught as antar mouna, ajapa japa, trata¬ka, chidakash dharana, prana vidya and yoga nidra. He experimented on himself, as well as on sannyasins, and in particular on Swami Niranjan in yoga nidra. He studied and thoroughly analyzed the effects of the exercises and carefully wrote down all his observations. Each book from Bihar School of Yoga is the outcome of those experiments conducted by Sri Swamiji in the early days.
During the second half of seventies, Swami Satyanada started to study the benefits various yoga exercises had on human body and mind. With a group of physicians-sannyasins, he conducted scientific researches on diabetes, pregnancy, pranayamas, effects of shatkarmas on blood pressure, asthma and many other areas. He provided answers to many health issues – In what way alfa brain waves are aroused by kirtan? How to stabilize high blood pressure with practice of japa? How yoga nidra stimulates creativity? How asanas balance the endocrine system and how pranayamas balance the nervous system?
In addition, researches were carried out on the impacts and effects of asanas and pranayamas on different organs of the body. The effects of pranayamas on the functioning of hypothalamus and the effects of various hatha yoga exercises on the mental, psychological and emotional problems also were subjects of vari¬ous experiments. Successful researches were conducted on the effects of yoga in coronary diseases, as well. There were positive results regarding the possibility of stimulating the secretion of insulin in diabetics. Yoga positions proved to be beneficial in disc herniation or slipped disc, a rather common medical condition nowadays. Scientists also had examined the benefits of meditation and concluded that meditation led to beneficial change in brain waves, from beta to alpha waves.
Yoga Research Foundation (YRF)
Yoga Research Foundation was established at Munger in 1984, in order to pro¬mote scientific research in various fields of yoga. The aim of this institution was to provide scientifically reliable evaluation of therapeutic potentials of yoga prac¬tices, and to promote yoga as an essential science for human development in the future.
In the nineties, huge research projects were performed in the BSY. Students con¬ducted experiments on themselves and on others, with rather simple instruments such as blood pressure monitor, small mirror (to check swara), vessel for mea¬suring the volume of liquid (measuring cylinder), measuring tape, weight scale. How trataka benefits improvement of memory or vision; how surya namaskara contributes to self-esteem; how yoga nidra improves children’s creativity – these are only few of the YRF’s researches.
Another part of research was yoga therapy. There subjects of research were also students of the courses for health management at Munger. Various projects were conducted including research on diabetes, asthma, blood pressure and other common diseases. Institute YRF has proved that the research does not have to be carried out only in well-equipped laboratories with modern instruments and ap¬pliances, but it can be done even at home or in the yoga center and with easily ac¬cessible devices. In BSY monthly magazines, “Yoga” (in English) and “Yoga Vidya” (in Hindi), results of YRF’s experiments were periodically published over several decades. The research and experiments continue at the Yoga Research Founda¬tion at Ganga Darshan, in Munger.
Yoga in society
Yoga and education
In the early seventies, Sri Swamiji introduced yoga into the education system of India, but it was not officially approved at that time. However, owing to his inspi¬ration, yoga was finally integrated into educational system. Initially, it happened in Europe with agency RYE (Research on Yoga in Education), founded in 1977 by Michelin Flak (Swami Jogabhakti) in Paris. RYE today has centers in many places of the world. Following was YES (Yoga Education at School), institution established in Canada by Swami Arundhati. These organizations teach yoga in the classroom, as well as at home. After seeing positive effects of yoga on school¬children in Europe and in other countries, the government of India decided to introduce yoga into national educational program so that children may become familiar with yoga already during their school years.
Recognizing research results and effects of yoga on ailments of the respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive system, on musculoskeletal and nervous disorders, and the role which yoga may have in improving healing, many colleges of medi¬cine in India have decided to include yoga into their curriculum. The government of Bihar introduced yoga in MBBS program in 1993. Bihar school of Yoga was invited to teach yoga therapy to students at colleges across Bihar. Many medical students, medical staff, as well as medical doctors come to Munger to learn yoga and the basics of yoga therapy from highly qualified yoga teachers.
Yoga and Sports
Yoga was also introduced into the sports education and in 1999 training pro¬grams begun in collaboration with highest sports body, “The Sports Authority of India” from Kolkata and New Delhi. Boxers, archers, volleyball players and other sportsmen regularly come to Munger to practice yoga. Many of them are repre¬sentatives of India whose performance improved with yoga.
Education in yoga as well as further research and experimentation on asanas, pranayamas, mudras and bandhas continues even today through the work of Bi¬har Yoga Bharati in Munger and Satyananda Yoga Academy in Europe, America and Colombia.
Seva – Selfless Service
Sivananda Math is a charitable society founded by Sri Swamiji in 1984. The aim of Sivananda Math is to improve life of deprived, sick, and all people in need, especially in underdeveloped, rural areas. This institution managed to adopt one whole region (panchayat) with several villages and about ten thousand fami¬lies. Swami Satyananda’s sannyasins as part of their sadhana and discipline are involved in helping people in that impoverished part of India. Every year dur¬ing winter months, every single family in the area receives the basic supplies for life. Help ranges from donating clothing, blankets, cooking pots, to furnishing and building houses, providing employment for adults and education for young people and taking care of everybody’s medical needs. Thousands of children are taken under the care of Sivananda Math in accordance with Swami Satyananda’s wish and vision. It is the realization of Sri Swamiji’s spiritual practice and his sankalpa – that people in need always are well taken care of.
As Swami Satyananda was a pioneer in introducing yoga to the general public, and in breaking down of old myths and all the mysticism about yoga, this system is known today as the Satyananda Yoga tradition or Bihar Yoga. Satyananda Yoga became a part of human need and a part of human life and culture. It is an evolving yoga, universal and dynamic, progressive and inspiring, yoga for the complete development of man’s true nature and personality.