Yoga in Greece

Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati

In Greek mythology, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, gave her name to the city of Athens. Its inhabitants built a temple called the Parthenon in her honour, on the Acropolis (from the words 'akro', top and 'polis', city). The modern city of Athens is still built around this ancient temple, which stands as a reminder of a great philosophical and spiritual era in the history of Greece. In view of the Parthenon lies a contemporary spiritual Acropolis, Satyanandashram, where goddess Athena has been reborn as Saraswati.

In 1977 Swamiji decided that it was the right time to start an ashram in Greece, so he sent Swami Sivamurti Saraswati there to direct Unit 1 in Kalamata in southern Greece. This is an area where people are strong and traditional, like the mountains surrounding them. During the year she worked there on her own, inspired by her guru's guidance, and won the hearts of the conservative Kalamatan people. The enthusiasm was so great that aspirants urged her to start another ashram in Athens.

The main ashram in Athens was founded in 1978 and has been growing ever since, as more and more aspirants discover the simple, honest message of knowledge and wisdom that it is teaching. The swamis in residence hold classes both in the ashram and in outside locations, in which all yogic techniques are taught according to need and demand. One day, two day or week long yoga seminars are offered, either in Athens or in country and seaside locations, where the aspirants receive intensive tuition in yogic techniques and have the opportunity to experience ashram life fully, thus acquiring new prototypes for their daily life.

A lively interest in yoga has been developing in many parts of Greece. Regular classes are now held in towns like Lamia and Thessalonika. The swamis conduct frequent tours through both urban and rural areas, communicating Swamiji's teaching to many people who have had no prior opportunity to learn about yoga. Also, in response to a widespread demand for more information on yoga, in January 1980 the first Greek edition of Yoga magazine was published.

The northern city of Thessalonika, near the birthplaces of Alexander the Great and Aristotle, has received Swamiji's teachings with great enthusiasm. Yoga has even been accepted by the authorities at the university there, where classes are being organized for resident students. The city is surrounded by monasteries, and is a few hours from Agion Oros (the Holy Mountain) where orthodox monks traditionally retire for their sadhana. Swamiji chose Thessalonika as the venue for the first Panhellenic Conference of Yoga and Health, held in April 1981.

We feel that a great spiritual reawakening is now underway in Greece. Many aspects of yogic culture formed an inherent part of the classical civilization of ancient Greece. Both cultures stress the importance of living a simple, peaceful life, in harmony with nature and in accordance with one's duty, or dharma. Education then was based on the guru-disciple relationship. And both the yogic and Greek cultures share a basic commitment to the goal of self-understanding and higher awareness which was summarized by Socrates in two words: 'know thyself'. Through Swamiji's inspiration and the practical science of yoga, these ancient ideals are coming to life in modem Greece, to form the basis of another golden age.