On The Move In Italy

Swami Anandananda Saraswati

I first met Paramahamsa Satyananda in Australia in 1980. I spent several months in his ashram in India and took sannyasa there, then I returned to Italy. In Europe we have many different cultures and as I had never lived in Italy before, it was a new culture for me. But I kept in mind a few sentences which Swami Satyananda had said to me, "Work hard, keep moving and take yoga from door to door and from shore to shore." At first I did not fully understand what he meant but these sentences have proved to be very important to me. In fact, they have guided my life from that time right up to the present. For five years - between 1980 and 1984 I literally did not stop moving. At that time, Paramahamsaji came to Europe quite often and whenever he came, I made an effort to be there. In this way I kept up my contact with him and learned more and more about yoga. Keeping up with Paramahamsaji kept me continually on the move. He came to Italy twice and he inspired many people there, including me!

Establishing a yoga centre

In 1984, I stopped moving long enough to start a small yoga centre in Turin, in the north of Italy. We began to hold classes there and I found that the cleansing techniques of Hatha Yoga were quite new to people. When yoga came to Europe at the beginning of this century, it did so as a form of refined gymnastics and, therefore, many aspects of yoga had been left out. Not many people liked to teach neti where you have to deal with your mucus, and not many liked to even think about kunjal kriya where you have to vomit a few litres of water! The practices of Shankhaprakshalana, too, were totally unknown. These cleansing techniques made a big impression on people and they really liked them. They liked them, too, because of the way in which Paramahamsaji showed us how to teach them which is very beautiful and very simple.

The other practice which was unknown in Italy and in Europe at that time was yoga nidra. Many yoga teachers were talking about relaxation and trying to experience it, but it was not until Paramahamsaji introduced Europeans to the technique of yoga nidra that there was a break-through. Italian people love yoga nidra. Yoga nidra classes are the most popular classes we give, and when people come to book for a course they always ask, "Are you going to do yoga nidra?" If I say, "Yes", then they say, "Okay, I am coming." Of course, they also like asanas and pranayama very much and we practise these as well. I found that I really had to emphasise the importance of regular practice. In Italy there are a lot of yoga schools and a lot of students go to classes once or twice a week - and there it stops. We keep on asking people to practise every single day, even if it is only five minutes.

Yoga in the school rooms

In the course of time, we stared to run yoga teachers' training courses in Italy. As teachers became trained, different kinds of classes and courses opened up and we began to apply yoga techniques in different fields. One of these was yoga geared especially for school teachers and students. We got together with some school teachers who were trained in yoga and started to contact schools to see if they were interested. When we found some who would give us a try, we went there and organised training courses for the teachers. We showed them simple, basic yogic techniques for concentration and relaxation, for centring, for developing memory and the faculty of learning. Then we showed them how to apply these techniques to themselves and in their classes.

When we began to do this, we were very interested to find that, all over Italy, there were already yoga teachers and school teachers trying to do precisely this, to apply yoga in the school rooms. They themselves were practising yoga and knew the benefits. It was good for us to meet these teachers and good for them also, as we could support each other. We conducted yoga training programs for school teachers every year for about five years, in the schools.

Yoga for the handicapped

As that line of work became established, we turned our attention to another area in which we could apply yoga. In 1981 I had been asked to take some classes in a centre for handicapped people. Yoga classes were already established there, but the teacher was going away and she asked me to keep the classes going. In the beginning, it was quite an experience to try and convey yoga techniques to people with such severe handicaps. However, over the course of a few months, I gained experience and I learned a few tricks. What really helped me in this work was experience I had gained previously in teaching yoga to children.

I felt very inspired by this new work, so we made a few contacts in the city of Turin and opened our yoga centre to any organisation which dealt with physically and mentally handicapped people, inviting them to bring these people to our centre for an hour or so. The teachers and assistants were also invited. We started in this way and today the work is still going on, Not as many come today as they did before. These days, two or three times a week a small group will come, spend an hour here and then go back to their centre or to their homes. Where it is possible, we do Pawanmuktasana with them. We also show them breathing techniques. Sometimes we just teach them how to breathe, because a lot of handicapped people do not breathe through their noses but through their mouths. So at first we do not teach them pranayama but just how to breathe. When that is established, we can go one step further and teach them how to breathe first with one nostril, then with the other. Then we introduce neti, which is very useful because it clears the nasal passages and stimulates breathing through the nose.

In this area yoga can be of benefit both to the people suffering from handicaps and to the people who have the task of looking after them. Looking after them is not an easy job, and those who do it need to learn how to be centred and relaxed, how to be able to cope with any situation that may eventuate.

Yoga therapy

Another area in which we have found that we can apply yoga is in yoga therapy. I do not do yoga therapy myself nor do ordinary yoga teachers as we are not qualified. We just teach yoga. However, people who have medical qualifications and who are authorised to do therapy have become increasingly aware that yoga can be used to treat and prevent disease. In Italy for some years now, we have been holding programs and seminars in which both yogic and medical experts participate. We try to foster collaboration between them and to convey to the medical experts what yoga has to offer in this field. We need to be able to use it not only in our spiritual quest, but to benefit society.