Swami Satyananda's Yoga Darshan

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The yoga darshan or philosophy of Swami Satyananda is very simple. Since the inception of Bihar School of Yoga at Sivanandashram, Lal Darwaja, in 1963, Sri Swamiji, as a yoga teacher, taught courses and classes, ran therapy courses, yoga sadhana programs and teacher training courses. What was the purpose behind developing the sequences and components of yoga that he did? Why didn't he follow the simple path of jnana marga, as is the tradition of sannyasins?

In the process of developing yoga, Sri Swamiji's perception was the growth of the total human being, the homogeneous human personality. Homogeneity of human personality lay in proper coordination, cooperation, association and expression of the qualities of head, heart and hands. It is as simple as that. This is the total yoga darshan as developed by Swami Satyananda.


From time immemorial people have been plagued by one eternal question: how to deal with the mind? Arjuna asked Krishna the same question in the Bhagavad Gita. How does one deal with this mind which is more subtle than air and can never be grasped or held? Today we ask the same question. How can we manage our mind? How can we manage our desires, aspirations, thoughts and ideas? How can we give them a practical approach? How can we have the clarity and perception of mind to understand what is relevant and irrelevant?

In view of these various aspects that trouble a human being, Sri Swamiji developed the complete system of pratyahara. Even today in society people don't know the difference between pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. Many teachers say they teach meditation without even understanding the concepts of pratyahara and dharana. Sri Swamiji defined the concept, the applicability and the techniques of pratyahara. He established yoga nidra as the first technique of pratyahara. He developed other systems of concentration and meditation which he found in the tantras. The techniques of antar mouna and ajapa japa evolved as a result. Ajapa japa had been talked about for thousands of years, but no one had actually defined the practice. Sri Swamiji clarified the stages of the practice and the movement of the breath and mantra in the psychic passages. He gave a practical, understandable and attainable concept and structure to each practice. He defined the stages of antar mouna, chidakasha dharana and yoga nidra.

Sri Swamiji was the first to describe the process, salient points and techniques of prana vidya, which in its very elementary form is known today as Reiki. He introduced pranayama as a part of daily yoga sadhana. Twenty years ago people used to say that pranayama was dangerous. Other institutions did not teach pranayama as an integral part of a yoga class, only teachers of the Satyananda/Bihar Yoga tradition. The pranayama techniques you are learning today are the teachings of Sri Swamiji. Which pranayamas are heating, or cooling, or balancing, their effects on different states of the body, at different times of the day, in different climates, in different moods, how to develop the ability of the lungs to inhale, to exhale, to retain the breath – that was the sequence as Sri Swamiji taught it.

Sri Swamiji explained and systematized the concept of bandhas and mudras. He simplified the entire system of hatha yoga shatkriyas by combining the techniques in one simplified version – poorna shankhaprakshalana. Shankhaprakshalana is not found in other yogic literature, and basti, dhauti, nauli and neti are discussed as separate techniques.

There are only two systems of kriya yoga existing in the world. One has come down from Babaji, who it is said was the creator and the founder. There have been many teachers in that line, the well known ones being Paramahamsa Yogananda, Sri Yukteshwar and Lahiri Mahashaya. The other system of kriya yoga was discovered by Sri Swamiji from the tantras. When kriya yoga was a secret with the belief that it could only be passed from guru to the most intimate disciple in the most intimate form, Sri Swamiji started a three-year postal correspondence course, and that book today is the only authentic encyclopaedia of yoga in existence.

Swami Vivekananda spoke on yoga but never taught yoga, never taught asana or pranayama, he only spoke in theory. He did not develop yoga, he only presented the scriptural, philosophical aspect of yoga in everyday language. It was Swami Satyananda who linked the yogic concepts to the body; for example, which chakra corresponds to which nadi, which gland, which state of mind. Many people have done research on that subject. Dr Hiroshi Motoyama, in his book Theories of the Chakras, refers to the philosophy and practices of Swami Satyananda. Dr Serena Roney-Dougal, author of Where Science and Magic Meet, discovered the role, functions and benefits of the chakras and their correspondence with the psychophysiological system. Intellectuals and thinkers around the world have accepted and worked on these ideas.

The original APMB, which was published in 1968, had 70 pages. Today APMB has over 500 pages, but in the original content Swami Satyananda had described the physiological, psychological and spiritual benefits, the sequences we are following today and what has been discovered by medical, scientific and therapeutic research.

Heart and hands

Swami Satyananda also developed a process for opening the heart and created a system through which it could be done. He also created a system for developing the qualities of the hands by insisting that Ganga Darshan is a gurukul, despite it having attained university status. This structure and discipline is not only an institutional mandate, it is to create an environment where one can develop the qualities of the hands by being creative. Creativity is not dissipation. People often ask how they can be creative in the ashram when there is limited scope and areas for work, performance and living. There may be more options to be creative outside, but there are distractions too. For the training to become creative, one has to focus on one thing, digging one hole 500 feet deep, not 50 holes ten feet deep.

Sri Swamiji says very clearly that he is what he is today because of what he underwent and experienced in his guru's ashram. That has made him what he is today. In his message to the participants of the Sannyasa Course he mentions that in his guru's ashram he lived with a passion for work. He emphasized the aspect of karma yoga and gave it a practical form, a body, and it became part of the ashram culture. Otherwise karma yoga was only a philosophy, do the action and don't expect any results or fruits. Everyone talks about it, but where is the place where you can confront your mind, your ideas, your nature, your perceptions, your conflicts. Only then can karma yoga become a part of life and only then are we able to change our perceptions and attitudes.

In time the aspect of the heart will turn into bhakti, not the blind bhakti which is expressed outside, not idol worship, but bhakti in the form of a connection, of feeling, not only with God but with God manifest in each individual being. As Sri Swamiji's mission has evolved, we are also seeing different areas being developed. Sivananda Math is an expression of bhakti. The act may be classified as social service, but the aim has been bhakti. Sri Swamiji has used the word atmabhava, oneness, not with God which is too distant a reality, but with the touchable, palpable, physical God. By connecting with the physical there is the hope that there may be a connection with the transcendental.

Sri Swamiji is showing a path, not developing a philosophy as Buddha or Mahavir or others did. He is teaching and presenting a way of life in a very practical form. I am not eulogizing him, I am appreciating the work and effort which was put into developing a complex system for the growth of head, heart and hands. Therefore, the development of yoga in today's age has been the effort of Swami Satyananda.

There are many excellent institutions in the world teaching hatha yoga or raja yoga or jnana yoga or bhakti yoga, and each path or tradition or system has its own uniqueness and speciality. But the most comprehensive and most defined yoga is Bihar Yoga, which has to be lived to be experienced, not learned in a classroom. That is the difference. We can learn yoga in a classroom situation anywhere in the world. There are many universities or schools offering yoga training, but it is only intellectual. There are many centres and individual teachers who are teaching yoga throughout the world, but it is only a physical component, an hour of asana, pranayama and relaxation.

Swami Satyananda was the first to combine a direction for the development of the mind, a direction for the movement of the heart and a direction for the creativity of the hands, all three, keeping in view the development of human potential, consciousness and energy. Sri Swamiji gave yoga a new life, a new birth; he revived yoga otherwise it would have been lost. Therefore, he is the Patanjali of today. That has been his contribution. People today do not realize Sri Swamiji's contribution to yoga, but tomorrow they will know that he was the Patanjali of this age.

It should be the continual effort of every yoga aspirant and yoga teacher who passes through Ganga Darshan and undergoes training here to maintain the sanctity and sacredness of this yogic process, and to have the feeling that he/she can have a yogic life, a complete life, a full life. When there are mental problems, head trips, interaction and association problems, manage them. Use the knowledge, the training, the wisdom and the understanding which you are trying to gain and develop. The only message that Sri Swamiji has given is: Don't lose hope in yourself.

Ganga Darshan, March 8, 2002