Impressions of Sri Swamiji

Rishi Arundhati Saraswati & Rishi Vasishthananda Saraswati (Satyanandashram, Ontario, Canada)

Rishi Arundhati: In 1968 we had the good fortune to meet Swami Satyananda and to have the opportunity of learning the yoga practices directly from him. I was an accomplished gymnast and there wasn’t an asana that I could not do, but I had never had tuition in yoga asanas, and there is a difference.

When Sri Swamiji introduced us to asanas, he took six very simple variations of vajrasana and called this series shakti bandhas, which he translated as energy releasers. They included pranayama, concentration on nasikagra, manipura chakra and many different components, which we later found out was kriya yoga. He also introduced us, from the very beginning, to mudras and bandhas. Ashwini mudra and jalandhara bandha were taught on the very first day together with bhastrika pranayama. As a beginner, it was quite an eye opener and quite an experience.

Sri Swamiji told us to take the message of yoga to others and give yoga classes. For about two years I taught the shakti bandhas, which was all I knew. But the results were amazing. A student with diabetes said, “Since I have taken up these practices my blood sugar has normalized.” A student who had epilepsy said, “Since I have taken up these practices I no longer have seizures. My doctor has taken me off the medication I was taking to control the seizures.”

So even with my limited knowledge of how to teach yoga asanas and their effects, simply by teaching this one set of asanas that Sri Swamiji had taught us, I was able to help many people to overcome their physical problems and illnesses. Also, through the practices of trataka, nada yoga and other techniques that Sri Swamiji performed with us from the very beginning, I was able to help many students to not only become physically well, but also attain a much happier state of being.

Rishi Vasishthananda: Due to the fact that Swami Satyananda taught, first of all, these six asanas or kriyas, it was easy for everyone to remember them, especially since he always taught all the components together. When you learned an asana, you were taught how to breathe, where the mind should be, where the concentration should be, what the purpose of the asana or kriya was. Usually everything was explained in a very good lecture that came along with the practice and prepared you for it.

Of course, he taught yoga nidra from the very beginning and even antar mouna from the first or second time. But when he came, he picked a small set of very powerful techniques, taught those, and said to all of us – and we were hundreds – “Practise those six techniques, practise the pranayama I taught you, practise the pratyahara I taught you. Practise that for a year, then I’ll be back to teach the next round.” We could remember the practices right after he had given them to us. We didn’t have to read books, it was so easy.

So instead of teaching arbitrary pieces of yoga, Sri Swamiji always made a definite plan. He taught an exact set of easily remembered, integrated techniques that covered all aspects of the personality. Easy for us to remember, easy for us to teach, and he encouraged all of us, every one of the five hundred or so people, to teach. He did not want us to form one group. If we had differences of opinion, he would never take anyone’s side. He would always say, “Don’t worry about it, you teach yours, they will teach theirs.” He actually encouraged everyone to teach independently and not to form large groups. He never supported any differences or arguments that developed.

From the very first time he came to Europe in 1968, Sri Swamiji prepared us to teach. Since he taught us so little in terms of what we had to remember and so much in terms of potency, almost everyone became a very efficient teacher. Then the next year he came, he would teach a few more techniques, and we would teach those. The year after he would teach some more practices. He built solidly always on the basis of yoga practices which covered all aspects of the personality, never neglecting one part, never emphasizing one part over others, always producing balanced overall practices. In this way, by the time he had visited us five or six times, we all had a very deep knowledge of the techniques we had practised for one, two or three years.

We still find that when we meet teachers from other schools who have been teaching yoga for years, they say, “In all these years we never had yoga like this.” That is because Swami Satyananda had constructed something which had every component in it. It was a complete sadhana for the whole personality all the way from the physical body to the spiritual and, therefore, though it was small, it was much more potent than a lot of exercise. Iyengar teachers would often ask us, “When are you going to speed up your practice, when are you going to get faster?” And we would say, “With yoga, the deeper it gets, the slower it gets.”

So this was Swami Satyananda’s message. He did not overload you with information. He gave you just as much as you needed and if you faithfully followed it and practised it for a year, it was like a little atomic bomb. It would open doors and last you a lifetime.

Swami Satyananda was also the first great scientist of yoga. One of the characteristics of a great scientific mind is the ability to change everything back to basic principles, eliminating all irrelevant factors, and then reconstructing systematically from those basic principles. If you look at any of the practices that Swami Satyananda has developed, you will find this property. He took all of the practices, eliminated all the mystery, all the irrelevant factors, took them back to basic principles and reconstructed them in a systematic manner.

After he left, it was our task to transcribe the notes from tapes, word for word. What we found was that when Swami Satyananda taught these practices, there was not a word out of place, not an instruction that was not necessary. The structure was immaculate. The more we transcribed, the more we realized how great the structure really was.

Therefore, it would be beneficial for all yoga teachers and students to look carefully at all of the practices, including yoga nidra, as taught by Sri Swamiji at that time. No one has done it in such a masterful manner. He adopted a very careful approach to discover the essential components of these techniques. Those aspects are clear indications of a great scientific mind.

One day Sri Swamiji was talking to us. I am not sure how serious he was, but he said, “If I had it to do all over again, I would not be a sannyasin. I would be a scientist. I would strap all these sannyasins and yogis into research machines and check whether all their claims are really true.” Of course, if he had done that, it would have been a great loss to us, but that’s what he said.