I met Swami Satyananda in 1968 in Copenhagen, and went straight to India to live with him in what at the time was a small and intimate ashram: BSY (Bihar School of Yoga) or Sivananda Ashram in Munger, Bihar. After my return to Scandinavia in 1970, Swami Satyananda kept visiting our school almost every year for twelve years, the last time being in 1982, when we had programs with him in Denmark and Sweden. In the 1990s I often taught in Australia and also in the present day school in Munger so, on my trips there, I would stop over and visit him in Rikhia. Need I say that my stay at his ashram, his personal training, and every succeeding meeting with him was enlightening?
One of the early years when Sri Swamiji visited our school in Copenhagen, he gave me an unexpected advice. We had just finished our meal, when he suddenly said: “Janakananda, you have to be much more aggressive.” I presume that he had spotted me sitting and walking around with a priestly smile on my lips about to lose myself in pretentious ideals. The well-bred Danish young man that I wore on the surface reacted, and I answered, “Swamiji, you don’t mean that!” But the deeper me eventually listened and followed his advice. As a teacher in the seventies I became known for just that: I was strict and consistent, but I would also react to any aggression from students. It was needed then. We had just come out of the sixties with its uproar against authority, and introducing something new into the Nordic culture required a little extra push. I got plenty of students.
Once before, while I was still living in India, Sri Swamiji had said to me, “When you react, react as strongly as you can.” He may also have wanted me to get the message across, but he certainly intended me to exhaust any anger I might have carried within me. He was a tantric teacher, helping me to face that which I feared and avoided. Otherwise he would usually teach in an indirect way, letting the situation mirror when you lost yourself, for you to realize it. Rarely would he give direct criticism.
One of the great gifts Sri Swamiji gave some of us who were with him in 1969, was a three-month tour around India, giving lectures and teaching yoga. We were eight swamis altogether, including him.
To my great surprise, I found myself teaching yoga to people in India: to steelworkers in Jamshedpur, auto workers in Tatanagar, policemen in Bhopal, railway people at a railway town in Orissa, and enjoying the Holi holiday in the middle of a coal mine near Dhanbad.
We spent around three days in each town, before going on to the next. The first evening Sri Swamiji would give a lecture to a large crowd and some of us had to sit up there with him, or in front of him, in a proper meditation pose. “You must sit still and make a good impression on the audience.” To sit motionless during your own meditation may be possible, but in front of a big crowd, with him behind you, during a whole evening speech, was some training.
The next day he would see people all day, and diagnose any problems they had, and then we got the task of teaching them the precise methods that they needed. During this journey it began to make sense to me that it would be worthwhile teaching yoga.
Maybe so many different people have been inspired by Swami Satyananda because he has had distinctly different periods in his life, probing into various aspects of the tradition. He himself talked about twenty-year cycles. When I lived with him and received his training in the late sixties, he was in a period when he personally taught really advanced methods and very much from the tantric way of looking at life. He said that he taught tantra even in later years, and maybe he did, but that was another aspect of tantra than when I lived with him and received the full kriya yoga system of twenty-two kriyas and chidakash dharana, as well as principles upon which I could build my sadhana and teaching. I came to live with him at a time when I needed what he was giving. I know that people who have been visiting him later saw things in a different way. We may not have been interested in the same rituals, but we all learned from him and were inspired by him – and that I think is great.
The yoga and meditation I learned at the time in Sri Swamiji’s ashram in India are the methods that I was also inspired to teach – and still teach, now forty years later. I find that people who come on our retreats to meditate seek a yoga that gives them an altered state of consciousness, more energy and inspiration, and of course health – all prerequisites for self-realization.
One of the many yoga methods that Swami Satyananda recovered from ancient texts and also from a secret knowledge passed on from person to person, is the deep-relaxation yoga nidra. This meditative relaxation can provide us with an effective regular practice.
Scientific evidence, recently published, shows that regularity over a long period of life, when you return every day to a relaxed state, no matter how you live or how stressed you otherwise are, prolongs life and gives a good fundament for health.
“The spiritual attitude is over and over again to return to the great harmony,” Swami Satyananda once said to me.
Today there are many things taught under the name of yoga. But authentic yoga is, I would say, methods that – apart from giving you energy, reducing stress, and strengthening your health, creativity and concentration – give you a wider and more profound perspective on life. Swami Satyananda showed me and made me realize that such an outlook cannot be based on expectations and dreams, but on the witnessing awareness.
Thank you for the rich heritage that you passed on to us, Sri Swamiji.