Swami Sivananda Sarasvati is part of the first generation of modern yoga teachers. Along with Krishnamacharya, he was one of the first to accept non-Indian students. He was also one of the first to teach in English, even though he was fluent in Tamil, Hindi and Sanskrit. He wrote more than 200 books in English, on a wide variety of subjects including yoga, philosophy, education and ethics. Forty-five of them are available online, at http://sivanandaonline.org/.
Born in 1887 in Tamil Nadu, southern India, he studied medicine before serving as a medical doctor for 10 years in Malaysia. Feeling that medicine was healing only at a superficial level, he started to read the ancient texts of his own culture. Almost certain that he had found what he was looking for, he went back to his native country, India, and became a monk.
In Rishikesh, he found his guru, Swami Vishvananda Sarasvati. In 1924, Swami Sivananda settled in Rishikesh and immersed himself in intense spiritual practices. His practices were successful and he reached the highest levels of meditation, finally achieving enlightenment, or 'God-realization', as he likes to call the experience. His book Concentration and Meditation discusses the process. In 1936, he opened an ashram, or yoga centre, on the bank of river Ganges, in the same town. He called his ashram The Divine Life Society. The ashram is still active today (see www.sivanandaonline.org).
Here is how he describes what he calls divine life: "Divine Life is God life on this earth. Divine Life is life in tune with the Infinite. It will transform you into Divinity. It bestows joy, bliss, prosperity and Moksha (liberation). Divine Life has no creed of its own. It represents the essence of all creeds. Divine Life is not a new religion. It represents a synthesis of the fundamentals of all religions. It aims at harmony, peace and unity" (Sivananda Upanishad, p. 82).
His teachings are often referred to as the 'synthesis of yoga.' He says that Jnana yoga, the realisation of one's true nature through spiritual knowledge, Bhakti yoga, the realisation of one's true nature through devotion, Karma yoga, the realisation of one's true nature through selfless service, and Raja yoga, the realisation of one's true nature through meditation, should all be practiced by us if we want to reach the highest goal in one lifetime. Traditionally, one person practices only one kind of yoga, according to his or her tendencies. For example, if one is a very intelligent person, a lover of books and of sciences, the guru will advise the path of Jnana yoga; if one is an emotional person, with a loving heart and tender feelings, the guru will advise the path of Bhakti yoga; if one is a hard-working person, placing his work before everything else, the guru will advise the path of Karma yoga; if one is a born meditator, lover of silence and of empty spaces, the guru will advise the path of Raja yoga (Raja Yoga, p. 15). But these paths are very, very long. Each one of them may require thousands and thousands of lifetimes.
For this reason, Sivananda says that, besides our daily practice of asanas and of meditation (Raja yoga), we should also devote some time for chanting mantras (Bhakti yoga), reading spiritual books (Jnana yoga) and serving the world in a selfless way (Karma yoga).
He wrote many books on Hatha yoga, including Yogasanas (1931), The Science of Pranayama (1935) and Hatha-Yoga (1939). Although he talks about almost 300 asanas, his main objective is to present the Rishikesh sequence and the benefits of its 12 asanas. This sequence is today known as the 'Sivananda sequence', but it is worth pointing out that the saint did not invent the sequence himself. He found it already existing in the Himalayas. He was just the first one to write an English book about it!
Swami Vishnudevananda, one of his main disciples, founded the Sivananda School of Yoga in 1959 (see www.sivananda.org), choosing this Rishikesh sequence as an anchor for the deep teachings of his beloved master. Since then the Sivananda sequence has been taught worldwide. This style has also been taught at Pure Yoga Taipei since the start of 2010.
Apart from Swami Vishnudevananda, Swami Sivananda had many other illustrious disciples. Some of the most noteworthy are Swami Satchitananda, the founder of the Integral Yoga Institutes; Swami Satyananda Sarasvati, the founder of the renown Bihar School of Yoga (see www.yogavision.net), and of Satyananda Yoga; and my own master, Andrey Van Lysebeth, who spread the teachings of yoga all over Europe (see www.yogavanlysebeth.com). Van Lysebeth who drove several times to India by car (from Belgium!) was always describing Swami Sivananda as a living saint, an enlightened soul.
His words may help us in our sadhana or journey to enlightenment. He was often saying "An ounce of practice is better than tons of theory." Another popular maxim is "The light of saintliness is universal love. The mark of saintliness is equanimity. The root of saintliness is regular meditation," (Sivananda Upanishad, p.131). He regarded meditation as the very heart of a yoga practice: "Meditation is the way for attaining immortality and eternal bliss. Meditation destroys all causes of sorrow and pain. Without meditation you cannot attain the knowledge of the Imperishable" (Sivananda Upanishad, p. 289). "In the same way that the food is necessary for the body, Satsang and Meditation are necessary for the soul," (Sivananda Upanishad, p. 100).
He recognized the full importance of hatha yoga : "Hatha-Yoga is a divine blessing. With this yoga, body and mind are kept strong, sound, and full of energy…You can combat disease and weaknesses of all kinds and attain radiant health and God-realization. Become a spiritual hero, full of physical, mental and spiritual strength!" (Sivananda Upanishad, p. 281). While practising Hatha-Yoga, let us also keep in mind his final advice - "This life is evanescent like a bubble. Seek the Eternal Life of the Atman, your own true nature!" (Sivananda Upanishad, p. 113).
>> Visit Steeve's bio