How Hatha Yoga and Kriya Yoga Came West

Most people who live in the west and who practice yoga in the tradition of Swami Sivananda from Rishikesh are familiar with the story of Swami Vishnu-devananda – how he became a hatha yoga master and went west.

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Swami Sivananda

At the Sivananda ashram in Rishikesh, Swami Vishnu was given the position of professor of yoga at age 21 and the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy was started. From the book, “The Yogi”, by Gopala Krishna, here is Swami Vishnu explaining how he came to learn hatha yoga:

I liked hatha and raja yoga from the very beginning, When I first met Master, everything came into me; I could do asanas and pranayama easily. It just came; I didn’t learn them like I teach them to you. In fact, they weren’t even on the ashram program itself because they were not well known anymore and not taught very clearly. But Master awakened all my knowledge from past lives enabling me to revive this whole yoga system from the past.

First of all, I didn’t have the qualifications to be a professor. I didn’t even learn things properly from the Master. I’d only been there for a year and a half. I was a little bit scared because I didn’t know what I was going to teach and people kept coming and asking me to teach them. I was not ready; I was still practicing. But Master said, “Don’t worry, have faith. You will be ready.” That was sufficient. He was behind me the moment I started teaching. Knowledge started pouring in…

So my body and my mind became an instrument in the hands of my Master to reawaken hatha yoga. In those days I didn’t have as much experience as I have now. But slowly, slowly it came; step by step the methods came, how to devise the poses, how to start, how to finish. So the whole system has been brought completely from my past life experiences and made into a specific method.

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Swami Vishnu

Then in 1957, Swami Vishnu was given the instructions by Swami Sivananda to go to the west and teach yoga because many spiritually inclined souls were reincarnating there. He was given 10 rupees and sent on his way. Eventually he made it to America and started many centers and ashrams which are still flourishing today.

What I just recently learned is that the method by which Swami Sivananda taught hatha yoga and sent his disciple west is very similar in some ways to the method by which kriya yoga was taught and expanded west.

Swami Satyananda, the kriya yoga master who started the Bihar school of yoga, explains his training and instructions in the book, “Light on the Guru and Disciple Relationship.” This also occurred at the Sivananda ashram in Rishikesh:

Quote removed per request from Satyananda organization – copyright violation

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Swami Satyananda

I don’t know as much about the Satyananda tradition, however there are to this day many successful ashrams and centers that practice kriya yoga according to Swami Satyananda’s teachings.

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