In our bi-weekly Reflections of Master Teachers series, YogaCity NYC interviews living legends about their practice, teaching, and philosophies. Kathleen Kraft begins with Swami Asokananda of Integral Yoga, started in 1966—one of the first yoga schools in New York City to offer classes.
A monk since 1973, Swami Asokananda’s teaching comes out of his own practice and experience as a devout disciple of his guru, Sri Swami Satchidananda, which began when he was 19. For 40 years, he has taught the practical wisdom of yogic philosophy, especially the Bhagavad Gita, and is currently at work on a new translation.
When asked about studying with him, Lakshmi Scalise, a seasoned Integral teacher and “gong master” said, “I love how disciplined he is, at times I wish I was like that. And his presence lights up the room.”
Kathleen Kraft: What does your yoga practice look like every day?
Swami Asokandanda: I wake up between 4:15-4:30am. I spend about an hour working on a translation and commentary of the Bhagavad Gita I’m writing. Then I join in for the New York IYI Ashram 6am meditation. At 7am, we practice hatha yoga together. It is not a taught class; everyone does their own practice, but we do it together. Then I start my karma yoga, taking it as service to my Guru. At 12:15pm, I join in for our daily midday meditation. I go back to karma yoga after lunch until about 5:30pm. I try to always get a walk in toward evening—otherwise I’m indoors all day, since I live where I work. I join the group meditation at 6pm. At night, when I’m not teaching, I’ll do pranayama and gentle hatha yoga on my own. Then I’ll review the day and lessons learned, writing them down in my spiritual diary.
One way that my practice affects my teaching is that I recognize that most people I teach are not living in the supportive spiritual environment that I do. I understand the struggles that they have to remain steady in a yoga practice and have great admiration for those who have the determination and clarity of purpose to stay strong in their practice, and compassion for those who are wavering. Also, I have learned from my practice that a steady practice is more important than practicing a lot occasionally. Through a regular practice I find that all our obstacles on the path gradually are transcended.
KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?
SA: The first thing that comes to mind is that the teachers should be honest about their level of development and not be pretentious with the people who are drawn to learn from them. I find that when I’m open and honest about myself, the other person feels safe to be themselves.
The second thing is that when someone considers me their teacher, my responsibility is to “under stand” them, to be of service to them, not accentuate the power differential between us. It’s all about what is best for the student. I see the best in the person, and what might be getting in the way of manifesting that, and support them to see and remove the obstacles. The relationship is most powerful and rewarding when both parties feel a selfless love.
KK: Which yoga sutra is guiding you?
SA: I’m more of a Bhagavad Gita than a Yoga Sutra kind of guy. Right now I’m working on Chapter 10. The 8th verse is something that I repeat each morning and bring into my day: I am the source of all creation—everything emanates from Me. The wise ones knowing this are absorbed in Me through wholehearted devotion.
Just as the ocean is the cause and support of waves—in fact, waves are nothing but ocean—the Supreme Brahman is the source of all that exists—that is, all that exists is nothing other than that Reality. How do we realize this: through great faith and devotion. I don’t need anything more than this verse.