Excitement is on high because Swami Vidyananda is coming to Integral this April. She will lead a Raja Yoga Teacher Training, as well as a one-day workshop for those who want a taste of this ancient and classical form of yoga.
Not surprisingly, Swami Vidyananda is passionate about her lineage and its ability to transform lives - because it changed hers - opening the door to happiness and giving her the tools to teach very diverse populations ranging from children with Down’s Syndrome to college students with eating disorders to those battling cancer.
How does she handle such a variety of students? Vidyananda explains that her abilities come from the fact that Raja Yoga is the original yoga therapy. “It’s both practical and a road map to enlightenment. No matter where you are on your path, it gives you the next step – telling you what to do now and then what to do next.”
The Urdu word vidyanada contains two ideas - knowledge and bliss. The Swami brings both of those ideas into her classes, trainings and our discussion about them.
Vidyananda has been teaching yoga for over 40 years, along the way running Integral Yoga in Montreal, creating countless teacher trainings, and traveling with Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Integral to translate for him. Then she spent ten years becoming a monk.
None of that was on her original to-do list. In her early 20's, she was a radio journalist covering the Vietnam War, later demonstrations in San Francisco. She also covered the Paris Peace Talks, where her fluency in French came in handy. She became a video producer, while traveling the world and having grand adventures. “It was as if some higher power was preparing me to be a monk by giving me all these wonderful experiences very early.”
But at the same time, she felt disconnected from her body. Her sister had given her a book on yoga which helped. Then one day she took a class at Integral in San Francisco, and things began to change. “ I knew in my first class that I had come home, but didn't know what that meant ….yet.”
Like many of us, her path was full of twists and turns, and she had no idea where it would lead. “Moving into the Institute, learning to teach yoga, and eventually becoming a swami, was not on my radar. I was the cynical young reporter, but I kept coming back. There was something about it that made me feel so good.”
Two of those things were meditation and the teachings of Swami Satchidananda. ”I was a hot shot hatha yogi, but every class ended with meditation. I walked out of class floating, so I got very serious about mediation, but my early meditations were pretty miserable.” Still, it helped. “It was as if while sitting, I purged my mind of all my misery, so I didn't have to take it out on anyone else,” she explains. Since those early years, she says her meditation has changed, becoming calmer and more peaceful. ”You get to know your patterns, and when you recognize them for what they are, they lose their power over you.”
Feeling miserable wasn't new for the Swami. She'd struggled with it for a long time even though she seemed to have it all. “I had the dream guy, the dream job - and none of it made me happy. At that time yoga was helpful, but I was still miserable because I was primarily focused on the physical aspects and had not yet discovered the mental aspects of yoga, and that is what got me into Raja Yoga.”
After about ten years of studying and teaching, she became initiated into the Order of Sannyas by Swami Satchidananda. “I didn't start off wanting to be a swami. I was smitten with people, had relationships, but over time I became more interested in service and my spiritual development. I love yoga, both the physical and mental aspects, and helping people bring the two together is so joyful.”
For Swami Vidyananda, Raja plays a big role in creating that joy, which she explains by using an iceberg as a metaphor. “With the physical practice you normally get the 10% that's showing on top of the water, but Raja Yoga gives you access to the 10% above the water and the 90% below the water line.”