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The Thousand Petals of Integral Yoga - Their 50th Anniversary

“Truth is the same always. Whoever ponders it will get the same answer. Buddha got it. Patanjali got it. Jesus got it. Mohammed got it. The answer is the same, but the method of working it out may vary this way or that.”

--Swami Satchidananda

“As my yoga practice deepened with the Swami, I began to acquire a powerful focus through meditation, and my art began to change remarkably. While the outer cosmos had always been fascinating to me, the Swami revealed to me, through meditation, that a whole universe could be found within.”

--Peter Max, The Universe of Peter Max

On October 7th, Integral Yoga Institute of New York City (IYINY) will kick off its 50th anniversary with a kirtan, free classes, a weekend of donation-based programs, and a dance party. This act of generosity and faith in the name of sangha is representative of what has made Integral Yoga a powerful force in the worldwide yoga and interfaith community.

It’s hard to overstate its impact. With over 30 centers and 5000 teachers across six continents, Integral’s reach is diverse as it is wide. Its’ ecumenical philosophy is still central to its mission: to foster interfaith dialogue and inspire service-driven living, both which stem from Swami Satchidananda’s belief that we are all one.

It all began in 1966 when Swamiji, as he is affectionately called by those who remember him, arrived in the United States, upon the urging of the acclaimed American Pop artist Peter Max, who had met and studied with him in Paris. “The youth of America need you.” “If they need me,” the Swami said, “I will come.”

Satchidananda’s energy and message was needed—the Vietnam War was raging and race riots were exploding in the streets. He taught what he termed “Integral Yoga” a synthesis of six branches of classical yoga aimed at purifying and calming the body and mind. He encouraged selfless service to others, which would help anyone discover and maintain the peace and happiness that were, he said, the birthright of all.

Lawrence Zupan, the first executive director of IYINY, talked about the early days of raising money to move to 13th St. (The dollar Hatha classes had filled beyond capacity at the institute’s first location at 500 West End Avenue) as “a heady and exciting time.” “We had everything from bazaars to solicitations to asking students for money. Peter Max donated generously, and Alice Coltrane did as well. ” “Rado and Ragni, the writers of Hair, were living in the building when we moved in, and they stayed for a while… it was an interesting cultural connection. Thirty of us living in an ashram right downtown.”

David Barrett, Satchidananda’s lawyer, who was involved in purchasing IYINY’s home on 13th Street in 1970, said about the early days of Integral, “It was the freshest thing in the universe. We were kids of the 60’s—most of us had done drugs—his yoga philosophy, talks on non-violence, love of fellow man—who ever heard of anything like that? It elevated New York and it spread… Integral today feels much the same as it did back then; it has held his teachings and his space, the sweetness and softness.”

His gentle sense of humor is remembered by Victor Zurbel, an early member who helped Satchidananda find a home at the first Integral on West End Ave. “When we drove to Woodstock where he was the opening speaker of the festival, he wanted to listen to the Rolling Stones, not the chants I had carefully recorded on our trip to India.” “When in Rome,” he said.

As the NY school’s reach expanded, hundreds of teachers were trained and they taught thousands of students in a variety of settings: community centers, schools, prisons, and drug rehab programs, to only name a few. Swami Satchidananda’s translation and commentary of the Yoga Sutras has become the best selling version of text. Centers continue to open, and have expanded to include three locations in Asia: Taiwan, Hong Kong and India, where LOTUS India opened in 2014, at the birthplace of Satchidananda, in honor of his birth centennial.

Integral has made an impact on health and wellness community as well. Dr. Dean Ornish’s (who credits Swami Satchidananda for literally saving his life when he was a suicidal young doctor) research on severe heart disease showed that people could reverse the effects of it when people made intensive changes in diet and lifestyle. “That, I learned from Swami… Eat well, move more, stress less, and love more.”

And for many New Yorkers, the Integral Yoga Hatha class was their first experience of yoga. This is still the case today: Integral is a place where many come to try out yoga for the first time. The school has grown substantially over the years, offering teacher trainings in many types of yoga, ranging from kids’ to therapeutic to raja yoga. Every season offers a plethora of workshops and wellness programs, as well as wellness spa offering bodywork and energy healing.

It is still an ashram, and though the number of residents is considerably less (12) and the flower children are gone, the lotus is still very much in bloom as the anniversary approaches—it’s a heady and exciting time.

With a kirtan on Friday night led by Swami Asokananda, Kali Morse, and Rev. Sam Rudra Swartz, and programs all day long on Saturday and Sunday, including an interfaith puja for the next 50 years, 50 Sun Salutations, and a dance party, there will something enriching and inspirational for every NYC yogi.

--Illustration: Sharon Watts

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