What is Integral Yoga? by Thomas Claire

Integral Yoga, as its name implies, is a system of yoga that aims to integrate body, mind and spirit. The system of Integral Yoga was brought to the West from India by Sri Swami Satchidananda. This system emphasizes the practices of hatha yoga, pranayama, and meditation as the way to develop physical and mental stillness in order to unlock inner truth. Integral Yoga is practiced and taught at the Integral Yoga Institute which was founded by Sri Swami Satchidananda and has branches throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Integral Yoga hatha classes are offered by individual teachers, by the Integral Yoga Institutes and Integral Yoga Teaching Centers, as well as at Integral Yoga headquarters at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville, which is located in Buckingham, Virginia, near Charlottesville.

The founding and inspirational force behind Integral Yoga is Sri Swami Satchidananda. Born in South India, Sri Swami Satchidananda studied yoga under the guidance of several of the most renowned teachers of yoga in the twentieth century, including Sri Ramana Maharashi, Sri Aurobindo, and Sri Swami Sivananda. Sri Swami Sivananda from Rishikesh in the Himalayas, who taught a synthesis of many different types of yoga, was Sri Swami Satchidananda's spiritual master. Sri Swami Sivananda was one of the most influential teachers of yoga in the twentieth century.

Sri Swami Satchidananda traveled and taught extensively throughout Southeast Asia and Europe, and there are now yoga teachers and centers devoted to him throughout the world. He was invited to visit the West by an American devotee in 1966. A planned two-day visit turned into a five-month teaching tour. He quickly gained prominence as a teacher of yoga. Many baby boomers may remember him as the spiritual mentor of the 1969 Woodstock music festival. "Integral Yoga Hatha," his 1970 guide to the practice of hatha yoga, introduced countless Westerners to yoga. It continues to remain a classic among texts on hatha yoga.

Sri Swami Satchidananda founded the Integral Yoga Institute as the vehicle to teach his particular approach to yoga. Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville, located in Buckingham, Virginia, is the international headquarters of Integral Yoga. Integral Yoga remains one of the premier yoga organizations in the world today. Integral Yoga represents a rich synthesis of the major principles of yoga. This style of yoga is characterized by its practical, simple, and systematic approach to the practice of yoga. Dean Ornish, M.D., who is famous for developing his healthy lifestyle program for reversing heart disease, studied Integral Yoga. It is this approach to yoga that forms one of the key components in Ornish's healthy lifestyle program.

The three foundational practices of Integral Yoga are asana, pranayama, and meditation. Practice of the physical asana postures purifies, aligns and strengthens the body. Pranayama, or the practice of breath control, is used to draw the mind and senses inward in order to progress up the higher rungs of the eight-limbed ladder of yoga. Meditation allows practitioners to connect to the divinity within.
The Integral Yoga approach to yoga emphasizes the accessibility and practicality of this ancient practice. It recognizes that many people come to yoga seeking relief from stress and fatigue. Integral Yoga uses hatha yoga as a doorway to yoga practice. The emphasis is on ease and comfort in performing the asanas. Pranayama and meditation receive equal weight with asana practice within the Integral Yoga system.

In addition to these foundational practices, Integral Yoga teaches a variety of other practices and principles that are associated with a yoga lifestyle. These include relaxation techniques, vegetarian diet and cooking, as well as a yoga lifestyle training program. Integral Yoga hatha is typically taught in a class setting. Classes are divided into levels of difficulty and include New Beginners, Beginners (Level I), Intermediate (Level II), and Advanced (Level III). Classes are generally open to anyone, with drop-ins encouraged. Each Integral Yoga class follows a prescribed format. They are generally 75 to 90 minutes in length. The first 55 minutes are devoted to the practice of physical asanas, followed by a deep relaxation. Pranayama followed by meditation and a brief chanting session complete the class.

For more info about Integral Yoga Institute, visit: www.yogaville.org; E-mail: iyi@yogaville.org. This article is excerpted from "Yoga for Men: Postures for Healthy-Stress Free Living" (New Page;2004) by Thomas Claire, a NYS Licensed Massage Therapist, body/mind facilitator, Reiki Master, and Director of the International Reiki Learning Center. For more information, visit: www.thomasclaire.com.