The Flying Swami: Vishnudevananda

2018 was the 40th anniversary of my first yoga class at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center here in New York City – still in its original location at 243 West 24th Street.  2019 will mark my 40th year as a yoga teacher.  Yoga took such a hold of me when I was 20 years old that it was less than a year between my first yoga class and my first trip out of the USA to live for month in a tent on a ski hill at the Sivananda Yoga Camp in Val Morin, Quebec, Canada.  There, I was trained as a Sivananda yoga teacher by the senior students of Swami Vishnudevananda, and by Swami Vishnu himself, who came out of seclusion halfway through our training to deliver daily lectures and lessons.

A flood of memories of the extraordinary Swami Vishnu came rushing back to me the other day, when I saw that my old friend Srinivasan Ashley had posted to Facebook a BBC video commemorating Swamiji’s flight over Northern Ireland with Peter Sellers at the height of the troubles.

I could go on endlessly with stories from my time with the Sivananda organization, but for now, I’ll let the footage speak for itself.  If you are at all interested in the history of yoga over the last 50 years, you owe it to yourself to take some time to get to know the man responsible for opening the oldest continually operating yoga center (Montreal since 1959), creating the largest yoga organization in the world (30 centers, 10 ashrams), and training the most yoga teachers (over 30,000 to date).  In a story for another time, I’ll write about how the month-long Sivananda teacher training served as the original template for what became the Yoga Aliiance’s 200 minimum standard.

I highly recommend viewing the attached 2-part mini-documentary about Swami Vishnu’s lifelong mission for worldwide peace.  His vision may seem utopian naivety by today’s cynical standards, but the bravery he exhibited by flying his aircraft over the most troubled borders in the world (Suez, Northern Ireland, Berlin Wall) without a flight plan, passport or visa was unquestionable.  If he were alive today, I have no doubt he’d be flying over the Middle East, Burma or Pakistan challenging the authorities to shoot him down.

Swami Vishnu’s legacy – as someone who stuck to his principles, and fearlessly defied authority – deserves to be remembered. As I type those words, I realize how much he has been a role model for me since the very beginning my yoga journey.

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