Janaki Jill Stock.
“Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.”
Here is some information about the gurus and important teachers who form my lineage. The guru is ultimately the teaching, and all of these people have contributed profoundly to the understanding of Yoga, Vedanta, and Ayurveda both in India and in the west. A yoga teacher does not come out of a vacuum; we are shaped by those who came before us. The guru does not ask us to follow his or her path, but to find our own. I remain grateful for the continued guidance and gentle hand that I feel on my back through life. In my experience the best teachers do not push, but let you figure things out for yourself. They are responsive to the extent that the student demonstrates discipline and commitment to the practice.
I am too young to have met Swami Sivananda, but have had the good fortune to know several people that knew him. It seems that those close to him felt that they were in the presence of greatness, as if they were with God. A beautiful written account is Swami Sivananda Radha’s, “Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search”.
One of the greatest Yoga masters of the 20th century, Swami Sivananda, is the inspiration behind the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. The teachings of Master Sivananda are summarized in these six words: Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize. Born in 1887 in Tamil Nadu, South India, he originally trained as a medical doctor and practiced in Malaysia. One day ‘Dr. Kuppuswami’ had the opportunity to cure a wandering Sannyasin (renunciate or Monk) who gave the doctor instruction in Yoga and Vedanta. From that day on his life changed, and gradually Dr. Kuppuswami became more introspective, pondering the great questions of life. Now he felt the need to help people on a more profound level, not just healing their physical body, but helping them to find a cure for all suffering.
Filled with a tremendous desire for spiritual growth and enlightenment he went to North India in search of his Guru. After spending time in Varanasi (Banaras) he travelled north to the Himalayas. There in the holy town of Rishikesh (which means “the abode of the sages”) Kuppuswami discovered his Guru who gave him Sannyas (a monk’s vows of renunciation). After taking these vows, Swami Sivananda Saraswati, as he would be known henceforth, undertook an intense daily Sadhana (spiritual practices) and Tapas (austerities) for the next 10 years. Many Sadhus and spiritual seekers felt drawn to Swami Sivananda for his instruction and spiritual inspiration. In time he founded the Divine Life Society and an ashram formed around him.
Although he rarely left Rishikesh, Swami Sivananda’s teachings spread quickly due to the more than 200 books on Yoga and Philosophy that he authored in English. Several disciples of Swami Sivananda went on to form organizations of their own, notably Swami Chinmayananda (Chinmaya Mission), Swami Satchidananda (Integral Yoga), and Swami Sivananda Radha (Yasodhara Ashram and Timeless Books in Canada). In 1957, Swami Sivananda sent his disciple, Swami Vishnudevananda to the West where he established the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres.
For more information and to download free books on yoga: www.dlshq.org
Swamiji left his body about the time that I started to practice yoga. I had read and loved his “Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga”, but at the time didn’t fully understand what a “Yogi” was or certainly what a “Swami” was. He continues to appear in my dreams and my inner life, always gently reminding me of his presence. Last summer I had an opportunity to meditate in his cave in the Himalayas, and felt I’d somehow come ‘full circle’ in my connection to him as a guru. Always humble, Swamiji would say that he was only “teaching people to stand on their own heads”.
Swamiji was born in Kerala, South India, in 1927. As a young man in the army, he happened upon a pamphlet in a waste basket, “20 Spiritual Instructions” by Swami Sivananda. The pamphlet began: “An ounce of practice is better than tons of theory”. The practicality and inherent power of these simple words lead Swamiji to travel across India during a leave to meet Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh. Swamiji received a powerful lesson from Swami Sivananda when he was too arrogant to bow to the Guru, as was the custom. So the Master Swami Sivananda prostrated fully before the young student demonstrating humility. Swami Sivananda then invited the young boy to remain with him at the Ashram to study and practice. Swami Vishnudevananda spontaneously replied “Yes”.
For 10 years Swami Vishnudevananda lived and trained with Swami Sivananda, quickly distinguishing himself as a master of Hatha Yoga. In 1957 Swami Sivananda gave him a 10 Rupee note (less than a dollar!) and his blessing to travel to the West and spread the teachings of Yoga, saying only that “People are waiting.”
Swamiji went on to found the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, which today includes 20 Yoga centres, 9 Ashrams and many affiliated centres around the world. Swami created the first Yoga Teachers Training Course which to date has trained more than 26,000 certified teachers in the field of Yoga and Vedanta. Swamiji distilled the ancient and vast teachings into the practical “Five Points of Yoga” (see “Yoga General & FAQ” page) which provide a beautiful way to incorporate the broader practices of Yoga into everyday life. Swamiji is the author of The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga which is a most authoritative text on the subject.
Deeply concerned about the state of the world and the threat of war, Swamiji learned to fly and then to pilot peace missions over several trouble spots, including the Berlin Wall and Suez Canal, earning himself the nickname “The Flying Swami”.
For more information: www.sivananda.org
Swami Mahadevananda was my first teacher of yoga philosophy and vedanta. His style of teaching and speaking appealed to me enormously. Among his unique quotations that I remember is, “We are not just walking pieces of meat”, on the existence of the subtle body. We also share a birthday, exactly thirty years apart, with a lot of ‘9s’ in it, which immediately helped me to feel a connection!
Swami Mahadevananda is Swami Vishnudevananda’s most senior disciple, one of six Executive Board Members of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre’s and Acharya of all Ashrams and Centres throughout India and Canada. Swamiji has lived much of his life in India, however travels extensively through North and South America and Asia propagating the teachings of yoga with devotion and deep insight. As one of the main teachers for the International Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course, Swami Mahadevananda has touched the hearts of future generations of yoga teachers and spiritual seekers around the world..
Prahlada has been my main asana teacher over the years. For him nothing is impossible; by way of encouragement he can often be heard saying, “Nothing breaks!” He has a way of making you feel that he is guiding you, but really giving you the confidence and independence to figure it out for yourself…the best way to teach, truly.
Prahlada is the director of the Sivananda Yoga Centre in Toronto and one of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre’s senior teachers. Prahlada was personally trained by Swami Vishnudevananda from a young age and now teaches Yoga Teachers’ Training and Advanced Teachers’ Training courses around the world.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati is a contemporary teacher of Vedanta and a scholar in Sanskrit in the tradition of Sankara. Swami Dayananda was formerly head of the Chinmaya Mission, which was founded by Swami Chinmayananda, a disciple of Swami Sivananda. Swamiji has been teaching Vedanta in India for more than five decades and around the world since 1976. He is known for his deep understanding of Vedanta and a subtle appreciation of contemporary problems which make his teachings accessible to both traditional and modern students.
Under his guidance, various centers for teaching of Vedanta have been founded around the world; notably in India at Rishikesh, Coimbatore, Nagpur and one in the U.S. at Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.
For more information: www.dayananda.org
Mother Maya (Swamini Mayatitananda or Maya Tiwari).
Mother Maya’s story was deeply inspiring to me when I was healing from cancer; a top American fashion designer, who at a young age was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She underwent many surgeries and treatments until at last she was told that she was “terminal”. She went to stay in a cabin in the woods, intending to live her remaining days there alone, meditating, chanting, fasting and reflecting. To the shock of her doctors she emerged cancer-free several months later, and began to reconnect with the Vedic traditions of her ancestors. She is a disciple of Swami Dayananda, with whom she continues to return to India to study. When I first met Mother Maya, I introduced her to my mother and she said, “you know this is not the last time I’ll be seeing your daughter”.
Mother Maya is a spiritual teacher, lauded by Bawa Jain, Secretary General of the UN Millennium Peace Summit, as a “compassionate Mother whose ancient wisdom can be applied to heal present world crises.” A living testament to the healing efficacy of her teachings, Mother Maya freed herself from “terminal” ovarian cancer at the age of 23. More than 25 years later-having been recognized by the Parliament of the World’s Religions for her outstanding contribution to humanity-she shares the healing wisdom that literally saved her life – an inspired education currently in practice by thousands of people around the world.
With a quarter century worth of health, humanitarian education and wellness services to her accomplishment, Mother Maya is the founder of the Mother Om Mission, the Wise Earth School-the first school for Ayurveda in North America, established in 1981, and the Living Ahimsa Foundation. She was the keynote speaker at the Parliament of the World’s Religious Leaders in Melbourne, Australia in December 2009 where she appeared alongside the Dalai Lama. Under the name Maya Tiwari, she is the best-selling author of Women’s Power to Heal through Inner Medicine; Ayurveda-a Life of Balance; Ayurveda-Secrets of Healing; The Path of Practice and Living Ahimsa Diet: Nourishing Love & Life and Love! A Daily Oracle for Healing.
For more information: www.mothermaya.com