The system of Satyananda Yoga has preserved the classical yoga, based on ancient tantric, yogic and upanishadic knowledge. Yet, while retaining its classical base, Satyananda Yoga is constantly evolving and developing.
Today, the contribution of Sri Swami Satyananda is found in every major branch of yoga.
1. Hatha yoga
Swami Satyananda produced a complete categorization of asana along with corresponding benefits and contraindications, to ensure safe, sequential and systematic progression of the yoga practitioner. “Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha” represents an unsurpassable book on hatha yoga.
Inspired to make classical yoga available to one and all, but recognizing the stiff body, stressed mind and dormant energy prevalent in the people of modern society, Swami Satyananda brought forth the series of pawanmuktasana as a systematic preparatory practice for all the major physical systems. The pawanmuktasana anti-rheumatic series focuses on the joints of the entire body, awakening and distributing prana and removing toxins. The digestive series rectifies imbalances in the lower abdominal energy domain, generates sound digestion and energizes the body. The third, shakti bandhas series, removes the blockages on the energetic level, enabling an abundant free flow of prana in the body.
In Satyananda Yoga, the entire range of pranayama techniques has been categorized. Practices are delineated according to their effects and utility, whether heating, or cooling, or balancing, and precise explanations are given for systematic daily sadhana. Swami Satyananda was the first to openly teach pranayamas, and the sequential techniques that are available today throughout the world are his teachings. The method and technique of mudras and bandhas were also explained by him in scientific detail, until now unavailable, and taught in simple, progressive stages. In a revolutionary practice formulated by Swami Satyananda, the entire system of hatha yoga shatkriyas including basti, dhauti, nauli and neti are combined in one practice: poorna shankhaprakshalana. He was also the first to openly describe the process, salient points and technique of prana vidya. These advanced practices were very rarely taught and never written down until the book Prana Vidya was published by Bihar School of Yoga.
The emphasis laid on awareness of the subtle and spiritual dimensions of any yoga practice is unique to the Satyananda Yoga system. In his own words:
“Even the elementary practices of asana and pranayama should never be regarded as, or taught as mechanical manipulations of body and breath. Every yogic practice has a physical, psychological and spiritual dimension.”
2. Raja yoga
Swami Satyananda defined the concept and explained the complete system of pratyahara, as a process of extending of awareness into the mind, its applicability and techniques. He defined the stages of antar mouna and demarcated a complete system for development of awareness and achieving the state of pratyahara.
Through his exposition of yamas, niyamas and pratyahara the classical raja yoga teachings were revived. In an unprecedented contribution to humanity, Swami Satyananda combined ancient tantric practices with his own experience and an understanding of the needs of the current times and brought forth the technique of yoga nidra. A systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation, today yoga nidra is known in each and every corner of the world as an easy and useful method of inducing peace, both physical and mental. It is also one of the finest aids to sense withdrawal. Swami Satyananda says:
“In yoga nidra we experience a state of harmony between body, brain and mind. Then the unconscious barriers and blockages within the personality, which exist due to our negativity; are removed and the healing power of the mind begins to manifest.”
3. Kriya and kundalini yoga
Using his insight and extraordinary understanding, Swami Satyananda was able to extract the essence of kriya yoga from the ancient texts of tantra, decipher and explain the system as a simple practical method of self-awakening. The esoteric teachings of tantra were rendered into systematic sequential practices, with meticulous attention to detail, making them accessible to the ordinary aspirant.
Removing the veil of secrecy around the practices, Swami Satyananda conducted a three-year postal correspondence course in kriya yoga. It was Swami Satyananda who linked the yogic concepts to the body and explained the relationship of chakras and nadis with physical glands and systems in the body along with corresponding mental and emotional states.
In kundalini yoga he was again revolutionary in detailing and teaching a systematic sequence of practices that lead to the awakening and charging the energy centres in a controlled, steady and safe way. Bhakti yoga was revealed as a means to purify, channel and harness the emotional energy. Jnana yoga was made relevant to daily life with simple practices such as the spiritual diary. Alongside other practices, karma yoga was taught as a way to integrate one’s actions within the daily routine into a spiritual sadhana which could be applied in everyday life.
Experimentation and research is a hallmark of the Satyananda Yoga tradition. In the late 1970s, Swami Satyananda started research on the benefits of yogic practices on human mind and body. He said
“The science of yoga has great physical and psychological potential. The effect of yoga techniques on human physiology is an inviting field for research for modern physiologists, and scientific investigators.”
To date, research has been conducted on the efficacy of yoga in management of asthma, hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure and pregnancy as well as the effect of different yoga postures on the endocrine system and various organs of the body. Experiments were successfully conducted on the effects of yoga in coronary disorders. Positive conclusions were drawn about the possibility of reviving insulin production in the body of diabetics. Yoga postures were determined for disc prolapse. The effect of hatha yoga on mental, psychological and emotional problems was studied. Research on the effect of pranayama on the behaviour of the hypothalamus and the nervous system was conducted. The value of the practices of meditation, kirtan, japa, yoga nidra were investigated and assessed in terms of levels of beneficent alpha waves in the brain.
The development of yoga in today’s age is the result of the effort, insight and vision of Swami Satyananda. In the words of his spiritual successor, Swami Niranjanananda,
“Swami Satyananda gave yoga a new life, a new birth. He revived yoga; otherwise, it would have been lost. Therefore, Swami Satyananda is the Patanjali of today.”