Though born into an orthodox family, his piety was balanced by an unusual broad mindedness and lack of prejudice. Even as a young man, his driving force was the service of humanity which led him to become a medical doctor. He served the poor in Malaysia for many years, but soon felt that this was not enough. Divinely blessed, he gave up his medical career and took to a life of renunciation.
He returned to India and spent a year wandering before settling in Rishikesh, Himalayas in 1924. There he practiced intense austerities, found his guru, Swami Vishwananda, and was initiated into sannyas. For the next seven years, Swami Sivananda spent most of his time in meditation. From the early 1930s onwards, he embarked on frequent and extensive tours of India and Sri Lanka, stirring the hearts and souls of thousands with his spiritual magnetism, strong vibrant voice and public speaking abilities. Wherever he went, he conducted sankirtan (chanting), delivered lectures and taught people how to stay strong and healthy by practising yoga asanas, pranayama and kriyas. Above all, he urged his audiences to strive constantly for spiritual development.
In Rishikesh, meanwhile, an increasing number of disciples had begun to congregate and an ashram grew up around him. With his unrestrained generosity, spirit of service, deep devotion, and his constant good humour, Swami Sivananda set a supreme example to his students. In 1932, he started the Sivananda Ashram; in 1936 the Divine Life Society was born. The Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy was organised in 1948, all with the aim of spreading the teachings of yoga and vedanta.
Swami Sivananda’s teachings crystallised the basic tenets of all religions, combining all yoga paths into one – the Yoga of Synthesis which he summed up with, ‘Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realise’. His own life was a shining example of the ideal wish to spread his message of love and service. He had disciples around the world, of all nationalities, religions and creeds. Swami Sivananda entered mahasamadhi (left his physical body) on July 14, 1963.
A disciple of Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnudevananda was born in Kerala, south India on December 31, 1927. During his career in the army, he discovered Swami Sivananda’s teachings from a leaflet entitled Sadhana Tattwa (Spiritual Instructions) which began ‘An ounce of practice is worth tons of theory.’ Impressed by the immediacy of the teachings he took some leave and journeyed to Rishikesh, a holy town at the foot of the Himalayas to meet the Master at his Ashram.
Swami Vishnudevananda, after some consideration, decided to forsake his worldly life and entered the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh in 1947 at the age of twenty, took sannyas (holy orders) and was appointed the first professor of hatha yoga at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy. There he trained thousands of students, both Indian and western. At the same time he continued his own practice, mastering difficult, advanced hatha yoga techniques. For ten years, he lived and worked under the direct guidance of his Master.
In 1957 he set out from Swami Sivananda’s Ashram to carry out the instructions of his Master — to spread the teachings of yoga in the West. He established the first Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Montreal and from there for the following thirty-seven years he worked tirelessly as a dedicated spiritual teacher and peace missionary; travelling the world establishing centres and ashrams from where this work could be accomplished. His teachings, following in the tradition of Swami Sivananda, were based on an integrated approach to yoga.
Swami Vishnudevananda worked tirelessly to instil a strong, practical understanding of yoga and vedanta in the people who came to him. Through his dedication, his infinite love and kindness, his devotion to his Guru and his sheer undaunted fearlessness, he planted the seeds for yoga to grow into the world-wide phenomenon that it is today. His motto ‘Health is Wealth. Peace of Mind is Happiness. Yoga Shows the Way’ continues to inspire all who come to learn about yoga at the Sivananda Ashrams and Centres around the world.
As a peace missionary during the 1970s Swamiji made headlines by flying around the world in his small two-seater plane dropping flowers and leaflets for peace over trouble-spots and war-torn countries of the world. Recognised as a world authority on hatha and raja yoga, he is author of the bestselling The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. He left his body on November 9 1993, his legacy–a worldwide organisation dedicated to propagating the ancient and timeless wisdom of yoga.