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. 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. In Rishikesh 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 1936 the Divine Life Society was born with the aim of spreading the teachings of yoga and vedanta.
Swami Sivananda’s teachings combined 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.
Swami Vishnudevananda decided to forsake his worldly life and entered the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh in 1947 at the age of twenty, took sannyas 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. 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 in 1959 and from there he worked tirelessly as a dedicated spiritual teacher and peace missionary; travelling the world establishing centres and ashrams from where his work could be accomplished. His teachings, following in the tradition of Swami Sivananda, were based on an integrated approach to yoga. Through his dedication, his devotion to his Guru and his 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.