By Saurabh Bhattacharya
Under the tutelage of Swami Niranjanananda, the Bihar School of Yoga, based in Munger, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, strives to create a new generation of yoga exponents—and the success shows
YOGA AND CHILDREN? NO KIDDING!
In the winter of 1995 Swami Niranjanananda met parents of five children at BSY. The aim was to provide comprehensive yogic education to the next generation. The result was the Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal—an informal organization that would propagate the message of yoga through children to other children. After rigorous training at BSY, these five children contacted 25 schools in and around Munger for initiating yoga classes.The ball started rolling in earnest after 50 children from these schools were trained as promoters or pracharaksat BSY over a fortnight and were sent back to their respective schools to teach their co-students. The BYMM has now spread its wings from Bihar to other parts of India—Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and even Delhi. What once started with five has now a membership of a massive 27,000.
Like any big organization, BYMM also has a well-established three-tier structure. These tiers are: pracharak (popularizer), pradarshak(teacher or guide) and anudeshak (advisor). Like BSY, it has a proper governing body of seven, with a president, a secretary, a director and board members. Every seminal decision is taken after a board meeting. All board members, save Vikas Kumar, the BYMM director, are children.
Initially, the children are trained in yoga in their respective schools. Then a select few are trained at BSY as teachers. These teachers return to their schools and begin classes on yoga. And the pyramid effect continues.
The BYMM provides a 75 minute daily package for schools. This includes 10 minutes of kirtan, 20 minutes of asana, 10 minutes of pranayama, a 15-minute Yoga Nidra session and 15 minutes of games tailored to hone the children’s awareness and reflexes. ‘The package can be conducted early in the morning and is very compact,’ states 10-year-old Utkarsh, a senior yoga teacher.
The BYMM experiment has become so successful that it has drafted a proposal endorsing the inclusion of yoga as a compulsory subject at school level under the national Minimum Level of Learning (MLL) program. This policy has been accepted in principle by the National Council of Education and Research Training (NCERT), India.
“RELIGIONS ARE MADE BY FOLLOWERS, NOT TEACHERS”
— Swami Niranjanananda
Born in 1960 in Rajnandgaon, Madhya Pradesh, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati entered the tutelage of Swami Satyananda Saraswati at the tender age of four. He was taught the intricate aspects of yoga by his guru while in the state of Yoga Nidra. Till date, Swami Niranjanananda does not know how much he knows consciously and how much more is stored in his subconscious. Now, at the youthful age of 38, this charismatic, intelligent and much-traveled spiritual leader of BSY talks to Saurabh Bhattacharya about various aspects of his life, BSY and its future, spirituality, the guru-disciple relation, and yoga in a freewheeling interview.
What is yoga? How different is it from other religious practices?
Religion has failed to provide answers to our problems. Yoga is like a spiritual thread connecting all the beads of different religions, philosophies and cultures. It is a complete subject. When people are introduced to its real principles that facilitate managing social life along with spiritual life then they feel the substance of tradition. For this reason we are never in conflict with religion.
How would you differentiate spirituality from religion?
Indian spirituality is a holistic subject which inspires you to follow the four purusharthas in life—artha (social security), kama (fulfillment of desire), dharma and moksha (liberation). Religion can be one arm of your body and spirituality another. Religion provides you with social norms and disciplines and spirituality provides you with the opportunity to discover yourself. Spirituality avoids religion. Today, our concept of religion is very limited. It is being used not for spiritual uplift but for manipulation and control of humanity.
Is the strong point of BSY its primarily apolitical stand?
BSY is apolitical and definitely non-religious. Sanyasis are never supposed to be religious figures. Throughout history, they have worked to harmonize society, like Sri Shankaracharya. Religions are made by followers, not by teachers.
There are innumerable yoga institutes in India and abroad. What is unique about BSY?
We adopt the holistic approach to yoga. And we do not concentrate on any one aspect. Our idea is to bring yoga to the world as a scientific subject. We are a composition of body, mind and spirit. So we need to cater to the requirement of all these areas. Therefore, even yogic practices have to be in conformity with the desires of today so that they can influence all the various facets of personality.
So what we are getting over here is a way of living?
That is the aim. That you understand yoga in its totality and as it is, not as an extracurricular activity.
How much importance is given to the asanas and meditation in BSY?
Asana is just one tiny aspect of yoga and meditation is another tiny aspect. In the curriculum of Bihar Yoga Bharati, although we teach asanas and meditation, the emphasis is on the subject being taught. For example, in yoga psychology, you learn mind management and how yogic practices can help overcome psychological and emotional imbalances.
Compared to its popularity in Europe and Australia, BSY has not made sufficient inroads in India.
When BSY was being established, the Indian society saw yoga as something meant only for sanyasis and sadhus (ascetics)—the householder had nothing to do with it. Recognizing that yoga will have to be represented to Indians in a more scientific way, we went abroad to establish the scientific aspect of yoga. Today, BSY has a very good standing in India. And it is our intention to work for the development of the Indian society. We have not migrated to another country like thousands of others. This is our karma bhoomi(vocational arena).
How would you define the guru-disciple relationship?
It is integral to any spiritual organization. Here, the relationship is not of the mind but of the heart: how much shraddha (faith) and vishwas(trust) can one have in a person. And how well can you connect yourself with the inspirations or the traditions that have guided your guru. After all, a guru is a guru in the eyes of others. But in personal life, a guru is always a disciple. Other people may look up to me as a guru but I am and will continue to be the disciple of my guru. So that channel has to remain open.
In most cases, after the guru’s demise, he/she is metamorphosed into an icon while teachings take a back seat. Will BSY also end up as such a cultic setup?
Well, we are not on that path now and we hope that this situation will not come up in the future either. To avoid this, we have to prepare the next generation from now on.
So you have begun grooming your successor?
Yes, definitely. I have, in fact, retired. I worked in active administration of BSY for only 11 years and now I’m only the acharya (principal teacher). Even the present administrators are preparing their own successors. If, in my own lifetime, I see three generations prepared and a tradition created, I’ll be happy.
Won’t this rigid hierarchical structure hinder the progress of thought?
In the life of an organization, one has to go through different phases. When you are establishing an organization, then it is important to preserve the original vision. In this case, it is the vision of our guru, Swami Satyananda, in relation to BSY and other institutions. My job is to continue this vision. Then I have a different vision, in relation to Bihar Yoga Bharati. These visions cater to a particular time: when the needs of society change, the direction changes. So, till something is established and the vision becomes clear to everybody involved, some form of structure is necessary. Once the direction is clear, the path to a democratic form is open.
The guru-shishya relationship is, by definition, a one-to-one relationship. But in a big organization like yours, it is a thousand-to-one relationship.
That is only a spiritual connection, not a direct connection. Many people come to me with their problems. I try to resolve them within my capacity. After all, I am also learning. I don’t have answers to all questions. For you, an outsider, it may appear as a thousand-to-one relation. But for an insider it is a one-to-one relation where every individual is interested in my communication with him or her.
You have a sanyas course. Now, isn’t sanyas more of a state of mind?
There has to be training in sanyas as well. Sanyas is not merely leaving everything and living the life of a recluse. What is the use of renunciation if you are not able to manage your desires? The sanyascourse is specifically tailored for people interested in knowing more about the spiritual way of life which is, basically, incorporating spirituality in your existing lifestyle.
You do not ask for renunciation?
Not at all. The basic principle of sanyas is that you develop the human faculty, be a master of yourself and try to uplift humankind. It is not renunciation. The concept of renunciation is to leave behind all unnecessary baggage in the form of desires, ambitions, needs, etc. Renunciation happens when you have attained something.
What is the paramahamsa tradition?
I trudge up a steep driveway towards an imposing seven-story building in the sweltering heat of Munger in Bihar, eastern India, the last thing on my mind is a saffron-clad Indian saint speaking fluent Spanish. Barely 36 hours later, a smiling Swami Niranjanananda realizes this incongruity. ‘Language has never been a problem,’ the spiritual head of the Bihar School of Yoga (BSY) and founder of the world’s first yoga institute offering postgraduate courses, explains laughingly. ‘Spanish, French, English, or German—the science of yoga is universal.’
Liberal internationalism is the hallmark of BSY. A Colombia-born Poorna sanyasi (monk) uses acupuncture to heal his sciatica, a Swedish sanyasi sings the evening kirtan (Indian devotional music) like an aria, aborigine stone paintings rub shoulders with tantric art. But the basic philosophy remains a staunch guru-shishya (ancient Indian teacher-student educational structure) system, total commitment to yoga, and a well-structured sanyas(monkhood) tradition.
SANYAS: A WAY OF LIFE
Established in 1963 by Paramahamsa Satyananda, BSY is the headquarters of the International Yoga Fellowship Movement—a philosophical movement aimed at promoting and incorporating yoga in life. Swami Satyananda was initiated into sanyas by his guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati. In BSY, Swami Satyananda continued this tradition through six of his disciples who were rigorously trained. As Swami Niranjanananda, one of those six and spiritual successor to Swami Satyananda, fondly recalls: ‘Our only thought was obedience to the mandates of the guru without desiring personal fulfillment.’ This training laid the foundation of BSY’s sanyas tradition.
Gorged with the image of sanyas as a lifelong vacation from labor, the consistent culture of work in the ashram astounds me. From dawn to dusk, sanyasis are busy cooking, sweeping, clearing dustbins or tending the gardens. ‘The whole ethos of sanyas in BSY is based on karma yoga,’ says Swami Dharmadeva, an ashramite. ‘Here sanyas does not mean renunciation. It means a further commitment to work for everybody.’ And work need not be physical alone; it is also spiritual and intellectual. In 1984, Swami Satyananda established Sivananda Math, dedicated to the memory of his guru, through which BSY sanyasis are regularly sent to villages in and around Munger and other parts of Bihar to help uplift their condition.
Back in the BSY campus, I find saffron mingling with yellow. A matter-of-fact Swami Dharmadeva explains: ‘While Swami Satyananda reintroduced the concept of karma yoga for householders, Swami Niranjanananda re-created the jigyasu sanyasi, the lay initiate who wants to learn more about sanyas before plunging into it full-time. These jigyasus wear yellow. Usually one year, the jigyasu period can extend according to inclination. Sometimes you even find a better spiritual aspirant in a jigyasu than in a poorna sanyasi, who has cut off all material ties for good.’ In a significant departure from orthodox tradition, BSY gives sanyas diksha (initiation into monkhood) to foreigners and women as well.
As I move on, I meet a saffron-donned figure wearing all the accouterment of marriage. Sanyas and marriage? Truth is predictably stranger than rumor. ‘Of course, I am a sanyasi!’ the lady smilingly says, assiduously sweeping the stairs. ‘My husband and I have taken karma sanyas.’ Further on, I meet journalists, admen, doctors, lecturers, lawyers—all working, all sanyasis, all wearing saffron. So much for the picture of sanyas as the path chosen by frustrated and unemployed bachelors!
Specialized yoga training for industrial and corporate houses also became part of BSY’s regular activities. The clients included various Indian blue-chip companies like ITC, Indian Oil Ltd, and Coal India. From a gurukul(traditional Indian educational institution) of six students, BSY soon became an international hub of yoga with branches in countries as disparate as Argentina and Australia. The evolution had begun.THE YOGIC RENAISSANCE
In 1971, Swami Satyananda started a three-year sanyastraining course with 108 aspirants. His aim: to create sanyasis adept in yoga who would spread its teaching and philosophy throughout the world. In the ’70s, recognizing the global resurgence of yoga, BSY extended its mandate to training yoga teachers, organizing yoga courses for interested people and for specific health problems. The BSY health management courses initiated various yogic techniques and dietary regulations to manage, not cure, ailments. ‘I have never understood the term therapy. And I cannot use cure. Hence the term management,’ explains Swami Niranjanananda.
‘In order to systematize practices of yoga,’ says Swami Niranjanananda, ‘Swamiji (Satyananda) brought in new combinations of yogic techniques. He also incorporated various components of tantra in the yogic system. Even the sequences of pranayama taught today by most schools was propagated in Munger.’ Swami Satyananda’s contributions include Yoga Nidra, the revised version of the tantric system of nyasa meditation that helps energize various parts of the body by specific mantras (chants), and the pawana-muktasana series—part one for rheumatic problems, part two for gastric problems and part three for shakti bandha or postures to release energies within the body.
At 4 a.m., I wake up, bleary-eyed, and begin my tour of the campus. My destination: early morning outdoor yoga classes where I can catch unsuspecting students for an interview. The BSY campus is based on a hill, with the main building towering over and above the rest of the campus. I skip up stone-hewn steps, breathing in the fresh unpolluted air and reach the building’s lawns—to find no yoga classes, no upside-down sanyasis, nothing! In fact, I see no yoga happening anywhere at all. Frantic, I seek an explanation.
‘Yoga is not mere asana,’ says Swami Niranjanananda. ‘Yoga is also not mere meditation. Yoga is a philosophy.’ But is asana nonexistent in the curriculum? ‘Not at all,’ says Swami Suryamani, an adman turned sanyasi. ‘We do practice asanas, but only when we feel the need. Rest of the time we devote to work and meditation.’ Moreover, I am further informed, all sanyasis practice their own yoga sadhana (devotional practice), which involves pranayama, meditation and asanas, as part of their spiritual progress. My vocabulary that once put yoga at par with contortions suddenly goes through a drastic overhaul.
In 1988, Swami Satyananda retired from the mainstage, and his closest disciple, Swami Niranjanananda, took over formal administrative and spiritual charges. Arguably one of the youngest spiritual gurus in India, Swami Niranjanananda gradually began shifting the focus of BSY from providing spiritual and philosophical training to a more yoga-oriented education. He was also exposed to the modern world through exhaustive travels to South America, Australia, Southeast Asia and Europe. ‘Swami Niranjanananda realized the changing pattern of the society,’ says Swami Dharmadeva, ‘and brought about changes in the administrative structure.’
‘When I came here initially,’ says a visibly pepped-up Swami Gautam, a journalist who has withdrawn from the deadline race, ‘I used to smoke quite heavily. I told this to Swamiji and he merely said: ‘Go ahead, but not in the ashram. And stop only when you want to.’ I was floored. Here was a swami who was not bound by the rigors of orthodoxy. Soon, I stopped smoking.’
In 1994, Swami Niranjanananda founded the Bihar Yoga Bharati (BYB), the world’s first institution for higher yogic studies which is presently affiliated to Bhagalpur University, Bihar. ‘You might say,’ he remarks with an amused air, ‘that BSY is gradually giving way to BYB.’ The same year, he retired from administration of BSY and became the institution’s spiritual guide. The BSY administration is handled by a governing board comprising a president, a secretary and other members.
BYB provides, according to its prospectus, ‘a complete, academic, yogic education and training, in the gurukul environment of BSY’. On offer are a four-month certificate course for non-graduates in yogic studies, a yearlong diploma in yogic studies for graduates and undergraduates, and two-year postgraduate courses conducted by three faculties of the BYB. The faculty of humanities provides an M.A. in yoga philosophy; the social science faculty gives M.A./M.Sc in yoga psychology; and the faculty of science gives an M.Sc in applied yogic sciences.
Although the enrollment for degree or diploma courses has not really picked up, faculty members and Swami Niranjanananda himself have full faith in BYB. ‘Yoga is definitely going to be the science of the future,’ states Swami Gyan Bhikshu, a former professor who heads the humanities section of BYB. ‘And BYB is providing a complete and holistic dimension to yogic sciences.’
But mere belief does not a university make. Students do. On my way to breakfast at 6.30 in the morning, I see a bespectacled young girl helping diabetes patients do jal neti (cleansing the nose and mouth with water).
Does she study here, I ask. ‘Yes,’ says Supriya Avadesh, ‘I’m doing my M.Sc in applied yogic sciences.’ But does she hope to get any job through this degree? Her confidence rattles me: ‘The scope is tremendous. In India as well as abroad. Especially abroad.’ But what about money? Would she earn in keeping with the present market conditions? ‘I see no reason why not,’ says Supriya and adds thoughtfully, ‘I am not studying to earn but to learn and give my learning to humankind.’ Yet another conditioned view of a learn-to-earn education system flies out of the window.
CHILD: THE TEACHER OF MAN
The main BSY building interior echoes with silence. Suddenly, the calm is broken by a reverential but loudly synchronized chant of ‘Om‘. I turn back towards the second floor main hall and hesitantly peep in… to see about a hundred children sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, repeating the Word. On the dais facing them is another child sitting beside a sanyasi, leading the chant. Minutes after it is over, a small boy holding a register shuffles up to the front and begins roll-call. Occasionally, he raises a tousled head from the depths of the register to sharply interrogate former absentees. The adult sanyasi on the dais never interferes. Must be a pet of the sanyasi, who I immediately assume to be the teacher.
‘Oh, no!’ exclaims Vikas Kumar, a young psychology undergraduate at Bhagalpur University who spends most of his spare time with the BSY children. ‘The boy, not the sanyasi, is the teacher. And all the children attending are being groomed to be yoga teachers.’
‘Children have a native sense of personality,’ states Swami Niranjanananda. ‘Grown-ups can’t understand this nature and try to mold the child in their own image. But children are not conditioned beings. They have their own ways of recognizing, understanding and learning information, situations, subjects.’
This thought led to the development of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal (BYMM)—an organization for children, by children and of children (see box). ‘The aim of BYMM,’ explains Vikas, who is the director of the organization but who insists that all decisions are taken by the kids themselves, ‘is to propagate the philosophy of yoga to children in a way that is not scholastic. If a child is taught by his friend, probabilities are, he will pick up the subject faster. For there is no barrier of age between the two and hence no formal regimen of authority.’
Not quite satisfied, I collar one of the children as she moves towards the kitchen-cum-dining area for the 10:30 a.m. lunch-hour. I ask her what’s so great about yoga when time can be spent watching TV at home? An unruffled 11-year-old Pushpa replies: ‘Yoga teaches me how to live a more disciplined life.’ By this time more members of BYMM have stopped to listen. One of them pipes in: ‘I find yoga a lot of fun!’ Another girl beside me quietly states: ‘Practicing and teaching yoga to other friends has made me sure of myself.’ ‘These children,’ says Vikas, ‘are now so confident that they can walk into the office of any school’s principal and discuss the logistics of holding yoga classes for students there.’
It is evening. Dinner, over by 6:30 p.m., is followed by an open-air kirtan session in the lawns facing the BSY building. As devotees, children and sanyasis gather in the lawns for spiritual singing, I look up at the seven-story mammoth towering above us. A building where each floor symbolizes one of the seven primal chakras of the human psyche. My eyes wander up to the ajna chakra or the third-eye chakra, emblazoned in defiant saffron atop the building—the chakra that denotes knowledge. Gautam, a young saffron-clad BYMM member, picks up a drum and strikes the opening note of the kirtan. Tradition and evolution integrate under a full-moon night. Another dawn awaits these committed yogis. Another dawn of furthering the message of yoga. Till then, silence will reign.
Life Positive follows a stringent review publishing mechanism. Every review received undergoes -
Only after we're satisfied about the authenticity of a review is it allowed to go live on our website
Our award winning customer care team is available from 9 a.m to 9 p.m everyday
All our healers and therapists undergo training and/or certification from authorized bodies before becoming professionals. They have a minimum professional experience of one year
All our healers and therapists are genuinely passionate about doing service. They do their very best to help seekers (patients) live better lives.
All payments made to our healers are secure up to the point wherein if any session is paid for, it will be honoured dutifully and delivered promptly
Every seekers (patients) details will always remain 100% confidential and will never be disclosed