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By the Bihar School of Yoga

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To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bihar School of Yoga celebrated last year, the school has shared with us this retrospective of how the school has developed and some of its most important milestones since its founding back in 1963. Today the Bihar School of Yoga is one of the best-known yoga schools recognised internationally for the quality of its teaching.

In 2013, the Bihar School of Yoga celebrated its 50-year anniversary. Established by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in 1963, it is one of the best-known yoga institutes in the world. Bihar School of Yoga (BSY) is an institution that has inspired millions of people to live a healthy, fulfilling and harmonious life.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the founder, has given humanity a vision of yoga so expansive, so profound and so complete that it seems it can never be surpassed. Throughout India and on his many tours around the world, he was able to reach beyond the barriers of race, nationality, creed, religion and social distinction, and every community, sect or religion welcomed him with open arms and hearts as he gave them the tools they needed to find peace and well-being.

Swami Satyananda developed the integral yoga of his guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati, bringing the many branches of yoga together to harmonise the human faculties of intellect, emotions and performance, or head, heart and hands. He made yoga accessible and applicable to the everyday person in all walks of life. This holistic integration of yoga into one’s day-to-day life was a revolutionary approach which took the world by storm.

In the 1970s, Swami Satyananda initiated hundreds of research projects into the effects of yoga in hospitals, medical colleges and health care centres. Diabetes, coronary disease and asthma constituted the main focus of the research carried out worldwide. Today yoga has been fully accepted by the medical fraternity, but at the time it was ground breaking and utterly innovative to introduce yoga into the existing healthcare system.

At the home base in Munger, courses for children, along with health management, teacher training and kriya yoga courses were conducted, to name just a few. To reach out to an even wider public the two magazines Yoga in English and Yogavidya in Hindi saw the light of day. Booklets and books were published at the ashram press and distributed around the globe.

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The ashram was a hive of activity revolving around the dissemination of yoga. By the end of the 1980s, Sri Swamiji had hoisted the flag of yoga in every country of the globe. Every year he was seen in Australia, South America and Europe, where he mesmerised the people who had the good fortune to meet him. In 1988, at the height of his success, he left the institution he had established in 1963.

Next generation 

On his tours, Swami Satyananda was often accompanied by Swami Niranjanananda, his youngest disciple, who in 1971 at the age of eleven, stayed on in Europe and from there embarked on his own world tours lasting eleven years.

In 1983, Swami Niranjanananda was appointed President of the Bihar School of Yoga. In 1984, Sivananda Math (SM) and the Yoga Research Foundation (YRF) were established. One institution was given the goal to help the sick and poor, the other was to develop and consolidate medical research.

Swami Niranjanananda, successor to Swami Satyananda, was in truly great demand as business interests, medical practitioners, educational institutions, government bodies and spiritual organisations from all around the world were calling repeatedly for seminars, workshops and classes.

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His mission was to bring yoga into the fabric of modern society. BSY teachers went to teach prisoners and train inmates serving a life sentence to become yoga teachers. The prison administration, teachers and trainees were amazed at the transformation that took place behind prison walls: peace had replaced aggression and hope had replaced despair. BSY also conducted programmes for doctors and health service employees in Bihar. The Indian army also welcomed the chance to learn and apply yoga. BSY joined the armed forces in Bikaner, in the middle of the Rajasthani deserts and at the other extreme, near the Siachen Glacier at 11,000 feet, in one of the most inhospitable regions on earth.

The Tyag Golden Jubilee Convention of 1993, celebrating the 50th year of Swami Satyananda’s sannyasa initiation, was the launching pad for expanding the application of yoga into every field of society. Swami Niranjan presented his ideas and projects to the assembly of many thousand participants.

To take yoga a step further, Swami Niranjan founded Bihar Yoga Bharati in 1994 which was recognized as a deemed university by the government of India, and is the first yoga university in modern India and the modern world. In 1995, the Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal saw the light of the day, a children’s yoga movement, run by children for children. To support and make the teachings available to the wider public, Yoga Publications Trust (YPT) was established in 2000, and in 2001, Yuva Yoga Mitra Mandal (YYMM) was founded, a youth yoga movement.

Recognising the global expansion of yoga, and striving to maintain the purity of the tradition and teachings, Swami Niranjan established the Satyananda Yoga Academies in Australia, Colombia, North America and Europe to guide the development of Satyananda Yoga in each region.

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Ready for the new millennium

On 5 December 2009, Sri Swami Satyananda attained Mahasamdhi, and Swami Niranjanananda continues to fulfil his vision and prophecy that ”yoga will emerge as a mighty world culture and change the course of world events.”

In 2010, Swami Niranjan embarked on the journey of his Satsang Series (Yogadrishti). Almost every month for three years, Swamiji spoke on yoga, tantra, sannyasa and spiritual life.

In preparation of the 50-year celebrations, the Bihar School of Yoga launched a six-month All-India yatra, or tour, conducting hundreds of programmes, reaching out to thousands and thousands of people of all walks of life with the teachings of Satyananda Yoga-Bihar Yoga. The yatra was an overwhelming success and an unforgettable experience for participants, organisers and teachers alike. It was a message of hope that was brought to the people in cities and villages, in hospitals, schools, prisons and community halls and the message was well embraced.

In his last satsang series, Swami Niranjanananda emphasized the importance of yoga with regard to our social and natural environment: 

“We can work together to build a better life and a better society by changing ourselves. The change has to come from within us, and we have to be ready for this change. This transformation of consciousness, energy and mind, is the spirit of yoga.”

Photographs by Coni Hörler.

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