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The Role of the Guru and Self-Effort in Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati in front of an image of Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1)

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati in front of an image of Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Photo Credit: Coni Hörler


The true potential of yoga and its capacity of transformation is discovered in the adoption of yoga as a complete way of life. This allows a balanced, integrated development of all the human faculties, including those of head, heart and hands, so that one is able to live well and manage all the challenges of life with balance, positivity and creativity. Such a person can live happily and with fulfilment, at the same time contributing constructively to others, their society and their environment.

As with learning anything in depth, it is necessary to have a guide when one aspires to deepen one’s connection with yoga and spirituality. This is even more so with yoga and spiritual life, as due to our existing limitations, we cannot see ourselves or the path we must travel with any clarity. Without a guide, an aspirant is like a blind person walking alone on an unknown road to an unknown destination and is exposed to all the hazards of such a journey: distractions, pitfalls, taking a wrong turn, highway robbers, and more.

Blessed are those aspirants who have the opportunity to seek the guidance of one of those rare souls who, motivated by compassion, live amongst us solely to work for the wellbeing of humanity and the entire world. As spiritual scientists, these extraordinary people have seen deeply into the problems people face. They have given humanity the legacy of the knowledge of the causes of suffering and how it can be removed, including through the path of yoga. Through their teachings and their example, the spiritual luminaries have blazed the trail for others to follow.

Guru gives the appropriate teachings.

A living luminary is able to convey the teachings of the ancient science of yoga according to the needs of the time and the nature of the people. As society has evolved in various ways at different times, the ancient knowledge of the saints, sages and seers has been applied differently to meet the particular conditions and needs that prevailed at each such time.

Pervasive negative qualities weigh the human nature down, like gravity, which operates whether one is aware of it or not. Although one may have intellectual understanding and aspiration, everyone is subject to the pull of the inner negative qualities that obstruct perception and distort understanding, behaviour and performance. It is easy for aspirants to make misguided efforts.

For example, when aspirants first come to yoga, it is very natural to choose those practices that they enjoy or find beneficial in some way. The problem comes when people do not move beyond this, while still expecting spiritual development. When even our yoga practice is based on our likes and dislikes, rather than on the aims and systems of yoga, how can we expect yoga to lead to inner transformation? Guru reminds aspirants that yoga has its own purposes and aims, and its own comprehensive system that must be followed in the proper sequence and manner to experience the benefits.

Guru points out the right path.

As well as knowing the path that the aspirant must travel, the guru can see the nature of the aspirant, including their strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs. This allows the guru to give guidance to the aspirant for their journey, to give a map showing the best path to take, as well as how to avoid the many pitfalls, distractions, obstacles and traps along the route. For example, the guru may explain to aspirants in Satsang or may provide opportunities in daily life for aspirants to face and overcome their inner blocks.

Guru gives the required practices and techniques.

As a spiritual scientist, the guru understands the mind and its behaviour, and human nature in all its expression, and is, therefore, able to point out the weaknesses and shortcomings that hold aspirants back. Everyone is subject to the harmful, restrictive influence of the six enemies: kama (desire), krodha (anger, aggression), lobha (greed), mada (arrogance, egotism), moha (delusion) and matsarya (jealousy, envy). These are the fundamental barriers to spiritual development that must be overcome if one wishes to transform the quality of one’s mind, behaviour and experience of life – if one wishes to evolve.

The guru’s teachings and guidance help aspirants to develop a new, deeper understanding of their own perceptions, thoughts, responses and actions, and to realize where a qualitative improvement is needed. The guru also gives the required practices and techniques to manage and, in the course of time, to overcome the six enemies.

Such practices include the cultivation of beneficial, strengthening and uplifting qualities that equip the aspirant for the on-going journey, and the practice of sanyam, learning to guide one’s behaviour and expressions in a positive direction. The key practice is Pratipaksha bhavana, where one makes the effort on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis to replace thoughts and responses that restrict one’s development and connection with life with the opposite positive quality.

Pranayama session at Bihar School of Yoga. Photo Credit: Coni Hörler

 Each one must walk the path themselves.

While the guru conveys the teachings and shows the way, each person must walk their own path; nobody else can do it. Each person remains responsible for all their efforts: for their own wellbeing and development, for nurturing their inspiration, and for deepening their inner experience and connection. For those who wish to experience the transformative potential of yoga and a qualitative change in life, it is necessary to be open to imbibe the teachings, to be willing to face one’s shortcomings, and to strive over a sustained period of time for improvement in all one’s faculties and expressions.

Learning to stand on one’s own two feet, facing life with clarity, balance, inner strength and dignity, is more important than any asana. This is the yoga that helps one to overcome limitations and cultivate positive qualities and strengths and to discover how one can best participate in life. This is the yoga of transformation, through the process of imbibing, realizing and expressing.

This article was shared from Bihar School of Yoga and published on the Blog. The Bihar School of Yoga is one of the best-known yoga schools, recognized across India and abroad for the quality of its teaching and as the home of yoga Nidra. The school was founded in 1963 by Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati. It is voted to be one of the best schools in India on For more general information on the Bihar School of Yoga, click, or on the Bihar School of Yoga’s website itself. 

Golden Jubilee of Ananda Ashram at ICYER, Pondicherry



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“Science and spirituality are met at Ananda Ashram, convincing even the most difficult mind that yoga is a complete mind science.” – Yogacharini Korina-Anandhi Kontaxaki one of the eminent Yoga teachers of Cyprus.

Very few Yoga schools are able to marry tradition and modernity in a seamless manner. One of the few is Ananda Ashram at ICYER, Pondicherry that is celebrating its 50th anniversary on 5 August 2018. Classical Rishiculture Ashtanga Yoga (Gitananda Yoga) as expounded by Swamiji Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj is taught in this tradition that balances the ancient tantric and yoga wisdom with modern medical scientific knowledge. It is truly a Modern Yoga Gurukula in nature, spirit and manifestation as students live with the gurus and learn to live and love yoga as a 24-hour Sadhana of life itself. (more…)

Yoga in Bangalore

Study Yoga in Bangalore City. Photo Source: Pixabay

Bangalore is the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, located in Southern India. The city is somewhat laid back and relaxed compared to other large Indian cities, making it a good place to visit for the first-timer to India. Bangalore has many yoga schools which offer a variety of yoga styles to choose from. Being a large city, all of the traditional yoga styles and schools (such as Iyengar, Ashtanga, Sivananda and Bihar etc.) are present. There are also many yoga centres on the outskirts of the city, for those who prefer to be a little away from the city. Being a city filled with young and modern minds, the yoga scene in Bangalore has started to shift and include new ‘western style’ studios with a strong focus on well-being in a broad sense. Some of these studios have hardwood floors, air-conditioning and soft music, similar in style to studios you might find in New York City and London. (more…)

My experience of studying Yoga in Rishikesh

Initiation ceremony at Vinyasa Yoga Academy, Rishikesh. Photo Source: Kelsea Walsh


I’ve always had an affinity for yoga and Eastern traditions. Travelling to Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India I completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training in June 2017. In this blog post, I’ve outlined: my experience, and my opinion of the course and teachers as a student from Canada. (more…)

Studying yoga in an Ashram in India: What You Need to Know

Ayur Yoga Eco Ashram. Photo Courtesy:


I often get approached by people, who ask for recommendations of ashrams in India where they can study yoga. At some point in time, both beginners in yoga and experienced yoga practitioners long to come closer to the source of knowledge.

Before suggesting a concrete place to go, I always ask, what is the real motivation for them to undertake such a journey. Is it the desire to advance their physical yoga practice, is it the search for spiritual growth, a way to heal from a trauma to detox body and mind, or maybe just an idea to spend a holiday in a useful way? For many, a yoga retreat in a beautiful set up in Goa or a residential stay in a yoga school can be just a much better option.

When you do decide to go to a real ashram to study yoga, there are a few things to consider, that will help you understand if it is the right place for you to stay. (more…)

Finding healing through Yoga in Mysore

LEFT: Student and Teacher – Yogacharya Venkatesha with Angela. RIGHT: Angela practices Yoga Photo right: Angela McHardy


There’s a band in Scotland, ‘Del Amitri’ sing the tune ‘Driving with the Brakes On’. The title resonates with my journey with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). PD is described as a ‘degenerative neurological condition, caused by impaired dopamine levels, affecting physical, cognitive and emotional functioning.’ It feels a bit like ‘Driving with the Breaks On’. Wanting to do things normally: walking, talking. thinking, but something is slowing you down. Nothing is spontaneous. However, this is a story about taking those brakes off through yoga. A story of resilience and hope. (more…)

Everything you wanted to know about Yoga Visas to India

Indian Visa for Yogis, is now an easy process. Image Credit: Pixabay


As the International Day of Yoga approached us in 2016, the Indian Government made an announcement on the 2nd of June that made every yogi crack a smile.

Foreigners can now apply for e-Visa not only for sightseeing, recreational and visiting purposes but also for short-term yoga courses and for taking short-term medical treatment under Indian systems like Ayurveda. This move has made coming to India to learn yoga a hassle-free affair. Now, the students need not visit the Foreigners’ Registration Office (FRO) at the city police headquarters. To know more about registration details, click here. (more…)

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