Integral Yoga is a system of Yoga that synthesizes six branches of classical Yoga philosophy and practice: Hatha, Raja, Bhakti, Karma, Jnana, and Japa Yoga. It was brought to the West from India by Sri Swami Satchidananda Saraswati. Its aim is to integrate body, mind, and spirit by combining physical practices and philosophical approaches to life in order to develop the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of individuals. The system includes the practices of asana, pranayama, and meditation as a way to develop physical and mental stillness in order to access inner peace and joy, which Swami Satchidananda believed was a person’s true nature. It also encourages practitioners to live service-oriented lives.
Integral Yoga is also based on interfaith understanding. Swami Satchidananda taught that all religions share essential universal principles and encouraged Integral Yogis to respect and honor the unity in diversity, summarized by his motto, “Truth is one, paths are many.” It is not a religion, but a combination of teachings that form the foundation of spiritual practice. Its branches are not hierarchical in nature; practitioners can find a combination of practices that suits their individual needs.
Classes in all facets of Integral Yoga are taught at Integral Yoga Institutes, Integral Yoga Teaching Centers around the world, and its headquarters, Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, in Buckingham, Virginia.
The main practices of Integral Yoga focus on restoring the ease and peace of the body and mind. Swami Satchidananda said that “dis-ease”—the disturbance of one’s natural ease—is the cause of disease, so prevention and restoration are the hallmarks of Integral Yoga practices.
The Goal of Integral Yoga, According to Swami Satchidananda:
"The goal of Integral Yoga, and the birthright of every individual, is to realize the spiritual unity behind all the diversities in the entire creation and to live harmoniously as members of one universal family. This goal is achieved by maintaining our natural condition of a body of optimum health and strength, senses under total control, a mind well-disciplined, clear and calm, an intellect as sharp as a razor, a will as strong and pliable as steel, a heart full of unconditional love and compassion, an ego as pure as a crystal, and a life filled with Supreme Peace and Joy."
The teachings of Integral Yoga are rooted in the system of Yoga formalized by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Foundational teachings include moral and ethical precepts (yama and niyama), which include non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, non-greed, purity, contentment, self-discipline, spiritual study, and leading a dedicated or selfless life. Integral Yoga synthesizes the following six branches of classical Yoga.Hatha Yoga, which combines physical postures (or asanas) with breath work (pranayama), and deep relaxation. A vegetarian diet and abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and/or other stimulants that disrupt the body’s natural state are part of this physical component. Swami Satchidananda emphasized that the Yoga asanas should be “steady and comfortable.” Therefore, Integral Yoga practitioners are encouraged to avoid over-exertion and to take periods of rest and relaxation during their practice, allowing for a more meditative flow.
Raja Yoga is the path of meditation and self-discipline, based on ethical principles. Practicing the eight limbs of Yoga described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali helps to strengthen and harmonize all aspects of the individual, culminating in Self-realization. The Yoga Sutras offer detailed guidance on how to practice. In the Integral Yoga tradition, these teachings are not just for philosophical contemplation, but are seen as tools for transformation. Swami Satchidananda encouraged his students to implement them in daily life, explaining that, “The teachings of Raja Yoga are a golden key to unlock all health, happiness, peace, and joy.”
Bhakti Yoga, the practice that focuses on cultivating love and devotion toward God, is another pillar of Integral Yoga. Swami Satchidananda’s teachings draw references for Bhakti Yoga from the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which assert that total love and surrender to God would aid the practitioner on the path to enlightenment. In the Integral Yoga tradition, Bhakti Yoga is practiced in many ways. Common practices include kirtan (a form of call-and-response chanting), prayer, puja (worship), and “constant remembrance of the divine”. The Integral Yogi finds these devotional practices to be external expressions of an internal attitude of surrender, or releasing the ego’s selfish wanting.
Karma Yoga Swami Satchidananda defined Karma Yoga as the act of selfless service. The Integral Yoga tradition views Karma Yoga as a form of meditation in action. It is the Yoga of selfless serving—giving without expecting anything in return; thinking of the actions themselves as an offering to the divine or to all of humanity. In the Integral Yoga tradition, Karma Yoga is a central practice. Swami Satchidananda taught that the key to happiness is being of service to others. His motto was “The dedicated ever enjoy supreme peace and joy. Therefore, live only to serve.”
Jnana Yoga is also called the path of wisdom in the Integral Yoga tradition. Through study, analysis, and the cultivation of greater awareness, practitioners strive to cease to identify with their bodies and minds and realize the unchanging “witness” within. Swami Satchidananda stated that this understanding is the essence of Jnana yoga. To attain this awareness, Integral Yogis practice reflection and self-inquiry, (the main practices of Jnana Yoga), both of which can be forms of meditation. Reflection means that a part of the mind stands back and observes; this part of the mind is referred to as the witness. Self-inquiry in Jnana Yoga is a more direct questioning of “Who am I?”—a practice aimed at aiding a practitioner in experiencing his or her true identity.
Japa Yoga Swami Satchidananda advised his students that Japa Yoga (or mantra repetition) is one of the easiest and most effective direct approaches to developing a successful meditation practice. When one utilizes a mantra, that mantra represents and invokes in one’s system a particular aspect of the “cosmic vibration.” Swami Satchidananda explained that mantras don’t have to have personal meaning—anything that calms and uplifts the mind when repeated could be considered mantra. However, he also suggested that selected mantras, given through an initiation, could be beneficial, “like a prescription signed by a doctor."
In 1966, filmmaker Conrad Rooks invited Swami Satchidananda to visit Europe. During this visit, he was invited to give talks and classes at Divine Life Societies throughout Europe. He returned to Europe thereafter, having received invitations to speak on Integral Yoga at Yoga conferences, at Yoga centers, and to serve as an advisor to Yoga organizations.
During the first European visit, Pop artist Peter Max consulted with Rooks and then suggested that Swami Satchidananda visit America on his return to the East. A two-day visit led to an extended stay in order to teach Integral Yoga to American students.
On October 7, 1966, the first Integral Yoga Institute was founded on the Upper West Side of New York City. There, Swami Satchidananda, and some of his newly trained students began leading classes for the general public in Hatha, meditation, breath work, and stress management. In August 1968, a group of students took up residence in an apartment in the 500 West End Avenue building to immerse themselves in the yogic lifestyle, forming the first Integral Yoga ashram.
Swami Satchidananda’s students in New York City planned and organized a public lecture on Integral Yoga for him to deliver at Carnegie Hall. There, a sold-out Hatha demonstration and lecture took place in January 1969. Later that year in August, Swami Satchidananda was invited to give the invocation at the opening of the Woodstock Music and Art Festival.
Soon after, Swami Satchidananda’s weekly lectures on Integral Yoga moved to the Universalist Church on Central Park West, as crowds became larger. Finally, in 1970, a large building in New York’s West Village was purchased, which continues to be the site of the Integral Yoga Institute today. The members of the Institute opened New York’s first vegetarian food store, Integral Yoga Natural Foods, in 1972. It remains the only all-vegetarian health food store in Manhattan.
More Integral Yoga Institutes, teaching centers, and ashrams opened in the late 1960s and early 1970s across America. In 1975, Integral Yoga established one of the first Yoga teacher training certification programs and, in 1999, joined with other US-based Yoga lineages to form the Yoga Alliance.
Some followers criticised the founder for of sexual misconduct & protested against him at woodstock in 1991.
Today, Integral Yoga Institutes and Centers exist on six continents. The international headquarters of Integral Yoga, Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, in Buckingham, Virginia, is a large community and programs center dedicated to the teachings of Swami Satchidananda and Integral Yoga.
In 1972, many people attending programs at the Integral Yoga centers and institutes in America expressed interest in developing residential Yoga communities, or ashrams. Yogaville West, the first Satchidananda Ashram was located in Seigler Springs, California. In 1973, a second ashram opened in Pomfret, Connecticut, which became the headquarters for the Integral Yoga organization.
In 1980, due to severe winters, Swami Satchidananda closed the Connecticut ashram and moved the community to Buckingham, Virginia. Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, serves as Integral Yoga’s world headquarters and is home to the Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS). As of 2015, around 220 people lived permanently in Yogaville, and 2,000 to 3,000 guests were visiting each year. Yogaville operates as a residential spiritual community, Yoga retreat and programs center, and as a Yoga training center, offering teacher trainings, workshops, vegetarian cooking courses, and programs designed around the teachings of Integral Yoga.
Located on the grounds of Satchidananda Ashram—Yogaville, the Integral Yoga Academy is a training center that offers certification courses in Hatha Yoga and therapeutic Yoga, as well as continuing education courses for health care professionals. This academy operates year-round, offering residential programs that encourage students to immerse themselves in a “yogic lifestyle” based on the teachings of Integral Yoga.
Integral Yoga provides a methodology for the prevention and rehabilitation of a wide range of health concerns. The integrated approach of Integral Yoga can be used to address specific issues such as pain management, chronic fatigue, anxiety and depression, arthritis, asthma, heart disease, backache, hypertension, and various types of mobility-related health challenges promoting optimal health and wellness.
Numerous students of Swami Satchidananda have developed successful applications of therapeutic Yoga based on the wellness foundations of Integral Yoga. One of the most well-researched applications is Dr. Dean Ornish’s program for preventing and reversing heart disease. Programs such as Sonia Sumar’s Yoga for the Special Child, Nischala Devi’s Yoga for the Heart, Mala Cunningham’s Cardiac Yoga, Jnani Chapman’s Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness, and Jivana Heyman’s Accessible Yoga are a few further examples of such therapeutic applications.