What is Integral Yoga?
Integral Yoga, as taught by Sri Swami Satchidananda, offers a synthesis of six branches of classical Yoga: Hatha, Raja, Japa, Karma, Bhakti, and Jnana Yoga. Its aim is to purify and calm the body and mind in order to experience the peace and joy that is our true nature. Integral Yoga practitioners bring that peace into the world by fostering interfaith dialogue and leading service-oriented lives. Founded in 1966, there are currently 30 Integral Yoga centers on six of the seven continents and 5,000 teachers worldwide.
About Integral Yoga
Swami Satchidananda explains: “The complete definition of Yoga is serenity of mind. That’s all, in a few simple words. Equanimity of mind is Yoga – Samatvam Yoga ucchyate, says the Bhagavad Gita. That means equanimity is called Yoga. And there is also another scripture which talks more about Yoga: the Yoga Sutra. It begins with this definition: Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah. That means to control the modifications, the restlessness, of the mind and to keep it serene. That is Yoga.”
The Six Branches of Integral Yoga
Integral Yoga emphasizes engaging every aspect of ourselves in the pursuit of peace, and the importance of finding the combination of practices that suits our individual nature. Swami Satchidananda has always offered a practical and open-minded approach to Yoga. He says, “There is no ‘only way’ as such. There are many ways to reach the same goal. Whatever you call it, it is called Yoga. That is why there are many, many Yogas: Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Japa Yoga. As long as your aim is to achieve Yoga, unity, it doesn’t matter which you choose. That is why it is called Integral Yoga. Truth is one; paths are many. So, choose your own way.”
Raja Yoga is the underlying Yoga philosophy as taught in the Yoga scriptures. Raja Yoga focuses on gaining mastery of the mind through ethical perfection and regular practice of concentration and meditation. Raja Yoga forms the foundation for all the other branches of Integral Yoga. As complex human beings, Integral Yoga offers practices for every aspect of our being – heart, hand, and head.
To keep the body healthy and strong, and to prepare for meditation, we practice Hatha Yoga. This consists of asanas (postures), pranayama (breath control), yoga nidra (guided deep relaxation), mudras (energy seals), bandhas (energy locks), kriya (cleansing practices), and diet.
To turn emotions into devotion we have the practices of Bhakti Yoga; kirtan (chanting), puja (worship services), prayers and prostrations. By constant love, thought, and service of the Divine (either as God, a divine incarnation, or a spiritual teacher) we can transcend our limited personality and connect with our true self through the image of our beloved.
Selfless service is Karma Yoga, the path of action. We perform our duty without attachment to the results of the action. In Karma Yoga we are dedicating the results of our actions to the divine or to the service of humanity.
Jnana Yoga is the practice of reflection and self-inquiry — developing the witnessing mind. It offers an intellectual approach where we access our inner wisdom. Through the knowledge of what really exists, what is not changeable, Jnana Yoga allows us to realize our essential oneness with the entire universe.
Sri Swami Satchidananda also emphasizes the importance of mantra repetition, Japa Yoga, by making it a branch of Integral Yoga. He explains that mantra repetition is a particularly helpful practice in the busy age that we live in. This is because mantra repetition is a little easier than other forms of meditation when there are so many distractions. Concentrated mental repetition of the mantra produces vibrations within our entire system which are in tune with the divine vibration, connecting us with our true nature.