Swami Sivananda

Though he never visited the United States, this Indian guru had a profound influence on yoga in America.

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Born into a devout South Indian family in 1887, Swami Sivananda, then named Kuppuswamy, began his career as a dedicated physician, a natural calling for the deeply compassionate youth who fed the poor and hungry who passed by his family’s home. In 1913, he traveled to Malaysia, where he ran a hospital. Ten years later, he returned to India; by that point, he had undertaken a serious study of the world’s religions and developed a daily practice of prayer and asana.

In 1924, in Rishikesh, he met his guru, who initiated him as a sannyasin (renunciant) and named him Swami Sivananda. For years, Sivananda lived the life of a wandering monk, performing tapas (austerities). In 1936, in an abandoned cow shed in Rishikesh, he established the Divine Life Society. An ashram that included a free dispensary and charitable hospital grew on the site, and today the society has branches all over the world. Sivananda, who passed away in 1963, never again left India, but his influence is felt globally through the work of key devotees: Swami Vishnu-devananda, who came to the West in 1957 and founded the first Sivananda Yoga center two years later, in Montreal; Swami Satchidananda, who founded Integral Yoga; and Swami Sivananda Radha, who founded Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia.

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