Vishnudevananda Saraswati

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Vishnudevananda Saraswati
Kuttan Nair

(1927-12-31)31 December 1927
Died9 November 1993(1993-11-09) (aged 65)
Occupation(s)Yoga guru, peace activist

Vishnudevananda Saraswati (31 December 1927 – 9 November 1993) was an Indian yoga guru known for his teaching of asanas, a disciple of Sivananda Saraswati, and founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and Ashrams. He established the Sivananda Yoga Teachers' Training Course, possibly the first yoga teacher training programs in the West. His books The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (1960) and Meditation and Mantras (1978) established him as an authority on Hatha and Raja yoga. Vishnudevananda was a peace activist who rode in several "peace flights" over places of conflict, including the Berlin Wall prior to German reunification.

Early life and training[edit]

With Sivananda (seated on tiger skin) by the Ganges, c. 1950

Vishnudevananda was born Kuttan Nair in Kerala, South India, on 31 December 1927.[1] During his short career in the Indian Army in 1944,[2] he was inspired by a pamphlet, Sadhana Tattwa, written by the yoga guru Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society.[1] He entered the Sivananda Ashram by the River Ganges in Rishikesh in 1947 at the age of twenty.[1] He took sannyas, becoming a monk, in February 1949,[1] and was appointed the first professor of hatha yoga at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy.[2] In this capacity, he trained many students in the Pacific Rim area in 1957,[2] and became a recognised yoga guru.[3]

Sivananda Yoga[edit]

A practice for the West[edit]

Vishnudevananda arrived in San Francisco in December 1957, and began to teach yoga; he moved to New York to teach hatha yoga in 1958.[2] The practice he taught, which he named Sivananda Yoga after his guru, consisted largely of asanas, yoga postures, but rather than emphasising yoga as exercise, he taught a combination of yoga philosophy, the shatkarmas or purifications, the sattvic diet, and pranayama, breath control, alongside the postures.[4] He is credited as the asana pioneer within Sivananda Yoga.[5] He condensed the teachings of classical yoga into five principles: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet (vegetarian), and meditation and positive thinking.[6] In the 1960s, he introduced The Beatles to yoga.[7]

The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga[edit]

Page layout of The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, 1960, showing Vishnudevananda demonstrating "Soorya Namaskar" (salute to the sun) in large monochrome photographs[8]

He published his guide to hatha yoga, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, in 1960. It was one of the first reference books on asanas;[9] it was illustrated throughout with 146 large monochrome studio photographs of Vishnudevananda, wearing swimming shorts, demonstrating the poses. It has been translated into at least thirteen languages,[10] and was said to have sold over a million copies by 1989.[11] The book took Surya Namaskar, the salute to the sun, which Sivananda had promoted as a health cure, and presented it as fitness exercise.[8]

Centers and ashrams[edit]

Vishnudevananda founded the first Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1959.[12][13] He set up the first yoga vacation in Val-Morin, Quebec, (on 11th Avenue) in 1961; this has since become a tradition in the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and Ashrams.[14] In February 1962, Vishnudevananda saw the present site of the Yoga Camp in Val Morin, and chose to settle in the dense forest area near the Laurentian Mountains. The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre was opened there on 19 September 1962 by Marcia Moore, an American trained by Vishnudevananda a few years earlier.[14] Vishnudevananda founded the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas in 1967.[15] He established the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm in 1971 in Grass Valley, California.[15] In 1974, Vishnudevananda inaugurated a fourth ashram, in Woodbourne, New York, near the Catskill Mountains,[15] and in February 1978, he inaugurated the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhawanthari Ashram in Neyyar Dam, near Thiruvananthapuram in the foothills of the Sahyadri Mountains, Kerala.[16] A small Himalayan ashram, Sivananda Kutir, was established in Netala, just outside Uttar Kashi on the banks of the Ganges. As of 2021, the organization founded by Vishnudevananda has 11 ashrams[17] and 31 centers around the world.[18] In addition, it has 33 affiliated centers.[19]

Peace missions[edit]

As "The Flying Swami" in his Piper Apache

In reaction to a vision of a world in peril, Vishnudevananda began his peace mission. The first act was to create the Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course in 1969;[15] this is said to be the first training programme for yoga teachers.[20] Later he conducted peace flights over the world's trouble spots, earning himself the name "The Flying Swami".[21][22]

On 30 August 1971, Vishnudevananda piloted his Peace Plane from Boston to Northern Ireland,[23] a twin-engine Piper Apache plane painted by artist Peter Max. Upon landing, he was joined by actor Peter Sellers.[24] Later that same year, on 6 October, he took off with his co-pilot Bren Jacobson, who had been with him during the entire trip, from Tel Aviv to fly over the war-ridden Suez Canal and was buzzed by Israeli jets. The same thing happened with the Egyptian Air Force on the other side of the Canal. He continued eastward, "bombing" Pakistan and Bangladesh with flowers and peace leaflets.[15] On 15 September 1983 Vishnudevananda flew over the Berlin Wall, from West to East Berlin, in a highly publicized and dangerous mission to promote peace.[25][26]

In 1984, he and his students toured India in a double-decker bus, conducting programs to awaken the Indian people to their ancient tradition of yoga. In February he tried to mediate between the Hindu and Sikh factions in Amritsar, entering the Golden Temple to speak to the Sikh leaders who had sought refuge there.[26] Over the years, Vishnudevananda met regularly with other spiritual and religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding; among other things, Catholic students studied Yoga at the Sivananda center in Larchmont.[27] He organized yearly symposia on topics relating yoga to modern life.[15]

Vishnudevananda died on 9 November 1993. His body was then placed into the Ganges at the Sivananda Kutir, and the rite named jalasamadhi was performed, merging the abandoned body with the water.[28]

Allegations of abuse[edit]

Julie Salter worked for 11 years as Vishnudevananda's personal assistant, until his death in 1993. She has stated that she was continuously overworked and sleep-deprived, and that she became dependent and unable to leave. She stated that for three of these years Vishnudevananda abused her sexually.[29][30]

In 2007, Salter reported sexual abuse committed against her by Vishnudevananda to The International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, but they did not accept her allegations.[30][31] In November 2019, Salter posted a personal testimony to Facebook, detailing the long-term physical, mental, and sexual abuse she received from Vishnudevananda.[30] The testimony prompted several other women to publish their own testimonies about abuse by Vishnudevananda; Pamela Kyssa stated on Salter's thread that Vishnudevananda had raped her in 1974.[30] The next month, December 2019, the Board of Directors published an apology for not believing her 2007 allegations.[31] The Board promised to run an independent investigation of the allegations made by Salter and others.[31] The investigator, Marianne Plamondon of Langlois in Montreal, declined to comment on whether the results of the investigation would be made public.[29]

Salter and 14 other women described their experiences, including alleged rape, to the BBC journalist and Sivananda yoga teacher Ishleen Kaur. Salter stated that when she told Vishnudevananda she did not understand his instruction to lie down next to him, he replied "Tantra yoga", implying some form of spiritual sexual activity.[32][33]


  • The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (The Julian Press, 1960 OCLC 1006588041; Three Rivers Press, 1988, ISBN 978-0-51788-431-7)
  • Meditation and Mantras (Om Lotus Publications, 1978; Penguin Ananda, 2014, ISBN 978-0-14342-223-5)
  • Yoga: the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Motilal Banarsidass, 1987; Om Lotus Publications, 1987, ISBN 978-0-93154-602-0)


  1. ^ a b c d "His Holiness Sri Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati Maharaj". Divine Life Society. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Krishna 1995, p. xv.
  3. ^ Syman, Stefanie (2010). The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. p. 278. ISBN 978-0-374-23676-2.
  4. ^ Vishnudevananda 1988, p. v.
  5. ^ Singleton 2010, p. 219.
  6. ^ Vishnudevananda 1988, p. x.
  7. ^ Roth, Martin (12 September 2016). "Let's harness the revolutionary optimism of the 1960s to counter dark times". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  8. ^ a b Goldberg 2016, pp. 329–331.
  9. ^ Jain 2015, p. 69.
  10. ^ "The complete illustrated book of yoga". WorldCat. OCLC 368900. Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  11. ^ "The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga". Yoga Journal: 10. January 1989.
  12. ^ "H.H. Swami. Sivananda Maharaj Ji". Sivananda Sevas. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  13. ^ Krishna 1995, p. 15.
  14. ^ a b Goldberg 2016, p. 322.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Krishna 1995, p. xvi.
  16. ^ Krishna 1995, p. 16.
  17. ^ "Sivananda Ashrams Worldwide". Sivananda Yoga. 10 February 2019. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  18. ^ "Our Yoga Centres Worldwide". Sivananda Yoga. 10 February 2019. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  19. ^ "Affiliated Sivananda Yoga Centres". Sivananda Yoga. 10 February 2019.
  20. ^ "Yoga Teachers' Training Course". Sivananda Yoga Europe. Retrieved 31 August 2021.
  21. ^ Kaminoff, Leslie (6 December 2018). "The Flying Swami: Vishnudevananda". Yoga Anatomy. Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  22. ^ "Photos". Outlook Magazine. Retrieved 27 April 2021. Swami Vishnudevananda The Malayali, known as the 'Flying Swami' for piloting his small plane to peace missions around the world, founded the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta centres
  23. ^ Mullally, Una (26 January 2019). "The Way We Were: Hippies with plans for Skerries". The Irish Times.
  24. ^ Krishna 1995, p. xii.
  25. ^ "Around the World: A Swami Flies Over The Berlin Wall". The New York Times. 16 September 1983.
  26. ^ a b Krishna 1995, p. xvii.
  27. ^ Heft, James L. (2011). Catholicism and Interreligious Dialogue. Oxford University Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-19-982788-6.
  28. ^ Krishna 1995, p. xviii.
  29. ^ a b Remski, Matthew (27 January 2020). "How a #MeToo Facebook Post Toppled a Yoga Icon". Medium.
  30. ^ a b c d Salter, Julie (10 December 2019). "Julie Salter". Facebook.
  31. ^ a b c "Statement by the Board of Directors of The International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres". 16 December 2019. Archived from the original on 17 December 2019. and archived screenshot, same date
  32. ^ Kaur, Ishleen (15 June 2021). Guru: Living a lie (Podcast). Guru: Yoga – Power – Abuse. BBC. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  33. ^ "'Coercion and rape': Investigating my yoga school". BBC News. 1 July 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.


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