An Interview with Rev. Prem Anjali, Ph.D.
Each year on October 7th, Integral Yoga International celebrates “Integral Yoga Day”—the day that the first Integral Yoga center was dedicated in New York in 1966. It’s a day we reflect on all the blessings that are a part of the lineage and legacy of the Integral Yoga tradition and organization. It’s a time to celebrate our growth and to offer free services and seva on this special day. If you follow Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville on Facebook, you might have seen the recently released video, “The World of Integral Yoga,” which shares the story of Integral Yoga. A short and inspiring introduction to Integral Yoga, the video has now been translated into several languages and has an international audience. Rev. Prem Anjali, one of the forces behind the video, sat down with us to talk about the inspiration behind the video, the confusion surrounding Integral Yoga, and a vision for sharing Integral Yoga with the world.
Yogaville: How did the video project get started?
Rev. Prem Anjali: Well, a funny thing happened. In 2016, someone who had previously lived at the Ashram for a year or two returned for the 50th anniversary celebration. While visiting, he posted on Facebook that he was so happy to be back at Yogaville to celebrate its 50th anniversary. I replied to clarify that it was the 50th anniversary of Integral Yoga, not Yogaville. To my surprise, he replied asking, “What’s Integral Yoga?”
I was stunned. That individual’s unfamiliarity with the concept of Integral Yoga started me on a journey. I wondered, why is it that there is some confusion or lack of information about Integral Yoga in relationship with Yogaville? I heard another story more recently from the Ashram’s Guest Services department which illustrates that this is still a point of misunderstanding. Guests either taking a guest stay or a program at Yogaville will take a Hatha class that’s offered here and sometimes say, “We really enjoyed the Hatha Yoga, but why is only one style offered here?”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem there is much clarity about Integral Yoga. What I think it boils down to is a lack of information about Integral Yoga (IY) and the sheer breadth of all that it encompasses. Integral Yoga is a teaching, teacher, lineage, holistic system, Hatha method, worldwide organization, and a global sangha.
So the question for me was, how can we better express that? For Integral Yoga’s 50th anniversary, we created the Explore Integral Yoga magazine, which gives an overview of IY and all of its facets. But not everyone can have access to the physical copy of the magazine, so for the 50th anniversary we also created the IY website, integralyoga.org. It features information on the founder, teachings, programs, and service of IY. It also features a calendar of teacher trainings and special events that are happening all around the world. You can find an online directory of centers and teachers there, too. It is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about IY.
Considering the media-driven nature of today’s culture and information, I thought it may also be nice to create a short video about IY to provide a brief overview of what it is in all of its rich depth and breadth. Luckily, we have a sangha member who is a professional filmmaker, Vince Beeton. He met his wife at the ashram and they got married and moved to California. He works as a director and director of photography for several TV companies. I contacted him and told him about this challenge to communicate what IY is. He said, “I’ve been wanting to come back to the Ashram. Let me take a retreat and then let’s talk about a project.” He took the Fall Silent Retreat, and afterward we worked on the concept. He did some filming, he continued to work on the project, and finally we decided that we wanted a part of the video to focus on the IY lineage and historic moments for IY and Yoga in general.
For example, Integral Yoga Magazine was the first Yoga magazine in North America. IY was one of the first two organizations to certify Yoga teachers with professional teacher trainings. Students of Swami Satchidananda were responsible for some of the initial medical research and studies which showed that lifestyle medicine, including Yoga, meditation, and a vegetarian diet could prevent and reverse heart disease. Pioneers in this groundbreaking work were Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Sandra Amrita McLanahan, who were trailblazers and opened the door for what we know as Yoga therapy today. We wanted to show these milestones in the video and include an overview of the IY teachings and organization. We were fortunate that the wonderful artist Peter Max, the person responsible for bringing Swami Satchidananda to America for the first time, enthusiastically agreed to us utilizing his beautiful artwork for the video.
Hopefully, this video will help people to understand more comprehensively the various aspects and history of IY. We’ve been fortunate that some of our IY centers and teachers have translated “The World of Integral Yoga” video into different languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, and Finnish. These are all on the Integral Yoga YouTube channel, along with the original in English. We are an international organization and we want people to be able to utilize the video in other countries. The video also features a lovely soundtrack. Wynne Paris graciously allowed us use of the song, “Dream of the Bansuri” (Bansuri flute played by John Wubbenhorst) on his album, Gandharva Café.
Yogaville: Why do you think there’s confusion surrounding IY?
Rev. Prem Anjali: I think we at Yogaville, the headquarters of IY International, can do a better job of communicating what Integral Yoga is. Currently we’re trying to add a little more information about Integral Yoga to the Ashram’s Guest Handbook. I’m hoping to create a small booklet that all the guests can have access to, which I think will help. Also, when Swami Satchidananda came to America, he named our first Yoga center the Integral Yoga Institute. That’s how people knew us. If you ask someone in New York or San Francisco about Integral Yoga, they might more readily recognize it because the institutes have it in their name.
Since so many different types of Yoga exist today, I think it’s more important than ever to clarify what our system and methodology is about. We’ve also been delivering a classical and authentic Yoga system (rooted in Patanjali Yoga Sutras)—a comprehensive, holistic system, with a multimodal approach and meditative focus—for over 50 years! I think if we can highlight how unique this is in our world today, it will provide a clear contrast to those Yoga fads that tend to come and go!
Also, I should point out that our focus has always been on the Yoga practices and teachings, not marketing ourselves. That is not necessarily a bad thing—that goes to show that we place more value on being authentic to Yoga’s true purpose: inner transformation.