The Integral Yoga Teacher Feature is an exciting new blog series featuring monthly stories from graduates of Integral Yoga teacher trainings. This month’s installment features Rev. Manjula Spears, an Integral Yoga Minister, Certified Yoga Therapist and E-RYT 500 who first began her path with Integral Yoga after being irresistibly drawn to a photograph she saw of Sri Swami Satchidananda…
Ever since Manjula was young, she had an interest in spiritual sadhus, and Shamans. At sixteen, she began practicing transcendental meditation and developed an interest in the study and discipline of Yoga. She taught herself from books as Yoga instructors were extremely uncommon. In her early thirties, she took her first course from a self-taught instructor. Following two years of this beginning class, Manjula’s hunger to deepen her practice grew, and her instructor recommended she check out a Yoga journal, a rarity in those days. Paging through the journal, Manjula found an intriguing photograph. It was of a man named Sri Swami Satchidananda. Upon seeing his face, Manjula had a profound realization.
“I can’t adequately describe the powerfully overwhelming feeling that came over me when I saw his image. I knew that I had known him; not like I had seen him before, but a deep knowing that I had never experienced. I knew this was where I was headed, a place called Satchidananda Ashram. I did not realize that I was on my way to meet my spiritual teacher.”
-Rev. Manjula Spears
Why Integral Yoga?
In 1991, Manjula arrived at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville for the summer teacher training. At the time, the Academy had not yet been built, so she and forty other students squeezed into the VVA classroom to learn Sri Swami Satchidananda’s teachings of Integral Yoga.
“To be perfectly honest, information availability was not like it is today, with the myriad of “schools”. There was no Vinyasa flow or Fuel Yoga. I had a singular impression of what Yoga consisted of; it was Swamis and a spiritual practice that included these unusual postures which are now identified as Yoga.”
-Rev. Manjula Spears
Manjula was deeply drawn to Sri Swami Satchidananda and before the end of her training she received mantra initiation, choosing to become his disciple.
A Pioneering Spirit: The Challenges
When Manjula returned to Georgia, she introduced Yoga wherever she could. Before the days of sticky mats, she traveled all over Georgia with exercise mats and homemade meditation cushions in the back of her car. Manjula taught in hospitals, gyms, warehouses, a retail herb shop, the YMCA and a continuing education class at the University of Georgia.
“I went into places I thought would be open to Yoga and asked if I could teach a class. Some said yes, others no, but I was persistent. I kept asking. The biggest challenge I met was a misunderstanding about what Yoga was. My job in the ’90s in the South was to dispel the misunderstandings about Yoga and educate people. Honestly, it was a big job! There was so much resistance.”
-Rev. Manjula Spears
Manjula recounts that before Yoga became popular, many people associated it with negative belief systems. Some thought it was devil worship, while others associated it with the “hippies” of the sixties.
Training Put Into Action
In 1993, with the blessings of Sri Swami Satchidananda, Manjula opened the Athens Yoga Center. It was the first Yoga studio in northeastern Georgia and there, she worked to educate people about Yoga. She continued her training with Integral Yoga and eventually became an Integral Yoga Trainer, working in Yogaville programs for the better part of two decades. In 2000, Manjula married her husband, Dr. Rich Panico, on Shivaratri in Yogaville’s Nataraja Shrine. Three years later, Manjula was ordained as an Integral Yoga Minister. With her husband, Rev. Manjula traveled nationally and internationally, teaching Integral Yoga. In addition, they taught programs at various Sivananda Ashrams nurturing the connection between Integral Yoga and Sivananda Yoga, a connection that grows today.
Manjula developed Yoga Therapy programs and educated the medical community of its’ benefits. She eventually moved her practice to Athens Regional Medical Center and spent eighteen years working with breast cancer patients at the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support. In addition, she and her husband developed the “Athens Regional Medical Center Mind/Body Institute”, an evidence-based clinic, which included Yoga as a central part of treatment and served thousands over a period of thirteen years.
Today, Rev. Manjula continues her ministry. She has twenty-eight years of experience teaching, and is the creative director of Accessible Yoga Studio at Athens Physical Therapy. There, she specializes in modifying Yoga for seniors and students with chronic illnesses, injuries, and disabilities. Her passion is to ensure that the teachings of Yoga are accessible to everyone. On their twenty-acre property, she and her husband have created an “Ashram-like” refuge called Satchidananda Mission which offers monthly kirtans, daily Yoga classes, meditation, scripture study and spiritual retreats.
Looking back, she expresses her gratitude for being led to the path of Integral Yoga:
“[The Integral Yoga Teacher Training] not only trains students how to become teachers, but cultivates Yogis. Throughout the years, I have appreciated more and more the comprehensive training that Integral Yoga offers its teachers. I am immensely grateful that I was led to its path…”
-Rev. Manjula Spears
Rev. Manjula Spears is an Integral Yoga minister, and a certified Yoga therapist, E-RYT 500, with twenty-eight years of teaching experience. She has created Yoga therapy programs for various institutions in Athens and throughout the US; including the Athens Regional Mind/Body Institute, The Loran Smith Center at Piedmont Athens Regional and the Smith Center in Washington DC. Read more
Adjapt, Adjust, Accomodate: Reduce Stress with Gentle Yoga
Ranjani and Rukmini | Jan 31.- Feb. 2
During this Yoga workshop made accessible and suitable for every body, Ranjani and Rukmini will support your journey of healing through gentle and nurturing Yoga practices including sessions of Chair Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, and Yoga Nidra.