With the International Yoga Festival, India less than one month away, Australian Yoga Journal talks exclusively to Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Director of the IYF, the world’s largest Yoga festival.
AYJ: Coming from the US, how do you feel the practices of yoga are different in the east and west?
SBS: Basically in India, the practice of yoga, I feel, is much more inclusive than in the west. In the West it is more focused only on the physical exercises and maybe a few breathing exercises. In India, there is more of an awareness that Yoga is really a way of life that includes how we live in the world and, ultimately, yoga is that which unites us with the Divine.
AYJ: You moved to India 23 years ago. How has it felt to be a female yoga practitioner and expat in this part of the world?
SBS: I definitely do not feel like an ex-pat. I don’t feel, on a deep level, like an American relocated in India. I feel, in some cases, still deeply American although my physical body may be in India. But much more deeply I feel very aligned with Indian culture, tradition, and spirit. Twenty-three years ago , I came home to the home of my heart. So, it has been much more of a home-coming back than a re-location. Being a female practitioner has felt very beautiful. Yoga means union and that union with the Divine is one that should not be based on gender. Sadly, though, yes, we do see many more male yogis than female. It’s been an honor and a very humbling blessing to be able to be a female yogi.
AYJ: How can we integrate modern-science and knowledge from the west and the traditions of yoga in an authentic way?
SBS: There actually is very little discrepancy between modern science and Yoga on a lot of levels. They simply address the world beginning in different directions. Modern science begins by looking from the outside, from the physical tangible level, and yoga begins by looking from the inside. However they both are giving very similar teachings these days. Science is now “discovering” what the science of yoga told us thousands of years ago: the mind and the breath are the source of both illness and health in our bodies and lives. Modern science has now realized the crucial element that our thoughts, beliefs, fears, stress and tension play not only in our emotional health but also in our physical health. Yoga has been teaching this since the beginning. It seems, in many ways, that the more advanced science gets, the closer it comes to the teachings of ancient Indian philosophy and spiritual science.
AYJ: You’re the director of the world-famous International Yoga Festival as well as the President of the Divine Shakti Foundation and Secretary-General of The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance. How do you balance your busy life with a spiritual practice?
SBS: For me, all of the service is spiritual practice. This is the key. When I think my service is for others and my spiritual practice is for me, then we have a problem. My service of others actually is for me! Serving, if done in the deepest, purest, highest way as we are taught and encouraged, takes us into a deep connection and oneness with both the Creator and also all of Creation. We realize we are serving our own self in others. Borders, boundaries and distinctions dissolve. Service teaches us how to be a tool in the hands of the Divine, without ego, attachment or a false sense of doership. So, to me, I feel that I simply have many different types of spiritual practice: the type that is done with my eyes closed in a dark room sitting on a blanket with my legs crossed, the type that is done on a stage speaking into a microphone, the type that is done in a chair meeting with others, and the type that is done sitting at my desk working on a computer. It’s all spiritual practice.
AYJ: What, for you, is the truest expression of yoga? (i.e. is it about having a dedicated meditation and asana practice, serving others, etc.?)
SBS: To me the truest expression of yoga is that which connects us! That is what Yoga is: union. Therefore, while there are components to keep the body healthy, and this is of great importance, the ultimate highest expression is not only a union of my nose to my knee. It is a union of myself to the Divine and therefore of myself to the universe. Therefore, the highest expression of yoga is to live in a way that is as deeply grounded as possible in the awareness and expression of that oneness. It manifests in all of our choices and actions during the day, including what we eat, what we wear, how we shop, and how we interact with the world around us. Remember, the very foundation of the eight limbs of yoga are the yamas and niyamas and the eighth limb is divine ecstasy of oneness. So yoga is truly that joining of the inner to the outer into Oneness.
The International Yoga Festival is held from March 01 – March 07 in Rishikesh, India.