I’d first heard of Toronto’s Sivavnada Yoga Vedanta Centre from two friends of mine, a husband and wife TV writing team that completed yoga teacher training through Sivananda before tying the knot a few years ago. (Yoga seems to have left them with the flexibility needed for a happy, successful marriage.)
Sivananda offers a morning meditation and Satsang every weekday at 6 am. I decided to take advantage of my insomniac tendencies and ride a few blocks through the pre-dawn Annex fog and give it a try.
Not surprisingly, the early morning session at the Harbord and Spadina location wasn’t overly crowded. A blonde Yogini named Lakshmi greeted me at the door, wiping sleep from her eye.
Lakshmi must have assumed I was a regular, because she offered neither direction nor instructions. But noticed a candlelit shrine in front of the bay window of the main room, and assumed this was where we would sit.
I laid out a mat and prepared for the sitting, and was soon joined by two other participants, as well as the two staff that would lead the session. We began with thirty minutes of silent meditation. Meditating in the dark was an evocative way to start the day. As the sun rose, its natural light overpowered the candles just as we shifted from silence to chanting. It was as if were waking in sync with the natural world.
The chanting and kirtan were a bit less sublime. I really couldn’t follow the Sanskrit text or the melodies – and my colleagues gave no more of a stellar musical offering. In contrast to Meditation Toronto’s western folk music, this kirtan was the real India. I can only hope Bramha was forgiving and that he was able to use his many heads to decipher of our multi-modal devotion.
While the yoga doesn’t speak to me in the same way that mindfulness seems to, it was a an energizing experience. There’s something about starting the with intentionally, drawing on the energy of group meditation, that leaves you centred and ready to face the day ahead.
The centre also gives the impression of a well run, valuable institution. A quick scan of its bulletin boards gave much evidence of the positive impact Sivananda’s programs have on both the health and well-being of its members and students, and on life of the broader community. It seems a positive, modern expression of an ancient tradition.
77 Harbord Street (West of Spadina)
Monday to Friday, 6:00 – 7:00 am
Fridays, 8:15 – 9:30 pm and Sundays, 6:15 – 7:45 pm
Satsang – Free Group Meditation
- 30 minutes silent group meditation
- 30 minutes of chanting mantras and kirtan
- lecture on yoga philosophy and psychology
- Yoga instruction (all levels, with children’s and prenatal programs)
- Meditation courses
- Yoga retreats and vacations
Toronto’s centre is part of Sivananda International Yoga Vedanta Centres, a non-profit organization mandated to share the teachings of Yoga and Vedanta ‘as a means of achieving physical, mental and spiritual well-being.’
Headquartered in Montreal, but with nine ashrams and 30 centres spanning four continents, Sivananda offers a wide variety of retreats, classes and programs to people from around the world.
Sivananda was founded in in 1959 by Swami Vishnudevananda, a disciple of the organization’s namesake, Sivananda Saraswati. A sort of Deepak Chopra of the late British Raj, Sivananda practiced as a physician before becoming taking the spiritual path, going on to found the Divine Life Society and publish over 200 books on yoga that would have significant influence in the west.
His disciple was a colourful figure in his own right. Known as the ‘flying swami’, Vishnudevananda would conduct peace missions by piloting a glider and dropping flowers over global conflict zones. Most famously, he landed in East Berlin during the height of late Cold War tensions in 1983. (See the BBC coverage of the event below).
Sivananda is one of the major yoga teacher training centres in the west, having produced more than 28,000 graduates since 1969. Teaching focuses on five basic principles of yoga – proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, diet and positive thinking.
Its motto is ‘Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate and Realize’.