In Conversation with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Spiritual Speaker & Director, International Yoga Festival
Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh is one of India’s largest Ashrams, nestled between the lush, pristine Himalayan forests and the banks of the holy river Ganga. The name Parmarth Niketan literally translates to “for the welfare for all”. The Ashram, under the leadership and inspiration of its President and Spiritual Head HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, is now one of the best-known Ashrams in the world, welcoming thousands of seekers. The International Yoga Festival held every year at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, since 1999, from the 1st-7th March, has become one of the biggest internationally recognized Yoga festivals of the world. The festival has the vision of providing seekers with an authentic and deep experience of yoga in Rishikesh, the birthplace and now the World Capital of Yoga.
The festival, which is jointly organised by Parmarth Niketan and the Uttarakhand Tourism Board, and in partnership with the Government of India, Ministry of AYUSH, offers its international audience the opportunity to experience a blend of learning from the most learned traditional Indian masters as well as world-class International masters from established yoga schools and styles.
Organic Facts caught up with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Spiritual Speaker & Director, International Yoga Festival.
OF: What was the inspiration and philosophy behind the International Yoga Festival?
SBS: Today, more than ever, people are experiencing dis-ease, a lack of ease and balance in their bodies and lives. These ailments stem from a lack of connection with ourselves. We have lost our awareness of our connection to the rhythm of our breath, to our bodies, our minds and our relationship with ourselves and those around us. Yoga literally means “union”, it brings us not only to a union of mind, body, and spirit but ultimately a union of oneself with the Divine. When we have this connection, life automatically becomes healthy, joyous, peaceful and full of meaning. The purpose of the International Yoga Festival is to give this authentic experience to all seekers.
Last year, we had nearly 2000 people from 101 countries come together to participate in Yoga, meditation, Satsang (spiritual discourse), and Seva (serve). The asana classes include Ashtanga, Kundalini Yoga, Power Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga and Kriya Yoga.
OF: Many participants call the festival a “life-changing” event. Can you share with us how people have changed their way of living after attending the festival?
SBS: People come back to the yoga festival year after year and they bring their friends and family and so the festival grows. Yes, it’s wonderful to have the friendship, food, schedule, new experiences and joy of being at the Ashram and being on the banks of Mother Ganga.
In reality, people continue to come because of all the beautiful and various aspects of the festival, together with an abundance of grace, provide the perfect conditions to allow participants to connect to their deeper selves. I have seen that this connection does not last just for the seven days of the Yoga Festival, but it stays with them long after they have returned home.
OF: What are the challenges you face when you organize an international wellness festival?
SBS: Considering the International Yoga Festival hosts nearly 2000 participants with over 60 hours of classes daily with an incredibly full and varied schedule across multiple sites in a large, gorgeous venue on the banks of the River Ganga, you may think that this complex planning can only be delivered by a team of specialty event managers. In reality, just a small team of volunteers work tirelessly with great dedication and devotion to provide a well-organized and planned festival.
Practical logistics are only one part of the planning process. The ethos of the Festival is also incredibly important. The original intention of allowing each participant to get the “touch” of Yoga still holds true and a great deal of time and thought goes into the intention of finding the right blend and balance of teachers who can channel their knowledge from various styles of yoga and schools of thought.
This means that we cannot adopt a cookie-cutter approach to the International Yoga Festival. Each festival needs to evolve and uniquely meet the needs of the participants whilst still giving them the timeless knowledge of Yoga.
OF: Meditation is being embraced in the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies. Children are being taught yoga in schools in many parts of the world. Where do you see the wellness movement going in the next few years?
SBS: This is such a beautiful question and I can see that yoga and meditation have gone beyond something only on the fringes of western society to now being embraced as mainstream across the world. This is a wonderful movement and the growth and acceptance of yoga has been enormously facilitated by our Prime Minister the Honorable Narendra Modi who established International Yoga Day on June 21 through the United Nations, which is now celebrated across the world with people gathering to do Yoga across the world, even in some of the most iconic locations.
The rise in the popularity of Yoga is directly proportionate the level of dis-ease we have in the world. Whether it is children or CEOs who practice yoga and meditation, it is because this is the antidote to the stress and physical ailments that plague them.
What is beautiful is that science is now catching up with what the ancient sages have said for millennia when they expounded the science of Yoga. Science has now unequivocally demonstrated that meditation changes our brain’s neural networks so that we actually become calmer, more peaceful and also more alert and able to face and solve challenges. Science has shown that certain yoga postures have discernible and specific health benefits.
However, science still has not touched the deeper aspects of the spiritual science of yoga. Through the breath, through meditation, through living a life according to prescribed moral and practical practices, a person can literally attain everything – from health and happiness to peace and prosperity. I hope that the future of the wellness movement is one of a deepening of people’s understanding and practices so that they become not only fit and nimble through asanas or manage their stress by meditation but truly become enlightened beings who can bring that light into this world.
OF: As a changemaker in the spiritual world, can you tell us what are the changes you have made that you are most proud of?
SBS: When we speak of pride, we have a sense that this comes from having accomplished something oneself. I have not accomplished anything myself, rather the grace that has flowed through me and onto others, benefiting and changing them, is grace that flows from the Divine. Everything that has happened through my hands or through my actions has been only due to the blessings of my Guru, HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati flowing through my life. Through this grace, my life has become a vessel to channel eternal universal truths. With that, I have been blessed to be able to use these teachings, and the Divine touch, to help people understand and remove the blockages that are preventing them from living in the light.