Swami Shivabhaktananda, director of the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Val Morin Quebec, allowed us the opportunity to gain some insight and clarity on his outlook to devotion and spirituality. Growing up, Swami never understood the commonly accepted “Go to school – so you can get a job – so you can make money” approach to life. He could never fully grasp the idea of accepting money for his services, “I could never put a price on what I’m doing – I cannot charge because the value doesn’t exchange with money like that.”
Being from Brazil, Swami Shivabhaktananda had been practicing yoga at a local Sivananda yoga centre in Rio where he began to develop this sense of devotion and find his spirituality. “There was a centre close by my house, a Sivananda Centre – back in Rio – I started taking classes and slowly… helping out to clean the center and cooking and doing things here and there. I slowly developed a connection and started finding answers to the questions that I had.”
He quickly began to grow more and more connected to the organization and its teachings. He had a strong interest in the philosophy of yoga. This led him to take his teacher training course. After having taken the course, Swami made a decision, “I joined the center as permanent staff – that’s the life I wanted to live.”
When asked about devotion and the personal connection he has with his chosen path, Swami spoke of his Guru. Swami Vishnudevananda, disciple of Swami Sivananda, both paved the way, and Swami Shivabhaktananda has learned from their examples. Throughout their lives, they showed great strength and courage when it came to struggles and hardships. They devoted their lives to not only helping, but also teaching others the practice of spirituality.
Although difficult to put into words, Swami tried to explain this feeling of devotion. “…if something touches me deep inside, as in, it went beyond my own mind and my own control…it is coming from deep within me, you can’t avoid it – you can’t…when you feel it, you will know – that’s what it is.” Devotion can only be explained in words so far; like Swami has said it is an experience. There is no concrete term or definition, but when you experience this devotion, the doubt vanishes and a deeper and fuller understanding sets in.
In this context, devotion is the connection to the Divine which is anywhere and everywhere. “For me, God can be any person sitting in front of me at any time." Swami believes, "Devotion is an opening of the heart – connecting to something might make it easier…when you have a teacher…it is more presentable, something you might connect to in a simple way because you understand what the thing is – it’s more of a tool than an end.” This connection can come from anything. Whether it be a teacher, a concept, God or idea all of these function as a tool to connect to the Divine. It will guide you and make the path easier.
Swami went on to talk about Vedanta or yogic philosophy and how there are four paths of yoga. Swami Sivananda presented these as “the yoga of synthesis”. They are as follows: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Jnana Yoga.
Bhakti Yoga is known as the yoga of devotion. It includes practices like satsang, chanting, and different rituals that are part of any tradition. These practices work by bringing everyone’s consciousness to a higher level. Swami explained that during these practices it is nearly impossible to feel negative or be in a bad mood. “Whether you understand it or not, it’s so joyful that you feel that there’s something good there.”
Although we have many paths of yoga, Swami explained that there is no one isolated path. “Yoga is yoga – that’s just a way of categorizing the thing.” Each path leads into another and essentially all are leading to the same goal.
If you are new to spirituality, this all may seem very daunting and you may be sceptical. One thing yoga teaches us is to have our own experiences and understand for ourselves through these experiences. Put the teachings to the test and see what happens. But how do we best approach something like this? Start slow. If you are interested in a retreat, find one that aligns with what you desire to learn or sparks interest within you. You don’t need to follow strict guidelines or rules; your practice is your own and can take place wherever you are. Whether you practice from home, at work, in a studio, with a teacher, or without a teacher - it does not matter. Your practice will transcend into feelings of connection and peacefulness in whatever setting you are in.
“That is the beauty of all of this…you connect very quickly to people…anywhere we go, anyone we are, we always feel at home – there’s always that feeling that I’m safe. I’m with the people that are in tune with everything else – you’re in tune with everything and everything feels natural, there’s nothing that feels strange.”
It’s a lot like coming home. In a deeper, richer and more fulfilling way.
Swami Shivabhaktananda is the Director of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp in Val-Morin, Québec, Canada. You can find more information about the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp on their Retreat Guru page or on their website: www.sivananda.org/.