By Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres & Ashrams
Madurai Ashram, Tamil NaduSivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres & Ashrams
The International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, headquartered in Canada, has spread the knowledge of Yoga and Vedanta for over sixty years. Our mission is to create physical, mental and spiritual well being in the world through the authentic teaching of Yoga and Vedanta. More than 50,000 students have trained as teachers at our centers & ashrams worldwide.
In March 2020, our centres and ashrams that used to have classes everyday, were shut down due to the Covid-19 lockdown. This was an unprecedented challenge for everyone associated with our organization including students, teachers and supporting staff. Never before had we faced a situation like this where all of our centers were suddenly and indefinitely shut down.
Recording of audio for chanting on Facebook LiveSivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres & Ashrams
However, it wasn’t long before a core team emerged to bring our teaching online. This experiment turned into a full-fledged operation involving all the staff and teachers.
In just six weeks we managed to bring this sixty-year-old organisation fully online. This transformation was made possible by digital media. We were just following the example of our gurus who utilised all available technologies during their time to propagate the teachings of yoga. Swami Sivananda was among the first people in Rishikesh to import a printing press in circa 1936 and Swami Vishnudevananda purchased the organisation’s first computer in the 1980s which was among the first in the state of Kerala.
The process of coming online was challenging, at times frustrating, and often funny. We hope you enjoy a peek behind the scenes.
Swami Sivananda and the Printing Press
An enthusiastic teacher, Swami Sivananda used all possible resources to promote spiritual teachings. He settled on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh in 1924. During his meagre early years, he resorted to inking spiritual sayings on used envelopes. Twelve years later he founded the Divine Life Society, and imported a state of the art offset printing machine.
The machine was a Heidelberger Druckmaschinen from Germany, and was used to publish many of the Divine Life Society's books with titles as varied as ‘How to Get Good Sleep’ to commentaries on the Upanishads.
Swami Sivananda TeachingSivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres & Ashrams
Apart from books and letters, Master used every media available including audio and film recordings to spread the teachings.
Swami Vishnudevananda and the Computer
From a young age, Swami Vishnudevananda, founder of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and disciple of Swami Sivananda, had a fascination for science & technology. As a young student it was his pastime to dismantle things & reassemble them with improved efficiency.
In the same spirit of improving efficiency of administration, accounting and communication Swamiji introduced computers to our ashrams and centres in the early 1980s.
The computer in our Trivandrum centre became an instant attraction for engineers, students and even scientists from Indian Space Research Orgnisation (ISRO)! Swamiji had plans of networking, to connect the ashram and centres worldwide, something unheard of at that time.
Swami Vishnudevananda and an assistant using the computerSivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres & Ashrams
It took several years before electronic mail became a reality. This facility became essential to manage an international organisation efficiently. He had long ago laid a foundation which enabled us to make this shift from offline to online possible.
Switching to Online Sessions
While we have been using computers and a variety of software for efficient administration, we had never previously explored digital platforms to take yoga online. With lockdowns being in place no one could attend yoga classes, it was time to make yoga accessible to the students. This being an entirely new endeavor pushed us to learn new tools and re-engineer systems to suit new conditions.
Using tripods and mobiles became easier, and searching for the most scenic shoot locations within the ashram became fun! Satya, one of our teachers and technical support team is seen teaching an Open Class on the rooftop terrace at the Neyyar Dam Ashram with a view to the western ghats in Kerala.
On the other hand, where it was not possible to acquire the right equipments, jugaad was the friendly route adopted and made us very creative at times. An example is this selfie stick in a vase, improvised by one of our teachers teaching from his home!
Front view and side view cameras for Zoom classSivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres & Ashrams
Surya Namaskar Live Session
Our Facebook Live sessions of 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar have been very popular with several hundred people practicing together live each Sunday. It may be hard to imagine when you are the only one in the room doing sun salutations that so many people are connecting and raising their energy level alongside you. Participants are welcomed to share photographs of their glowing faces afterwards, which are posted to our Facebook page.
Dayakar, instructing on Zoom
Priya, on camera, and in surya namaskar
Satya, coordinating the class
Surya Namaskar in the Neyyar Dam studioSivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres & Ashrams
The three roles came together, making live sessions possible. This is our sneak-peek of behind-the-scenes during a Zoom class!
As our Madurai Ashram is in a rural location, the network signal and wifi connection are not strong enough to conduct an uninterrupted yoga class. The ashram drivers therefore shuttle teachers back and forth to a nearby building, an Ayurvedic hospital, to conduct the sessions. Teachers run the sessions on their mobile data plans. The teachers (and drivers) have adapted to the new online schedule by keeping strictly to the timings – which is not so common in India – and also making sure that their devices are always fully charged and ready to go!
Here's a satsang in progress with a few staff "backstage" as it were, drumming and providing the response during chanting. All of the staff are like family members, living together under lockdown for several months. Rahul's drumming helps us to keep the rhythm. Om Adi Guru, Advaita Guru, Ananda Guru OM, Chid Guru, Chid Ghana Guru, Chinmaya Guru Om.
Chanting during online satsang.
We involved the entire team who underwent training sessions, constantly experimented and gave feedback on what worked and what did not. A core team of around 15 people drove this agenda centrally by getting points-of-contacts across all centers who showed abundant enthusiasm and a keen desire to make yoga available to anyone who needed it.
By the end of April all centers across the country were running sessions online.
With a well-built website and active social channels, we were able to get good outreach for our programs. In addition, we adopted new softwares and platforms like Zoom, GetOnYoga, Razorpay etc. for managing online classes and payments. All this infrastructure was well supported by tech grants from Google, Microsoft and Facebook. While the courses and classes were played out on our digital platforms, the Sivananda staff needed to unlearn and relearn approaches in a short span of time. As a result of all these efforts in the first six weeks, our site traffic surged and we offered 250 classes completely free of cost with more than 8,600 online registrations.
Growing Online Presence
With more than 200 different free and paid classes offered online every week we have the entire staff involved and there is never a dull moment. Till now we've had over 10,000 people attend our sessions and driven over 1.1 M views for our content. This situation which seemed like an insurmountable challenge turned out to be a great opportunity.
With the example of our gurus, we adapted to the new situation and achieved a paradigm shift in the way we operate.