Interview with Swami Satyapremananda, Director Sivananda Yoga Center in Chicago
Published in Daneshe Yoga Magazine, January 2017
By: Leila Naderi
Bio: Swami Satyapremananda is a regular teacher at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch - especially teaching Bhagavad Gita and Mantra Chanting for our Yoga Teachers Training Courses. She has also served at the Sivananda Ashrams in California and Canada, our NYC Center, and as the director of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center in Chicago. Swamiji is a serious yoga practitioner who exemplifies the power of Yoga for self-transformation, self-actualization, and Self-realization, with her discipline, compassion and devotion. Her favorite sadhana is singing the names of God.
Leila- What is your personal philosophy of leadership?
-My personal point of view is that a leader is an individual who has seen it all. They may not be the quintessential human beings with an infinite store of knowledge, but they’re equipped with experiences that allow them to lead.
To me leadership is that enthusiasm for sharing the goals and mission. For example, we apply what we learn in yoga to our daily lives and must share it with our peers. So a leader is not someone who is sitting in front of a train and says follow me. On the contrary, a leader is the one who places the track for the train to go on. Ideally, a leader is someone who is NOT dictating or directing but someone who is doing the work or doing practice.
Leila- How do you see the correlation between yoga and leadership? In another word, how does yoga impact in developing leadership skills?
-It works by making us lead from the heart; not from the head; it makes us aim to meet people wherever they are and lift them up a little bit. It also means doing the best to operate off of our personal intuition. Presumably, a leader is someone who knows a little of something but also is willing to admit they don’t know everything. Additionally, they are willing to let loose wherever they go in favor of leading with the heart and with intuition. A leader to me is not someone who is leading out of some book knowledge or learning. That’s not an effective leader. It has to be like empower with others rather than empower over others. Empowering with others means being vigilant at all times and listening from a place of love rather than from a place of pride or control. So it has to come from the place of empathy and inspiration. Otherwise it can’t work at all. It’s also about courage to face different situations where you don’t know everything and you just have to do it.
Leila- How do you see the impacts of yoga on business leadership?
- I think what business needs is a karma perspective. For instance, if we understand that whatever I give, I receive. So an effective leader is someone who has the courage & humility to help others be successful even if it means assisting a competitor! The universe is not like a pie that if I get ¾ of a pie, you get ¼ of pie. It’s not based on competition.
Leila-10 years ago when I went to India for my Yoga Teacher Training, it changed my perspective towards life. I became so interested in yoga because it encourages “unity in diversity” and that is exactly what we are lacking in the world. So what are your suggestions in terms of how we can take the message of “Unity in Diversity” to politics, business, and life?
-Across the globe people have different habits, goals, desires and, values. I think it’s fear that hinders and separates us. It comes back to this idea of competition: seeing others as others and making some kind of comparison and judgment based on this viewpoint. We need to realize that Diversity is necessary and if we are all the same, nothing is done. Then we start to look at enhancing each other’s talents and cooperating more. Again it comes back to the idea of “power with” rather than “power over” and working together.
Leila- Tell me a about your life journeys. How did you begin yoga and what made you to become a Swami? You teach with your heart and your authenticity in teachings inspires many students including me.
-I was always trying to do the conventional thing. I considered myself an artist and a writer. I suffered for a couple of decades with diagnosed bipolar disorder and I was on medications. At some point, I just decided that it doesn’t have to be this way. Somehow I immediately found myself at Sivananda yoga center in Chicago about seven years ago. So I started practicing yoga, meditation, proper thinking, proper diet, and everything worked better than I could have imagined. Gradually, I was able to go off of medications. So I took yoga Teacher Training Course in Canada 6 years ago.
I was mature enough to realize that my attempts to find happiness in worldly life (i.e. jobs, relationships, and so on), clearly was not possible for me. I thought that the Guru saved my life and he can have it so I became staff. It was very challenging in the beginning when I started to teach satsangs because I had no confidence and I was very nervous but I had to do it anyway… I don’t consider myself as a leader or a teacher or anything. What I’ve found is that I can just be grateful to the universe for trusting me to do this difficult work. So if I can manage with some humility and gratitude then the grace will come.
Sometimes the darkest moments of our lives are just before sunrise. In the highest desperation, we can find highest happiness. The most weaknesses are the greatest strengths. We should just shift our angle vision a little bit.
Leila- What is meaningful about this path that you have chosen?
-The teachings and practice saved my life. I really understood with my own experience that we could choose not to suffer. So I started thinking this can help so many people. It takes renunciation to do what I’ve done. It takes effort to go off medications and it takes real God understanding. I feel like I was lost before and yoga showed me the path. So I have no interest in being lost again.
Leila- it’s not easy to give up on worldly things that cause sufferings but we are so attached to those. Did you have those moments; why I’m doing this? How did you overcome those moments?
-So many times I’ve seen my absolute disaster and some thing so miraculous came out of it. Now I do kind of welcome difficulties. Yes over and over I’ve had those time that I asked myself what is this about? So the motivation is always gratitude and love. When I keep that purpose in mind, the difficulties don’t steal my opportunities. When I lose that vision, then my reason and judgment come in. At that time, I look at the little picture instead of the bigger picture. I guess that bigger awareness, faith and devotion usually help me to drive back and stay. And just trust…!
Leila- Well, I like your authenticity in your talks and teachings. It really resonates with me and I’m sure with many others. You have a great talent of integrating your personal experience to yoga teachings
-I think that adopting and changing are necessary in leadership. We need to adopt/change the same classical teachings based on whatever they need in the moment and whoever is sitting in front of us.
Leila-For final question, what are your daily rituals that keep you balanced?
-Japa (repetition of God’s names and prayer) is the most important ritual, and then Pranayama (breathing exercise). Japa is something that I can do everywhere and is like a medicine to me.
Leila- Swami Satya, thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas with “Danesh e Yoga “ Magazine.