Kripalu: A Person, a Place, a Tradition

To read uplifting books or listen to spiritual discourses is good. But to practice even a little is of the utmost importance. The profound meaning of yoga is understood only by those who study it through regular and systematic practice. The day you start to practice, your true progress will begin.
—Swami Kripalu

Swami Kripalu (1913-1981) was a yoga master renowned not only for the depth and dedication of his practice (he meditated for 10 hours a day), but also for his humor, compassion (Kripalu translates as "compassion" or “one who is compassionate”), and lighthearted approach to yoga. A prolific writer and an articulate speaker, Swami Kripalu made the ancient teachings of yoga applicable to contemporary everyday life. After establishing himself in his native India, where he gathered thousands of followers, he came to the United States, where from 1977 to 1981 he shared his teachings with hundreds of students at the original Kripalu ashram in Pennsylvania. Many of Kripalu’s teachers today continue to be inspired by their encounters with Swami Kripalu.

One of these teachers is Vandita Kate Marchesiello, who uses her firsthand experience with Swami Kripalu to discuss and distill his essential teachings in her R&R Retreat lecture Kripalu: A Person, a Place, a Tradition.

According to Vandita, the Kripalu approach, which stems directly from the teachings of Swami Kripalu, is based on the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma, or the “Perennial Wisdom.” This is the recognition that all the world’s wisdom traditions stem from a shared universal truth that we can experience directly through various spiritual disciplines. “What Swami Kripalu offered, and what Kripalu continues to foster today,” Vandita says, “is a nondogmatic, nonsectarian approach to the Perennial Wisdom through the practice of yoga.”

The foundation of Swami Kripalu’s teachings, Vandita says, is the eight-limbed path of the yoga sage Patanjali. These limbs consist of asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (looking inward), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (bliss), and the yamas and niyamas—10 character-building restraints and observances that serve as guidelines for skillful living.

Yoga is more than just a series of postures. As Swami Kripalu taught, yoga is a highly sophisticated system that addresses life in all its dimensions—a holistic philosophy and living tradition that helps us achieve skillful action. Following the eight-limbed path can help us trust our innate wisdom by observing ourselves without judgment. Ultimately, this path has the potential to lead us to what Vandita calls “integrated functioning—when what we think, say, and do all match up.”

It’s an ongoing process, and we fall in and out of it constantly, but we return to the path with mindfulness and compassion. The practice supports us in creating a life brimming with integrity, presence, and inquiry.

A Pilgrimage to India in the Footsteps of Swami Kripalu

Hari Sharana Zandler is a direct disciple of Swami Kripalu who oversees his former home in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania, now a meditation center. He traveled to India in 2016 to follow in the footsteps of Swami Kripalu and explore spirituality in Gujarat, India. The video he created is both a travelogue and a celebration of the Kripalu tradition.