The Teachings of Swami Kripalu

Swami Kripalu was a devoted yogi with an inquisitive mind who explored every facet of the yoga tradition. During his lifetime, he generated a large body of teachings that fall into two major categories: a universal set of teachings encouraging everyone to cultivate personal health, well-being, and a virtuous character; and a set of teachings for serious aspirants desiring to study the potent form of yoga that he practiced.

I met Swami Kripalu on the day he arrived in the United States: May 20, 1977. Spending two years with him at the Kripalu ashram in Pennsylvania laid the foundation for the rest of my adult life, and for that I am eternally grateful. 

Here is a sampling of Swami Kripalu’s essential teachings. 

Healthy Lifestyle: Swami Kripalu was a lifelong student of the Bhagavad Gita, which teaches yogis to couple their spiritual practices with a wholesome lifestyle. Many of his teachings were focused on healthy lifestyle and Ayurveda.

Importance of Daily Practice: By example and in his teachings, Swami Kripalu stressed the need for personal practice. He believed that direct experience on the mat or meditation cushion helped to catalyze growth and bring the teachings of yoga to life.

Different Approaches for Different Natures: Swami Kripalu taught that spirituality can never be a one-size-fits-all endeavor. This respect for the individual lies at the core of Kripalu’s approach to helping people discover and pursue their unique expression of life.

The Path of Love: Swami Kripalu walked what he called “the path of love.” As he said, “Truly, the wise proclaim that love is the only path … and the only scripture.” In particular, he emphasized the task of creating loving relationships with those closest to you: family, friends, and coworkers. This kind of love is real, tangible, and not at risk of becoming a spiritual abstraction.

Self-Observation: Swami Kripalu taught that all contemplative practices are designed to foster what he called “self-observation without judgment”—what Kripalu Yoga refers to as “witness consciousness.” 

The Power of Prana: Swami Kripalu taught that the soul emanates prana, a subtle life force intimately tied to the breath that animates the body and illumines the mind.

Compassion for Self and Others: The word “Kripalu” means "compassion" or “being compassionate.” Swami Kripalu was renowned for the depth of his compassion and his genuine love of people.

Service: Swami Kripalu saw service as a natural outgrowth of love and an effective tool for personal and spiritual growth. 

Role of Spiritual Centers: Swami Kripalu characterized retreat centers as “laboratories that establish truth by experiments … Like the temples of the past, today’s spiritual centers will serve as the source of  yoga and spiritual culture to spread all over the world.”

Find out about the Month of Compassion at Kripalu.

Vandita Kate Marchesiello is the Kripalu Historian and a longtime faculty member at Kripalu.

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Vandita Kate Marchesiello, E-RYT 500, is a Kripalu Legacy Faculty member and creator of the best-selling CDs Transform, Relax, and Rejuvenate; Yoga with Vandita; and Vandita Chants.

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