Swami Satchidananda | Biography, Teachings & Abuse Allegations Of The ‘Woodstock Guru’

reviewed by Liz Burns 500H RYT

*Disclaimer* There have been many sexual abuse allegations against Swami Satchidananda. We stand with the victims and hope that our articles can shed light on the truth.

Swami Satchidananda was one of the most prominent Indian gurus of the 20th century, having brought yoga to America and the global stage.

Developing upon his own guru’s instruction, Satchidananda synthesized “Integral Yoga” which is a comprehensive formula of classical yoga, for the modern age. 

Sri Swami Satchidananda left a lasting mark on popular history through his involvement in the opening of Woodstock. Leading a crowd of approximately half a million people at the iconic festival, he conducted chants of “Hari Om.” 

It hasn’t been all love-spreading and divine spirituality, though. Swami Satchidananda has been accused of serious sexual abuse allegations, which we cover in the first section of the article.

In this article, we’ll cover the below on Swami Satchidananda:

  • Abuse
  • Early Life And Background
  • Spiritual Journey
  • Attending Woodstock And Founding Yogavile
  • As A Guru
  • Integral Yoga
  • Legacy
Swami Satchidananda smiling
Swami Satchidananda in Yogaville‘ by Alainfherve, licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons


In 1991, whilst Swami Satchidananda was staying in a hotel in Virginia, angry protesters carried signs that said “Stop The Abuse” to his doorstep. This was a display of accusation of Swami Satchidananda molesting his students.

This was a dramatic coming of events that echoed the notion that at least 11 women who were connected to Swami Satchidananda had reported that he used his authority to coerce them into sexual acts.

Unfortunately, a common theme among many yogic gurus is the presence of allegations and stories that surround Swami Satchidananda. 

These accounts often involve him being accompanied by young women who served him, and there are claims of him requesting massages that would escalate to sexual acts such as oral sex.

With this in mind, please read this article knowing that Swami Satchidananda’s legacy is steeped in sexual abuse allegations.

Early Life And Background

Swami Satchidananda was born in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, India in 1914. 

Having grown up in wealth on an estate, his family supposedly held court for poets, musicians and philosophers, as well as spiritual ascetics. 

His mother was incredibly spiritual and it’s with her he developed his interest and insight into spiritual life. 

hindu temple in india

After studying agriculture, he worked in his family’s automobile import business as a young man, learning the welding trade.

He went on to become a manager at an electrical company and also managed a local Hindu temple. At this temple, he met his wife and had two sons.

Spiritual Journey

As time passed, his interest in spirituality grew even deeper. He decided to embark on a spiritual quest, leaving his sons in the care of his mother. 

His journey took him to breathtaking mountaintops, dense jungles, and serene forests, looking for a guru.

He wandered from one guru to another, searching for the one who resonated with him the most. Eventually, he found his guide in Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh, a renowned yoga master on who we’ve written a biographical article.

In 1949, along the banks of the Ganges River, he received initiation into the esteemed Saraswati order from Swami Sivananda. He was given the name Swami Satchidananda, which translates as “existence-knowledge-bliss.” 

In 1951, Swami Sivananda entrusted him with the task of touring India to establish branches of the Divine Life Society and teach yoga. 

Later, he was also sent to Sri Lanka for the same purpose. His efforts extended beyond spirituality; he extended his outreach to the social realm, establishing an orphanage and a medical facility.

greenery in sri lanka

Attending Woodstock And Founding Yogaville

Sri Swami Satchidananda was in fact one of the many gurus of the 20th century that brought yoga to the West.

During this time, when numerous Indian gurus made their way to America amidst the “summer of love” era, he stood out for being exceptionally tolerant of the frequently intoxicated hippies. 

He understood their frustrations as a result of disillusionment with the establishment and presented his teachings as a means to find a spiritual resolution outside of drugs.

Attending and opening Woodstock with chanting in a huge satsang, he called music “the celestial sound that controls the whole universe”. Donned in the vibrant orange robes of a sannyasin, he delivered a speech and imparted his blessings upon the enormous gathering.

The Swami’s chanting was accompanied by an opening “Brothers And Sisters Of America”, in homage to Swami Vivekananda’s world-famous speech from 1893.

In 1970, he made more inroads into America and established a branch of his yoga institution in San Francisco. By 1976, Swami Satchidananda became a fully-fledged US citizen.

woodstock festival

Over time, his influence deepened, as he established ashrams, or places of worship, and yoga training across the United States, including Yogaville in 1980.

Yogaville, also referred to as the Satchidananda Ashram, is a sanctuary crafted specifically for those on a quest for truth and spiritual growth and is where the culmination of Satchidananda’s spiritual enterprise took place.

Swami Satchidananda’s vision for Yogaville was firmly rooted in the principles of Integral Yoga and over time, the Yogaville community flourished, attracting individuals in search of spiritual growth, healing, and a true sense of belonging

Yogaville became a vibrant hub for learning, practicing, and sharing the invaluable teachings of yoga. It offered an extensive array of classes, workshops, retreats, and residential programs, catering to the diverse needs and interests of its members.

Within the Yogaville campus, the centerpiece is the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS), a unique interfaith shrine that symbolizes the unity and oneness of all religions. This shrine cost an eye-watering two million dollars to build and was accrued via donations.

Swami Satchidananda envisioned LOTUS as a sacred space where people of different faiths could come together to worship, meditate, and celebrate their shared spiritual essence.

Swami Satchidananda in switzerland
SatchidanandaSwitzerland‘ by Rudraksha108, licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

As A Guru

Integral Yoga

Swami Satchidananda would regularly tour the globe, teaching Integral Yoga through lectures, workshops, and classes. 

Swami Satchidananda’s distillation of Integral Yoga is essentially a blend of mainstream yoga philosophy, derivative of yogic text such as the Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda.


Like a lot of gurus with backgrounds in Hinduism, Swami Satchidananda advocated for vegetarianism. He recommended a veggie diet for its spiritual, health, and ecologically inclined benefits.

He even wrote a vegetarian cookbook, and opened a vegetarian health shop in Manhattan!

person meditating at sunset with birds flying around them

Spiritual Principles Of Integral Yoga

Swami Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga is a holistic approach to yoga that encompasses various aspects of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It integrates physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), meditation, ethical living, and selfless service.

Integral Yoga goes beyond mere physical exercise, placing a strong emphasis on the relationship between the body, mind, and spirit. Its ultimate goal is to create harmony and balance both internally, and externally. 

Swami Satchidananda’s vision for Integral Yoga is that individuals can nurture inner peace, develop self-awareness, and experience a spiritual awakening.

According to Swami Satchidananda, yoga is not limited to physical movements alone; it encompasses a comprehensive system for personal transformation and spiritual growth. 

Engaging in the physical postures of yoga allows individuals to cultivate strength, flexibility, and vitality in the body. Additionally, the incorporation of breath control and meditation techniques helps calm the mind, improve focus, and alleviate stress.

woman practicing pranayama

In Integral Yoga, ethical living is of utmost importance. It inspires practitioners to wholeheartedly embrace values like truthfulness, compassion, non-violence, and self-discipline in their day-to-day lives. 

These guiding principles serve as a compass, directing individuals towards a virtuous and purposeful way of living.

Integral Yoga also places great emphasis on selfless service, known as Karma Yoga. This aspect encourages individuals to actively participate in acts of service that contribute to the well-being of others and the greater world.

By engaging in selfless actions and extending kindness to others, practitioners of Integral Yoga foster positive change and make a meaningful impact in their communities and beyond.

Integral Yoga is a comprehensive system of yoga that incorporates the below practices:

  1. Hatha Yoga – physical-based asana practice focusing on asana and pranayama practice.
  2. Raja Yoga – self-discipline-based practice that incorporates the yamas and niyamas of conduct as a yogi.
  3. Bhakti Yoga – devotional-based practice focusing on the cultivation of love and God.
  4. Karma Yoga – action-based practice focusing on the cultivation of good deeds and merits in selfless action towards others.
  5. Jnana Yoga – study-based practice focusing on the cultivation of wisdom and greater awareness.
  6. Japa Yoga – meditation-based practice through repetition of mantras.
people listening to a lecture


Swami Satchidananda made plenty of contributions to yoga in the modern era, bringing it to the fore on the global stage. Here are some of his achievements:

  • He was a founding member of the Yoga Alliance, through his work on Integral Yoga.
  • He started yoga programs in jails and rehabilitation centers.
  • He founded the first nationwide yoga publication in the USA in 1969, called Integral Yoga Magazine.
  • He made eight world tours sharing his vision of yoga over 50 years of public service, giving lectures, classes and satsangs.
  • He wrote his celebrated commentary, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda.

As well as his humanitarian efforts and as a pioneer in the yoga world, Swami Satchidananda was presented with many awards. In 2002, he was bestowed with the U Thant Peace Award, and after his death in 2014, was awarded the James Parks Morton Interfaith Award.

Further Information

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Swami Satchidananda, why not check out our other biographical articles:

Photo of author
Born and raised in London, Luke is a passionate writer with a focus on travel, yoga, philosophy, and meditation. As a certified yoga teacher having studied under a swami in Rishikesh, Luke now lives in India pretty much just practising yoga, meditating and writing articles! Luke's life arc has gone from somewhat turbulent to peaceful, and he considers yoga and meditation direct methods to sustain introspective insight to manifest peace and happiness, despite life's challenges. Luke's passion for meditation has led him to complete multiple meditation retreats, where he spent almost 40 days in silence in the last two years. He practices various meditation techniques such as Vipassana, Anapana, and Metta Bhavana, each adding to his knowledge and experience of the true self. Most recently he meditated in Jaipur, India, and before that lived for a short spell in a monastery with forest monks in Northern Thailand. To Luke, yoga is more than just a physical exercise; it's a way of life that helps him cultivate a stronger mind-body connection. As a young man with arthritis, Luke understands the importance of observing and controlling his body, and yoga has been a vital tool in his journey to better health and well-being. The practice of yoga has not only helped him manage his symptoms but has also given him a new perspective on life. Luke's love for yoga and meditation is not limited to a single tradition or practice. He's fascinated by the spiritual teachings of all types of religious philosophy, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity for their essence and wisdom. His passion for spirituality is what drives him to continue learning and growing, and share his knowledge with other people. Luke in his spare time is an avid chess player, cyclist and record collector. He also has experience with addiction, and so sponsors multiple people from different walks of life in their recovery programmes.

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