It was September 1927, and Paramahansa Yogananda was electrifying Twin Cities audiences with a novel but soul-rousing message. Clad in orange robe, with long hair and golden brown skin, he lectured nightly to sold out auditoriumsÂ on the benefits of yoga meditation and inner communion, almost a century before modern medicine and pop culture would make these practices synonymous with enlightened wellness.
Yogananda first arrived in America in 1920 at the age of 27 as India’s delegate to an international congress of religious leaders convening in Boston. Over the next three decades, he traversed the country preaching the benefits of meditation and Kriya Yoga (a sacred technique of meditation for God communion), authoring numerous spiritual texts, and founding the organization that would oversee his spiritual legacy and teachings, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), headquartered in Los Angeles.
Swami Yogananda touched many hearts and minds during his month-long stay in Minnesota. Beginning on September 18, 1927, he lectured at the Lyceum Theatre in Minneapolis, Macalester College of St. Paul, and other Twin Cities venues. He gave classes on subjects ranging from “Great Revelation for Beautifying Body and Mind” to “Vibratory Healing by Christ Power, Holy Ghost, Yogic Chants.”
Yogananda captured the imaginations of both ordinary citizens and dignitaries, including Minnesota Governor Theodore Christianson, St. Paul Mayor Laurence Hodgson, and Thomas Walker, founder of the Walker Art Galleries. Mrs. Simon Kruse, owner of the downtown Minneapolis Radisson Hotel, separately played host to this renowned pioneer of meditation and yoga in America.
Attendees, inspired by his lectures and teachings on meditation, formed the Minneapolis Meditation Group of Self-Realization Fellowship. Today, 80 years later, the Minneapolis Meditation Group of SRF conducts meditation and inspirational services at itsÂ center in south Minneapolis, where members from the Twin Cities region come together each week for meditation and fellowship.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings had struck a holistic chord. A Roosevelt High School teacher in Minneapolis attending his lectures commented at the time: “His message is teaching us to unfold our inner spiritual faculties, as well as aiding in our development of physical and mental powers.”
What was true then is still true today, says Elizabeth Werner, the energetic 83-year-old coordinator of the Minneapolis Meditation Group. Werner attributes much of her vigor to Yogananda’s teachings. “Paramahansa Yogananda gave us scientific techniques for health, vigor and having a direct experience of God,” she says. “Regular, sincere meditation brings the peace that comes from God-communion. The practice is non-denominational and doesn’t require anyone to give up their own faith.”
Yogananda sought to demonstrate that all great religions are founded on the same universal truths. The Washington Post reported on Yogananda’s methods in 1927, stating: “The Yogoda message is nonsectarian, humanitarian and capable of fusing together in unity the different religious factions, though not in any way causing them to lose their individuality.”
Today, Self-Realization Fellowship has more than 500 temples, retreats, and meditation centers in nearly 60 countries. SRF members have included composer George Liebling, opera star Amelita Galli-Curci, actor Dennis Weaver and botanist Luther Burbank.
Yogananda was the first yoga master from India to be invited to the White House, meeting with President Calvin CoolidgeÂ in 1927. He also met with many other prominent world figures, including Mahatma Gandhi, with whom he shared many similar beliefs, and instructed Gandhi, at the Mahatma’s request, in Kriya Yoga.Â (The only portion of Gandhi’s ashes to be enshrined outside of India are at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine near Los Angeles, which Yogananda dedicated in 1950.)
Yogananda’s remarkable life journey, detailed in his book Autobiography of a Yogi, is considered one of the most influential books of the 20th century and is a curriculum staple in many colleges and universities.
Monastics from Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship Order in Los Angeles will be visiting the Twin Cities on May 16. The public is invited to join them at theÂ Minneapolis Meditation Group of SRF from 1-4 p.m. for an introduction to meditation and for an opportunity to apply for the SRF Lessons and learn one of the meditation techniques Yogananda taught. The Minneapolis Meditation Group of Self-Realization Fellowship is located at 112 West 43rd Street in Minneapolis. For more information, visit bolstablog.com/2009/03/23/srf-open-house or call 612.788.8873.