The seeds of the event were sewn in November 2014, when many different yoga organizations met at Yoga Vidya in Germany, Europe’s largest yoga ashram, to explore commonalities and possibilities for cooperation. That gathering resulted in the creation of the European Yoga Confederation, and an agreement to hold a European Yoga Congress every two years.
This year’s event in Radhadesh was held in a giant nearly 1,000-square-foot tent on the grounds, as well as a satellite classroom in the temple. Some 160 to 180 people attended.
Yadunandana Swami, Rector of the Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta in Spain, and Vaiyasaki Das, a Prabhupada disciple and renowned kirtaniya, represented ISKCON Belgium along with several other devotees.
Jagat Guru Amrta Suryananda, whose Portuguese Yoga Confederation has forty centers in that country, brought 70 people. Sanatan Dharma, an organization from Spain that has sixty centers, brought 30 people. Other schools represented were Yoga Vidya from Germany; Yoga Surya from the Czech Republic; Pauls Stradinš Clinical University Hospital from Latvia; the Russian Classical Yoga Federation; and the Association of Hungarian Yoga Teachers. Swami Nirliptananda from the London Sevashram Sangha in the UK also attended; as did Dr. Bhandari Chandra Mohan from the Sulislaw Institute of Yoga and Ayurveda, Poland; and Master Sricharan Faeq Biria – a Sri Vaishnava and direct disciple of B.K.S Iyengar – from the Paris Iyengar Yoga Centre in France.
Proceedings began with a “pre-opening” at midday on Friday, during which ISKCON devotee yoga teachers Anandini Dasi and Ekachakra Dasi taught yoga asanas, culminating in a Hare Krishna kirtan. The official opening followed with an invocation by the Omkara Choir from Portugal, who sang the Ganesh Sharanam to destroy any obstacles and create auspiciousness. Representatives from each yoga organization then spoke a few words, introducing themselves to the students.
The next three days included classes on hatha yoga, pranayamas, asanas, relaxation, meditation, karma yoga, and iyengar yoga. There were also sessions on holistic health and wellness through a combination of yoga and Ayurveda; opening and harmonizing of chakras; and the physiological effects of asanas on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Other classes focused more on yoga philosophy. There were talks on conquering fear; self-discipline and freedom; classical yoga education as an alternative to modern yoga trends; and the relevance of yoga for European society and world peace.
Some, like members of the Yoga Shivananda group, were more inclined towards worship of Lord Shiva or had other differing approaches to ISKCON’s. Devotees, however, found commonality due to a strong message of cultivating virtue, spirituality, and transcendence across all groups’ presentations. In his talk on “The Need for a New World Order,” for instance, Swami Nirliptananda of the London Sevashram Sanga spoke about Dharma and spiritual values; how to sense enjoyment is the source of problems in society; and how youth should be educated in yoga principles for a better world.
“Many speakers also quoted the Bhagavad-gita in a nice, respectful way, so that was another common denominator,” says Yadunandana Swami.
Bhaktivedanta College Belgium hosted the 2nd European Yoga Congress from May 27th to 29th, sharing insights and techniques with thirteen different yoga schools from twelve countries.
ISKCON, of course, emphasized Bhakti. In his well-received talk drawing from the Gita, Yadunandana Swami gave six reasons why Bhakti is powerful in yoga: it integrates karma and jnana; is the goal of karma and jnana; naturally fixes the mind; reveals all transcendental secrets; is easily performed; and invokes the blessings of God, which counteract any shortcomings.
Meanwhile, Dhira Nitai Das from ISKCON Simhachalam, Germany, spoke about his Bhakti Yoga Teachers Association, an ISKCON-associated group that is trying to create a unified approach to presenting bhakti through classical yoga. Finally, Vaiyasaki Das gave a seminar on Japa and kirtan and held three interactive kirtans that escalated from meditative to getting everyone up on their feet, dancing, and chanting. These kirtans were a major part of the event’s cultural programs every evening, which also included performances by renowned flute player Hariprasad Chaurasia and Latvian master Bharat Natyam dancer Gaura Nataraja Das.
“Gaura Nataraja performed beautiful dances dedicated to Lord Krishna and His devotees, Suryadeva, and Lord Shiva,” says Yadunandana Swami. “He also did one on the verse from the Ishopanishads “Tamaso ma jyotir gamah,” going from the darkness into the light, that delighted the yogis in attendance.”
Meanwhile, guests were thrilled at the hospitality and accommodation provided by Radhadesh devotees, and the delicious prasadam with vegan and gluten-free options prepared by Gundica Das from Barcelona and Shyamananda Das from ISKCON London. The cherry on top came when the hosts offered gifts of books to all the presenters and prasadam from the Radhadesh bakery to all participants during the closing session. “Many expressed that they were happy to have been hosted in such a friendly atmosphere and that they felt very welcome,” Yadunandana Swami says. “Some yoga teachers said they want to come back to Radhadesh, and even bring their students for a retreat.”
On Tuesday, May 31st, after the Congress, all the participating organizations also attended a session at the European Parliament in Brussels on what yoga and spirituality can contribute to the betterment of society. Speakers included many of the same yoga masters who spoke at the Congress, as well as MEP Carlos Zorrinho, Indian Embassy Counselor Ankan Banerjee, and General Secretary of the Quality Council of India Ravi P. Singh. They discussed how yoga could help solve today’s problems like the environment, corruption, wars, and terrorism; the benefits of yoga practice in physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual well-being; and how it can help people develop virtues like compassion, a spirit of selfless service, and peacefulness.
“More than one speaker also mentioned the principle of service to God as an essential to success in transforming society from the present difficult situation of degrading values to an experience of peace and happiness for individuals and communities,” says Yadunandana Swami.
Ultimately, despite any differences in approaches, it was this that bonded all the participants of the 2nd annual European Yoga Congress.