Pop artist Peter Max defined a generation with his cosmic art and psychedelic colors, but did you know he also played an integral role in bringing yoga to the United States?
In 1966, filmmaker Conrad Rooks commissioned Max for his creative input on a film called “Chappaqua.” Max traveled to Paris to work on the film, and it was here Rooks introduced Max to a man known as Swami Satchidananda (a name founded in Sanskrit — sat [existence], chid [knowledge] and ananda [bliss]).
Satchidananda founded Integral Yoga, which combines the six branches of classical yoga philosophy and practices derived from the Hindu philosophy. Its aim is to combine physical practices with philosophical approaches to achieve inner peace and joy.
Max had an interest in eastern mysticism and meeting Satchidananda only fueled his fervor. When not working on the film, Max devoted himself to the swami. Satchidananda guided Max in yoga poses, known as asanas, and when Max observed the swami speak and meditate, Max believed there was something deeper to discover and explore.
“I was convinced that there was a higher state of consciousness to be attained,” Max wrote in “The Universe of Peter Max.”
Max asked Satchidananda to return with him to the United States, telling the swami there was a generation of young people seeking spiritual answers who could benefit from his yoga teachings.
Inspiring America Through Yoga
Satchidananda agreed to go to New York with Max for a two-day visit. After speaking with Max and 40 of his friends during a get-together, they all discussed keeping Satchidananda in the states to teach yoga to others. They pooled their money together to rent an apartment at 500 West End Avenue for Satchidananda to use as a yoga classroom, establishing the first Integral Yoga Institute.
“Eventually, we bought a large six-story building at 227 West Thirteenth Street, which still stands as the headquarters of the Integral Yoga Institute,” Max wrote.
Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga exploded in popularity, so much so that the swami gave the invocation at the opening of the Woodstock Music and Peace Festival on August 15, 1969. Today, there are Integral Yoga centers all over the world.
“He was not the first yoga master to come to America, but with the creation of the Integral Yoga Institute, he definitely helped contemporary yoga take firm roots here, and I’m proud to have played a part in that,” Max wrote.
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