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How The Beatles Popularized Yoga and Meditation in the West


"Fulfilment is structured in achievement, Achievement is structured in action, Action is structured in thinking, Thinking is structured in knowledge, Knowledge is structured in consciousness" - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Any Beatles fan can tell you that the link between the famous British rock band of the 1960's and Eastern philosophy is undeniable. Just take a look at the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band — amongst the crowd of notable faces are four Indian Gurus (Sri Yukteswar Giri, Sri Paramahansa Yogananda, Mahavatar Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya). Listening to The Beatles 1965 album Revolver, you will notice the distinctive sound of the sitar (a traditional Indian instrument) on the song "Norwegian Wood" a la George Harrison. Lyrics from the songs of their White Album were inspired by a trip to India and the study of transcendental meditation (TM) alongside the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Back in the 1960's, yoga and meditation was not commercialized nor nearly as popular as it is today. Imagine a time in which "yoga mats" and "yoga pants" were not even a thing — much less available at Walmart or Target. Today, it's not quite a surprise to hear that Super Bowl superstar Russell Wilson includes yoga in his training. But to imagine The Beatles picking up yoga and meditation is a concept that was way ahead of its time. Here's how it happened: In 1965, The Beatles met Vishnu Devananda Saraswati while filming Help! in the Bahamas. He gave them a copy of his book The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, one of the first modern books on yogic philosophy and hatha techniques and asanas. George Harrison and his wife Pattie Boyd became inspired and travelled to Bombay, India in 1966 where Harrison studied the Sitar under H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. While in Bombay, Harrison heard about transcendental meditation (TM) and met the guru who lead the TM movement, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Maharishi travelled to England in 1967 to meet with and coach the Beatles. He quickly became known as their "spiritual advisor". In February of 1968, the Beatles voyaged to the Maharishi's ashram in Rishikesh, India. The Beatles' trip to Rishikesh was widely regarded as so inspirational that it lifted the band out of a creative rut they had been stuck in for months. The concept of mantra was particularly influential on John Lennon and George Harrison.

Harrison was by far the most enthralled in Eastern Philosophy out of all Beatles and his subscription to the Hare Krishna movement and religion was held until his death. So much so, that his ashes were scattered in the River Ganges in India — a river of significant importance in Hinduism.

The Beatles helped populate meditation and yoga — especially meditation. However, it's important to note they weren't solely responsible for the increase of Western interest in Eastern mysticism. Before the sixties, the concept of meditation was obscure. Books like the Maharishi's Science of Being and Art of Living helped to simplify complex Hindu concepts and made it easy to use and understand.

By: Jessica Adams (G+)

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