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The Yoga Institute


   by Ana Renno
Ana Renno

Noisy Mumbai has in its heart a Yoga oasis-The Yoga Institute. The oldest organized Yoga center in the world, the Institute was founded by Sri Yogendra with the vision of propagating Yoga to the household. In the course of his career, Sri Yogendra not only made Yoga more accessible to the common man and woman, but he was also a pioneer in scientific research on what we call in the West Yogatherapy.

Today, The Yoga Institute offers a wide variety of workshops (named health camps) and an in depth teachers training course with emphasis on Yoga applied to health management. Every month Yoga health camps are conducted focusing on various issues: pregnancy, diabetes, menopause, cardiology, senior citizen health, respiratory problems, stress management, orthopedics and obesity. Also, educational camps are conducted monthly on self-development, concentration, relaxation and memory.

I came to know about The Yoga Institute through my Yoga teacher in Brazil, Jak Pilozof, who lived in India for many years and stayed at The Yoga Institute about 30 years ago. As I was planning to move to India, he strongly recommended it to me as a place I should visit to continue my education. I could not foresee though what I was going to experience. It is a place that mostly Yoga insiders and old style Yoga teachers know about. For some, The Yoga Institute is almost like a legend that may or may not exist. The compound is not located by the beach, nor is it in the middle of a beautiful landscape. The area-named by the Portuguese Santa Cruz East (Holy Cross East) - is a chaotic neighborhood of Mumbai. It is noisy, polluted, and at times surreal. Every time I cross the Institute’s gate, there’s a relief, a sigh that indicates that I have arrived home.

Yogendra family The Yogendra family does have a plot of land in the countryside of Maharastra described as being very beautiful and silent. When I came to know about this, I inquired, “Why on earth is the Institute still located where it is now?” The reply I received from them was that “Meditating in the Himalayas- where everything is quiet and peaceful- is easy. Our task as householders is to learn how to be peaceful in the middle of chaos.” This being the case, there’s no place better than Mumbai, I thought! As a plus in my special training of peacefulness in chaos, a domestic airport was built in the same area. I can still remember the windows in my bedroom shaking every time an airplane took off… this became a sort of awareness practice at the Institute, as we were instructed to take a deep breath whenever we heard the jet engines.

The Institute’s location may cause apprehension in potential students, but I have to confess I fell in love not only with the ashram, but also with the city and more especially with the Santa Cruz area. It is the home of simple people, families, and workers. You really get a feeling about day-to-day life in India. Living in Mumbai itself enabled me to study Barathanathyam (classical Indian dance), which I found to be very a joyful way to experience Indian culture and Bhakti Yoga. I also had the chance to teach Yoga to street children through an organization called Akamksha. As a luxury, I had a private Sanskrit teacher who would come twice a week to teach me in the ashram. The rules at The Institute are very strict, so I had to get permission from Dr. Jayadeva for these extra activities.

Every day, more than 1000 people go to The Yoga Institute seeking a healthier life style, and they definitely seem to find their shelter. Since its founding, scientific research has been conducted at The Yoga Institute, especially in the field of heart care.

Between 2002 and 2003 I lived in India for one year, for eight months of which I stayed at The Yoga Institute. During this time I completed their advanced teachers training course (TTC). The emphasis is on Yogatherapy and it is based on classical Yoga. There’s a heavy theory load, but the practical aspect, where students get to assist at the health camps, is what really made an impression on me. Therefore, more than learning Yogatherapy theory, I had the chance to witness thousands of people directly benefiting from it. My private practice in Brazil and later in the USA proved the training I had from The Institute to be applicable and very valuable for western students as well.

In the TTC, there are daily classes on Patanjali Yoga Sutras. The program also includes Bhagavad Gita, Samkhia Yoga, Physiotherapy, Anatomy, Physiology, Teaching Methodology, Singing, Public Speaking, Counseling, Pranayamas and Hatha Yoga.

When checking the TTC program online, one may feel discouraged with the small number of hours that a student officially dedicates to the program- 5 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9.30 to 10.30 a.m. on Sundays. When accepted, I inquired about activities during the day. They replied: “Don’t worry. You will be busy all day”. They were not kidding. Students have to spend a huge number of hours in the great library they have there. The homework load is beyond imagination- reflection papers on the Institute’s books, daily questionnaires, reports on self-development, and assistantship at the Hatha Yoga classes and camps, among other demanding activities.

This is certainly an unusual program. My diploma does not read “certified Yoga therapist”, but rather “Yoga teacher”. According to the Institute’s view, a Yoga teacher should be a skilled one, able to teach and guide both the healthy and the sick students towards a higher reality. And, of course, the Yoga teacher must be trained up to that level. Yoga asanas are placed in their proper position: definitely not at the core of the program, but one of the eight fold steps of Ashtanga Yoga (and here, of course, I am not talking about the Hatha Yoga style also named Ashtanga Yoga).

At the Institute, Yoga is practiced and taught as a life style and science. Dr. Jayadeva explained to me his view on Yoga that reflects the Institute’s overall policy: “Mainly we share experiences, understanding of life. When this happens, some physical problems get corrected. Generally, the effort is not to treat the patient. The treatment is the byproduct. The aim is that the patient changes the outlook toward life, the attitude towards life. We don’t like this word Yogatherapy. Yoga is not a doctor. It is not meant to treat. It is education. How to live, how to grow. If it is sincerely carried out, many chronic and psychosomatic functional problems get resolved.” Dr. Jayadeva is a rare treasure in the growing world of Yoga. As I watch the inorganic mutation in the Yoga field, inside and outside India, I feel safer knowing that Dr. Jayadeva exists, consistently keeping classical Yoga well guarded. Aware of the different Yoga styles present in the west, I remember asking Dr. Jayadeva one time what kind of Yoga we were learning there. Dr. Jayadeva, in his economic way of speaking said: “Here we teach Yoga.”

Differently from most of the Yoga trainings available in India, I was the only Western student in my class. We were around 60 people and all of my classmates were from somewhere in India, mainly Mumbai residents. As a foreign student, I was allowed to reside in the ashram, which enriched my experience immensely. I was not only studying Yoga, but also living it fully. I was doing Karma Yoga in the kitchen everyday, where I learned most of my Hindi. The kitchen staff ended up becoming part of my family there. They lived in the neighboring slum and they also taught me a lot about generosity and simplicity.

Dr. Jayadeva, his wise wife Hansaji, and their son named nothing less than Patanjali have been taking care of the Institute with devotion and strictness. They don’t accept students very easily. I myself got my first letter refused! They said I was too young at that time. Not content with this, I tried again and with my Brazilian teacher’s support, I was accepted. The few Western students who pursue and persevere studying there tend to stay faithful and return as often as they can. During my stay, I met a few “Yoga dinosaurs”- respected teachers in their respective countries who have been on the Yoga road for many decades. Even though they’ve completed their teacher training course long ago, they keep going back to deepen their knowledge.

Bob Butera, director of Yoga Life Institute in Philadelphia, is one of these old students who continues the tradition: “After my six-months intensive teacher training (1989) at The Yoga Institute, I proceeded to complete a PhD degree (1997) from the California Institute of Integral Studies with a dissertation entitled, ‘A Comprehensive Yoga Lifestyle Program for People Living with HIV/AIDS.’ After all my studies and meetings with fellow Yogis, I continue to use the teaching model of The Yoga Institute at my own center that specializes in teacher training as well as Yoga classes in the Classical Yoga Tradition.”

This year, I went back to India, but this time for an internship in Ayurveda, with Dr. Lad, which itself was a treasure. Nevertheless, I could not resist staying at The Yoga Institute towards the end of my trip, so I could see my Yoga friends there. They are in the process of renewing most of the buildings, bringing a more modern and functional look to the compound. To my surprise, they have computer rooms in the hostels, where resident students can surf the Internet with their own laptops- a great luxury, if you have experienced trying to find a cyber café in Santa Cruz. It is from this new room that I write this very article. It smells of fresh paint and incense. Unfortunately, among all the construction work, they have not yet managed to shift the Mumbai domestic airport to somewhere else far from here… The windows still shake with every take off, frequent invitation to take refuge within, a frequent reminder of Yoga.

Ana Renno (Divya Jyoti) is originally from Brazil. Aside from her private Yogatherapy practice, she has worked as a Yogatherapist consultant in hospitals in Boston area, with specialization in the treatment of eating disorders. She currently lives in Crete with her husband, writing her thesis about the clinical research she has conducted on Yoga Psychology applied to eating disorders. You can learn more about her work at www.Yogadj.com.

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