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.
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.
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
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.