February 17, 2014:
We spent a week at S-VYASA, near Bangalore, the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana. As the worlds only full fledged Yoga University it is by far the world's leading Yoga research center. We knew it would take at least a week just to get a glimpse of everything that goes on here. Joseph had spent a week here in 1995, but at that time it was still a Yoga institute and has been growing steadily since that time.
The history of the world's leading Yoga University begins with one woman. Her name is Sushri V Lakshmi Amma. She began her studies in medicine and in her second year fell ill and spent 15 years bedridden and hardly able to move. When she had reached a point of wanting to end her life she went to a series of lectures on Vedanta, the science of awakening to ones true Self. Immediately she began to improve and soon experienced full recovery. She was so awestruck by the power of the mind to heal that she decided to create a center, or ashram, where others could explore healing through Yoga.
Sushri V Lakshmi Amma
She bought a piece of land outside of Bangalore and was soon joined by her nephew, Dr. Nagendra, formerly a research associate at NASA, and her niece Dr. Nagarathna who was a physician working in England. They were drawn to a vision of healing rooted in Vedic culture, Yoga, and spirituality, and the center began to grow slowly. They began with very modest means and one story is told of how they didn't have money to put curtains in the first rooms and so they used old saris.
Right from the very start they knew that the benefits of Yoga for healing could only be brought into the mainstream if there was research to support it. In the early 1980's they began a study of the effects of Yoga for asthma. This study, which showed that Yoga could actually cure asthma, was published in the British Journal of Medicine in 1986. This study was a turning point, not only for S-VYASA but for Yoga Therapy as a whole. After that, the center grew steadily to include various training programs in Yoga Therapy a series as well as international Yoga Therapy conferences.
| || In 2002 S-VYASA became the first Yoga University recognized by the Indian government with a wide range of programs including a B.A, M.A, and Ph.D. in Yoga Therapy. Participants in these programs explore a wide range of Yoga theories, methods, and techniques, all deeply rooted in traditional text. At the post graduate level there is a strong focus on research, and Ph.D candidates must publish three papers in research journals in order to complete their program.|
While at S-VYASA, we were received with great warmth and cordiality. We interviewed several of the department heads and also participated in their Arogyadhama healing program. Arogyadhama means abode of healing and the participants are placed in a comprehensive yogic healing environment from morning to night. The day begins at 5:30 with Pranayama and meditation. There are a number of different techniques but a continually repeating theme is the use of the three letters that comprise AUM, as well as the AUM chant itself. The individual letters are used to awaken and heal the lower, middle and upper parts of the body respectively, while the chanting of OM is used to heal the whole body.
The next part of the morning program is a general assembly of all students, faculty, and participants in the arogyadhama healing program, over 500 people in all. This segment includes the chanting of Sanskrit mantras and an address by the chancellor or one of the vice chancellors. These are inspired spiritual discourses centered on aspects of Yoga or Bhagavad Gita. Some parts of this program are also used for extolling the values needed for campus life such as keeping the campus clean. It was only when we left the general assembly amid a throng of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors together with graduate students and faculty of all kinds that the whole concept of a yoga university really began to sink in. We heard the students chattering about the upcoming exams on topics such as the Gunas and five Koshas, along with the ever-present theme of scientific validation and research.
These young people have all the concerns about grades and other academic matters as in any other university around the world, but they also share a burning enthusiasm to spread the teachings of yoga and its health benefits far and wide.
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The school spirit was clearly seen during a festival day when more than two hundred of the students, both men and women, practicing in separate areas, performed a series of 108 sun salutes as a symbol of their dedication to yoga. What became abundantly clear to us from our visit at S-VYASA is that the Yoga University is the future of Yoga, when is only a question of time.
The participants are divided into groups based on an extensive intake and evaluation with an M.D. who is also a Yoga Therapist. These groups include all of the main health conditions ranging from cardiovascular to respiratory to musculoskeletal conditions and immune system conditions such as cancer. The specific Asana techniques have been designed by Dr. Nagendra and Dr. Nagarathna and are also tailored to each student's individual needs.
After breakfast the students participate in an evaluation session in which an upper level student from the program for Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Physicians, under the supervision of an M.D, checks each participants vital signs and also takes time to chat with them about how their program is going. Other interesting measures are taken daily including pulse, breaths per minute, and breath holding capacity.
The next segment of the treatment is Ayurvedic or Naturopathic therapies. The original yoga institute focused mainly on yoga therapy, but over time it grew to include India's other main forms of natural healing. The therapy received depends on each participant's initial intake evaluation, and also on their ongoing progress.
Other important facets of the healing process are cleansing Kriyas, at least one session of psychotherapy during each patients stay, a specialized process of Yoga Nidra relaxation mixed with slow motion movement, chanting of bhajans, tratak, and a series of yogic memory and word games to create a group spirit and end the day.
The research projects performed within these therapeutic groups forms the basis of much of the research at S-VYASA. We knew that S-VYASA was by far the world's leader in published yoga research with nearly 300 papers on Yoga, which is equivalent to ten percent of all research published in the field. Even with this understanding, we were completely unprepared for what we experienced in the new research facility, now in the final phases of coming into operation. There were laboratories for every conceivable aspect of yoga including autonomic function testing, an exercise physiology lab, a sleep lab, a psychophysiology lab, a cognitive neuroscience lab, and even a bioenergy lab to explore the human auric field. Joseph could see that if we left Lilian, a biologist by profession, near any of those testing stations she could be there for a very long time!
What stands out most in all the people that we met and interviewed is that they are not just academicians or researchers, but are, first and foremost yogis deeply committed to spiritual transformation and the healing that occurs through this transformation. We had one very unique interview with Dr. Padmini Tekur, who has been treating patients at Arogyadhama for over ten years. What we experienced in her is a rare combination of MD, healer and spiritual guide, and she imparts all three of these as a single approach to Yoga healing.
|She told us that she sees miracles at Arogyadhama every week and that anyone can be healed through the power of Yoga. On our last day at S-VYASA we saw a woman whom we had met together with her husband on our first day. She was in a wheelchair and had little mobility for the last 30 years due to Rheumatoid Arthritis. As we were leaving we watched her make slow but steady progress with a walker! |
One of our most powerful meetings at S-VYASA was with Mohanji, a long time monk of the Ramakrishna order. We had come to hear his words of wisdom, but he surprised us by saying that we seemed like very nice people and that he wanted to hear our stories. We told him about our trip from Kerala and how we felt that we weren't traveling but rather being guided at each step of the journey by a force that was both within us and surrounding us. He then described with both great depth, and great humor, his younger days as a wondering monk when he went from place to place with absolutely no money or support of any kind. He confirmed that he was indeed cared for each step of the way, but that the various obstacles encountered were also an essential part of the journey. There were times when he was almost beaten up or arrested, and when he was ill, among the people who were most likely to take him in or care for him were Catholic priests. Apart from the challenges, he said there came a time when he felt himself to be completely free with the earth for his bed and the star filled sky for his blanket. Whenever people would stop and ask him "where are you going" or "what are you doing?" He would simply reply, "I am searching for truth." And now our journey continues. It's true that we have our car and our loyal driver, Bindu Kumar, but the essence is the same, learning to trust in all life brings as a blessing that leads us surely toward awakening.
~ Joseph Le Page