March 2015 

Exploring Yoga Therapy's History: The Yoga Institute 



During our two-week visit to the state of Maharashtra we had the unique opportunity to explore the history of modern Yoga Therapy first at the Yoga Institute in Mumbai and secondly at Kaivalyadham in Lonavala. 

The Yoga Institute was the first Yoga institution open to the public in the modern era. The institute was founded by Sri Yogendra in 1918 after meeting his guru, Paramahansa Madhavadasa. 

Sri Yogendra was a brilliant poet and the Yoga Institute came into being when one of the admirers of Yogendra's poetry offered his house as a Yoga ashram, thereby laying the foundation for the Yoga Institute.


Since it's inception, the Yoga Institute has grown steadily and has contributed to every facet of Yoga including Yoga for children, Yoga for seniors, Yoga for women, and especially Yoga as therapy. Sri Yogendra founded the first Yoga hospital in the modern era in 1920 in the United States. 



Since the earliest days, the institute has organized health camps for specific conditions including heart disease, diabetes, musculo-skeletal conditions, and breathing disorders. They have carried out extensive research on the effects of their therapeutic Yoga programs including a three-year research project that showed how diet and lifestyle could reverse heart disease. 


Today the Yoga Institute, which began in a wooded area almost a hundred years ago, is now surrounded by the hustle and bustle of modern Bombay. The center is a refuge of peace and calm in the midst of the city with up to fifty classes and one thousand students attending daily.




What impressed us most during out visit to the Yoga Institute was the authenticity of the directors, teachers, and staff. In our meeting and interview with Hansaji and Dr. Jayadeva, we were able to see clearly that they embody the true spirit of Yoga. Even with the noise of the big city, the staff is calm and centered with a deep sense of Yoga values. As Hansaji said in her interview, "Yoga is an applied science, not a theoretical science. We can study the techniques but the essential thing is to bring them into our lives." 

Another thing that impressed us about the Yoga Institute was the level of service, seva. A large number of physicians, including the resident medial officer Dr. Sheti, have been teaching Yoga and administering Yoga Therapy courses at the center for as long as thirty years. These professionals have completely integrated the essence of Yoga with western medicine as a true healing art.  


The Yoga Institute also stands out for their dedication to their tradition. Their Yoga museum contains a careful record of the entire Yoga renaissance that began in the 1920's. Sri Yogendra was a central figure in this renaissance. As we explored the history of Yoga at the Yoga Institute, we began to understand how and why the Yoga renaissance occurred at that time in history. 


Beginning in the early 1900's, Mahatma Gandhi became the prime exponent of the Swadeshi movement in which Indians were encouraged to return to their own culture and spiritual heritage. Gandhi was a strong proponent of natural healing which he called "nature cure". He also practiced Hatha Yoga under Swami Kuvalyananda and other masters. Swadeshi was part of a larger movement for Indian independence, Swaraj. Upholding all things Indian including the practice of its traditional healing systems and Yoga was a way of  supporting Swadeshi and Swaraj. 



Because Hatha Yoga prepared the soul, the mind and the physical body optimally, the leaders of the Yoga renaissance like Sri Yogendra saw this ancient science as an ideal vehicle for supporting the emergence of a new India based on a restoration of its traditional spiritual values.


Through our visit to the Yoga Institute and other centers, we also discovered five reasons why therapeutic applications were such an important part of the Yoga renaissance: 


 1. Swami Vivekananda, one of the founders of Modern Yoga in the late 1800's believed in the "best of the east and best of the west ". He wanted Indians to study science and the West to integrate Indian spirituality.


2. Most of the founders of modern Yoga Therapy were trained in western education systems and had exposure to the scientific method. Some were medical practitioners; others had experienced Yoga's healing effects in themselves.


3. A main focus of the Yoga renaissance was bringing Yoga to the general public. Focusing on the therapeutic aspect was a way of expanding interest in Hatha Yoga. If Yoga could heal the ill, it obviously had tremendous health benefits for everybody.  


4. Another focus of the Yoga Renaissance was Service, Seva, and therapeutic Yoga was one of most immediate ways to serve those most in need.


5. One facet of the independence movement was showing that Indian culture and its healing systems were not inferior to western medicine. Placing Yoga in a medical context supported by research gave Hatha Yoga legitimacy.



Following our time at the Yoga Institute, we travelled to Lonavala in the highland area above Mumbai where we had the opportunity to visit Kaivalyadham, another of the founding institutions of Yoga and Yoga Therapy in India. More about Kaivalyadham in the next update!


~Joseph Le Page


Read more....

A Journey Through Indian History, Part Two

A Journey Through Indian History, Part One
Return to S-VYASA, Jan. 2015

Soukya International Holistic Healing Center, Jan. 2015


Contact IYT:

Outside US: (415) 670-9642 PST
Questions about our products?        

For relevant industry information, IYT news and to connect
with fellow IYT students and teachers worldwide, remember to