By Anita Ramchandani
Set up in 1924 at Lonavla on the Mumbai-Pune Highway, Kaivalyadhama is not only the country’s premier yoga institute but is also a repository of precious, ancient learning
I arrive on a bright sunny May day, yet Lonavla, in Western India, seems to have been blessed with the rains already, as a cool gust of breeze wafts through my hair. I enter a little gate, that nowhere suggests there is a sprawling 80 acres of lush green land behind it. I am greeted by a friendly staff member, Subodh Tiwari, who looks after the yoga hospital. He offers me a healthy breakfast—sprouts, watermelon and kada which is the ‘tea’ made of milk (fresh from their cowshed), ginger and ground tulsi (basil). He makes us comfortable in his cabin and begins.
‘Kaivalyadhama was started in a bungalow rented by Prabha Shankar Patni, the then Dewan of Bhavnagar, at Lonavla. Swami Kuvalayananda laid its foundation in 1924.’ Kaivalyadhama teaches and follows the Yoga of Patanjali, the yogic seer of the eighth century. Patanjali, who was the first to standardize yoga practice, drew up eight steps for silencing the mind: restraints and observances, postures, breath control, withdrawal, slowing of mind, contemplation and meditation. These eight steps are a practical way in Yoga Sutra to progress towards self-realization by patiently and persistently cultivating virtue by a set pattern of discipline, and by systematically trying to wash away the impurities of the mind and making it (the mind) progressively pure and cleansed.
My host offers to walk me about the premises to see for myself. We start at the SADT Gupta Yogic Hospital which Tiwari himself looks after; it is one of the four main centers, each complementing the others in various ways to make for a healthy lifestyle.
Here, disorders are treated through yogic therapy. Diseases like backache, asthma, spondylitis, high blood pressure and stress disorders are attended to. People who just want to learn yoga are also welcome. A nature cure center has also been started to complement the therapy. Simple treatments like steam bath, mudpack and massage are available here.
A typical day includes waking up at 5:30 a.m. when you drink a glass of herbal tea, and at 6:15 a.m. you attend a kriyawhich is the internal cleansing process. Then the teaching of asanas (yogic postures) begins, after which lunch is served at 12:00 p.m. The food is typically sattvic, which means no non-vegetarian and spices. ‘Sattvic food is calming for the personality. The diet is mithar (moderate), and only two teaspoons of oil are used for 40 people,’ I am assured. ‘The rest of the day people go about their own regimes, which are chalked out by the doctors. They visit the naturopathy center for mud-packs, massages and steam-bath, and if they have some spare time, they can just walk over to the main building which houses a library of 30,000 books for their reading pleasure,’ says my host as we walk into the naturopathy center.
He insists I try on a mudpack. Brij Mohan Talwar, who is here on a two-week stay to find help for his hypertension, diabetes and obesity, says it has already started helping him. ‘I have learned 12 asanas, my blood pressure is lower and I couldn’t be feeling better.’ But that’s not the only reason he is here, he says. He looks at it as a getaway, a retreat, and is happy just spending his time relaxing and taking massages. ‘Normally people have to stay for a minimum of eight days, but we have short-duration camps,’ says Tiwari, as he introduces me to a small group of people who are here to attend a four-day discourse program on the Kaival Upanishads by Swami Anubhavanand. Shiela Chitnis, who is part of this group, says: ‘I am here to unlearn many of the things I have learned. I come for happiness, a good environment, relaxation, a loving atmosphere…’ ‘And good food,’ adds Amit Goyal, who is also here for the same camp.
Some interesting conversation and a refreshing mudpack later, we are off to the G.S. College of Yoga and Cultural Synthesis, which trains yoga teachers. The courses vary from a regular one-year postgraduate course to a six-week certificate course for teachers and others. There are also various refresher courses. It is the only holistic center recognized by the Ministry of Education for Higher Studies in India. Kiara is here all the way from Italy to attend a six-week teaching course. Her yoga teacher in Italy, under whom she has been learning for the past 10 years, studied at this center and, therefore, recommended it to her when she decided to teach yoga.
Kiara, who was a marketing manager with a private firm in Italy, found that she was badly stressed in her job and not able to devote enough time to her family. ‘Yoga has brought me peace of mind, made me more calm and relaxed. It has also improved my relationships. I now want to spend the rest of my life teaching this wonderful art.’ Besides, Kiara feels her body has also become more toned and flexible. She has just had a baby, and says that owing to the regular practice ofyoga she never had the pains or troubles of pregnancy. ‘The moment of giving birth was the most wonderful moment in my life. I felt no pain, had no complications and felt full of energy.’ I ask her how she likes the surroundings and campus, to which she promptly replies: ‘Well, one doesn’t come here for five-star treatment. Still, I get everything I want here, even hot water for my bath.’
Finally, we check out the Scientific Research Department, which carries out research in various yoga practices from the psycho-physiological point of view, with the help of modern scientific equipment and methods. This center also measures the biochemical changes that occur in a person practicing yoga. The department has just completed a two-year study on the effects of yoga on blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. I am told that the results show that most people practicing this form of yoga are completely cured of blood pressure problems, the diabetics have found their sugar levels controlled and asthmatics find a 75 per cent improvement in their health. The complementary Philosophical-Literary Research Department is engaged in research, particularly to unfold knowledge related to ethical, social, philosophical and spiritual aspects of yoga.
Swami Kuvalayananda, the founder of the center, is well known the world over as the pioneering exponent of scientific yoga, rejecting anything that was disproved by scientific investigation. He was also a poet and Sanskrit scholar. ‘Through his continuous and missionary zeal in promoting research and yoga therapy, he built Kaivalyadhama, which even 75 years later is a leading center for learning and practicing yoga,’ says Tiwari.
Swami Kuvalayananda’s spiritual guru was Paramahamsa Madavdas Maharaj of Malsar, who was a legendary figure due to his yogic power. He was also concerned with the role spirituality could play to uplift society. Swami Kuvalayananda fulfilled this with Kaivalyadhama. The center does not charge people who cannot afford the fees, but are still eager to learn. Swami Digambarji, one of Swami Kuvalayananda’s first disciples and first subject for scientific investigations, took over from him as head after his demise. Today, Kaivalyadhama is managed by a board of trustees headed by Swami Maheshananda.
Kaivalyadhama teaches various kriyas and asanas for different problems, for the stress and tensions of today’s city life. All, however, should know the basic internal cleansing process and a few asanas. It recommends a progressive approach to learning yoga. Start with the simple lotus posture and move on to other asanas, according to your capacity, with normal breathing. The next step is pranayama or disciplined breathing, and finally pranadharana (fixing the mind on breathing). However, each step must be practiced with the guidance of a certified yoga teacher or guru only.
The institute, which started with one building, now has 30 buildings. Besides the regular courses, Kaivalyadhamaconducts workshops, seminars and classes all over India, including Rajkot, Mumbai, Delhi and Bhopal. It has branches in France and the USA. Several private firms invite instructors from Kaivalyadhama to teach their staff yoga. They also train the local police force. They were the first to combine an Aids awareness program with yoga. If that’s not enough, the center has been visited and commended by Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Indira Gandhi and the Dalai Lama.
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