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Gurudev, Yogi Amrit Desai
Carrier of Kripalu Lineage to the West
Gurudev Shri Amritji (Yogi Amrit Desai) is one of a handful of gurus who came to America from India in the early1960s. This wave began the initial Yoga craze that has grown into the massive and diverse Yoga practices we have worldwide today. Amritji is one of the first arrivals and the last living guru from this initial wave, and a pioneer in bringing the authentic practice of Yoga to the West.
The ancient spiritual teachings of India were first introduced in the West by H. H. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), followed by another prominent spiritual master, H. H. Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952). Amritji arrived in North America eight years after Yogananda’s passing. Gurudev was awarded the prestigious title of Jagadacharya in New Delhi 1986 by the World Religious Parliament of India Established by Swami Shri Vivekanandji in 1893.
Following in the footsteps of the earlier great yogis, reaching out to millions worldwide, Amritji has played a key role in recapturing and restoring the profound power and inner dimension of the authentic teachings of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and Yoga Sutras. His approach has created a significant impact in the field of Yoga worldwide. He is recognized as one of the greatest emissaries of India’s ancient yogic heritage to the world.
Homegrown Gurus published by State University of New York, 2013: “…(sic) Desai remains at the forefront of the modern Anglophone (English-speaking) Yoga Revolution in America for almost four decades, with a growing international reputation. He also exports his teaching of Kripalu Yoga through personal demonstrations, talks and teacher training programs to more than 40 countries and acquires thousands of worldwide adherents. Desai’s most noted innovation is that he was the first Indian-born ancient “American Yogi” to introduce systematic teachings and techniques on prana in the U.S.”
Amritji’s 1970 Kundalini awakening experience revealed to him that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is a manual for the practice of Ashtanga Yoga rather than a philosophy of Yoga. Out of this realization, he designed a practice of Yoga that integrates the core principles of the Yoga Sutras into the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, a combined practice of Hatha and Raja Yoga.
In today’s popular approach, Hatha Yoga practice has been separated from Raja Yoga, which inspired Amritji to develop a unique holistic system, reuniting Hatha and Raja Yoga. He called his approach Meditation in Motion, which recaptures the authentic practice of Yoga, described by Patanjali as Eight-limbed Yoga (holistic Yoga), which has been turned into eight-step yoga. Amritji revolutionized the popular notion of Yoga solely as a physical discipline, creating a significant shift in the community of Yoga worldwide. The practice he developed is now known as the Integrative Amrit Method, or the I AM techniques.
Deepak Chopra said, “Yogi Amrit Desai is a pioneer in introducing Yoga to the West, but more significantly through his unique style, his method of teaching draws upon the original spiritual depth that is missing in the popular practice of Hatha Yoga.”
Lord Lakulish and Kripalu Lineage Amritji is the carrier of the Lord Lakulish and Kripalu Shaktipat lineage to the West. He was one of the few disciples to be entrusted with the deepest secrets of the lineage. He received not only Shaktipat diksha from his guru, H.H. Swami Sri Kripalvanandji, but also the rare blessing to give Shaktipat to his disciples in the West.
Dr. David Frawley, (Padma Vibushan) stated, “Yogi Desai revived the ancient teachings of the millennial old Shaivite Yoga, rooted in the Lakulish tradition from Kayavarohan in Gujarat, one of the greatest centers of India’s older Yoga practices…Yogi Desai made these secret teachings once more alive and relevant to the entire world. He has left an indelible influence on modern Yoga, particularly in the West…Yogi Desai has demonstrated a Prana Siddhi in which he can allow the Universal Prana to move not only through his mind and body but also through his environment and into the audience around him, awakening their own inner prana and spiritual intelligence.”
Since the time of his arrival in the U.S. in February 1960 until today, Amritji’s work and teachings have reached millions of seekers and Yoga practitioners. He has been repeatedly recognized, credited and honored for his pioneering work in bringing the authentic practice of Yoga to the world.
On Dec. 10, 1992, the late Prime Minister of India Chandra Shekhar wrote to India’s then Prime Minister Shri Narasimha Rao: “Shri Amritji is an internationally renowned authority in the field of Yoga and exponent of the spiritual heritage for more than 30 years. He has dedicated his life not only to the in depth study and practice of Yoga but to spreading the ancient wisdom of India and its universal teachings throughout the world. Through his efforts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA, USA, has grown fast and has received increased response from people around the world. In fact, I visited the center when I was in the USA and was deeply impressed by the dedication of the Yogacharya… I feel that Yogacharya Amritji deserves the honor for his work and therefore, recommend “Padma Vibhushan” for him as a special case.” This request received a positive response from Prime Minister Rao.
The Rapid Progression of Amritji’s Life Work
Gurudev Shri Amritji started teaching Yoga in the early 1960s in the Philadelphia area. In the late 60’s he formed The Yoga Society of Pennsylvania. With the impact of his genuine in-depth spiritual teachings, his popularity attracted the media as well as large numbers of people to his lectures. He was repeatedly interviewed by newspapers and invited to appear as a guest on radio and television programs. During this time, he traveled and lectured widely, spreading his innovative approach to Yoga to audiences hungry for his unique brand of Yoga and meditation.
The New York Times, April 1987. “As Yogi Desai interacted with each person, it was not what he said that convinced me to trust him as a teacher. It was instead his presence…this combination of radiant energy and responding to each person with a respect, kindness and love that I had never seen before in any human being…”
As his teachings rapidly expanded, more facilities were created to accommodate the growing demand.
• In 1966, the not-for-profit Yoga Society of Pennsylvania grew to 150 Yoga classes attended by more than 2,500 students per week, making it one of the largest Yoga organizations at that time. It created a tremendous following requiring more in depth training and teachings.
• In 1972, the first Kripalu Ashram was created in Sumneytown, PA, to meet the growing demand. The program center provided the residential staff and teachers with in depth study, the practice of Yoga and a yogic lifestyle. As the need for programs grew, the residential staff grew to 70.
• In 1976, the new ashram in Summit Station, PA, was opened to accommodate more students and residential staff. The program center expanded, offering a variety of Yoga trainings and programs with a residential staff of 150.
• In 1983, he founded the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA. This unique facility became one of the largest Yoga and health centers in North America offering a wide range of personal development and professional trainings with a full-time residential volunteer staff of 350.
USA Today, November 9, 1988: “Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health was included as one of the five finest health centers in America. It is among the most prestigious facilities in the country, such as the Charleston Retreat, The Golden Door and Canyon Ranch. Kripalu Center is by far the most economical and available of them all.”
The New York Times, Sunday, April 7, 1991, reported: “The Kripalu Center is a Yoga and meditation center that draws people seeking a more spiritual life…Kripalu is not a place that exists solely for the comfort of the visitors. It is a community of people who are seeking a spiritual path as followers of Yogi Amrit Desai while living at the Center.”
Starting in 1966 and over the next 50 years, Amritji’s main focus has been to provide in depth spiritual teachings and the practice of authentic Yoga for the core residential staff of the five Yoga and health centers he has founded. This has made the core staff uniquely qualified to train the teachers to deliver the inner dimension of Yoga at the teacher training programs. By 1994 Yoga teachers were teaching in 52 states and 45 countries, and through affiliated networking, these teachings were reaching millions worldwide.
Today, more than 8,000 Yoga and Yoga Nidra teachers have been certified in the systems he developed. I AM trained teachers have reached millions around the globe, including many European countries as well as China, Japan, Russia, Australia, Iceland and Canada.
Homegrown Gurus, State University of New York (2013):“Although Desai has not received scholarly attention, he has arguably been one of the most influential and sought-after figures in the development of Hatha Yoga in America over the last 40 years. The Kripalu Yoga Center was an innovative vehicle whereby he could transmit his charismatic leadership.”
Yoga: The Art of Transformation, Smithsonian Publications (2014) page 100: “The sixties brought an infusion of Indian gurus to the U.S., including Swami Muktananda…and Amrit Desai (b. 1932), who established the Yoga Society of Pennsylvania and Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, named for his guru, Swami Kripalvanandji.”
After his 1994 departure from the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Amritji resumed teaching in 1996 at the original Kripalu Ashram in Sumneytown, PA. He refined his teachings into what is now known as The Integrative Amrit Method, (I AM Techniques) that include Amrit Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Quantum Breath Meditation and Yoga Therapy.
In 2001, he founded the Amrit Yoga Institute in Salt Springs, Florida, which is currently an active and thriving Yoga and Ayurveda center that provides in depth trainings and programs to residential staff as well as participants from around the world. In 2014, he co-founded the International University of Yoga and Ayurveda.
Philanthropic Work in India
Yug Prabha, Halol, India (2007): “Yogishri Amrit Desai was honored in his hometown of Halol for his humanitarian works known to offer scholarships to the poor and approximately 5,000 women are helped financially through the Bhuribhen Trust (in his mother’s name) he established 35 years ago. Helpless and poor patients receive free medicines and medical expenses. Recently through donations from his Amrit Yoga Institute has financed the building of the new children’s school in Halol. He has been doing extraordinary work of spreading Indian Vedic culture in America.”
International Recognition for Amritji
• International Grand Master of Yoga, 2014 - from H.H. Jagat Guru Amrta Suryananda Maharaj “Padma Shri”. (The prior two recipients of the award were BKS Iyengar and Dr. Nagendra, SVYASA University, Bangalore.)
• Maharishi Sandipani Award, 2014 – The Ujjain Yog Life Society International at the 4th International Yog Conference, held January 2014 in Ujjain, M.P. India.
• Patanjali Award, 2010 - for Excellence in Yogic Research and Teachings in North America, from AAPNA (Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America).
• Council for Yoga Accreditation International (CYAI), 2012 - The council recognized four inaugural Fellows who have demonstrated extraordinary achievement and contribution to the field of Yoga:
1. Yogi Amrit Desai and Amrit Yoga Institute (AYI), Florida, USA
2. Subodh Tiwari and Kaivalyadham, Lonavala, India
3. Dr. Nagendra and Swami Vivekananda Anusandhana Samsthna (SVYASA), Bangalore, India
4. H.H. Jagat Guru Amrta Suryananda Maharaj “Padma Shri” and The Yoga Portuguese Confederation
• Unity in Yoga Award, 1993 - presented by Unity Yoga Teachers Association in Celebration of 100 years of Yoga in America.
• Padma Vibhushan, 1992 - nominated by the late Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar with a positive response from Prime Minister Narasinha Rao for 1993.
• Vishwa Yoga Ratna, 1987 - presented by the President of India to ten select spiritual leaders from around the world in recognition of lifelong dedication and service in the field of Yoga.
• Maharishi, 1986 - confirmed by the renowned 105-year-old Swami Gangeshwarananda who established more than 14 ashrams in India. He transitioned at age 111.
• Jagadacharya, 1986 - conferred by the World Religious Parliament, New Delhi, India, established by Swami Vivekenanda. This title was bestowed on three eminent spiritual teachers who have played a significant role for following in the footsteps of the great masters.
• Yogacharya, 1980 - conferred on him by H.H. Swami Shri Kripalvanandji, his guru and founder of Kayavarohan Tirtha Shiva Temple.
• Doctor of Yoga, 1974 - awarded by H.H. Jagadaguru Shankaracharya of Dwarka for outstanding contributions to the spiritual heritage of India.
Amritji’s biography, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Master, published in 2012 in honor of his 80th birthday, has won seven literary awards:
• First Place, Yoga and Meditation, Living Now Book Awards • Book of the Year Finalist, Biography, Foreword Reviews • Honorable Mention: o Paris Book Festival o New York Book Festival o London Book Festival o Hollywood Book Festival o Southern California Book Festival
Love and Bliss: Meditations on the Art of Living (2014) has garnered three awards: 2nd place in the poetry division from the Great Midwest and Southern California Book Festivals and Honorable Mention in the Florida Book Festival.
Amritji’s books represent the distinctive original approach to what is missing from the popular approach to Hatha Yoga: Kripalu Yoga Meditation in Motion (Books 1 & 2); Amrit Yoga: Explore, Expand Experience, The Spiritual Depth of Yoga and Amrit Yoga and the Yoga Sutras and The Yoga of Relationships. He is the author of the manuals of Amrit Yoga teacher training and Amrit Yoga Nidra teacher training, as well as hundreds of audios, videos, CDs and DVDs.
Amritji’s most enduring contribution is translating the most esoteric and mystical scriptures of Sanatam Dharma into biologically, psychologically and spiritually based teachings that turn obscure conceptual philosophy into experiential practice. He has built the core principles of Patanjali’s philosophical teachings into the practical application of eight-limbed yoga that holds within it the potential to permanently transform one’s life.
- Sukanya Warren, Peter Mellen, and Francis Mellen (1982). Gurudev: The Life of Yogi Amrit Desai. Kripalu Publications. 117 pages. ISBN 0-940258-07-2, ISBN 978-0-940258-07-5