Article from Life Positive
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 Ashtanga 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 kriya which 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 of yoga 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, Kaivalyadhama conducts 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.
OUTLOOK TRAVELLER ARTICLE
KAIVALYADHAMA - The Tranquil Path To Yoga
By Kavery Nambisan
October in Lonavla is the month when umbrellas, raincoats and waterproof footwear can finally be put away with confidence. The monsoon season (from June to September) has just finished overwhelming this shallow basin of land, surrounded by low hills, an average deluge of 200 inches. The thick mist, which draped itself curtain-like on the windows, melts away, the skies become clear bright and the air is silk. It was in mid-October that I opted for the one-week Yoga course in Kaivalyadhama, excited by the prospect of spending an entire week away from the hassles of daily living.
Kaivalyadhama does not announce its presence in Lonavla; it does not try to attract tourists who flood the hill town at all times of the year. With its well-laid paths shaded with trees, abundant green cover between the built-up areas, and a serene campus spread out over 180 acres, the centre is just the right place for that invaluable sense of ‘getting away’. Amid this attractive quietitude, there function two research departments, a college of Yoga, a Yoga hospital and healthcare centre, an ashram and a mandir. Many of the tutors and the administrator live in residential quarters.
The administrator, Subodh Tiwari, was my first interface with the centre. I checked into my room on the first floor of the main building on a Sunday and went to the office to meet him. Having spent his childhood on the campus (his father was the secretary and disciple of Swami Kuvalayananda, the founder of Kaivalyadhama), he has a strong sense of involvement with the centre. More importantly, he also makes a very good ‘face’ of the centre for a newcomer, because his helpfulness is a perfect indicator of the care and courtesy exhibited by the rest of the staff.
The first prerequisite was to undergo a medical examination. The lady medical officer who saw me filled out a small booklet with my personal details: general good health but a chronic back pain acquired over years of stooping over the operating table in my role as a surgeon. After the medical, our group of ten (three men, five women and two schoolgirls) listened to an introductory talk about the benefits of not just Yoga but also Naturopathy, by one of the tutors. Even those who join a simple Yoga course are treated to the benefits of Naturopathy here.
At Kaivalyadhama, a typical day starts early, at 5.30 am, with a morning bell. The thought of a hot drink drags me out of bed. At 6 am, ‘herb tea’ (a milk-based drink with spices — tulsi, pepper, ginger and cardamom) is ready in the dining room downstairs. After a brisk walk in the nippy air there is time for a bath before the first session. Between 8 and 9 am, Yogic kriyas are offered for those with problems like chronic sinusitis, asthma or nasal congestion; for this, a few small essentials may have to be purchased in their shop.
The Yoga class starts at 9 am and is held separately for men and women, which is perhaps common sense. I wouldn’t want men to see my first attempts at Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) or Dhanurasana (the bow pose), for instance. Our young tutor starts with a short invocation, “Sahana vavatu…. sahanau bhunattu…” (Let me and my guru work harmoniously together and enlighten ourselves…). She goes on to demonstrate each asana, with the correct breathing technique and posture, and takes us through them giving careful attention to each person.
The asanas, which are taught during the one-week course, have been carefully chosen to suit an average individual who is new to Yoga and can be followed clearly even in a group. They are simple to understand and easy to learn but concentrate on different parts of the body. The classes also ensure that avid students don’t push themselves with too much too soon. Each day, a few new postures are shown. So by the end of the week, the trainees will feel the improved tone of their bodies and will have learnt enough to be able to manage at home. Pranayam is taught separately since complementing Yoga with breath control would need more time.
Having practised Yoga for several years, I went to Kaivalyadhama more with the intention of observing their methods rather than for any personal benefit or any sense of excitement. But from the very first day I began to enjoy myself. I learnt several new asanas, which I will now include in my daily practice, both for their simplicity and for the benefits to my back.
On the average day, we hasten to the dining hall for a late breakfast. The food being purely satvik, I need plenty to feel satisfied. The food is good but you can’t eat too much of fruit or salad anyway and you certainly won’t overdo the herbal tea. We are all naturally curious about the reasons that bring the others to a Yoga centre. This throws up a truly interesting range of goals and experiences.
Three among us (the two teenagers and an NRI banker) want to lose weight. While the NRI needs to lose a good 15 kg around his middle, the girls appear to be heading for the anorexic thinness in vogue these days. Now and then we caution them while cheerfully tucking into second and third helpings. One of the men, with a thyroid problem that had improved after a month’s treatment at the centre, has come for a review and a week-long follow-up treatment.
One matronly lady has been visiting regularly for “peace and quiet”. This time round, her house in Goa is being renovated and she doesn’t like noise. Simple. Then there’s a 30-something Korean doing his diploma in the college of Yoga. He loves talking to women (especially to the two teenagers) and one day in the dining room announces that all Indian women look alike. The matron from Goa replies sweetly that to her, all men from Korea, China and Japan look like brothers!
Two elderly ladies with arthritic problems have trouble coping with some asanas and the tutor takes them through gently. The third is a young sadhwi from Rajasthan. The one-week Yoga course is courtesy a relative who owns a major chikki shop in town. The sadhwi is uncomfortable doing asanas in her sari and with some goading from the rest of us, turns up on the fourth day in a smart blue tracksuit. The change in her is dramatic. We watch enviously as she effortlessly goes through every asana.
After breakfast every morning and again late afternoon, we head for the Naturopathy centre. My backache is treated with a hot wet pack, massage, hip-bath, whole body massage and sauna with a face pack thrown in. The mud used for the packs is collected from the hills and is considered to be very beneficial. The staff are meticulous and able, the methods and materials used are hygienic. The naturopath monitors progress and makes changes in treatment if necessary. Turning in early at nights comes easily and becomes the norm here, because you get up at 5.30 am and dinner is served at 7 pm. Evening discourses and lectures are held in the library after dinner and are over by 9 pm.
Kaivalyadhama has a small library with books on Yoga and related subjects, CDs that can be watched there, general books and fiction.
The simplicity and laidback style at Kaivalyadhama is in stark contrast to many centres I have seen; centres where everyone is rushing about, where the teachers are so harried, they have no time for a quiet talk with an individual; an atmosphere which can give rise to sub-clinical stress, much like in an ever-busy hospital or a gym. At Kaivalyadhama the mood was always, always relaxed. Yoga apart, this tranquility is the centre’s special gift and explains why loyal students and patients visit repeatedly.
Kaivalyadhama was established in 1924 by Swami Kuvalayananda who had been initiated into Yoga by Paramhamsa Madhavdasji of Malsar. His approach was unique in that he believed in the scientific enquiry of Yoga. This has been a major contribution of Kaivalyadhama in the 83 years of its existence.
At the Scientific Research Department, asanas, bandhas, mudras and kriyas are subjected to experiments based on Physiology, Radiology, Psychology and Biochemistry among others.
The Philosophico-Literary Research Department tries to look rationally at the traditions of Yoga so as to enable an evolving society to use it to advantage. The ethical, spiritual and social aspects are researched here; it has an extensive library of 25,000 books and is one of the largest reference centres for scholars.
The GS College of Yoga (established in 1951) conducts two popular residential courses: the 9-month diploma course and a shorter 6-week certificate course. The theory and practice of Yoga are taught by a faculty of experts to students who come from all over the world. The hospital, started in 1961, treats ailments of all types applying Yoga and Naturopathy. Regular workshops/ seminars are organised to initiate people into better understanding and use of Yoga for prevention of ill health. Yoga Mimamsa is their journal published to spread awareness about Yoga as a way towards spiritual upliftment.
The centre is funded by the central and state governments for its scientific and research activities. There are weeklong workshops and seminars round the year on topics ranging from stress management, back care, diabetes, obesity and arthritis to meditation and spirituality (details can be had through email, telephone or their website; see Fast Facts on page 355). The essence of Kaivalyadhama is that it offers efficiency without frills. The Yoga sessions and the Naturopathy are really worth the money you spend.
TREATMENTS AND TARIFFS
A 1-week course (Sunday to Sunday) of Yoga therapy, which includes Yoga asanas, Yogic kriyas, Pranayam and Naturopathy, is conducted round the year. This can be extended to a longer stay of 4 weeks or more. The cost per day, with board and lodging, is Rs 300 (single) and Rs 400 (double). Foreigners are charged US$15 and US$12 respectively. Rooms with attached bathrooms cost Rs 600 (US$25) and Rs 400 (US$15) respectively.
The tariff includes boarding, lodging, Yoga and Naturopathy. Yogasanas are taught and Naturopathy treatments given to day visitors as well. Twice-a-day Yoga sessions cost Rs 150 (1 hr per session) for a week and Rs 300 for a month.Prices for individual Naturopathy treatments range from Rs 25 for a hot wet pack, local area massage, mud pack, or infra red treatment, to Rs 100 for a steam and sauna, Rs 250 for a full massage to Rs 300 for a Shirodhara.
The therapists (Yoga trainer, naturopath, Ayurvedic doctor) are trained and certified in their respective fields. The Yoga teachers have trained at Kaivalyadhama College of Yoga. The masseurs have been efficiently trained by the naturopath at Kaivalyadhama.