The Yoga Institute in Santacruz is not just a well-known institute for yoga instruction in Mumbai, but it also has a rich legacy of more than nine decades behind it.
“The Yoga Institute is the oldest organised centre of yoga in the world,” said Hansa J Yogendra, director of the institute. Started in 1918 in a bungalow at Versova beach by Shri Yogendraji, the institute moved to Santacruz in 1948 where instructions first began in a small building.
Hansa, giving details of the establishment, said, “Shri Yogendraji moved the institute 14 times before it was located in Santacruz. Homi Dadima approached Shri Yogendraji for his health problem. They got resolved. He offered his father-in-law Dadabhai Naoroji’s house to start an ashram. That was the birth of The Yoga Institute at Versova, a beach in the western suburb of Mumbai.”
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Shalesh Parikh, a trustee of the institute, added, “When it was first established in Santacruz, people used to stay in the same building and held classes in there. Over the years, it has expanded into three buildings spread over one acre — two small buildings, ground plus one and a new building which is ground plus four. It also has four massive halls of 2,000 square feet each and even a museum which shows the history of yoga all through the ages.”
The aim of Shri Yogendraji, the founder, was to bring yoga to the householders and change the earlier system where yoga could be learnt by becoming sanyasis in ashrams, passed on from guru to disciple.
Shri Yogendraji studied yoga from Malsar, Gujarat. Once he completed his training, he decided that the benefits of it should be given to all instead of keeping it limited to some. Thus Shri Yogendraji gained a reputation as the “Father of Modern Yoga Renaissance”.
It is interesting to know that such an institute was started by a person alone before being joined by others such as his wife Sita Devi in 1927, who popularised yoga among women which was not very common at the time and also wrote the first book on yoga for women.
In 1997, the institute conducted the World Householders’ Yoga Conference which was also attended by The Dalai Lama. In the beginning, the financial needs for the institute were met in an innovative way. Hansa elaborated upon the unique idea, saying, “Shri Yogendraji manufactured and sold a book polish to save book from worms. The Oxford University press bought it and that helped the financial crisis.”
“Now, it is registered as public charitable trust and it is a non-profit organisation which gets financial aid solely from the revenue of students’ membership fee,” said Parikh.
From a small bungalow in Versova beach, The Yoga Institute has now expanded to non-residential and residential facilities for teacher-training programmes, housing students from the world over. Hansa takes pride in the institute’s reach, saying, “At times, more than students from more than 25 countries stay in the institute for various teachers training courses. Till date, more than 40,000 teachers have been trained and the impact has been felt worldwide. Our residential facilities are booked almost six months in advance.”
Though the institute has grown in stature, it still maintains its foundations of simplicity, sincerity and non-commercial nature. Last year, the institute also published a book — The Legendary Yogendra Family — which gives information regarding the founders, their message to the people and their journey with the institute.
“From humble beginning but with gigantic vision, The Yoga Institute has created an impact in the world of yoga. The stay in the institute brings a huge difference in their lives. They not just learn yoga, they live yoga. There are thousands of examples,” said Hansa.
One of the students here, Sheetal Kapoor, is a third-generation learner as her family has been associated with the institute for a long time. She is all praises for the institute. “My grandfather learnt yoga from the founder, my parents from Dr Jayadev and I have learnt from Hansaji and other senior gurus. The authenticity of the place is very appealing which is one of the reasons we chose this institute. Also, yoga for householders is taught here. We are typical householders, and doing yoga for two-three hours doesn’t fit our schedule. Here, we learn to incorporate yoga in our daily activities such as stretches after waking up in the morning. It also helps us with our frame of mind in difficult situations and dealing with family and peer pressure. What draws me in is that inspite of being in the heart of city, is that the institute is calm, peaceful and it teaches yoga as a way of life,” said Sheetal.