Shri Yogendra — Yoga With Love for People

Yoga is common in its spirit.
A. G. Safronov. “Yoga: Physiology, Psychosomatics, Bioenergetics”

Shri Yogendra (Manibhai Haribhai Desai) (1897 – 1989) is the founder of the Yoga-therapy Institute in Santacruz, Mumbai. He played one of the key roles in the “Renaissance of Yoga” and his unresting activity promoted the wide spread of the ideas of this classical tradition in the 20th century.

 Shri Yogendra was born on November 18th, 1897, in the village of Surat, the Gujarat state. It was already in his teen years that he revealed his talents in creative writing: he established “The Association of Libertine (Free-Thinking) People”, he wrote and he issued the Bible of the Free-thinking people in his book “Life Problems” and he continued to write much –poetry, essays, as well as short stories – later on when he was studying philosophy and Sanskrit at St. Xavier College in Bombay.

 On August 26, 1919, the campus roommates persuaded the skeptical young scholar to take part in a discussion with Paramahamsa Madhavdasaji*, the yogi. This is how he describes this encounter:

“…Even upon coming to Madhava’s house I still had some mixed emotions… I felt all the power of this person as soon as I saw him. All my disdain to “sadhakas” vanished in an instant and all my doubts were dispelled after I looked into his eyes. There came an inexplicable feeling of complete and profound understanding. I was sensing the simplicity and grandeur, some inexorable attraction to Master…”. This was the meeting of a Teacher and a Student that radically changed Yogendra’s life.

From that day on, in addition to his study at college, Yogendra started his intensive practice of yoga. Having actually sensed the whole power of the ancient techniques the student caught up in the idea of making the obtained knowledge accessible to everyone by changing its rank from sacrament for the selected few into the science that is understandable and useful to population masses.

Soon one of the most influential persons of Bombay, Dadabhai Naoroji**, offered him a residence at Versova beach (the western outskirt of Bombay) as an ashram for teaching yoga to people. And so on the 25th of December, year 1918, the first Yoga Institute opened its doors.

In 1919 they launched the Yoga Institute in New York. In 1920 the first book “The Lost Science of 5000 Years Ago” was published, and in 1921 the first documentary film about yoga was released by Paramount studio. Yogendra took a tour around the United States, delivered lectures and performed X-ray investigation of exercises, this being a big innovation of that time.

In 1922, much concerned about his father’s health, he was forced to move back to India and proceed with his active work there. He was busy studying philosophy and writing books: in 1924 in cooperation with Surendranath Dasgupta*** he pursued the study and analysis of the “prana” category basing upon ancient sources and manuscripts. In 1927, in scope of the tour that he took around India, he delivered lectures and studied different directions of yoga of that time; he also visited the Himalayas.

 But for research activity the main direction of Yogendra’s work was the attempt to develop simplified complexes of asanas, pranayamas and hygienic procedures in order to make them comprehensible and throw them open to ordinary people. Meditative techniques were also adapted to the needs in the world of today.

In 1927, following his father’s precept, he got married to Sita Devi and relocated the Institute to Bulsar.

In 1933 they started the issue of the “Yoga” magazine where they published articles on Indology, philosophy, yoga techniques, valueology, sociology and so on. There came the first book on yoga for women, “Simple Poses for a Woman”, authored by Sita Devi.

Following his father’s death in 1935 he moved to Bombay, proceeding with his active work in parallel with searching for a site for the institute. Having moved from one place to another, after 14 relocations, in 1947 the institute finally found its home in the district of Santacruz. The institute was visited by delegations from the USSR, Japan, Bulgaria, USA and other countries; in cooperation with UNESCO they carried out studies on specific effect of yoni-mudra on one’s organism.

 In 1950ies Shri Yogendra resigned the Institute management to his eldest son, Jayadeva Yogendra, Ph.D., who together with his wife Smt. Hansaji arranges for educational and training programs on yoga.

Never for a moment the Institute stops its activity: in 1952 they actively promoted the program of yoga classes in Indian secondary schools; in 1958 they introduced courses on preparation of yoga instructors, started publishing books and launched the 2-days’ programs for people with different types of diseases.

Shri Yogendra died in 1989, aged 92, having managed to implement one of his most cherished dreams – the establishment and publishing of the “Cyclopaedia Yoga” which first 2 volumes were published shortly before his death.


*Paramahamsa Madhavdasji (1798 — 1921) was a yoga master from Bengali. For more than 50 years he was travelling around India and practicing yoga in the Himalayas; after this, aged 80, he started teaching, having settled in the town of Baroda, Gujarat, on the bank of the Narmada river. The most well-known of his students are Shri Yogendra and Swami Kuvalayananda; they both promoted popularization of yoga among broad masses of population.

**Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917) — a Professor of Mathematics, writer, industrialist, political leader, the Prime-Minister of Baroda. He founded the first modern political organization in Western India and East India Association in Britain. One of his most-known works is “Poverty and Un-British Rule in India” that favoured the establishment of liberation movement. He participated in organization of Indian National Congress and took its chair for 3 times.

*** Surendranath Dasgupta (1885—1952) is an Indian historian, religious and Sanskrit scholar. Dasgupta became mostly famous for his 5volumes of “A History of Indian Philosophy” that contains fundamental data on the history of Indian religions and sciences. The major achievement of Dasgupta is the discovery of unknown and systematic description of little-known traditions of views, as well as the study of Indian mysticism.

Referenced literature:

  1. «Life of Shri Yogendra: the householder yogi». SANTAN RODRIGUES,1997
  2. « How yoga entered into our life».Smt. Hansaji Jayadeva Yyogendra, The Yoga Institute, Santacruz, Mumbai
  3. Cyclopaedia Yoga, vol.1-4, The Yoga Institute, Santacruz, Mumbai


Elena Akhramieieva

Yoga Instructor




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