Hatha yoga is based upon feasibility of spiritual and psychical enhancement by means of developing one’s body, reveal of its hidden potential aimed at providing conditions to get oneself prepared for perception of reality and “supreme truths”. In Greece it was referred to as the “way of somatic people”, i.e. people of body, substance.
Swami Kuvalayananda – a yogi, a thinker, a philosopher, a scientist, a social and political activist, one of initiators of the Indian National Independence Movement. The man whose active work promoted the spread of Yoga to the West, favoured its popularization among population masses. The majority of his works were dedicated to scientific study of ancient practices and their effect on human body and mind. And it was due to these works that for the first time ever in its history Yoga happened to be taken “seriously” by demanding academic communities and Western intellectuals.
Jagannatha Ganesa Gune (this is the original name of Swami Kuvalayananda) was born on August 30, year 1883, in Dhaboi (Baroda) village, in the state of Gujarat. For some time he was studying in Pune, and in 1903 he won a scholarship and entered the Baroda College, the department of Sanskrit studies and Philology, that he successfully graduated from in 1910. Ganesa’s student years were filled with events that formed up the whole life journey of the scientist. In addition to academics Ganesa Gune was exceptionally active in social life, he was enthusiastic about modern ideas of Bal Gangadhar Lokmanya Tilak* and Sri Aurobindo who at that time used to give lectures in Baroda. He took active part in Tilak’s National movement against Britain’s policy that was launched in Baroda and Surat.
It was around this period that under the supervision of Professor Rajaratna Manikrao ** (1907-1910) he started practicing physical culture and investigating the effect of exercises using the attainments and methods of physiology; it was at that time that he developed the ideas of necessity of essential physical education for young people in India. After graduation he was actively travelling throughout India promoting the ideas of his.
In 1916 he became a member of Khandesh Education Society and started his active career of a teacher; from years 1921 to 1923 he was the head of the society college. Besides, he became the chairman of the Physical Education Committee appointed by Bombay Committee of Physical Education, as well as the member of the Central Advisory Board of Physical Education.
At this period the fate threw this active public figure and the patriot of his homeland with his future teacher, Sri Parmahamsa Madhavdasji Maharaj, a Yoga master from Bengali. It was he who inspired Gune on investigation of “inexplicable psycho-physiological effects” of yoga. “… his spirit of a materialist was searching for scientific explanation (of these effects)… and he decided to dedicate his life to scientific study of Yoga and accurate interpretation of its influence upon human organism and human mind” (D. G. Vakharkar***, 1984:4).
Kuvalayananda’s life was about to take another significant twist. He concentrated all the fervor and dedication of an Indian public activist on research study of yoga practice and exercises. Nothing seemed to be impossible for a young scientist – he was genuinely eager to explore paranormal phenomena, to find the ways and methods of achieving them, refuting and disputing their “inexplicability” – and the work started to go onwards and upwards. In 1918 he commenced his active work in cooperation with his co-mate, Sri Yogendra, in the Yoga Institute that he had launched in Bombay (where he worked until 1932).
In 1924 he founded a laboratory where he started his research work. (As the years passed by, the laboratory has turned into a research center consisting of biochemical, electrophysiological, radiological, psychological and psycho-physiological departments). The first research studies were a success: nauli and uddiyana happened to have an active effect on corporeal pressure, to change the state of peristalsis and electrical activity of muscles. It was for the first time that Yoga started speaking the language of anatomy and physiology, tearing off the veil of mysteriousness and mysticism that were rather concealing the meaning of numerous ancient messages than clarifying them.
In 1928 the department of philosophy and literature started its work, involving both Sanskrit experts and specialists in English literature and embarking the painstaking activity on translating classical texts.
In 1929 the first state course of Yoga as a part of postgraduate program was launched.
In 1935 they started the issue of “Yoga Mimansa” magazine where they published the results of experiments accumulated over the years of the Research Center activity. The magazine was aimed at attracting the wide range of both scientific and public communities. For this purpose the contents of the magazine was divided into 3 sections: the academic, semi-academic and popular ones.
In 1936 he launched a recreation center in Bombay, and in 1943 its Rajkot branch was established.
Successful laboratory research brought up an issue for scientists – how one can apply different techniques of Yoga in scope of various chronic diseases therapy? In this way asanas and pranayamas found their application in treatment of, first, bronchial asthma, then hypertension, obesity and other psychosomatic ailments. In 1962 they used the A.T. Gupta’a grant-in-aid to open a 36-beds’ hospital in Lonavla.
The Research Center was now visited by representatives from the USA, Hungary and Czechoslovakia who came here to write their theses.
Numerous studies resulted in Swami’s resume that “Yoga is first of all a method of prevention and of healthy lifestyle”. This idea took a rapid spread among his students.
Kuvalayananda died on the 14th of April, 1966, having left hundreds of dedicated students and researchers, thousands of cured patients and Yoga Research Center that until now remains to be the most advanced center of education and research work, having its branches in 7 Indian cities, as well as in France and USA.
The man who took the study and popularization of yoga as his life mission has fulfilled his task. This was acknowledged by J. Nehru who said while visiting the Research Center in 1958 that “Yoga would have never become so wide-spread without its elucidation by the achievements of the science of today”.
P.S.: the biography of this person is truly mesmerizing. It can take one only to read the diaries of his research works in order to see what a breakthrough was initiated in human mass consciousness when one of the many decided to investigate the aspects that they had been persistently concealing for centuries. There isn’t any exclusivity of yoga, everything is achievable. If people are abiding in Samadhi, it means one can reach it, one can investigate and understand the principle. If there are people with extrasensory abilities, one can find the method of influence. If there is an ancient tradition, we will find the original sources, take the scientists from the East and from the West and translate all the things that were supposed to be beyond comprehension of lesser mortals. Knowledge must be accessible to many, and there are no obstacles that can stop one’s enthusiasm…
The laboratory of Kuvalayananda had two main divisions. One studied the effect of asanas, pranayamas and kriyas upon human organism. The other one – its activity been the major – investigated the changes that happened in experimentalists upon their achieving altered states of consciousness. And though the research works did not provide for investigation of the laws of transpersonal spirituality, they did manage to give a scientific support of one’s ability of keeping conscious control over one’s breath and heart work, and they did confirm that Yoga is not a religious myth but the treasury of human thought, the reality. The quintessence of human quest for cognizing the self and the mysteries of the Nature, the Universe that surrounds us.
So that Uddiyana is not a lion that kills the elephant of death. This is an exercise for the diaphragm and the ribs: “… The exercise is called Uddiyana-Bandha because due to muscular contraction the movement of spiritual power becomes possible; from anatomic point the bandha is referred to as uddiyana (the rising one, the one shooting upwards) because it involves active contraction and rise of diaphragm…” (Kuvalayananda 1993:37-38).
Artificial boundaries that had isolated the Knowledge were now destroyed and the attention of prominent scientists, political activists and great masses of population was attracted. Yoga has become something that can be practiced: a set of methods that gives a practicing person a chance to come at least one step closer to the vast ocean of Knowledge and Spirituality.
*the first leader of the Indian national independence movement, the author of an Arctic hypothesis on ancestral home of Indo-European people set in his well-known book “The Arctic Home in the Vedas”.
**Gajanan Yeshmant Manik (Professor Manikrao) (1878 — 1954) is a well-known public and political activist. A reformer and popularizer of the physical education system in India: he provided for scientific support of a number of physical exercises, united them into one system, introduced their Hindi names, initiated launching of physical education courses for women and various age groups. Being a representative of a servicemen family he contributed to revival of Indian martial arts.
***a good colleague of Sw. Kuvalayananda