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.”
Gurudev Shri Amritji is one of a handful of Gurus who came to America in the early 1960's pioneering a Yoga craze that has grown into the massive worldwide yoga practices we have today. He is the last living Guru from this initial wave.
Smithsonian Publications (2014), Yoga: The Art of Transformation, 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.”
America’s Alternative Religions, State University of New York 1995: "Yogi Desai understands the meaning of 'yoga' in a very broad and inclusive sense, and as a result his American movement has been dynamic and experimental through its history, At the same time, he has maintained respect for the roots of his branch of yoga in India."
Over the past 57 years he founded some of the largest non-profit yoga centers in North America. The seeds of yoga he planted grew into the Yoga Society of Pennsylvania, founded in 1966. It became the largest of its kind by 1970. He started training yoga teachers in the early 1960’s and today there are more than 10,000 certified Yoga and Yoga Nidra teachers trained in his Inner Dimension of Yoga teaching in more than 40 countries around the world.
Unfolding Life's Journey
The historical origin of Vedanta and Yoga in North America started with the arrival of great Yogi’s such as H.H. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) followed by H.H. Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952). Amritji (b.1932) followed in the footsteps of these great beings. He was the first Yoga Guru to bring his inner dimension of Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga to the practice of Hatha yoga to the West. In 1980 in New Delhi, India, The World Religious Parliament founded by Swami Vivekananda (1894) honored Shri Amritji with the esteemed title of Jagadacharya (World Teacher). This title is considered the equivalent to Jagadaguru Shankaracharya.
State University of New York published in 'Homegrown Gurus' 2013: “...(sic) 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. Desai remains at the forefront of the English-speaking Yoga Revolution in America for almost four decades. He also exports his teaching of Yoga to more than 40 countries and has acquired thousands of worldwide adherents...He has aguably been one of the most influential and sought-after figures in the development of Hatha Yoga in America over the last 40 years.”
Kripalu and Lord Lakulish Lineage
Gurudev Shri Amritji is the first carrier of the Lord Lakulish and Kripalu Shaktipat Lineage to the West. Over the years his charismatic presence and powerful teachings of this Lineage of Prana have spread worldwide. His teachings through this Shaktipat Lineage ignited the fire that began the initial renaissance of the Inner Dimension of Yoga in the 20th century.
Amritji’s 1970 Kundalini awakening experience revealed to him that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are not just meant to be the philosophy of Yoga but a manual for the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Patanjali says, “Yoga means witnessing the modifications of the mind.” Patanjali’s Eight Limb Ashtanga Yoga is the simultaneous holistic practice of Hatha and Raja Yoga. This is why the Integrated Amrit Method (I AM Yoga) is called Meditation in Motion. As a result, the inner dimension of Yoga creates powerful therapeutic and transformative benefits that are missing in the mainstream approach to the practice of Hatha Yoga.
Dr. David Frawley, (Padma Bushan) 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.”
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.
Rapid Progression of Amritji’s Life Work
Gurudev Shri Amritji started teaching Yoga in the early 1960s in the Philadelphia area. In the late '60s 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, with invitations from all over the U.S., Canada and Europe spreading his innovative approach to audiences hungry for his unique style of Yoga and meditation.
America's Alternative Religions, State University of New York 1995: “The non-profit yoga society of Pennsylvania that he established (1966) became so successful that within a few years it was sponsoring more than 150 classes a week taught by Amrit Desai and others he had trained.”
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 teacher trainings for the growing demand.
In 1972, the first Kripalu Ashram was created in Sumneytown, PA, to fulfill the growing need. The ashram became a program center. It provided the residential staff and teachers the in-depth study and practice of yoga, as well as a yogic lifestyle. As the attendance for programs grew, the residential staff grew to 70.
In 1976, the new ashram in Summit Station, PA, was opened to accommodate the growth of the program participants and residential staff, offering a variety of health, yoga and spiritual trainings and programs. As a result, the residential staff grew to 150.
In 1983, he founded the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA. The staff of Summit Station was transferred to Lenox, as the growth of programs and participation more than doubled. The residential staff grew to 350. Kripalu is presently one of the largest Yoga and health centers in North America, offering a wide range of programs and professional trainings in health, spirituality, yoga, and more.
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...”
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 10,000 Yoga and Yoga Nidra teachers have been certified in the systems he developed. These teachers reach millions in more than 45 countries around the globe, including many European countries as well as China, Japan, Russia, Australia, Iceland and Canada.
State University of New York (2013), Homegrown Gurus: “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.”
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 Yoga. It includes Amrit Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Quantum Breath Meditation and Yoga Therapy.
Amrit Yoga Institute (AYI), Salt Springs, Florida, was founded by Amritji in 2001. The thriving yoga ashram and program center offers professional trainings in yoga, yoga nidra, yoga therapy, and Quantum Breath meditation, as well as a wide range of health and spirituality related of programs. In 2014, Amritji co-founded the International University of Yoga and Ayurveda, which offers in-depth coursework and certification for Ayurvedic Practitioners, as well as Pancha Karma detox programs on the AYI campus.