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“Science and spirituality are met at Ananda Ashram, convincing even the most difficult mind that yoga is a complete mind science.” – Yogacharini Korina-Anandhi Kontaxaki one of the eminent Yoga teachers of Cyprus.

Very few Yoga schools are able to marry tradition and modernity in a seamless manner. One of the few is Ananda Ashram at ICYER, Pondicherry that is celebrating its 50th anniversary on 5 August 2018. Classical Rishiculture Ashtanga Yoga (Gitananda Yoga) as expounded by Swamiji Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj is taught in this tradition that balances the ancient tantric and yoga wisdom with modern medical scientific knowledge. It is truly a Modern Yoga Gurukula in nature, spirit and manifestation as students live with the gurus and learn to live and love yoga as a 24-hour Sadhana of life itself.

Yogiraj Rajudev (Dick Stehr) of California who belonged to the very first batch of students in 1968 shares his experiences saying, “The process of yoga is transformative, and I can recommend no better place to immerse yourself in that experience. The teachings and the traditions drill down to the very heart of a left brain/right brain balance that while being thoroughly scientific is also deeply inspirational. For the true seeker, I can think of no better place to go for training.” 

This Yoga Centre of International repute has been established since 1968 and Pondicherry is its International Headquarters with more than hundred affiliated centres in nearly 30 countries worldwide.  It was founded by the world-renowned Guru Yogamaharishi Dr Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj, who is considered as one of the five leading exponents of Classical Ashtanga Yoga in the twentieth century and hailed as the “Father of Modern Scientific Yoga”. Swamiji attained Samadhi on December 29, 1993.

Ammaji Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani. Photo Credit: Coni Hörler

His work is continued by Ammaji Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, the Director and Ashram Acharya who is an internationally acclaimed Yoga expert with a dozen books including “The History of Yoga from Ancient to Modern Times” and “The Rishi and the Rakshashas”. She has served on the CCRYN (Ministry of Health), National Board of Yoga (Ministry of AYUSH) and Pondicherry University Academic Council as well as numerous national and international committees.

When asked about ICYER, Yogacharini Dhivya Hirata of Hawaii exclaims in joy, “Magnificent. A Gem in the heart of south India. Truly life changing—the six-month teacher training is a rare, authentic experience of Yoga, taught by highly skilled teachers in a traditional Gurukula setting.”

Ananda Ashram has three branches in Pondicherry:  ICYER its residential centre on the shores of the Bay of Bengal six kilometres North of Pondicherry on the East Coast Highway; its city centre Yoganjali Natyalayam in Central Pondicherry; and its spiritual and religious centre Sri Kambaliswamy Matam in Thattanchavady behind the famous JIPMER Hospital.

ICYER is a founder member of the Indian Yoga Association as well as the Council for Yoga Accreditation International. It publishes books on Yoga and Indian Cultural arts, a monthly International journal “Yoga Life” and offers a 52-Lesson Correspondence Course in Yoga.  Its main service is the conducting of a Six Month International Yoga Teachers Training Course from October 2nd through March 25th each year. This internationally recognized Yoga Training Course has been held each year without a break since 1968. ICYER now also offers a One-Year International Diploma in Yoga Education instituted from October 2001. Thousands of students from all over India and the world have been thoroughly trained in an intensive Yoga immersion starting before sunrise and ending long after sunset.

Swamiji was a Medical Doctor born in India but who spent forty years in the West, and his system known as Rishiculture Ashtanga Yoga (Gitananda Yoga) is based on classical Yoga amalgamated with a firm scientific, medical basis.

More than 108 Asanas, 44 Pranayamas and 56 Kriyas are taught in the six months. Also included are a thorough study of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Upanishads, Yoga Vashistha, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, Bhagavad Gita and other important Yogic texts.  Training is also given in Carnatic Music, with emphasis on devotional Bhajans.  Those interested may also study Bharatanatyam and Classical Instrumental Music. Training in Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga techniques are given, including elaborate work with Yogic relaxation, concentration and visualization practices.

Sri Kambaliswamigal at Thattanchavady, Pondicherry
Ashtanga Yoga Guru Srila Sri Kambaliswamigalat Thattanchavady. Photo credit: Coni Hörler

Swamiji was the Madathipathi or spiritual leader of the Sri Kambaliswamy Madam, a century and a half old Samadhi site of the great Ashtanga Yoga Guru Srila Sri Kambaliswamigal at Thattanchavady, Pondicherry. Daily Pujas are conducted with an elaborate Puja on Sunday that is open to the public who wish to experience traditional Hindu Pujas. Grand Samadhi Pujas for the eight Gurus of the lineage are conducted throughout the year.

Yoganjali Natyalayam, the City Centre was established by Swamiji and Ammaji on March 27, 1993, and this flourishing Centre of Yoga, Bharatanatyam and Carnatic Music has more than 500 actively enrolled students and 25,000 alumni. YOGNAT has developed a very popular Bharatanatyam troupe, which specializes in the performance of the difficult acrobatic Natya Karanas, which are essentially a form of Yoga Asanas.  It presents a full three-hour length Bharatanatyam Dance Drama each year to celebrate the birthday of Swamiji and its Annual Day is a feast of spectacular music, dance and Yoga demonstrations.

Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, the Chairman of ICYER and YOGNAT . Photo Credit: Coni Hörler

All the activities of the Ashram are now taken care of nationally and internationally by Yogacharya Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, the Chairman of ICYER and YOGNAT who is a qualified Medical Doctor, Bharatanatyam Artist, Carnatic Classical Vocalist and Mridungam Artist. He is also currently Director and Professor of Yoga Therapy at the CYTER of Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth one of India’s top healthcare universities. Having travelled widely he is currently on the National Board of Yoga in Ministry of AYUSH, Govt of India and serves as Advisor to many associations including the IAYT and AAYT.

Yogacharini Kalavathi Claire George who did her training 20 years ago affirms, “Ananda Ashram has to be the best place ever to learn yoga and if you are fortunate to ever walk through the door I hope you realise it! Traditional Gurukula style teaching with the most incredible teachers. Here you will learn all aspects of yoga but more importantly, you will learn how to integrate yoga into your life. If you are thinking of going there don’t hesitate … it will be the best decision you could make. “

Aravinda Koithyar, a senior Yoga teacher in Bangalore, India affirms, “It is one of the very few organisations all over the world where the traditional yogic teachings are taught and practised completely, without any compromise in quality or duration. In addition, there are some beautiful methods of pranayama, jnanakriya and dharana which no other organisations are teaching, and probably others may not be aware of, as well. When so many centres all over the world are focusing only on physical exercises of yoga, this centre is involved in teaching the complete system of yoga since the last five decades. The most wonderful thing is that the complete family is involved in it.”

Ananda Ashram has been serving humanity for the past 50 years through a holistic integration of traditional wisdom of Yoga and Indian cultural arts with a modern scientific understanding. May its service for the society continue and may more and more seekers be benefited by its joyful existence.

Dr. Ananda is the chairman of the ICYER (International Centre for Yoga Education and Research) Ananda Ashram in Pondicherry, India. You can find more information about him in on his websites:

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