Biography of Yogi Amrit Desai
A Pioneer of Yoga in the West
Gurudev, Bapuji and Mataji in 1971
Gurudev Yogi Amrit Desai is recognized as one of the pioneers of the authentic teachings of yoga in the West. He was born in Halol in Gujurat, India in 1932, and in 1947 he met his teacher, Babuji, who had come to Halol to teach. He immediately became a disciple of the master, and has followed his teachings ever since.
After studying engineering and then teaching high school in India, the young Amrit Desai arrived in America in February 1960, initially to study art. But his spiritual mission drove him to begin teaching yoga, and that rapidly became his true life’s work. He was one of the earliest of the wave of Indian “gurus” who came to the U.S., and is the last living master from that initial wave.
Gurudev has been honored for following in the footsteps of many of the great spiritual Masters such as Paramahansa Yogananda, the renowned author of Autobiography of a Yogi, and Swami Vivekenanda, who founded the World Religious Parliament in India 1893. This prestigious organization has bestowed recognition to only five spiritual teachers who have played significant roles in disseminating the ancient heritage of India worldwide. In 1986 they honored Gurudev with the title Jagadacharya, World Teacher. He has also been recognized with titles including Doctor of Yoga and the Vishwa Yoga Ratna, awarded by the President of India.
Establishment of Centers for Personal Growth and Transformation
Gurudev began teaching in the U.S. at a time when yoga was virtually unknown. In 1966 he established the Yoga Society of Pennsylvania. Thanks to his practical presentation, it quickly grew to one of the largest yoga centers in America. By 1970, more than 2,500 students participated weekly in his in-depth teachings of yoga and trainings.
In 1972, he opened the Kripalu Ashram Program Center in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania, which offered deeper teachings and lifestyle training for resident staff and guests. A third center followed in 1976 in Summit Station, Pennsylvania. In 1983, he founded the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts. This unique facility became renowned as a holistic health center, offering a wide range of personal and professional trainings.In conjunction with this main Kripalu Center, there were approximately 75 Kripalu-Affiliated Centers, throughout the U.S.
In 1991, the late prime minister of India, Shri Chandra Shekhar wrote to India’s then Prime Minister, Shri Narasimha Rao about visiting the Kripalu Center: “I visited the Kripalu Center during my recent visit to America and was deeply impressed by the dedication of the Yogacharya in his programs by which teachings are being disseminated…(he is an) internationally renowned authority in the field of yoga and an exponent of the spiritual heritage…I feel Yogacharya Shri Amritji deserves honors for his work, therefore, I recommend Padma Vibushan for him as a special case.” This request received a positive response from Prime Minister Rao.
In 2000, after a period of personal reflection and sadhana, Gurudev founded the Amrit Yoga Institute, first located Sumneytown, Pennsylvania and then moved to its current location in Salt Springs, Florida.
Gurudev’s Contribution to Yoga
Gurudev’s legacy is his work to restore the authentic practice of Patanjali’s classical Ashtanga or Eight- Limbed Yoga. He has helped to illuminate its core principles and the secrets of Kundalini Yoga, building them into a holistic practice of Eight-Limbed Yoga. This is represented in the Amrit Methods of Yoga, Yoga Nidra and Quantum Breath Meditation.
These concepts have been widely disseminated through the published works, published as Kripalu Yoga, Meditation-in-Motion, and later as Amrit Yoga: Explore, Expand and Experience the Spiritual Depth of Yoga. These writings have changed the popular notion of the practice of yoga as a step-by-step linear model to one of integration of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines.