The Origins of Yoga Therapy

By Andre Haralyi

In 1924, Swami Kuvalayananda established the first ashram devoted to the scientific study of Yoga, the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Ashram. His goal was to bring science and spirituality together.

His first laboratory was divided into branches for specialized research in biochemical analysis, electrophysiology, radiology, psychology and physiology/physical education. There he conducted what is considered the world’s first major scientific investigation on the effects of Yoga on the human body-mind. He also founded the Yoga Mimansa, the first scientific journal for investigation into Yoga to publish the results of his research.

For almost 50 years he dedicated his life to his scientific research and wrote hundreds of pioneering reports, helping us to deeper understand the ancient discipline of Yoga through his scientific discoveries.

Three years after founding the ashram, he was advising Mahatma Gandhi who had serious bouts of illness, fatigue, and high blood pressure often aggravated by his long fasts. He often promoted specific poses for particular ills and health benefits, pioneering the therapeutic approach of Yoga that many practitioners adopted over the next decades.

Soon he won the admiration of Jawaharlal Nehru who would become the first Prime Minister of free India in 1947, Shrimati Indira Gandhi, important figures of the independence movement, as well as major gurus who spread Yoga around the globe. Among his admirers, the Wodeyar clan of Mysore had an important role helping to promote Yoga as a way to build an Indian national identity. 

In 1933, a decade after Swami Kuvalaynanda turned to the scientific study of Yoga, the Mysore palace hired Tirumalai Krishnamacharya to run its Yoga hall and sent him on tours around India to publicize Yoga. In 1934 the Maharajah asked Krishnamarya to visit Swami Kuvalaynanda’s ashram and study its methods. In the following year Krishnamarya adopted this therapeutic approach and wrote about the benefits of Yoga in his own book, Yoga Makaranda.

After Swami Kuvalayananda, many scientists from different universities around the world joined his enthusiasm for scientific evidence on Yoga, including N. C. Paul, Aurel von Torok, Basu Kumar Bagchi, Makrand Gore, T. K. Bera, and more recently Shirley Telles.

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