Desai, Guru Amrit

(1932– )
   yogi and founder of Kripalu Yoga Fellowship
   Amrit Desai has been a prominent teacher of yoga in the United States for several decades. His career has survived expulsion from his own ashram on charges of sexual misconduct.
   Amrit Desai was born on October 16, 1932, in Halol, Gujurat state, India. Little is reported about his family or childhood. In 1948 at age 16, he met Swami KRIPALVANANDA, student of Swami Kaivaro-han, reputed to be the 28th incarnation of SHIVA. Desai studied with Kripalvananda and taught Sahaj Yoga with the SWAMI. In 1960, he traveled to the United States to study art and design at the Philadelphia College of Art, as he worked in fac-tories to support himself. He created a successful career in the arts and his wife and son joined him in America.
   In 1966 Desai founded the Yoga Society of Pennsylvania, which drew a large following. In 1970, Kripalvananda called Desai back to India to initiate him into SHAKTIPAT DIKSHA (energetic trans-ference from master to student to awaken spiritual energy). After his initiation, Desai experienced what he called a spiritual implosion, in which he instantaneously flowed from one ASANA (yogic posture) to the next and felt powerful KUNDALINI energy.
   In 1972 Desai moved his fellowship to the suburbs of Philadelphia and changed its name to the Kripalu Yoga Fellowship. In addition to teaching KRIPALU YOGA, Desai and his fellowship became pioneers of holistic health. In 1983, the ashram and fellowship moved to a 350-acre for-mer Jesuit retreat in Lenox, Massachusetts. The practice of yoga and the ASHRAM lifestyle were strictly observed, including separation of genders, silent meals, required SADHANA (practice) and satsang (attendance at teaching sessions), and BHAJANS (singing of devotional songs). In 1988, Kripalu gained the legal status as a spiritual/vol-unteer organization and became a leading spiri-tual retreat center in the United States.
   Throughout his teaching in the United States, Desai was a charismatic and impressive GURU. Yet, in 1994, his integrity was compromised by sexual misconduct with members of the ashram and ash-ram guests and he was forced to leave the spiritual center he founded. Many members of the com-munity were saddened by the disclosure of Desai’s behavior, but the Kripalu Yoga and Health Center has remained a prominent, respected spiritual and health center, reoriented around Desai’s teacher, Swami Kripalananda.
   Desai has returned to teaching and travels throughout the United States, offering workshops and teacher training. His new organization, Amrit Yoga Institute, teaches the Amrit Method of Yoga Nidra to provide tools for banishing unconscious fears and habits. The institute also publishes Sacred Pathways Magazine, a bimonthly journal of yoga and higher consciousness. The Amrit Yoga Institute is headquartered in Salt Springs, Florida.
   Further reading: Richard Faulds, Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice on and off the Mat (New York: Bantam Books, 2006); Richard Faulds, Gurudev: The Life of Yogi Amrit Desai (Lenox, Mass.: Kripalu Yoga Fellowship, 1982); Kaviraj (Stephen Cope), Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (Lenox, Mass.: Kripalu Yoga Fellowship, 2004).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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