This photo was taken in 2011 at Ananda Ashram, located in the village of Kottakuppam in the state of Tamil Nadu, in India. In the picture, I sit next to my Yoga Guru, Yogamani Kalaimamani Yogacharini Sri Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, the director and principal teacher of the International Center for Yoga Research and Education which is based in the Ashram. I lived here for two years, learning directly from her, whom we affectionately called Ammaji, and from her son, the great Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani. They, along with various members of their family, are continuing the dissemination and practices of the teachings of Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj. Swami Gitananda (1907-1993), after studying Yantra, Tantra and Yoga from his Guru Yogamarishi Svami Kanakananda Brighu in Bengal, traveled to the South of India and established the Ashram in 1967. Since then, students, scholars and great yoga masters have come here from India and from all over the world to study with him, his wife and son, and his students.
When I arrived at the Ashram in 2009, I only knew this “paramparai” (lineage of teachings handed down from generation to generation) thanks to a correspondence course that I had completed before arriving. I hadn’t studied Yoga before, other than taking a few classes in New York. Now I am well aware of the many “types” of Yoga and also of the fact that not all types of Yoga can be called traditions.
Here are three of the fundamental characteristics of the Richiculture Ashtanga Yoga tradition, also abbreviated with the name of Gitananda Yoga in honor of Swami Gitananda who codified it:
- The tradition includes teachings and practices of Yoga, Tantra and Yantra that come from the spiritual lineage of the Brighu, of North India, and of the Yoga Saiva Siddhanta tradition of South India, in the paramparai of Kambalisvamy which can be dated back to the great Rishi Agastya;
- The tradition combines Yoga with a deep study of Western medicine, thanks to the medical practice of Swami Gitananda and his son and successor Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani;
- The tradition is handed down consistently, seriously and authentically by the masters and teachers who engage in constant study and practice, and the understanding and appreciation of the culture of Sanatana Dharma, the philosophical and spiritual system of Indian Yoga.
The choice of a “type of Yoga” should therefore not only be an action that concerns the practitioner, according to their “taste”, but a gesture of respect towards the culture in which yoga was born, and a commitment to the work of those teachers who dedicate their lives to preserving this wisdom with love and care.