Kripalu Yoga 101: History, 11 Benefits & Controversy

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Kripalu Yoga is a style of yoga that focuses on physical postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation. It is a form of hatha yoga that includes elements of kundalini yoga.

Kripalu Yoga’s goal is to focus on the inner parts of ourselves and the prana that flows through us. It is concerned with our life force energy, self-compassion, and taking yoga off the mat.

This style of yoga is pretty accessible and can be practiced by a wide variety of people.

In this article we’ll take a look at:

  • What is Kripalu Yoga
  • The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
  • The Life of Amrit Desai
a yoga class doing a squat on grey yoga mats

What is kripalu yoga?

Kripalu Yoga is one of the many modern styles of yoga derived from hatha yoga and places equal emphasis on breathing exercises (pranayama), postures (asana), and meditation.

What sets Kripalu Yoga apart is that it teaches students that the body is important. As well as learning to accept it we can learn from it.

Amrit Desai founded Kripalu Yoga in the 1980’s. He named the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in honor of his teacher Sri Kripalvananda. Kripalu is also interpreted as “compassion”.

The postures used within Kripalu Yoga are similar to gentle hatha-style poses. There is a significant emphasis on making the poses work for the individual and their body. Postures are often held for longer than in other styles and there is a big emphasis on meditation.

Kripalu Yoga is centered around being aware of the potential and limitations of your body. It is not about pushing or performing the poses. Because it is a gentle style of yoga, it can pretty much be practiced by anyone making it very accessible.

a group of people doing yoga in the park on yoga mats

11 Benefits of Kripalu Yoga

Like all forms of yoga there are many benefits to a regular and consistent practice. Here are some of the benefits that you can expect from Kripalu Yoga:

  • This style of yoga is about self-empowerment making it a very transformational style of yoga.
  • Because of the philosophical elements of Kripalu Yoga it promotes selfinquiry.
  • It provides a platform for people to get to know themselves better.
  • It teaches students to take yoga off the mat and into their lives.
  • It is a great way to deal with stress and anxiety.
  • It can help with blood pressure regulation.
  • It can enhance the range of motions within the joints.
  • Developed strength and flexibility.
  • It can promote good sleep.
  • It improves circulation.
  • It can aid digestion.

In other words, Kripalu Yoga promotes a mind, body, and spirit connection that can lead to transformation as well as a practice of compassion and self-love. Everyone is encouraged to explore their own personal relationship with yoga.

The Kripalu Yoga website states that their approach to yoga and training yoga teachers is “steeped in the rich history and tradition of yoga” and offers a non-dogmatic approach to the ancient teachings of yoga for the modern yogi.

“Kripalu Yoga teaches us to live the power of our practice on and off the mat. We learn to direct our focus within and access the body’s wisdom. Rather than strive to perfect the mechanics of a pose, Kripalu Yoga uses postures and other yogic techniques to reveal the true nature of who we are.”
a group of people practicing kripalu yoga in a studio

What to Expect in a Kripalu Yoga Class

Like many classes, it can be daunting starting out so it can be useful to have an idea of what a class entails.

Classes usually begin with pranayama (breathing exercises) followed by asana practice (postures), and they conclude with relaxation which is also known as savasana. Meditation is also a significant part of the practice.

Beginners’ practices tend to hold poses for less duration as students acclimatize to the practice and to the perception of prana in the body. Classes for more advanced practitioners tend to hold poses for longer and can include elements of flow.

The Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health

Amrit Desai founded a residential yoga center in Pennsylvania in 1972, which became the Kripalu Yoga Fellowship in 1974. The center focused on the teachings of Swami Kripalvananda and continues to lead retreats and trainings.

The Summit Station, Pennsylvania was acquired by Kripalu in 1975. Between 1977 and 1981 Swami Kripalu moved to America and influenced many during his time in the United States.

The current location for The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, located in Massachusetts, opened in 1983, and throughout the 1980s the center held over 350 residents.

The Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health changed in 1999 to a secular non-profit organization having previously been a religious order.

By 2008 the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health had become so popular that it was running over 750 retreats and events annually. Attendance to the center is said to be pitched at over 25,000 people per year.

In 2010 a sustainable annex housing eighty guest rooms was completed

Workshops and events were not just hosted by in-house teachers but continue to be offered by specialist, external teachers.

As of 2008, over six hundred people were employed by The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and as of 2019, the revenue of the center was over $37 million.

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is based within one hundred acres of forest and gardens. It has a main hall which is 160,000 square feet making it the heart of events at the center.

a head silhouette with a sun in it

Who Is Amrit Desai? The Founder Of Kripalu

So, who is the man behind Kripalu Yoga and The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health? Considered within the West as a pioneer of yoga. He created not just Kripalu Yoga but also I AM Yoga which has had global reach.

Amrit Desai was born on October 16th 1932, in Gujarat, India.  At the age of just fifteen, he met Swami Kripalvananda who became his Guru. Swami Kripalvananda was a wandering monk and kundalini master.

Self-taught when it came to postures (asana), Amrit Desai began teaching others where his guru lived. After having seen him teach, the Swami invited him to observe his sadhana (spiritual practice).

Amrit Desai studied engineering and underwent training with the Indian Airforce. He began teaching art in a high school before marrying in 1955, and they had three children.

He moved to America in 1960, and through teaching yoga, he saved enough money for his family to join him.

In 1964 he graduated with fine arts and design degree and in 1966 he returned to India and was initiated by his Guru Kripalvananda. After this, he returned to America to teach yoga full time.

Amrit Desai claimed that he had a Kundalini awakening in 1970 out of which he adapted hatha yoga principles to create Kripalu Yoga as homage to his guru.

Kripalu Yoga was born out of the application of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga system in action/in daily life combined with the surrender required from practicing Kundalini Yoga.

As part of the dissemination of his teachings, Amrit Desai created a teacher training program, and by 1970 it had already trained over forty teachers. He is also the founder of five Centers for yoga and health in America.

a portrait of amrit desai
Amrit Desai, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Amrit Desai Controversy

Within The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health single guests were required to adhere to celibacy (brahmacharya) although sex within marriage was permitted but after his wife gave birth to their third child in 1968 Desai stated that he too would practice celibacy.  This was a celebrated occasion and a big deal within the community.

It was discovered that Amrit Desai and another senior member of the center were engaging in adulterous behavior. In 1994 Amrit Desai was found to have had sex with at least three females within the community. He was forced to stand down and resign as the spiritual director of Kripalu Yoga.

Amrit Desai wrote an open letter to those within the Kripalu community saying that he wanted the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health to continue to be a spiritual home for people and that he was regretful of the suffering caused to the community due to his behavior.

In 1996 Amrit Desai returned to teaching at the original center in Pennsylvania before moving to Florida in 2002.

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is no longer an ashram but it is one of the biggest yoga centers in America.

a woman meditating on a yoga mat in her living room

Kripalu Yoga Roundup

The core principles of Kripalu Yoga include developing awareness and harmonizing the mind, body, and spirit. By cultivating a deeper sense of awareness for one’s thoughts, emotions and sensations yogi’s are able to take yoga off the mat and into their daily lives.

This is an integrated approach to yoga that is accessible to many people, and it encourages spiritual growth. It focuses on pranayama (breathing exercises), asana (postures) and savasana (relaxation) as well as meditation.

The Kripalu Center of Yoga and Health is a hub of spiritual development founded by Amrit Desai, an influential teacher in bringing yoga to the West.

Kripalu Yoga is not just popular in the United States but is practiced around the world with many teachers who have trained in the style.

Kripalu Yoga has influenced both Viniyoga and Integrative Yoga Therapy.

Currently, Kripalu Yoga is widely practiced and proves to be a tool for anyone who wishes to improve mental, physical and spiritual well-being within their lives.

What Next?

How about checking out this article on What is Yoga Therapy? An Integrative Approach to Wholeness.

Photo of author
Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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