Usharbudh Arya: a teacher tribute

Dr. Usharbudh Arya, aka, Swami Veda Bharati

Many years ago, I did graduate work in Comparative Religion at the University of Minnesota. In one of my first courses, we were given the assignment to do some anthropology of religion — we were to investigate any local religious group which was foreign to our experiences.  I chose to explore a local Yoga group. Though I had visited India 3 years prior, I was a Christian then, and never explored Yoga — which my Christianity labeled as a diversion of the devil.  Thus this anthropological adventure had a naughty, exciting flavor to it!

I had seen the Yoga center when  riding my bicycle from my home to the University. It was in a beautiful old mansion with a large wooden sign declaring itself to be “The Yoga Center in Minneapolis” (see below). The center is apparently still active.

The center was run by Dr. Usharbudh Arya (1933- ) who I discovered was interestingly a former well-known Sanskrit professor in the exact South Asian department where I was doing my graduate work at that time. So I was immediately knew that whether I agreed with these folks or not, the director was a smart guy.

Swami Ram (1935-1996)

Swami Ram (1925-1996)

Apparently, Dr. Arya had given up his prosperous academic career just two years prior to propagate Yoga full-time.  The Center was a small organization back then but after a little web searching, it appears to have a presence also in India.  Dr. Arya, as in my Indian teachers, has altered his name (not that doing such is foreign to me, and is now known as Swami Veda Bharati (wiki article here).

Dr. Arya was a disciple of Swami Rama (1925 – 1996) who founded the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Only after leaving the organization did I learn of some of the controversies surrounding Swami Rama (see wiki).  I had met and trained with Swami Rama twice when he visited the center for short teachings — he certainly had a magnetic personality.

The Yoga Center, Mpls  -- ah, fond memories!

The Yoga Center, Minneapolis (ah, fond memories!)

My graduate project was meant to only to last three months (and indeed I completed my paper), but I continued studying Yoga at the center for eighteen months. I was diligent: reading every book they offered, taking every class I could and practicing both Hatha and meditative Yoga at my home. I was surprised by how much I learned and benefited.  I was actually in the teacher training program but dropped out after a conflict which I may write about later.

When I first began my investigation of this strange neighborhood anomaly, I thought the Center would be a very woo-woo place filled with air-headed folks but instead Dr. Arya was solid, students were normal and the teachings offered real skills at learning how to relax. Though I experienced altered states of consciousness during meditation several times, I never had “higher states of consciousness” and didn’t know what to think about that, but I did learn relaxation skills that came in very handy in helping with sleep issues, patience and more.

Yoga, for most Americans, is all about stretching, postures and fitness, but those are only one rung of Raja Yoga — an 8-runged-ladder approach to essentially a meditative practice (following the guidelines of Patanjali).  An important  relaxation skill I learned was Pranayama (breath control) where I practiced diaphragmatic breathing, evening out the breath, lengthening the breath, watching the breath and more.  Most forms of Buddhism, like Yoga, uses meditation techniques where pranayama is essential, but it was the Yoga Center that taught it better than all the Buddhist places I have visited since then.  BTW, some feel that Patanjali, the ancient compiler of the Yoga Sutras, may actually have borrowed from Buddhist practices.

Writing this post has been a fun trip back in time.  I don’t agree with much of Yoga, but the lessons I learned were invaluable.  Perhaps later I will write about those disagreements.  But this is a post is mainly of letter of gratitude to Yoga and Dr. Arya.


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4 responses to “Usharbudh Arya: a teacher tribute

  1. Jen

    Funny, I was leaving the local fitness center where I teach a hatha yoga class and thinking how I am not into the woo-woo or magic of it. I don’t talk to my students about chakras or third eyes. I sometimes lead a group OM, but because I enjoy the sound and the sense of vibration in my chest when we do it. Crazy coincidence this is your topic today. I don’t buy everything about it either, but you do capture the essence of the very real benefits of yoga. Relaxation, yes, as well as patience. I have also experienced mental shifts based on my very physical practice. The first is that I’m less likely to seek an escape from life’s vicissitudes and more likely to explore discomfort or sensation with curiosity. Usually this leads to an experience of understanding impermanence. I sense strong connections between my yoga practice and Buddhism, especially in puzzling out emptiness and no self. So thanks for taking on the topic today–nice read.

  2. @ Jen
    Yeah, even Chakra-talk when likened to nerve plexus even though probably is not accurate but can be helpful. We all lock up different areas of our body.
    I agree with your learnings. And I think Buddhism is a form of Yoga or vica versa. Contemplatives captured truths and varied on where to take them.

  3. Respectful approach to your former yoga teacher. Nicely written!
    Here’s a few of my thought upon reading:
    1) Swami Veda Bharati (wiki article here) – I read the wiki and it struck me how all the Yoga meditation schools and teachers, I know of, claim to have the highest, or one of the “highest”, meditation techniques known to mankind. My yoga teacher, Yogananda of Self-Realization Fellowship, claimed Kriya, his meditaiton/pranayama path was the “highest”, divine dispensation.
    a. Seems they are all the “highest”. “High” to what? I assume it relates to the Almighty or some Divine dispensation, or efficacy to reaching god or a bliss-state.

    2) So-called “classical” yoga, as we know and call it today, was actually created 150 years ago. I’ve uncovered scholarly data and research to back up arguments that the yoga systems, we think of as rooted in “classic” yoga are really modern inventions. Not saying there’s no benefit to yoga. Just that upon digging deeper into the latest historical and scholarly sources yoga systems and yogi’s are modern creation, and not necessarily Hindu. (You probably already know this. You got your PhD in comparative religion with emphasis in Hinduism. Forgive my amateur naivete). I will try to summarize some of my findings about this topic in future on my blog to get your opinions and thoughts.

    Enjoying your posts, as always.

    I’d be interested in reading what “differences” you had with your yoga teacher.

  4. Hey Scott:
    (1) Yeah, those claims are amazing ! I agree.
    (2) I look forward to your post on “classical yoga” being a recent invention.

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