International Center for Yoga Education and Research

»Yoga as taught a thousand years ago«


By no means does this center offer a yoga holiday. Instead, this is a traditional ashram complete with strict daily routines and a deep devotion to the gentle harmony of yogic living. Studying at ICYER means living with your guru for an extended period of time to learn not only poses but yoga-as-life. Without doubt, this is one of the most comprehensive training programs of all the places we visited in India.

  • What we love
  • Student numbers deliberately kept low for better learning
  • The sheer breadth and depth of the education
  • Peaceful grounds near the sea
  • What to know
  • All programs are residential, with little or no outside contact
  • Very rigorous schedule
  • Year-long correspondence course a prerequisite to Teacher Training
  • Only ten students per year selected for six-month course
  • ICYER specializes in Teacher Training
  • Why go
  • Extraordinarily comprehensive yoga education
  • Authentic ashram experience
  • Pragmatic approach to yoga

This is no light-weight retreat. Before stepping foot on the grounds for the Teacher Training Course, a year-long correspondence course of study must be completed, or be in the process of completion. Even after this, only ten of the mostly foreign applicants are selected each year. The six-month program can be grueling and is only recommended for those in good physical and mental health. Six days a week from 4.30am to 9pm students are taken ever-deeper towards the end goal that is samadhi, a complete purification of the body and mind.

Although the program is exacting, there are no dour faces. ICYER is a place of work, both physical and spiritual, but the sign over the door reads: Enter here only if you are happy – and true happiness is the ultimate goal within these grounds. There is a deep joy to be found here, a simplicity of living that contrasts pleasantly with a rich and complex inner existence.

Of all our Indian top centers, ICYER is the one that runs the most traditional gurukulam system. In times past, a yoga student would live in the home of their guru, learning how to incorporate yoga into absolutely every aspect of daily life. With the daily contact with the guru and his family and rigorous daily programs at ICYER, the same kind of total immersion is achieved.

The Teacher Training Course runs annually from October 2 to March 25. One of its interesting components is a three-week Yantra Course which is more academic in nature, focusing on the “science of numbers, names and forms.” Based on the belief that numbers and words have a resonance that can be 'tuned into' to achieve harmony with the world around us, the Yantra Course is essentially a distillation of the ICYER yoga tradition. For anyone not yet lucky enough to visit India, there are ICYER centers around the world, all of which offer a glimpse into the same tradition.

Dr. Ananda (son of Ammaji and Swami Gitananda) teaches daily classes at ICYER. He is a medical doctor and a great yogi with a deep knowledge of many topics. His presence at the center is a strong one, and all students here will come to know him well. The center is a family operation - Dr. Ananda’s wife teaches the Sanskrit and singing classes.

Around three quarters of the students here are foreigners. This may be because of the fees, which are moderate by Western standards, but not easily accessible to anyone on an average Indian wage. Alternatively, it could be because of the founders' origins. Swami Gitananda Giri and his widow Ammaji are half-Irish and American-born respectively. They built an environment of understanding of foreigners to the ashram, an unusual blend of deep Indian tradition tempered with an outsider's perspective.

The philosophy behind ICYER is basically that enlightenment cannot be achieved without other people. The smiling Ammaji (or more correctly Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani), now head of ICYER, scoffs at the idea of isolation to achieve inner harmony. For her, and for her late husband, it is too easy to create complicated and false impressions of oneself when sequestered away from humanity. When we live with other people, she says, we cannot fantasize anymore. Ammaji’s face is one that students here come to know well. She is an integral part of the daily learning and the blissful evening satsangs.

While our piece is focused on the main campus of ICYER, there is the equally important Yognat city center. This is where all the community-outreach programs stem from, extending the healing hand of yoga to children (more than 10,000 of them so far) and a myriad of other good works.

Stripping away the ego is the powerful underlying principle of ICYER's teachings. And they do it mercilessly. Never has the maxim 'the truth will set you free' been more uncompromisingly applied than at ICYER, as all participants are encouraged to hold up a proverbial mirror to themselves and each other. Consciousness and awareness are the treats you take home, for life.

About the area: Pondicherry

Pondicherry's official name is Puducherry and it was once the largest French colony in India. French is still widely spoken here and the old quarter has a few architectural touches that any Francophile will immediately spot. The weather is variable, with a monsoon season that runs through October, temperatures of up to 41 degrees C in May and very mild winters with a minimum of a balmy 21 degrees C. A few minutes drive outside the city leads to the social-experiment town of Auroville, and our top center ICYER. Although only a handful of kilometers outside the city limits, this is where low-population fishing villages lie sleepily in the sun, a gentler pace from a different time.

Image credit: Coni Hörler Photography

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