Yoga lost one if it’s great Western pioneers with the passing of Rama Jyoti Vernon. If Mataji Indra Devi can be called the first lady of Yoga, Rama Jyoti Vernon was certainly the keeper of the flame of classical Yoga in America. In later years Rama was also known as the “Great-Grandmother of American Yoga,” as she was instrumental in hosting some of the first Yoga masters to come to the West. She began the first Yoga teacher training programs and laid the foundation for the first BKS Iyengar Association in the West. She was not only a Yoga teacher but a world peace activist and dear co-conspirator with Swami Satchidananda (Integral Yoga founder) in spreading the teachings of Yoga globally. Rama’s international work as a citizen diplomat and ambassador for peace was remarkable.
Rama’s beloved mother, a student of Paramahamsa Yogananda, took her to her first Yoga class at age 15. Rama was one of the founders of Yoga Journal. She founded the California Yoga Teachers’ Association, American Yoga College, and the California Institute for Yoga Teacher Training, which later became the first U.S. Yoga Teachers’ Training program for the work of Sri. B.K.S. Iyengar. She hosted and organized programs for Sri Iyengar and started his first organization in the U.S. She is considered one of America’s Yoga pioneers, and one of the first Yoga teachers in the U.S., beginning in the 1960s.
Rama often hosted programs for Swami Satchidananda in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1980s, he invited her to join him at the annual Zinal, Switzerland conference hosted by the European Union of Yoga (EUY). Sri Swamiji was one of the special guest presenters during this annual conference and would teach there for 15 years. He always appreciated how teachers from the many diverse Yoga federations in each of the European countries were members of the the EUY and would come together each year to learn from the guest presenters and each other. He suggested to Rama that she start a national Yoga organization in America that could function similarly to the EUY. And she did and in 1983 the Unity in Yoga organization was born and held its first conference in Portland, Oregon. Several more conferences convened over the years and into the 1990s, eventually culminating in the ending of UiY and the birth to the Yoga Alliance, the largest nonprofit association representing the Yoga community, with over 7,000 Registered Yoga Schools and more than 100,000 Registered Yoga Teachers as of April 2020. YA fosters and supports the high quality, safe, accessible, and equitable teaching of Yoga.
If these contributions weren’t enough, Rama also became a pioneer in the area of citizen diplomacy. She founded the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue which developed a growing network of people and organizations committed to finding peaceful solutions to global challenges culminating in the Center for International Dialogue. Swami Satchidananda, with other luminaries joined Rama for the first two citizen diplomat missions to Russia (then the Soviet Union) she organized in the 1985 and 1986.
Rama also invited Swami Satchidananda to serve as the official chaplain for the Soviet-American Citizens Summit that she hosted in 1988 in Washington, DC. The Summit was attended by CNN founder Ted Turner, former UN Secretary-General Robert Muller, along with other American and Russian diplomats and speakers. The Center for International Dialogue expanded its outreach of dialogue and conflict resolution trainings into Afghanistan and the Middle East, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, China and Cuba, with American citizens assisting in the trainings.
Rama Jyoti also developed conflict resolution trainings in which she utilized the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as a foundation for this work. Richard Miller and Larry Payne, founders of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), have frequently acknowledged Rama Jyoti’s contribution to the creation of IAYT through the connections she fostered at the Unity in Yoga conferences.
Rama Jyoti was also a mother of five children, twelve grandchildren, and one great-grandchild and she continued to travel nationally and internationally to teach Yoga and Yoga teachers up until recently, when she transitioned her teaching to online webinars and videos. Her work is codified in the inspiring Yoga practice book, Yoga: The Practice of Myth and Sacred Geometry, and her Yoga philosophy commentaries, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: Gateway to Enlightenment.
Rama Jyoti Vernon passed away suddenly on Monday, November 23, 2020. Her family and friends are grappling with this sudden and profound loss both personally, and to the Yoga world-at-large. There will be a virtual memorial in the near future. Information will be posted on her website: rama.yoga. The Integral Yoga International community and Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville offer deepest gratitude for beloved Rama Jyoti, a true yogi and luminary. Our heartfelt prayers and condolences to all Rama’s family, friends, and students. May her soul rest in peace. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.