An Interview with Rama Jyoti Vernon

Rama Jyoti Vernon’s interest in metaphysics and mysticism began in her childhood. Her parents were pioneers in holistic health. Ultimately, she became one of America’s first Yoga teachers, and was instrumental in bringing many great teachers from India to the USA, co-founding Yoga Journal and developing organizations such as Unity in Yoga, to unite all lineages of Yoga. As a housewife, mother and Yoga teacher, Rama began applying Yoga philosophy in a whole new arena, international peacemaking. Today, she continues to guide Yoga teachers worldwide.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): You’ve been training Yoga teachers for fifty years now. What type of evolution have you seen over the years?

Rama Jyoti Vernon (RJV): Many years ago, Nancy Ford-Kohne, Nischala Devi and I met with Gurudev to talk to him about our concern that Yoga was moving in the fitness direction and becoming more like an exercise. Gurudev told us not to worry—that people come into Yoga wherever they are, that they’ll get a little and it will lead them eventually to the center of Yoga. He told us to, “Trust Yoga.” I say that all the time because I see that happening. In Yoga classes, students are breathing more and getting more into the philosophy. In the past year, I really feel something happening and it’s wonderful. I was recently on a teaching trip in Chicago, and all the spiritual aspects of Yoga were represented. It left me feeling like maybe the work is on its way. Yoga is now taught in community centers, in prisons. It’s taught to military veterans, to inner city gangs. I feel this is the blossoming of seeds planted, of the dream I had in 1967 that Ayurveda would become our system of medicine in America and Yoga would be used in hospitals as therapy, that it would be part of the curriculum in school systems and it would be used to help people to get off drugs—it could be utilized in every element of our society.

IYM: Do you have concerns about Yoga getting more integrated into Western medicine?

RJV: I’ve been concerned about making Yoga adaptable to fit into the allopathic system. I see Yoga teachers and therapists adapting the language to make it more palatable for those in the medical system rather than expecting the medical system to adapt to Yoga. We have to be careful, because sometimes, in trying to adapt ourselves to the criteria of what is already acceptable, we can lose our own spiritual essence and vision. I think it’s okay to bring Yoga into the mainstream and make it acceptable and then, later, come back and pick up the deeper essence of the spiritual practice. I believe what Gurudev said, that we have to trust in Yoga and its essence will have a way of coming forth.

IYM: Do you have that trust in the young people coming forward to be trained as the next generation of Yoga teachers?

RJM: I used to feel that the young people needed more experience, but they actually are brilliant. In the 1960s, we didn’t have the access to all the Yoga resources that abound today. Yoga is everywhere, which is great, but it also takes greater discrimination because so much is available. Young people need to see what their svadharma is—what’s right for them, for their own practice, for their teaching. In the past two years, I’ve seen an exponential evolution in the field of Yoga. The information technology and sharing Yoga through social media is incredible. I’ve been awestruck at how it is evolving. I used to believe we needed teachers of Yoga everywhere—now we have them and maybe too many (laughs)! I wonder what Gurudev would say? I’m sure he would say to have trust in Yoga, the integrity of the people it will be passed on to and that it will be passed on with that same integrity of spirit.

IYM: What concerns do you specifically have about how Yoga is transmitted via the Internet and social media?

RJV: Well, the written word doesn’t always carry the inflection of the spoken word. Even with Skype and telecommunication, it’s not like sitting with a person in a room to get that darshan. When I would sit in a satsang with Gurudev, with Santji (Sant Keshavadas) and other of the great Masters, there was an amazing transmission of the energy of the room that went right through my heart. I don’t think one quite gets that through the new media. The darshan from those Masters was just so powerful. Still, I think that people can still receive darshan. But, now they have to glean it from here and there. They can go to satsangs, to workshops. The female masters (like Amma, Mother Maya) are coming out and people get darshan there or they hear about it from someone and get indirect darshan. The new wave involves how to integrate it into the center of one’s being and to not get confused by the vast amount of information out there…

Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2012 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.