Bernard, Theos (1908-1947)

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Bernard, Theos (1908-1947)

Early writer and teacher on hatha yoga, who drew from his own experience in undertaking a traditional training course. Little has been recorded about the life of Theos Bernard, a nephew of Pierre Bernard, one of the pioneer yoga teachers in the United States, who undoubtably introduced him to the subject.

Bernard was born in Tombstone, Arizona. As a child he had hoped to become an athlete, but he suffered from ill health for many years. While at university, he read books on yoga, and one day was visited by a guru from India (possibly Shri Yogendra ) who taught Bernard a graduated system of hatha yoga asanas and hygiene practices, combined with traditional yoga philosophy of duty and self-purification. Bernard was already practicing yoga while still at law school and arranged to travel to India to perfect his studies. In India Bernard undertook traditional training under a guru, after first traveling throughout India to familiarize himself with the people and beliefs of the country. He spent several months visiting colleges, libraries, museums, temples, shrines, and ashrams from Calcutta to Bombay, from Kashmir to Ceylon. In Bombay he met Dr. Kovoor T. Behanan, author of the important study Yoga: A Scientific Evaluation (1937), and he visited Swami Kuvalayananda, a noted yoga teacher, at his ashram in Lonavala. Bernard studied hatha yoga under various teachers, especially in Bombay, which had become the center from which hatha yoga had been revived in India in the late 1800s.

After he obtained his degree in law (M.A., LL.B.), he studied at Columbia University and earned a doctorate in philosophy. His treatise on hatha yoga was first published in 1944 by Columbia University Press and has since been frequently reprinted. Hatha yoga covers all the traditional aspects of hatha yoga and correlates his personal training with the major Indian texts: the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Gheranda Samhita, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Bernard achieved the classic requirement of being able to maintain steadiness in performance of the main asanas for a period of three hours each. He went on to practice the traditional forms of mental concentration and meditation.

In order to further his studies, Bernard traveled through Tibet, and at the holy city of Lhasa he was accepted as an incarnation of the Tibetan saint Padma Sambhava. This enabled him to take part in many special religious ceremonies and to discuss Tibetan teachings with some of the leading lamas at famous Tibetan monasteries. He described his experiences in his book Land of a Thousand Buddhas (1939).

Bernard died in 1947 while on a mission to a monastery in western Tibet in search of special manuscripts. While en route in a remote area, rioting broke out among Hindus and Moslems, and after the dissident Hindus killed Moslem men, women, and children, they pursued the Moslems who accompanied Bernard as guides and muleteers. These Moslems fled, leaving Bernard and a Tibetan boy alone on the trail. It is believed that both were shot and their bodies thrown into the river.


Bernard, Theos. Hatha Yoga. New York: Columbia University Press, 1944.

. Heaven Lies Within Us. New York: Scribner's Sons, Ltd., 1939.

. Hindu Philosophy. New York: Philosophical Library, 1947.

. Land of a Thousand Buddhas. London: Rider, 1952.

. Philosophical Foundations of India. London: Rider, 1945.

. A Simplified Grammar of the Literary Tibetan Language. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Tibetan Text Society, 1946.

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Bernard, Theos (1908-1947)

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