Dr. H. R. Nagendra, born on New Year's Day 1943 in the south Indian state of Karnataka, graduated in mechanical engineering and continued his studies to secure a doctoral degree (PhD) from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. He started his career by joining IISc as a member of faculty of mechanical engineering in 1968 and held the post till 1975. In between, he served as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia in 1970 followed by a stint at Marshall Space Flight Center of NASA during 1970 - 71. During his stay in the US, he was also associated with Harvard University as a consultant at their Engineering Sciences Laboratory from 1970 to 1972 after which he moved to London and worked as a visiting faculty at Imperial College of Science and Technology. Returning to India, he resumed his career at IISc which would stretch for two more years till he started his association in 1975 with Vivekananda Kendra, a spiritual organization founded in 1972 by Eknath Ranade, by taking up the post of the honorary director of the training centre at the organization's headquarters in Kanyakumari.
For the next quarter of a century, Nagendra was involved with organizational and operational activities of Vivekananda Kendra. He became the national secretary of Yoga Shiksha Vibhag, the yoga education centre of the organization in 1975 and held the post till he was elected as the national vice president of the organization in 1993. In between, he also held the post of the Secretary of Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Therapy and Research Committee from 1979 to 1986 and the post of the Secretary of Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation and the Director of Indian Yoga Institute from 1986 to 2000. In 2000, he became the president of Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, which was started as a society in 2000, and when the society started its academic programs in 2002, he became its founder vice chancellor. The university was subsequently recognized by the University Grants Commission as a deemed university. He served as the vice chancellor of the university till 2013 when Ramachandra G. Bhat took over the position but continues his association with the university as its chancellor. He has also served as a member of the working group on health of the erstwhile Planning Commission of India.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare awarded him the title of Yoga Shri in 1997. The Government of India included in the Republic Day honors list for the civilian award of the Padma Shri in 2016.