Swami Satyadhrama – farewell to a great teacher

In June of this year, our dear teacher departed this life. What a loss for the world. What a loss for the yoga community. What a loss for me.

Within the broader yoga community, a person who studies, practices and teaches yoga may become a swami. One such person based at the Satyananda ashram at Mangrove Mountain in NSW, was Swami Satyadharma Saraswati – a woman of great learning, compassion and grace.

She was born and raised in the United States but went to India as a very young woman – a very popular thing for young people to do in the ’60s and ’70s. She eventually arrived at the Satyananda ashram, in Bihar, in the north of India. She stayed there for forty years, learning from her guru, Swami Satyananda, the founder of Satyananda yoga.

In the process, of course, she became an expert meditator and a great and wise yogi. Her devotion to her guru and her life path were absolute. She became a great teacher on all aspects of yoga.


My favourite colour? Geru.

Like most people (presumably), I go through times when, for no apparent reason, I just feel “down”.

This happened earlier this year. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I just felt as if my life was out of kilter, that there were “other things” that I should be doing, or pursuing. In other words, I was just not feeling “at peace” with myself, and the way my life was going. I ate a lot of cake – always good to stuff something down to try and the hide the feelings, right? Totally wrong. I got fatter and fatter, which of course made me less happy! What to do?

I spent a lot of time thinking about the happiest times of my life. They were not the times that were the most pleasurable. Pleasures are short-lived and related to the senses, like eating cake or chocolate, like dancing, or watching a ballet, or…….(see my earlier Brahmacharya blog).

Happiness is deeper than that. (more…)

Ashram life

Whether you go to an ashram for the atmosphere, the practice or just for a holiday, great self-awareness and growth can occur.

I want to share with you my experience of my stint in a Satyananda ashram in India in 2009. I remembered how much I loved that time and how much I gained from that experience, especially concerning the niyama, Tapasya (self-discipline).

The ashram was in a village called Rikhia, in northern India. Thirty years ago, Rikhia was one of the poorest areas in one of the poorest states in India when Swami Satyananda established an ashram there. When I was there it had been going for twenty years, and although many people were still desperately poor, living conditions had risen considerably as a result of the ashram.

I arrived in early October, to be present at one of the large celebrations that are held annually. I was assigned one of three beds in a tiny room in a dormitory a kilometre or two away from the main ashram. (more…)

An attitude of gratitude

A few months ago, we had a state election. I spent the whole day in the sun handing out “How to Vote” cards for the Animal Justice Party. [For those who think that that is incompatible with teaching yoga, please refer to my Ahimsa blog – non-harmfulness.]

More recently, we’ve had a federal election, for which I spent a half day doing the same thing – handing out “How to Vote” cards to people who were apathetic about voting at all, and apathetic about the plight of animals everywhere.

The right to vote was won by ordinary men and women in enormous struggles. What a great thing it is that in this country we – the ordinary people – have a voice in how our country is run. Whether you’re happy or sad about the results of the election, we need to give thanks and be grateful for the opportunity to have a say – a right denied to so many people in the world.

“What has this to do with yoga?” you’re probably wondering. Well . . . . lots. (more…)

Thou shalt not kill

I can hold my peace no longer. For too long – as long as I can remember – I have protested against cruelty to animals.

I grew up in Mudgee – a sleepy unsophisticated town back then. At the far, far end of the street where we lived, were “Sale Yards”; for a long time, I had no idea was “Sale Yards” were, but a friend and I set out on our bikes one day and rode all the way out of town to find out. (We were probably 10 or 12 years old at the time).

I was horrified!! Aghast! that people could be so cruel to animals.

I remember there were several yards packed full of pigs – literally, they had no room to move. A man near where I was standing picked up a little pig and THREW it to a man in another yard. I screamed and said “Don’t do that to the pig”. The man just laughed and said “It’s only a pig. It can’t feel anything”! I said nothing, but knew that he was wrong. In any case, a twelve-year old girl isn’t about to engage in a fight with a huge pig-handler!

Living in a country town, we had friends who lived “on the land”. It was mostly sheep country in those days. On several occasions, I entered shearing sheds while shearing was in progress. Such cruelty and rough handling I saw then – sheep cut, bashed, thrown. Again, I said to the man in charge “Why are they hurting the sheep?” The answer was the same: “They’re only sheep; they can’t feel anything”. Again, I knew he was wrong, but it’s not a child’s place to contradict the adult in charge.

Cracker night used to be fun – for some. We always had a big bonfire and a good supply of crackers. But every year, countless cats were killed or maimed by boys attaching a bundle of crackers to the cats, then lighting the crackers! Their excuse was the same, “What does it matter? They’re only cats.” (more…)

My Mum – the yogi

Please indulge me. Today would be my Mum’s one hundredth birthday, if she were still alive. I couldn’t think how I could ‘celebrate’ her birthday, but I am acknowledging it in various ways.

Among my Mum’s many talents was the ability to get flowers to stay where she put them in the vase. She ALWAYS had cut flowers in the house – when I was a child, and even when she was very old, and all the times in between. So I have flowers in a vase today, in her memory. Unfortunately,I haven’t learnt to speak ‘flower’ so the flowers don’t do as I ask them, as they did for my mum. But they’re beautiful anyway.

My mother was artistic and creative. As well as making beautiful flower arrangements, she also painted and sewed and did beautiful embroidery. She was also very practical – she always found practical solutions to problems that arose.

But they are not the reasons I’m honouring her today. She didn’t realise it, but she was in fact a yogi. Although I’m sure she knew nothing of yogic philosophy, she -inadvertently – lived by the Yamas and Niyamas. (more…)

Farewelling an Australian Rishi

There was some sadness for me at Christmas – even apart from my usual sadness of so many animals being slaughtered to go onto celebratory plates.

Dr. Rishi Vivekananda died a few days before Christmas.

Vivek, as he was affectionately known, was one of Australia’s leading, best-known yogis. He was husband to Rishi Hridayananda who, for many years, has been the spiritual head of the Mangrove Mountain yoga ashram.

“Rishi” is a title given to a sage or seer, only conferred on highly developed yogis. The name “Vivekananda” is made up of two words: “Viveka” means ‘true knowledge’ or ‘right understanding’, and “ananda” means pure unalloyed bliss or pleasure (Sanskrit Glossary of Yogic Terms, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, 2007).

An initiation name does several things. In part, it reflects who or what you are, and your potential, but it also give you something to strive for, aiming to fulfill that potential.

From my perspective, Rishi Vivek well and truly lived up to his name. He was a medical doctor, starting out as a GP, and then becoming a psychiatrist which he worked at for 40 years. From the time he discovered yoga in the 1960s or ’70s, he integrated the techniques of yoga with the modern knowledge of the mind, body and healing. For many years he treated the psychological wounds of Vietnam veterans, including using Yoga Nidra – a deep relaxation practice – with his patients. (more…)

How to keep your resolve

Well, what on earth has New Year Resolutions to do with yoga? It turns out – quite a bit!

On a broad level of understanding of yoga, we have its very foundations, the practice of which is designed to strengthen our minds and therefore our resolve. I speak of our old friends the yamas and niyamas. I have written more fully about these pillars of yoga in earlier blogs, but will re-cap them here, as they relate to strengthening our resolve.

The first yama – the very foundation upon which the huge edifice of yoga is built – is AHIMSA, which basically means ‘abstaining from causing pain to others or self in thought, word or deed.’ More generally, ‘ahimsa’ also infers a general attitude of welfare for the entire world. Consciously incorporating ahimsa into our lives requires resolve. First we have to be prepared to acknowledge where we are contributing to the pain of others, and self, before we can stop it. That requires huge strength of mind, but the more we become aware of how our actions, our habits – affect other beings, the stronger our minds – and our resolves – become. (more…)