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.
About twelve years ago she arrived in Australia and became based at the Satyananda ashram at Mangrove Mountain, NSW. She was a very welcome addition to the teaching staff, and indeed to the community (sangha) at the ashram.
Her main role at the ashram was as a senior teacher, as she had received a Masters in Yoga Philosophy whilst in India. As her forte was meditation, a fair amount of her teaching revolved around meditation practice. In her role as a Satyananda yoga teacher she would spend a great many weeks each year travelling to Satyananda yoga communities all around the world to bring them not only her wisdom, but her powerful, peaceful presence.
Some years back, Swami Satyadharma asked me to devote one of two days a week to her great project – turning Swami Satyananda’s teachings into books.
Her guru had set her this task many years previously, and she worked tirelessly at this huge task producing a series of books that looked deeply into the philosophy and practice of yoga. For a year or two I worked on this massive project with her, which gave me a chance to get to know her a little.
She lived in a tiny house on the top of the mountain – a 15 minute drive from the ashram. I don’t know if she was hopeful of peace and quiet in that little house, for each time I was there she would be inundated with visitors – people bringing their problems to her, people asking advice about their personal yoga practice, people arriving to work on the ashram veggie patch, and people just wanting a chat.
To me, Swami Satyadharma was the epitome of the perfect yogi – honest, dedicated, generous, kind and with a sense of humour.
One of my favourite memories was my turning up unannounced to her home for a quick drop-in, and having her greet me with, “Oh good. I’ve been waiting for someone to help me with this cork.” Apparently she had been trying unsuccessfully for some time to pull this very tight cork out of an olive oil bottle. The fondness of the memory comes from her very practical greeting!
As she had lived in an Indian ashram for most of her life, she had never learnt to drive a car. She decided, whilst in her 60s, that she needed to learn so she could drive herself up and down the mountain.
Some people in the ashram were a bit tentative about Swami Satyadharma learning to drive – single-pointed awareness is great for successful meditation, but not necessarily what you need when driving a car! I was privileged to be her first driving instructor. Imagine a middle-aged yogi, calm and centred behind the wheel of a car going around the grassy paddock that was her backyard at the ashram!
However, being the intelligent woman that she was, she soon became a reasonable driver, if a bit nervous in Sydney’s traffic (she’s not the only one!).
On Saturday, 29th June 2019, the greater Satyananda sanga gathered at Mangrove Mountain to commemorate her life, her teachings, and the impact that she has made upon yoga in Australia. Her loss is, and will continue to be, keenly felt.
I, for one, am very sad at her passing, but grateful for the opportunities I have had in working with her and learning from her. What a great world it would be if we all could be a little more like her – gracious, modest, generous, kind.
She was a true yogi.