Swami Sivananda Saraswati
Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh (1887-1963) was one of India’s great gurus, and the founder of the Divine Life Society. Known for his generosity and selfless heart, he has inspired many to follow the path of yoga.
Swami Sivananda initiated Swami Radha in 1956. To initiate a woman and a Westerner in the 1950s was groundbreaking. After an intense training period, he encouraged her to establish her own ashram in the West, so that she could share the teachings of yoga.
Swami Radha has said of her guru, “Yoga is the path of knowledge that permitted me to find the Light within myself, and to discover my own divinity. Gurudev Sivananda, a man of great character, was my inspiration in awakening to this Light.”
Swami Sivananda is the honoured maha-guru (grandfather) of our lineage, a visionary for his time.
Swami Sivananda Radha, Founder
Born in Germany in 1911, Sylvia Hellman was among the first women to become a photographer/journalist as well as an advertising writer and designer. She was also a modern interpretative dancer in Berlin, but soon realized that worldly success brought little of enduring value. The destructive war years in Germany only increased her desire to find a lasting and meaningful purpose in life.
She immigrated to Canada in 1951 and became a Canadian citizen. A visionary experience led her to her guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh, India. At his ashram she received intense training in the philosophy and practices of yoga, and in 1956 she was initiated into the sacred order of sanyas to become Swami Sivananda Radha.
At her guru’s request she returned to the West to establish an ashram for the study of yoga. In 1956, in Burnaby, British Columbia, she founded the first ashram in Canada and later opened the Yoga Vedanta Bookstore on Robson Street in downtown Vancouver. In 1963, the Ashram moved to its present location in Kootenay Bay, BC, and took the name Yasodhara. To respond to the needs of increasing numbers of students in urban environments, Swami Radha also opened centres across Canada, the US and Europe, where yoga classes continue to be taught by teachers trained at Yasodhara Ashram.
Swami Radha’s major focus was to interpret the ancient yogic teachings of the East so that they could be understood and applied in the daily life of Westerners. She set high ethical standards and encouraged students to develop quality in their lives and manifest their own ideals. Her teachings are based on building character as a foundation so that the energy gained through spiritual practice is directed wisely.
A pioneer in the North American yoga movement of the mid-20th century, Swami Radha’s teachings continue to inspire the yogis of today.
Learn More About Swami Radha:
Swami Radhananda first came to Yasodhara Ashram in 1977 where she met Swami Radha and became a lifelong student. She was the director of the Yasodhara Yoga Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta from 1986 to 1990, when she moved to the Ashram. Initiated into sanyas in 1994, Swami Radhananda was president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram from 1993-2014, and a living example of the quality and integrity of Swami Radha’s teachings. Swami Radhananda passed into the Light on January 28, 2021.
Swami Radhananda opened the way for the next generation of yogis and yoginis to embrace the rewards of spiritual life. She updated the Ashram’s teaching style to become interactive and experiential. And she also encouraged environmental resiliency, ensuring that the Ashram will be a place of learning and transformation for generations to come.
Swami Radhananda is the author of a memoir about her time with Swami Radha, Carried by a Promise: A Life Transformed by Yoga, and a book of inspirational essays, Living the Practice.
Please see Celebration of Life and Tributes Page for her inspirational life.
Swami Lalitananda became the president of Yasodhara Ashram in 2014 and carries forward the lineage in this tradition, whose leadership is passed through women.
A student of Swami Radha’s since 1979, she served as her personal assistant and editor for eight years, which offered many opportunities for direct learning. Her development continued under the mentorship of Swami Radhananda, who initiated her into sanyas in 1996.
Swami Lalitananda is committed to listening to the Ashram and to the world around us in order to maintain the essence of the teachings while adapting to the demands of the times. Her leadership style is practical, approachable and intuitive with a focus on inclusivity, collaboration and intergenerational succession. Her challenges since taking the presidency include the fire and rebuilding of the Temple of Light, the ongoing global pandemic and the recent passing of Swami Radhananda.
Swami Lalitananda brings an innovative spirit to yoga practice – she founded “Radha” a yoga studio, eatery and gallery in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and was a columnist for the award-winning magazine, Ascent. She is also the author of two books, including The Inner Life of Asanas.