Radha, Swami Sivananda (1911-1995)

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Radha, Swami Sivananda (1911-1995)

Founder and spiritual leader of Yasodhara Ashram, Kootenay Bay, British Columbia, Canada. Swami Radha (born Ursula Sylvia Hellman) was born March 20, 1911, in Germany and demonstrated psychic ability when only a child. She was widowed twice during World War II and emigrated to Canada, in an effort to forget the horrors of the Nazi regime.

Hellman felt a strong urge for spiritual fulfillment, and during meditation she had a vision of a Hindu sage. A few days later, while looking at books in a Montreal store, she saw a photograph of the Hindu sage she had seen in meditation. His name was Swami Sivananda Saraswati, a famous yogi with an ashram at Rishikesh, India, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Hellman wrote to Swami Sivananda and received a reply asking her to "come home" to India. With some considerable sacrifices, she finished up her job and traveled to Rishikesh, where she received intensive training in Hinduism and the integral yoga system taught by Sivananda. In January 1956, she was initiated as a renunciate (sannyasi) by Swami Sivananda and instructed to carry his spiritual message to the West. At that period, women swamis, particularly Westerners, were rare, and the prospect of returning to Canada without income was a daunting one, but with faith in her guru, Swami Radha returned to Canada. Slowly a society grew around her to spread yoga teachings of the spiritual life.

The Sivananda Ashram was originally founded at South Burnaby, Vancouver, British Columbia, but later moved to Kootenay Bay, British Columbia. While searching for a possible site in this area, Swami Radha found an ideal setting by the side of a lake, officially listed since 1897 as "Yasodhara." It was a good omen, since in Hinduism Yasoda is the foster-mother of Shree Krishna, an incarnation of God.

Under the name Yasodhara Ashram, the society occupied an 83-acre site with a lake, forests, and mountains, reminiscent of the foothills of India. Several acres have been cleared, and the ashram premises include residential buildings, a guest lodge, prayer room, print shop, bookstore, office, recording studio, and a Temple of All Faiths. Various workshop programs and courses are given in yoga and the spiritual teachings of East and West. There are no religious limitations, as the aim of the ashram is to integrate the spiritual ideals and practices of all major religions.

As spiritual director, Radha took steps to avoid a personality cult growing up around her and allowed no pictures of herself or of Sivananda in the prayer rooms. Instead, the basic spiritual light of different religions was emphasized by their traditional symbols. Besides her many books, Radha was responsible for issuing various recordings, including her teachings, which were available on Divine Light Invocation and Mantras: Songs of Yoga, published by Ashram Records.

Radha died November 30, 1995.


Radha, Swami Sivananda. Gods Who Walk the Rainbow. Porthill, Idaho: Timeless Books, 1981.

. Hatha Yoga, Hidden Language. Porthill, Idaho: Timeless Books, 1987.

. Kundalini Yoga for the West. Spokane, Wash.: Timeless Books, 1978.

. Mantras, Words of Power. Porthill, Idaho: Timeless Books, 1980.

. Radha, Diary of a Woman's Search. Porthill, Idaho: Timeless Books, 1981.

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Radha, Swami Sivananda (1911-1995)

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