This inteview was conducted at the Yashodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada on the beautiful Kootenay Lake.This is part 3 of 3 parts.
(Some sections have been edited for grammar.)
Candess: When you are talking about that, some of the yogas like the Divine Light Invocation is one of the tools I have been using here and there are so many tools. It has been incredible. What is one of your favorite tools?
Swami Samayananda: For me, one of my favorites is Mantra. I have had a mantra practice since early 1980s. I also do my practice with a harmonium, which I like. There is that whole practice of having an instrument. I tend to be restless by nature so it gives my hands something to do. Also, singing has been a big part of my life. To be able to channel all of that into the mantra and to have a practice like that that doesn’t get old, it just keeps getting deeper and deeper and it feels to me like a dear friend. It is where I go each day and it offers me tremendous support.
Candess: I love the Satsang. The chanting and the mantra is so beautiful. I have a book coming out in January that is called 12 Weeks to Self-Healing: The Gift of Pain. What way would you say that one of the Yoga practices would be helpful in self-healing?
Swami Samayananda: Swami Radha wrote a book called The Yoga of Healing. In it, there are several chapters. Some I remember are working with the Light. It is a small book and at the end of each chapter it has four practices you can do. The first one is on the Light and the Divine Light Invocation is one practice. There is also a section on breath. We know that connection with breath and our own healing and when we get anxious, the breath shortens, shortens, and shortens. That is not healthy for the body. Working with breath is healthy and calming for the body. Also, Hatha Yoga, especially when it I approached from more than the physical. What is my body saying to me as I am going into the pose and doing the pose. Mantra, absolutely for sure. Especially the Hari Om mantra is a healing mantra. Using mantra is healing as well. Relaxation is very healing. Those are a few.
Candess: That is great! One of the reasons I came her is to rest. I had been pushing myself too hard. We had a whole day on learning to rest. I learned so many tools that I would not have known before. It’s been very helpful.
If someone wanted to go on retreat here, what would be the best way for them to find out about the programs?
Swami Samayananda: The best way would be to go to our website and just take a look at what we offer. There is a whole range from weekend workshops to 3 day retreats, 4 day retreats, 10 day retreats like you are on now, to our 3 month Yoga Development Course. There is just about something for everybody. Our basic retreats really introduce people to the practices we offer here, Swami Radha’s teachings. There are some specific ones, like we have one coming up called the Inner Life of Asanas which is a way of going deeper with the Hatha Yoga practice. We had one this summer not too long ago called Facing Change, Exploring Options, so there are lots of different ways for people to come and be here. People can also come on private retreat and join with us for a couple hours in Karma Yoga so they feel connected in the community. The rest of the times, they can enjoy the prayer rooms. It is beautiful as you said. The trails, the lake, the Temple, the library are all available for people when they are here.
Candess: I went to the Temple the other night and I could just feel Swami Radha there. I thought, this must be her favorite place.
Swami Samayananda: – It is.
Candess: It was so clear to me. It was so beautiful there.
Swami Samayananda: – She said when she died, that is where she would go.
Candess: I have another guide that I work with and I was connecting with this guide, but Swami Radha was right there, so I thought OKAY!
Is there anything else that would be helpful for people to know about being a Swami or your life path or being here at the Ashram.
Swami Samayananda: I think one thing that is important for people to know about coming here is it is a time of renewing, learning some practices, some tools as you said to take away. There is no dogma in yoga. There is not doctrine. It is not a religion. I think it is really important. We are an Ashram; it is a spiritual community, so we have people who come who are Buddhist, who are Christian, who practice in the Jewish faith, Muslims, and people who have no particular tradition that they follow but are open to that spiritual dimension and they just want to take a step further. I think that is often a relief.
When people come, we do have imagery around. Imagery and symbolism whether we know it or not is very important to us. We live it anyway and symbols are there simply as a symbol that is reflecting some in ourselves so sometimes for some people, and part because of our Christian Judaic background in the West, images can be a little off-putting; but they are so beautiful and the have so much to say to us if we open them up and take them apart. I think the biggest thing is it is a beautiful place to be, to heal, to renew, to gain perspective and then take what is meaningful back out; bridge it back out to your life, back home, family, friends, work, whatever. Often people will come back and get a little bit more and take it back, back and forth. That is what I did for years.
Candess: That is wonderful! It took me probably to day eight until I started feeling myself again, so it was such a wonderful place to renew and relax. Thank you so much.
Swami Samayananda: Namaste
The end. . .
This interview took place at Yashodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada. This Ashram is on the beautiful Kootenay Lake.
(Some sections have been edited for grammar.)
Candess: What motivated you to become involved with the Ashram?
Swami Samayananda: In the late ‘70s I was in a PhD program in Transpersonal Psychology in California at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and it was one of the first of its kind anywhere in North America.
And it was in the first half of the year I was there I met Swami Radha. She came as a teacher in the course and she was teaching one of the workshops she had created called Life Seals. She had been very supportive of the whole transpersonal movement because she thought it was a way that women could come into the work, which was very dominated by men, the whole psychological field [was dominated by men]. And also she thought it was the women who would bring a more feminine approach into psychology and also open it up more to the spiritual. She really supported the whole transpersonal institute that was started there.
She agreed. She offered to come to teach and she did many of the first years that the school was there. That’s how I initially. . . a door opened, I met her and then I left California, my life went on in other directions and then I moved back to California.
Six months after I moved back she opened her first center of her teachings, her first one in the states, 20 minutes from where I was living. And so, I spent a lot of time with her in workshops she offered and with her during the mid 80’s. To have a teacher who was so, well, first of all she was female and that was wonderful, for me, but also to have a teacher who lived what she said. There was no discrepancy between who she was and how she lived her life and how she taught and what she offered. I always had a sense there was so much more behind her, as a person. I was always curious what that was. What was it that she knew? Why did she think the way she thought? It was always a drawing power for me.
So, It wasn’t until 1987 I came to the Ashram itself. I was living in California and I was with her. Then it was in ‘87 I came for the first time for our 3-month yoga development course. That was the first time I had taken it. So even then I was going back. I came and took the course and I went back to my job and back to my life in California. And over time in my life there has been a lot of back and forth, living at the centers that are connected with the Ashram and teaching there, directing there, but always coming back and returning here. A couple of years ago I said I just want to be here, so that is what I did.
Candess: That is great. It is beautiful here. Where is it that she first started? What was her first center?
Swami Samayananda: She immigrated to Canada in ’54 or a couple of years earlier, not exactly sure, but it was around that time from Germany. She had a visionary experience, which took her to India and to her training time with Sivananda, Swami Sivananda Rishikesh. And then he sent her back to the west. So she came back in ’56. A very different . . . she was 44 years old and she was a professional dancer and she was an immigrant and so she was doing any kind of work she could find to pay her rent. She left everything again which she had also done in Germany, and went to India.
She just wanted to stay there. He [Swami Sivananda] sent her back. He said no, there is a lot that you can offer to Westerners. In ’56 she came back. She only had 6 months with him and she said literally she’d only in that six months had 12 hours with him. Just with him. She came back. Her first center of work was in Montreal. Eventually she moved out west. The temperature and everything was much more conducive for her and she started the first Ashram in North America in Burnaby, right outside of Vancouver and eventually moved to this location here in the interior of BC. Yashodhara Ashram
Candess: The more I hear about her the more grateful I am that we have a Radha House Yoga Center in Spokane. So, being a Swami, What does it mean to be a Swami?
Swami Samayananda: There is sannyasan tradition. Sannyasan means becoming a Swami, living the life of a renunciant basically, in many countries of Asia. In the West it’s a whole lot less of a familiar choice in living a life. So what it really means is dedicating. I’ll talk personally. It means dedicating my life to the teachings that we offer here at the Ashram, which are Swami Radha’s teachings. So being of service to the people who come here, whether its teaching, whether its making special arrangements for people, listening to people, whatever it is, it really is making a commitment to a life of service, and doing the work that needs to be done. So the runinciation part is renouncing those things that I might personally want to do. What comes first is being of service and my commitment to the Divine, or to the Light or to whatever name we give that part of us that transcends the normal everyday life that we live. So it is really based a lot on surrender and learning what surrender means, which is very different than saying yes to anything that comes along and everything that comes along. It certainly is discrimination but it also is really learning what surrender is all about. What does it mean to let go of things that I am really attached to? Whether it is my ideas, whether it is physical things, or whatever. Freedom. There is a tremendous freedom that comes from a life of renunciation. I really recommend it.
Candess: I am doing the 10-day yoga course here now and I am just delighted. I can see how you and the other teachers have been so patient with us. (Swami Samayanda laughs) What is it like for you living in a spiritual community? How has your life changed?
Swami Samayanda: Well it’s interesting because in a community like what we have here, it is a constant learning. The people that come together at any point and time wouldn’t necessarily be people I might go out and choose and say, oh, could I live with you or could we live together. That is part of the surrender, trying to understand, why has this particular group of people come together at this time and how do we support each other. That means not just the nice, friendly, supportive times, but it means how do I remain honest with myself and with the people that I live with. There is a small group of us that are living here permanently. We have our own class every week and it is a reflection class and we talk about what we are going through and what we are thinking and we talk about things that come up among us. It stays very open and flexible and honest among ourselves, because if that doesn’t happen with the core, it’s not going to happen in the whole community.
One of the things I find very vibrant about this community is we have people here at times ranging in ages. Recently we had a 3 year old up to someone who is 87. It is very intergenerational in that way. So we all have an opportunity. In society things are so segmented. Here we all have an opportunity to learn to live together, to work together, and to eat our meals together. It really is an integrative way of learning. So for me it is very exciting.
Swami Radananda who is our spiritual director, who is Swami Radha’s successor, is very much like Swami Radha in that she truly knows that life is a flow, that life is change. We have all kinds of scientific facts now telling us that life is not what it appears to be. There are waves, there are changes, there are vibrations, and there is all of this happening all the time. So, we are more and more putting ourselves in that flow asking, what do we need to be looking at? What do we need to be asking? What are the next steps in the future? We are in a big process right now, looking ahead to the next 10 or 15 years, and the fact that many of us in the core group are in our 60s and one is 70, and one is 82. Here we are now. We can’t keep doing what we have been doing forever. The next generation, how do we bring them in which is in the process of happening? What are we going to do as we get older. I find it very, very exciting and it also takes some getting used to. In the outside world, at least in my life was trying to find the stability where things didn’t change so much. Here we are constantly moving and changing.
(to be continued. . .)