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Swami Radha

Founder of the Sivananda Ashram in British Columbia, this Berlin-born dancer taught students to explore the symbolic meaning of postures and their effect on the spirit.

By Jeanne Ricci

Sylvia Demitz, born in 1911 in Berlin, was a successful concert dancer. During World War II, her dancing career was put on hold as she and her first husband helped those under persecution to leave the country, an act which cost him his life in 1942. In 1947, she married Albert Hellman, a composer. Eighteen months after their wedding, Albert died suddenly of a stroke. Grief-stricken, Demitz emigrated first to England in 1949 and then to Montreal in 1951. After experiencing such tragedy, she questioned the purpose of life.

During meditation, the image of her guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati, appeared to her, beckoning her to travel to Rishikesh, India, to study with him. She was initiated into the sacred order of Sanyas in 1956, returned to Canada in 1957 as Swami Sivananda Radha (radha means "cosmic love"), and opened the Sivananda Ashram Vancouver in Burnaby, British Columbia, which was relocated in 1963 to its present location on Kootenay Bay in the Canadian Rockies and renamed Yasodhara Ashram.

Yasodhara trains students in the Kundalini Yoga system's "hidden language" approach to hatha yoga, which explores the symbolic meaning of postures and their effect on the psyche and spirit. Swami Radha died of heart failure in 1995.

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