Swami Sivananda Radha

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Fast Facts
Other Names and Nicknames: 
Ursula Sylvia Hellman
Divine Life Society
Main Countries of Activity: 
India & Canada
Date of Birth: 
20, 1911,
Place of Birth: 
Berlin, Germany
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
Date Left His/Her Body: 
30 November 1995
Ancestor Gurus: 
Other Related Gurus: 
Swami Radhananda Saraswati - her successor


Swami Sivananda Radha is a prominent Canadian Hindu figure and author on Hinduism.

She was born Ursula Sylvia Hellman on March 20, 1911, in Berlin, Germany and demonstrated psychic ability when only a child. She was widowed twice during World War II and emigrated to Canada. She passed away in 1995.


Swami Radha was one of the world’s most highly respected spiritual teachers. During her lifetime, she inspired many people with her courage and willingness to lead a life of purpose and quality. She became a creative writer, photographer and a solo concert dancer early in life.

Her first marriage ended abruptly when her husband, Wolfgang was killed by the Gestapo for helping Jewish friends leave Germany. She married again, this time to a composer and violinist. Albert Hellman wrote beautiful music for her dances but their time also was shortlived. After one year together he died in her arms.

Against many odds, she survived the war and in 1951 emigrated to Canada settling in Montreal.

From an early age, she had begun to question the meaning of life, and it was this search that took her to India, after her guru, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh appeared to her during a meditation. In her book, Radha Diary of a Woman’s Search, she tells the story of reuniting with her teacher. He challenged her to remember who she was and to think deeply about the purpose of life. “He used every moment to teach you something,” she said. His message was that truth can be found in a balanced life and to use discipline to avoid extremes. She heard him say over and over that selfless service will make you Divine. Seeing this in action made a deep impression on her and karma yoga became a cornerstone of her work.

Swami Sivananda initiated Sylvia into the sacred order of sanyas, the path of renunciation, in 1956. The first western woman to become a sanyasin, she was given the name Swami Sivananda Radha Saraswati. Shortly after the initiation Swami Sivananda sent her back to the West to "update the Teachings for the Western mind."

Upon her return to Canada, she worked unceasingly to fulfill the promise she had made to Sivananda. Her approach to the Eastern teachings was straightforward, accessible and intensely practical. Her goal was to help people discover the purpose of their lives and to guide them in achieving spiritual and emotional independence.

In 1988 in an interview with Hinduism Today Magazine she described her mission, "The main thing I try to do is have my students bring quality into their lives. To me, people are not spiritual if this quality is not there in their lives-even if they meditate six hours a day. By quality I mean that which comes from deep inside and shows up in their actions, their treatment of others and the way they do their jobs."

Swami Radha's teachings are both intensely pragmatic and full of quality. She worked with her students and devotees at the gut level where ideas translate into application. With her sensitive understanding of human nature she integrated modern Western psychology with ancient Eastern yoga to produce a unique teaching system which devotees say changed their lives.

She thought that her dancing would be given up as part of her renunciation; however, Swami Sivananda had other ideas. He encouraged her to find the sacred in the dance, showing her that the body could be a spiritual tool. Prayer dance became part of her teachings helping students learn how to transform their emotions into devotion through the beautiful gestures of east Indian dance.

The science of yoga is the heart of Swami Radha's teaching, but she contended that before any yoga instruction can begin, there must be a foundation of clarity. This clarity may come at first in understanding certain often-used terms like love, service, humility, meditation, consciousness, mind, energy and God.

"I have them write down what they think the meaning of a certain word is and then we discuss it," Swami Radha commented. "This then forces them to become aware of where they are. You know, you have to clear away so many of the basic things before you can even have a grasp of these teachings."

Swami Radha accomplished a lot, but it was not always easy. She grew up in Germany through two World Wars. Her upbringing in a very wealthy family-while highly cultured-was not religious. To travel to India, receive sannyas and take the vow of renunciation was unheard of for a woman of her background. To subsequently travel West on a spiritual mission, establish and sustain an ashram, take on students and successfully maintain an active teaching program for more than 30 years was both a challenge and an achievement. Her legacy is wide ranging.

In 1970 Swami Radha established the Association for the Development of Human Potential in the U.S. now based in Spokane, WA. In the 80’s she turned her attention to the cities setting up teaching centres (Radha Yoga Centers), in North America, Mexico and England.

She formed her Timeless Books imprint in 1978. The publications of her writings include, Kundalini:Yoga for the West, Mantras: Words of Power, and Hatha Yoga the Hidden Language. These books are popular and distinctive because they clarify the sometimes enigmatic Eastern teachings in a way that can be understood and applied in western daily life.

Today, the ashram she founded in 1963, Yasodhara, is carrying on Swami Radha’s work under the enlightened leadership of Swami Radhananda. The Radha Yoga Centers, light-houses in the cities offer classes and courses in the teachings. Timeless Books continues to publish her writings drawing from an archive of material that is prolific, and Ascent magazine is a brilliant manifestation of yoga for an inspired life.



On the advice of her guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh, 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. Swami Radha was one of the first teachers to present yoga as a philosophical and spiritual system accessible to all. Her Teachings integrate yoga practices with personal development, offering powerful tools for transformation. Self-inquiry and reflection are foundations, with questions such as: Who am I? What is life all about? What makes my life worthwhile? How do I prepare for the rest of my life?

Swami Radha is the author of many classical books of yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West, Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language, Mantras: Words of Power, and The Divine Light Invocation. Her memoirs are published in Radha: Diary of a Woman's Search and In the Company of the Wise.

Her first Ashram was established in Burnaby, BC, Canada. It was moved to its current location on the shore of Kootenay Lake in BC, and renamed Yasodhara Ashram in 1963. Her lineage now offer a wide range of classes, workshops, retreats and Karma Yoga programs at the Ashram, plus a range of teacher certification courses covering Hatha Yoga, Hidden Language Hatha Yoga, Raja and Jnana Yoga, Mantra Yoga and Japa Yoga, Dream Yoga, Kundalini, and Karma Yoga.

For over 40 years the Ashram has been offering an intensive three-month program (675 days) called the Yoga Development Course as an an in-depth introduction to the major branches of yoga and a foundation in personal and spiritual development. The course is for potential yoga teachers and to anyone wishing to deepen their yoga practice and make changes in their approach to life.

Students approach the fundamental goal of yoga – the union of individual consciousness with Cosmic Consciousness through a variety of Yoga practices. Since inner work is essential on the path of yoga personal exploration workshops developed by Swami Radha – Life Seal, Straightwalk, Ideals, Two Selves and Identification – are given to help students accept themselves, develop strengths and become the kind of person they want to be.

Her teachers can be found offering classes, and in places living in small communities, across North America, in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The lineage has been established and is continued by Swami Radhananda Saraswati, current spiritual director of the Ashram with oversight of the work of non-profit organizations for teachers in different countries. Radhananda has described her spiritual training at the feet of Swami Radha in her own memoir - Carried by a Promise: a Life Transformed by Yoga.