Meet Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati
Born in Los Angeles in 1946, Swami Nirmalananda married before completing college and started a family while living in the suburbs. She describes that “a divine discontent grew to an undeniable urge that affected everything in my life, but I didn’t know what to do with it.” She began exploring psychology, yoga, meditation, healing, massage and Eastern traditions in the 1960s. Her studies did not satisfy her inner promptings, which led her to a divorce and raising her three children as a single mother.
"Swami Nirmalananda never ceases to amaze me… she is a master teacher and is both forthcoming and real in every moment. Swami Nirmalananda is an inspiration for me to stay on this path and follow the teachings." — Rosemary Nogue, Calgary AB, Canada
“I found my destiny when I attended a program at a meditation center in 1976. I had no idea what was happening, but I had found my Guru and everything began to fall together after that.” As a result of her visit to the meditation center, Nirmalananda received a powerful and spontaneous initiation six weeks later. She describes, “I was walking down a hotel hallway at the end of a psychology conference and an ecstatic energy began to surge up my spine. I entered my room, and sat down on the floor for some odd reason. My feet twined themselves into the full lotus position.” Nirmalaji had received Maha-Shaktipat-Diksha from Swami Muktananda (Baba), though he was physically in India at the time. The seed had been planted at the meditation center six weeks earlier and was now sprouting in a dramatic and ecstatic way.
"Her presence is like tapping into the main stream. The hot socket." — Lori Kenney, Portland OR
Nirmalananda began orienting her life around her early morning meditations, as they became the most important part of her day. Studying Baba’s books, attending weekly meditations and learning how to play several Indian musical instruments provided a structure that supported the blossoming within her, while life speeded up around her. “In hindsight, I can see that I had to complete certain karmas, but it got really crazy.”
All of this had been happening without Nirmalananda having met her Guru physically, so she traveled to his home in India in October 1977. Though she had never traveled internationally, she says, “I never thought anything that I saw was at all strange, even in such a different world as India was then. When I arrived, I came down the airplane steps and placed my foot on India’s earth – an ecstatic impulse arose inside, shouting ‘Mother!’ I knew that I had come home. In that moment I realized that I had never before felt at home anywhere, but I was home now.”
New Year’s Day in 1978 offered a pivotal moment when Nirmalananda attended a weekend meditation seminar at Muktananda’s ashram in Oakland. The first swamis initiated by Baba had just returned from India to lead the seminar. When Swami Shankarananda stood up in his flaming orange robes, Nirmalaji says, “I felt the inner impulse by which I had always lived my life. It arose powerfully within me and said, ‘I want that.’ I knew I would become a swami one day.”
When she had been in India in 1977, Nirmalananda had asked Baba for permission to move her family into the Ashram; he told her he was coming to America and to join Him there. She sold her home and her accounting business and moved her family into the Los Angeles Ashram, where she served as part of the management team under Swami Shankarananda’s direction. She also taught asana classes and served as one of the Ashram musicians.
"I loved the sharing of Nirmalananda’s vast knowledge from experience and the sutras." — Stacey Cross, Bellevue WA.
Many years of living in Baba’s Ashrams in the USA, Europe and India allowed Swamiji to indulge her total focus on Baba and HIs teachings, which laid the foundation for her life and work since. She says, “Six weeks before he left this world, he sent me back to America to raise my children and to teach.” She was helping to establish the yoga program in the ashram in Spain when Muktananda took mahasamadhi, the final absorption into consciousness. Nirmalananda describes, “Baba came to me as he was leaving, and told me that he had already given me everything."
She returned to southern California in 1983 and started teaching asana classes, while working during the day to support her children. “Slowly, I began to fall apart. For me, Muktananda was everything — and still is. But I didn’t yet know how to live my life without being in his physical presence.” She traveled to Ganeshpuri in 1985 for the anniversary of Muktananda’s mahasamadhi, but it didn’t help her integrate her yogic knowledge into her life. One of Muktananda’s successors, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, invited Nirmalananda to move into the ashram. With her children now in college, Nirmalaji lived and studied with Gurumayi, gradually learning how to live in the world as a yogi, then settled in San Diego to begin teaching in 1987.
Swami Nirmalananda describes her way of teaching, which her students find to be so unique and powerful, as “a cosmic download, given to me by my Guru. He gave it to me in one instant, whole and complete, but it took me 15 years to figure out what I got. I certainly am a slow learner!” She was urged to name it and accepted the help of a student in establishing the copyright and trademark protection for Svaroopa® yoga, protecting both the name and the body of teachings in order to preserve their integrity. Yoga Journal listed Svaroopa® yoga as a style in 1996, providing national recognition of its growth and effectiveness. Master Yoga Foundation was created as a not-for-profit organization to be the home for Svaroopa® yoga, to foster and protect its teachings.
Nirmalananda created and directed the yoga program for Dr. Deepak Chopra for five years and served as the founding president of Yoga Alliance® as well as the San Diego yoga teacher association, YES (Yoga Education Society). Svaroopa® yoga teachers began inviting her to teach in their cities, so she added weekend workshops to her schedule, holding the first one in Calgary AB, Canada. That led to her teaching at many yoga conferences and yoga retreat centers and offering many workshops in Australia, England, South Korea and Mexico as well as yoga studios throughout the USA.
Traveling to India for biannual personal retreats, Swami Nirmalananda returned each time with her state obviously deepened. Her ability to teach and lead others to their own inner experience expanded simultaneously. After traveling extensively to teach for two decades, she and Master Yoga moved to the Philadelphia area in 2006, to establish a central location for Svaroopis as well as to support Nirmalaji’s needs as Master Teacher.
"Swamiji has embodied meditation and its purpose to know the Self." — Micki Italiano, Cherry Hill NJ
After one year, an overnight fire destroyed Master Yoga’s building and everything in it. Nirmalananda sent her response to the community, “Instead of worrying, send blessings.” The Board created a fundraising campaign, “Rebuilding from the Ashes,” which energized the world-wide Svaroopa® yoga community and began shifting Master Yoga to the next level of leadership and service.
In 2008 Nirmalananda reconnected with an old friend, Swami Shankarananda of Melbourne Australia, who offered her sannyasa initiation. She received that initiation in February 2009. In 2010, with great joy, she opened the doors of Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram, where she currently resides and serves as spiritual leader and master teacher. In 2013, Master Yoga Foundation was merged into Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram, and all Svaroopa® yoga and meditation programs were consolidated under the Ashram.
Swami Nirmalananda says, “My first guru was my mother; she taught me to love God. My second guru was my father; he taught me unconditional love by giving it to me. I live in undying gratitude to Muktananda, who opened the door to my own Divinity. Yet I didn’t know how to step across the threshold, and needed the nurturance and support of so many gurus along the way. My heart fills with gratitude for their love and support. Yet my life is Muktananda — there is nothing but Muktananda.”