Sowmya Ayyar


The fallen star

People always ask me “where did you study yoga?” The short answer is “At Southwest Institute for Healing Arts in Arizona”.

The long answer is this:

The story starts many generations ago. Born into an Iyer Brahmin family, the “Gothram” we use in religious ceremonies refers to the one of seven sages who propagated to create the world population. So I guess somehow, I am related to one of these seven. And these sages practiced various forms of yoga, so the history goes.

My story of yoga, though, is about her story. In the 1940s, my great-grandmothers were ardent devotees of Sri Ramana Bhagavan, the Maharishi of Tiruvanamalai. In fact, one was pictured at his mahasamadhi (day of leaving the body for complete bliss), and the photograph was published in “The Mountain Path” (Aradhana 1993)—no small feat for a widowed woman back in a day and age when cameras hardly existed!

My grandmother observed this piety and herself became a devotee of Swami Sivananda, also from a Tamil Iyer family, and considered one of the great gurus of the 20th century. She used to spend summers at his ashram in Rishikesh; when my grandfather would visit, Swami Sivananda would excitedly exclaim “My son-in-law has come!” Like a child, my grandmother gives love unconditionally. Her life has largely been about “santosha”, or “complete contentment”, one of the niyamas expounded in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

My mother has always been religious, and even living in the United States, she managed to find many gurus to cling to like a child holding onto its mother. She spent many years attending spiritual satsangs and devotional events. As a child, I remember playing on Swami Chinmayananda’s lap. Later, I was initiated by Mata Amritanandamayi, and spent much of my teens living in her ashram and traveling with her. These years molded me and I was always intrigued by spirituality as a way of life. As a teen, my mother encouraged me to enroll in yoga classes, and as an adult, I received yoga teaching certification. Wherever I went, somehow, people wanted to learn yoga from me, even in India.

Like a fallen star collecting particles from the atmosphere along the way, I believe I have been gifted with the good karmas all my various ancestors (maternal and paternal) reaped through their associations with saintly beings. There are seven stars in the skies for each of the seven sages, and I am a piece fallen from one!