• Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
      AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - October 2017 

    Talk with Nina Johnson

    Skype Talk with Nina Johnson at The Meditation Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA – Oct0ber 12, 2017.

    [Note: Nina Johnson is the founder and Director Emeritus of the Himalayan Yoga Meditation Center, formerly called The Yoga Society, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.  Nina has been teaching classes in Milwaukee for over 40 years. With the blessings of her guru H.H. Sri Swami Rama, and with her own natural compassion, determination, and a practical, down-to-earth style, Nina has trained and initiated hundreds of students in the practice of hatha yoga and meditation.]

    In 1971 I was teaching hatha yoga at the YMCA in Milwaukee. I heard that a Swami was coming to town, and that he could initiate people, so I went to him. He gave a talk, and I thought, “Well, he didn’t say anything that I didn’t already know.” Later on, a friend took me to him, and he initiated me. It was July 22, 1971, at 1:30 pm. After the initiation, we talked, and I said, “I’d like to ask you some questions about Jesus.” I was born in Kentucky and was raised as a Southern Baptist, and I had talked to a lot of ministers and priests about Jesus, but they had no knowledge about the things I wanted to know. Swami Rama answered all my questions, and afterwards, he said, “Now I want something from YOU. I want you to open a yoga center for me.” “No, I can’t do that,” I said, and I got up to leave. He was sitting cross-legged, but when I got to the door, he was already there, blocking me. He would not take no for an answer. “I am your master,” he said. “You must open a yoga center.” I thought, “Well, I’ll say ‘yes,’ because it’s the only way I’ll get out of here.”

    When I got home, my husband asked me about what happened. I told my husband that Swami Rama had answered all my questions about Jesus. “How do you know he’s right?” he asked. The Beatles had gone to see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and there was also a young spiritual teacher in the USA called Maharaji, and people were skeptical. I said, “Of course he’s right. He’s a yogi.”

    Later Swami Rama gave another talk to a large group in Milwaukee and announced, “I am going to open up a yoga center here in Milwaukee which will be led by a wonderful teacher.” I was relieved when I heard him say that, and I was looking forward to knowing who the wonderful teacher was going to be. Then he said, “The teacher is Nina Johnson. Stand up, Nina.”

    Swami Rama had founded the Himalayan Institute in Glenview, Illinois, which was a suburb a little north of Chicago. The Glenview center was run by Ann Alyward. She was going through the files to find names and addresses, and my card fell out onto the floor, so Swami Rama had my name and address. Swami Rama said to Ann, “That’s the one; call her.”

    So I started a yoga center in Milwaukee, but I did nothing. Truly. The center always ran itself, and I’m glad it was that way. I never really felt that I did anything. There was a time when Gary Evers said to me, “We can’t pay the rent.” I said, “Tonight I’ll give you the money for the rent.” I had a lot to do a lot that day. I had to go shopping for groceries and take care of my kids, and then go to the bank. When I got back to the center, Gary said, “We just got a check in the mail for more than we need.” This kind of thing was par for the course at Milwaukee.

    I live in Malethi, India, for a good part of the year. Here I am now back in the United States, with all the conveniences of lights and hot water and so forth. Swami Rama said to me, “America is a wonderful place to live, but a terrible place to die.” It’s not Windsor Castle in India. One morning it was very cold, and I was taking a shower and was all soapy, and the shower stopped, and I slipped and fell. That kind of thing is not pleasant. Neither are the bugs. But there’s a certain feeling in India that you can’t get here in the United States.

    Swami Rama had told me that after my husband and mother died, to come to India and be with him, and I did that. In 2005 my husband died, and after that I started going to India regularly. In 2006 I had a vision of a being at a railway station in India, totally surrounded by Indians. And one of the Indians I immediately knew was my husband. I saw him, and I knew that reincarnation was really true. I came up to him and said, “Oh Bud! I miss you. I love you.” “What was THAT all about?” I asked myself afterwards. During the time the vision lasted there was nothing but pure joy! I had painful scoliosis in my back, but at that time there was absolutely no pain. “Well,” I said to myself, “I met Swami Rama in 1971, and he guided me, and now I am totally hooked.”

    So now I’m dying to die. My mother lived to be 107. I was with her at the end, like a nurse holding her hand. And I remembered a poem by Kabir about not being afraid of death.

    [Nina did not name the poem or recite it, but one of Swami Veda’s favorite passages from Kabir was:
    “When you were born in this world, you cried and everyone else laughed.
    Live such a life, so that when you die, YOU laugh and everyone else cries.”]

    And Swami Rama often said, “Death is not a period, it is just a comma, a brief pause.”

    There was a retreat at Green Lake, and everyone gathered around Swami Rama at the end, and I intruded, as if to show him that I was there when he was about to leave. He said, “We don’t say goodbye in our tradition. We’re always together.” I’m originally from Kentucky and in the winter, it freezes, and we have to wait until spring. So there’s a saying, “We’ll see you in the spring if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.”

    I once asked Swami Rama a question about my dog. When I meditated I had a little dog who only weighed about six pounds, and he used to want to come into the room when I was meditating. I told Swami Rama about that, and he said, “Sure.” And the dog would stay with me and look at me while I said my mantra.
    I’m glad Swami Rama knew about my meditations. I just meditate the best I can. I just did the practice even though I was rotten at it. I love my practice now, and it just keeps getting better and better and better.  Swamiji used to say, “All the religions are good, but they’re not complete.” What we’re working toward in our practice is Eternity, but of course, there’s karma.

    Set some time every day to be with God and keep at it. Right off the bat, nothing happens, but it will happen.

    One day my son ran to me shouting, “Your Center’s on fire.” The fire trucks came and eventually the fire was extinguished, but there were ashes all over and the carpet and the draperies were burned. At the Center there was a picture of Swami Rama. Everything around that picture was burned, the frame and everything, but the picture itself was untouched by fire. We still have that picture with frame that all charred around the edge at the altar.

    Nina’s response to a question from the audience about what is life is like for her when she goes to India and stays at Malethi1

    Malethi is about an eight-hour drive from Delhi. It is always cold in the winter, but we have little heaters, and in the hot summer there is air conditioning. When I get up in the morning, I do hatha in bed with Swami Rama’s “Exercise without Movement” series. I have a small room with a chair and a coffee table. All that I own I can put in two suitcases. Swamiji said, “The things of the world are yours to enjoy but not to claim.”2 Negi the cook makes breakfast about 8:00. Then I go for a walk and then write in my journal. One time I was cutting up a tomato and found little white worms. I decided not to eat that tomato. There is a time in the afternoon when I have tilk.3 Tilk was a favorite drink of Swami Rama. I try to walk in the evenings. I do the laundry – light stuff. Ginny does the heavy things. There are marble floors and I sweep them, but outside there’s a dirt road, and the when a car goes by there’s a cloud of dust, and so dust from the road always gets in. Why not cement the road? Swamiji said that the roadway would collapse. I sit and do japa in my room. It’s the happiest time of my life. I was happy when I got out of school, and I was happy to be married, and I was happy to have children, but there’s nothing like the joy of meditation. Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock,” but he did not say how many times you needed to knock on the door. I want to speed it up a little, but if not now, I know it’s coming.

    Mayanne Krech

    Mayanne Krech said this about Nina after the Skype: “She is a true devotee, and everything Swami Rama told her to do, she did. He said to her, ‘After your husband and mother die, you will come to see me in India.’ In her room at Malethi, there is just a bed, a table, a chair and small kitchen. She started going to Malethi when she was in her 80s – about 14 hours direct flying time from Chicago to Delhi and then an 8 hour drive to Malethi. Imagine the stamina and commitment to do that when you are 80+ years of age, now 92. Swami Rama wrote 93 letters to Nina, some of which will be published in an upcoming book. Lucky for Nina that Swami Rama told her directly what to do but it does not matter if the guru’s teaching is not direct; the teaching always comes. Nina called me In Minneapolis one day to say, ‘I don’t know why I’m calling you; you know nothing anyway.’ It was a pin-prick from Swami Rama, to keep the tricky ego in check!”

    That was in 2001 when Mayanne realized that Nina is also one of her teachers. Nina did regular journal writing and has completed over 60 journals. We hope her entries will be compiled into a book. She’s 92 years of age now and has many, many stories. It’s phenomenal what she has gone through, and Mayanne truly thinks Nina will grab the brass ring of enlightenment in this life because of Nina’s life time devotion and commitment to Swami Rama. Nina does her meditation practice pretty much all day, and all the possessions she has can be put in two suitcases. Nina’s focus is a simple life. Nina says: “If God/Gurudev wants me to fall over and crack my head on the sidewalk right now, so be it.” What Nina has learned is – whatever the Master tells you to do, do it. Swami Veda once told Mayanne in her early years, “Whatever you’re afraid of, just get rid of it.” Mayanne thinks she’s done an acceptable job of that although she didn’t know why she needed to do that. As the years passed, Mayanne could see how Swami Veda knew that she’d be traveling a lot on her own in order to meet Swami Veda at his foreign teaching locations. She needed to not be afraid of being at strange foreign airports and strange places. These are all the trainings on the path. The Master knows your destiny, your dharma. The teachings themselves – enjoy the things of the world, but don’t get attached to them because the time will come when — like the California fires – it will all go. Nina has a spiritual guide at Malethi named Shivrama, and he said to Nina, “As long as you are alive, I will be alive.”

    From I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

    "How do you go about finding what is it that never sleeps and never wakes, and whose pale reflection is our sense of 'I'? How do you go about finding anything? By keeping your mind and heart on it. Interest there must be, and steady remembrance. To remember what needs to be remembered is the secret of success.

    You come to it only through earnestness.

    We discover it by being earnest, by searching, inquiring, questioning daily and hourly, by giving one's life to the discovery.

    [Both qualification and opportunity] come with earnestness. What is supremely important is to be free from contradiction: the goal and the way must not be on different levels; life and light must not quarrel; behavior must not betray belief. Call it honesty, integrity, wholeness; you must not go back, undo, uproot, abandon the conquered ground. Tenacity of purpose and honesty in pursuit will bring you to your goal. All will come to you as you go on. Take the first step first. All blessings come from within. Turn within.

    Though it may seem arduous, it is easy if you are earnest. And it is quite impossible if you are not.

    Earnestness is both necessary and sufficient. Everything yields to earnestness.


    1) Some background material about Malethi. Nina was very close to Swami Rama and also Swami Rama’s disciple, Swami Hariharinanda. Both of them were born in a small village in the Himalayas called Toli. Nearby is Malethi, where Swami Hari founded a polytechnical school. This is where Nina has gone every year since 2006 in order to immerse herself in meditation. In 2008 Daniel Hertz wrote a book about Swami Hariharinanda and in the last chapter was a summary of Swami Hari’s work to build the school:
    “Malethi is a one hour drive from Toli, and the school he built there he called SRIVERM (Swami Rama Institute of Vocational Education & Research, Malethi). I was told this school is the biggest building ever built in the Himalayas. It serves the people of the poor mountain communities who had little access to quality education and training before that. This was a multi-million dollar undertaking that took several years to complete. Even though his health deteriorated more and more each year, he would not let go of the goal of building this institute. It opened for classes in 2005 and served over one hundred students at that time, with room for many more. In one section there is a program for small children who are starting their school careers. In another there is a program for young adults who want vocational training in areas such as plumbing, electricity, and computers. There are also many other plans in the works. He continued working on that project until his last breath. When I visited SRIVERM in 2006, I finally started to understand his vision for the project and what a great thing he had done. It was located in the valley of a beautiful mountain setting and gave the people in that area the most important thing he could have given them – hope.”

    2) “What you will not renounce voluntarily will be taken from you perforce.” (Swami Veda Bharati)

    3) Spiced Tilk (or Chai) – Pour and inch of water into a pot along with 8 black pepper corns, the seeds from one cardamom pod; a broken-up stick of cinnamon, a grated ½ inch piece of ginger root, and 1 clove. Bring water to a boil, and let it boil down to ½ inch.  Pour in a quart of milk and let it to come to a boil again. Turn off the heat, and put in 5 teaspoons of loose tea. Cover, and let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain and serve.



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