The Great Work of Roma Blair

Guru, the Mother of Yoga, TV star, supporter of philanthropic endeavours, and author: Having lived an extraordinary life, Roma Blair (aka Swami Nirmalananda) is celebrated as one of the pioneers of the yoga movement in Australia. 

Born in NSW on 28th July, 1923, Roma was destined for greatness from the moment she arrived.  The matron in the birthing room predicted correctly when she chimed to Roma’s mother “you will never need to worry about this baby, she will be a most unusual child.”

Roma grew up in Sydney.  With her stunning looks she naturally found a name for herself as a popular model.  But this was never going to be enough of a challenge for this extraordinary woman.

Roma moved to Java (Indonesia) and soon found herself captive in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.  She was pregnant and had been separated from her husband.  Instead of being worn down during this experience, Roma found inspiration to make every day count.  She gave birth to her son and survived being a prisoner.  She learnt how to be ‘present’ in every moment and enjoy the life she had been given. 

From the historic book Yoga in Pictures, by Roma Blair donated by the estate of Jean Florance.

Harrowing as the prisoner camp was, the gift of yoga emerged from this experience.

In 1945, the war ended and Roma arrived safely back in Australia with her son and was reunited with her husband. Not long after they moved to South Africa and she began modelling.  But she had been exposed to a bacteria in the camp that had plagued her with stomach issues.  She went from doctor to doctor and no one could help her.  Eventually Roma sought counsel from a Chinese Medicine doctor.  He could not prescribe any medicines or herbs to help Roma.  But what he did prescribe changed the course of Roma’s life, and the foundations of yoga in Australia.  The doctor recommended Roma start attending yoga classes with Yogeswarananda.  She went to her first class not sure what to expect.  She followed the teacher’s instructions, focused on her breath, and left that first class with a sense of wellbeing never felt before.

Through Yogeswarananda’s encouragement and guidance Roma undertook to truly understand Laya yoga, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Mahabharata

Yoga taught me that peace is something that can only be achieved by coming to know yourself …

In 1957, after a divorce, Roma returned to Australia.  Although still modelling, Roma felt the urge to do something more, to give back to “yoga”, and share the propound benefits with others.  However, even in Sydney, yoga schools were few and far between.  Roma began teaching her friends about yoga.  She was determined to change society’s perceptions:  Yoga was more than head-stands.  She wanted Australians to understand that yoga was, in fact, a way of life.  And so, a small studio on busy Pitt Street in Sydney was born.

With her modelling connections, Roma managed to convince various magazines and daily papers to run articles about the benefits of yoga.  By 1962, the Roma Blair School of Yoga was growing rapidly.  Roma demonstrated yoga in supermarkets, shopping malls and on TV.  Roma had also established the Roma Blair Yoga Club – a flourishing community for yoga teachers.

At the age of 43, Roma travelled to India and received the honour of being Australia’s first female swami.  As the air filled with the perfumes of sandalwood and lotus blossom, Swami Satyanananda initiated Roma, bestowing upon her the name Swami Niramalananda – ‘pure bliss’.

In 1967, Roma founded the International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA) in Australia.  She was the backbone of IYTA, providing a nurturing community for teachers.  Roma dedicated her life to spreading the benefits of yoga throughout Australia.  In 2003, at the age of 80, Roma received the Leadership Award, on International Women’s Day, for her contribution to the community, and for being an inspirational role model. 

On the 5th November, 2013, aged 90, Roma left this world.  She attributed her long life to yoga, prayer and meditation. 

We are not here on Earth for a very long time, so for every day that we are blessed with, it’s up to us to seek individual peace, generosity, and happiness.  That’s exactly what I’ve done, and will keep striving to do.”

Yoga Australia thanks Roma Blair (Swami Niramalananda) for her dedication and commitment to yoga, and for shaping yoga in Australia as the practice we know today.
*All quoted words are from the book Roma: From Prison to Paradise, as told to Rachel Syers & Karin Cox, 2004.

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