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The Swami Army – Volunteer Handbook

The Swami Army Volunteer Handbook

October 2021

Welcome to Swami’s! 

Here we offer a rewarding volunteer exchange programme within a welcoming, family-run community. We are so happy to have you join us!

Our beautiful Yoga Retreat & Wellness Centre was originally set up by Swami Sarasvati in 1968 as a place to practice yoga and meditation while learning about vegetarianism, alternative living, and many other self-reflective practices. This is a wonderful opportunity for anyone sincerely seeking to learn more about themselves and living this way of life. 

You are invited to work, serve, and participate in the day-to-day running of the Retreat and benefit in equal measure from the generous opportunities for personal growth, development, sharing and creativity.

Swami’s community encourages volunteers to balance their time between work and play. You will have the opportunity to rest, enjoy, discover, indulge in the quiet natural surroundings or participate in the varied classes and activities happening every day. We have a library, gym and many other spaces where you can tailor your own programme for self enquiry, nurturing, healing and growth. 

We are very open to any contribution towards creative, community activities you may love to share. We are always eager and open to learn new practices that help us grow together. It’s wonderful when one of our volunteers has a particular skill or passion that they want to share with the guests.

In the past, we have had volunteers host mandala workshops, women’s moon cycle circles, team leadership activities, ecstatic dance, laughter yoga and meditative walks. These activities are a gift to the guests and other volunteers alike. Everyone is invited to share the gifts of knowledge, yoga, and cooking while enjoying the simple pleasures of living respectfully and harmoniously with one another.

With serene and peaceful bushland as our setting, we invite you to take advantage of our beloved home. Explore the area as you wish and establish a relationship with this place and this land. We hope you will come to love this place as much as we do. 

The History of Swami Sarasvati 

Born in an ashram on the banks of the river Ganges, Swami comes from a long line of Brahman priests and yogis. She was trained from the age of three by her father in meditation, yoga and Hindu philosophy. President of the Australian Yoga Masters’ Association and Sarasvati Yoga Society, Swami lives at her eponymous health centre – a yoga rejuvenation retreat in the bushland suburb of Kenthurst, one hour’s drive northwest of Sydney.   

Arriving in Australia from India in 1967, Swami Sarasvati became Australia’s foremost Yoga expert. Her fame spread through the broadcasting of her morning yoga classes with the TEN network. Her show was repeated regularly for many years and Swami (as she prefers to be known) became a nationally recognisable name. Swami gave up the show when she became pregnant with her son, Sanjay.

She continued to share her mission with the world by opening Swami’s Yoga Retreat in 1983. Guests have been enjoying the rejuvenating qualities of a yoga practise and yogic lifestyle ever since. Now in her late 70’s, Swami lives with advanced dementia and receives full time care surrounded by the people she loves – those who continue her good work in the world. Sanjay now manages the yoga retreat along with a community of wonderful volunteers who keep her legacy alive. 

Being part of Swami’s community means providing a beautiful, sacred environment for each and every soul that passes through these gates.


Swami believed in a law of Karma in all her actions. “If I meet you for the first time, depending on what I say to you and how I treat you, then that is what I will get back.”

Here at Swami’s Yoga Retreat we practise Karma Yoga. Karma means “action,” which we all perform, consciously or unconsciously. When we add Yoga to the word, it means an action performed with meditative awareness. So Karma Yoga is actually the yoga of dynamic meditation.

Karmic Yoga is selfless action – applying yourself to work lovingly and willingly for the good of yourself and the world. In selflessly serving others, we also serve ourselves by dissolving the habit of egotism. Through acting this way you too shall receive services of love and kindness through Karma.

Living in the spirit of Karma Yoga is the highest way to honor Swami and her ethos, and to continue to spread her tradition of loving kindness.

We view Karma Yoga as a mutually beneficial arrangement. We believe that we are highly privileged to host some of the world’s brightest, kindest, and most interesting people at this Retreat. We equally believe that it is a privilege to live and work in this beautiful place that Swami created with incredible love and intention. As much as we want you here, we also want you to want to be here. If at any point we, or you, think that the volunteer arrangement with any individual is not the right match, we’ll ask you to have a conversation about how we can all improve the situation – and we invite you to do the same.


You really become part of our family during your stay. In fact, many of our wonderful helpers return and make lifelong friends with other volunteers. Many return again and again over the years. 

There are many wonderful opportunities on offer to you during your stay at Swami’s. We have a gym, spa, steam room, swimming pool, reading room and of course many other volunteers for you to chat to and make friends with. Please feel free to take advantage of these offerings whenever you’d like, but always be respectful of other guests by keeping noise to a quiet level and cleaning up after yourself when you’ve finished.

If you’re not on duty, you’re most welcome to join in with yoga classes and activities. We often have outside-run retreats hosted here, and sometimes you’ll be invited to join their sessions too. We want you to get the most out of your stay here with us! 

On your days off, you may like to visit Sydney or the Blue Mountains. The closest shops are a 15-minute drive, and we also have several great National Parks close by. There are beautiful beaches less than an hour’s drive away. You can get around using public transport (there’s a bus stop near our front gate) or by arranging a ride with other volunteers.

If you prefer to stay closer to home, Swami’s Yoga Retreat is surrounded by acres of natural bushland. There are many walking tracks that you can explore. Check out a map of the area below, made by one of our amazing volunteers!


Upon arrival you will receive a physical tour of the Retreat. This section is aimed to complement that, and includes the written version of the tour including the area rules. 

Policies & Procedures

We use Policy & Procedures documents to outline the correct way to complete tasks. These are very important, and we’ll ask you to familiarise yourself with these during your first week here. All documents are available on the Karma Yoga Hub and there is a printed copy in Swami’s Room.

The Karma Yoga Hub is an easily-accessible place for you to find all the information you might need, including all Policy & Procedure documents, this Volunteer Handbook, bus timetables, and more! The Karma Yoga Hub can be found on our website (https://swami.com.au/karma-yoga/karma-yoga-hub/) and the password is SwamiArmy.

Swami & Swami’s Room

Swami spends most of her time in Swami’s Room, adjacent to the kitchen. We ask that you endeavour to spend 10 minutes with her every day. Please be sure to give her water from time to time, and to make sure that she’s comfortable (not too cold or hot, and sitting comfortably). 

Swami’s Room is a space shared by all volunteers. It’s where we gather for meals and for free time, and is generally the center point of life for volunteers. Please contribute by keeping it clean and tidy. Clean up after yourself and put things away. Take initiative if you see something to be improved.


We have a modern, well-stocked kitchen here at Swami’s. We operate a commercial kitchen and therefore are subject to the same rules as any other cafe or restaurant. Volunteers should feel free to use it throughout the day; however, there are certain times that we ask that the kitchen remain free for our chefs to prep and cook for the guests:

  • Breakfast – prep starts at 7:30am, guests eat at 9am. 
  • Lunch – prep starts at 10:30am, lunch is served at 12:30pm
  • Dinner – prep starts at 3:30pm, dinner is served at 5:30pm

Volunteers can help themselves to breakfast. At lunch and dinner we cook enough food for guests and volunteers. Volunteers eat all together outside or in Swami’s room. You’re also welcome to store your own food in the fridge or pantry – just make sure your name is written on it.

Please be considerate when using food. There are some items that are “high-use” that are important to keep well-stocked. If something is running low, please ask before using. If you finish something or notice we are running low, please write it on the ‘shopping list’ section of the kitchen whiteboard.

If you are working in the kitchen, you will be required to complete an induction before starting. Please see the Kitchen Duty & Induction document.


We have two laundry rooms. The guest laundry room is located in the same building as the guest rooms. The volunteer laundry is out back of the main staff building. Volunteers can wash their laundry at 8am-8pm and hang it on the line outside. The dryers are not for personal use and only used as a last resort in wet weather for guest linen. 

Volunteer linens can be found in the shed. Volunteers are responsible for washing their own linens with their personal laundry. Please note that the blue-and-white striped pool towels are for guests only.

Pool, Spa & Sauna, Gym, and other facilities

Volunteers are welcome to use our facilities in their free time. Please be mindful of our other guests by:

  • allowing guests to use facilities first if space is limited
  • not making excessive noise
  • cleaning up after yourself and keeping the space tidy
  • not using facilities after 10pm

Dormitories & Volunteer Living Spaces

Depending on availability, we have shared or single accommodation for volunteers to use. We ask that you treat it with respect, both for yourself and other volunteers.  Keep these spaces clean and tidy, and be mindful of noise (quiet hours begin at 10pm). Once per week, please wipe down surfaces and vacuum in your room – your roommates are asked to do the same. All bedding is supplied, and we ask that you wash it regularly in the secondary laundry room. When you depart Swami’s, make sure that your bedding is washed, the bed is reset for the next volunteer, and the room has been cleaned and vacuumed. 

Code of Conduct, Values and Expectations 

The Five Precepts

The Five Precepts are the foundation of the Code of Conduct. The Precepts draw from Yogic teachings and are as follows:

  1. to abstain from killing any being
    1. We are a strict vegetarian community. We ask that no meat be brought onto the premises.
  2. to abstain from stealing
    1. Take only what you need, accept only what is given to you, and keep only what serves you in the moment.
  3. to abstain from unwanted sexual misconduct
    1. Direct energy away from external desires and instead towards finding peace and happiness within yourself.
  4. to abstain from wrong speech
    1. Refrain from speaking lies or anything less than truth; avoid harsh language and rude words; refrain from slander, negative criticism or backbiting.
  5. and to abstain from all intoxicants
    1. We have an absolute no drugs or alcohol policy. Please leave all this behind when you come to Swami’s.

These Five Precepts are mandatory for everyone – guests and volunteers alike – whilst at the Retreat and must be observed mindfully at all times.

Values & Expectations

While you are at Swami’s, you represent our principles and vision. Please act on this by dressing neatly, smiling at guests and presenting a happy outlook. Guests are to be greeted with “namaste” with your hands together.

Please be quiet and respectful, especially when Yoga or meditation classes are in session – we are a Yoga Retreat, after all! Guests and volunteers come here to escape the chaos and noise of normal life, and it’s important that the Retreat remain a peaceful and safe place for all to enjoy.

Our volunteers work and live closely together, and it’s important that all are treated with kindness and respect. Communication is critical and should be utilised constantly. Should problems arise, endeavour to solve them peacefully on your own, but if you need assistance, please bring your conflict to the attention of a manager promptly. It is important that we maintain the harmony between all who live here, and effective communication can solve most problems.

Volunteers start and end their work days together. Completing tasks is the responsibility of all volunteers, regardless of which shift you’re assigned. If you’ve finished with your tasks for the day, please circle back around and ask what you can help someone else with.

It’s important that you wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when doing certain tasks. You will be provided with the appropriate PPE. If you have questions or concerns about PPE related to your tasks, please discuss with a manager.

If you break anything, or if you see anything broken, please let a manager or maintenance team know so that it can be fixed.

If you find yourself unhappy at Swami’s, please talk to Sanjay as soon as possible. It’s important that those who stay here want to be here. We understand if this is no longer the right fit for you, and we’ll help you explore options that might be better-suited to you.

Remember that you are planting the seed for future helpers. Act with honesty and integrity, and your legacy will be a positive example for others to follow!

The Work Day 

“Happiness does not come from doing easy work, but from the afterglow of satisfaction that follows the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.”

Theodore Isaac Rubin

Guest Schedule

7.30am   –  Wake up 

8:00am  –  Morning mindfulness walk

9:00am  –  Breakfast 

10.30am –  Yoga 

12.30pm –  Lunch 

2.30pm  –  Workshop 

4:00pm  –  Yoga

5.30pm  –  Dinner 

7.30pm  –   Yoga or meditation 

Volunteer Schedule 

Often there is a staff Yoga class from 6.30am.

So long as you are not on breakfast duty, you are free to wake up when you’d like. The breakfast shift begins at 7:30am.

At 8am the guests go for a morning walk, guided by one of the volunteers. You are welcome to accompany them (and you’re also welcome to lead the morning walk – see the Leading a Morning Walk document and talk to a manager about your interest).

Breakfast is served to guests at 9am, and volunteers are served afterwards. Most volunteer shifts begin at 9:30am. As much as possible, all teams start and finish together – if you’ve finished your work earlier than expected, then circle back around to ask what you can help someone else with.

At 10:30am, the kitchen begins lunch prep and the morning yoga class begins. If your schedule allows, you’re more than welcome to join in!

Lunch is served at 12:30pm, and volunteers are served after the guests. Volunteers have one hour for lunch and return to their shifts afterwards. If you’ve completed your tasks for the morning, talk to a manager about what else should be done. 

The evening diner shift starts at 1.00pm with lunch clean up. This is followed by kitchen prep work (in particular breakfast muesli and scrambled tofu), deep cleaning and then preparing the evening meal.

The work day  for most volunteers is over at 2:30pm. Please allow 15 minutes prior to the end of your shift to clean up and put all tools back where they belong. At 2:30 the guests have an afternoon activity run by one of the volunteers. Karma yogis are welcome to join!

Dinner is served at 5:30pm. Volunteers are served after the guests. Afterwards, everyone helps to clean up the kitchen.

Working Hours

Here at Swami’s, the work is highly self-motivated. We value volunteers who are able to take the initiative and work to a high standard. Some days are busier than others – there will be days when you work more, and days where there is less to do. We ask that all volunteers work around 4-5 working hours per day, 6 days per week, beginning at 9:30am and ending at 2:30pm, apart from evening kitchen shift. If you run out of things to do, please talk to one of our managers or Sanjay. If you are ever uncertain about what you should be doing or what’s going on, please, simply ask. We truly wish to maintain a cohesive, happy working environment. Communication is key!


We appreciate that everyone has a different skillset. We want to make things work as well as possible for you and for us. Therefore, it’s important to know what kind of work you would most enjoy doing. 

These are the main work areas at Swami’s:

  • Cooking
    • All meals are vegetarian, and kitchen staff cooks for up to 40 guests and volunteers
  • Housekeeping / cleaning
    • We have 12 guest rooms, 5 glamping tents, and public spaces (like the gym and yoga hall) to clean daily
  • Teaching Yoga and activities
    • We typically offer traditional Hatha, Vinyasa and Yin, and are open to other styles! We also offer afternoon activities and workshops, and invite you to share your interests with our guests 
  • Gardening and maintenance
    • We grow herbs, fruit, and vegetables, and there is always work to be done around the grounds to keep things in working order
  • Office work
    • This can include emails and admin work, or marketing, social media, graphic design, photography, etc
  • Elderly care
    • Making sure our Swami is well taken-care of!

During your first few days, one of our managers will talk to you about the kind of work you’re best suited to. We recommend you try out a couple of areas, or if you’re interested in working across many areas, we’re happy to schedule you that way. If you have special skills to offer, please let us know and we can discuss what you might be able to offer!


During the week, there are regular buses that can take you into town. However,  buses don’t run as often on the weekends. If you are going out on a day off, check with Sanjay or the manager to see if either of them are going out and might be able to give you a lift. We also have bikes available for volunteers. The closest shops are about a 30 minutes’ bike ride away.

Please note that public transport is limited, so please be sure to plan your transport well and in advance!

You can check this website for bus routes and timetables. Google Maps tends to be accurate as well.

For trains into the city or to the Blue Mountains, visit transportnsw.info

We’re so happy to have you with us! Please never hesitate to ask should you have any questions – we’re here to serve you, too! We sincerely hope that you enjoy your time here, and we hope that you find this experience meaningful and enjoyable. 


Safety & General Information

Our address is:

183-185 Pitt Town Road

Kenthurst, NSW 2156

In the event of a life-threatening emergency, please dial 000.

In the event of a fire:

  • Small fire – Immediately notify management. Locate the nearest fire extinguisher or hose and put out the fire if safe to do so.
  • Bushfire – Immediately notify management. Ring bells to alert guests and move to the emergency meeting point in our parking lot to await further instruction.

The closest emergency hospital is:

Hornsby Public Hospital or St John Hospital at Windsor

The closest medical clinics are:

Kenthurst Medical & Cosmetic Centre
4 Nelson St, Kenthurst NSW 2156
+61 296 540 552

Dural Medical Centre
535 Galston Rd, Dural NSW 2158
+61 296 525 100

The closest chemist is:

Kenthurst Pharmacy
Shop 5A/4 Nelson St, Kenthurst NSW 2156
+61 296 541 984

The nearest post offices are in Kenthurst and Dural.