Category Archives: ashtanga

Indaba Recap

by Adam Frei

It has been four days since we returned from London and somehow it seems to have taken place a few months ago. Sri Dharma said to me at the start of our trip that in a moment it would be over. On our way back to the airport, he said: “You see? Already finished – like a dream.” It was, for all of us that went, a very pleasant dream.

Sri Dharma travels less these days than a few years ago, but he still travels quite a bit and his teaching takes him around the world. For the last couple of years, he has been saying that he really wanted to take the Dharma Yoga Kirtan Band along with him. As the London workshops seemed like they were going to be large and some of the band members had the dates available, we were able to make it happen. Although my position at the Center means that I get to work closely with Sri Dharma, it has been a while since I’ve been able to travel with him. It was, for me, a very special opportunity.

The venue was part of the Lords Cricket Ground in North London. It easily accommodated the 250 plus people that were part of each session. The presenters, Indaba Yoga, did a great job managing every aspect of the weekend. Most of the classes were two hours long. Somehow, Sri Dharma managed to include a full practice of Asana as part of each one, a brief, but focused spiritual discourse, an introduction to basic Pranayama techniques, recitation of mantra, Kirtan with the band and a full experience of Yoga Nidra. The classes never felt rushed, yet he managed to include so much. Spiritual discourse treated such topics as compassion, the Kleshas and the Koshas. What particularly impressed me was how Sri Dharma gave us a full experience of Yoga Nidra, sometimes in as little as twelve minutes, but that included complete relaxation of the body, visualization and autosuggestions. Truly extraordinary. The enthusiasm of the students was wonderful to observe.

Some highlights from Sri Dharma’s teaching as part of and outside of the workshops:

Indicating a small, cube refrigerator: “You see, that’s the perfect size for a Yogi.”

“I’m going to add some extra sugar to all the sessions this weekend.”

“We are doing Rabbit (Pose) here now. I bet if I look around the room, I see many Camels. If I catch any Camels, I throw them out.”

“If G-d come here right now and catch you not singing, that would be a catastrophe!”

“The action of compassion is to see yourself in others.”

“The orchestra is going to come and play now, so leave your mats and come close.”

“Move together like in a parade. Then we share all the knowledge psychically and become one.”

“I have an old car (body). The brakes don’t work so well anymore and some of the systems are starting to shut down. That’s why I always try and put the best quality fuel in. In about 10 or 20 years, I’ll be back with a new car.”

“We’re going to do Spiritual Breathing now so you feel spiritually inspired.”

“If you are interested to go deeper into yoga, you should read The Yoga-Sutras and The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. For those just interested in living a more ethical life, there’s The Dammapada.”

“From the Hubble Space Telescope, we know that there are millions of blue planets. Some are ahead of us. Some, still with dinosaurs. The reason the aliens never come here, is because when they look through their telescope and zoom, zoom in on McDonalds, they see us eating animals, and then they never come here. They are soft and their limbs are tender. They are afraid that if they come here, they get eaten.”

“In one generation, it is predicted that there will be harmony among all the people of the earth. Then no need for the first step of yoga – the Ethical Rules – what for?”

“Do you know about the Koshas? These are the sheathes that cover Atman. It's good to know about them so you can negate them.”

“You become one with G-D at this moment. One with the Supreme Self.”

Special thanks to Kenny Steele, owner of Idaba Yoga, Olga Asmini, Indaba Yoga’s exceptional manager, her wonderful team, Mark Kan, our main Dharma Yoga teacher in London who really established Dharma Yoga there, Andrew Jones who did much work behind the scenes in advance of these workshops, Pam Leung and Yoshio Hama for beautiful demoing throughout the weekend, to Andrew and Yoshio for playing until their fingers bled, for the dedicated students who came from all over Europe and America to be part of this weekend and to Sri Dharma Mittra who somehow seemed fresher, funnier and more energized by Sunday night than he had at the start and who at almost 77 years of age continues to devote his life to sharing what he knows with all of us that are fortunate enough to learn from him.

 

Adam Frei is the director of the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training programs at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC.

Ahimsa and Veganism

by Susan Craig

“The most violent weapon on earth is the table fork.” Mahatma Gandhi

I became a vegan nearly 30 years ago – long before I found Sri Dharma. My decision to stop eating animals was born out of a very hopeless period in my life when I was severely abused. During that darkest days of my life I made a pact with myself that, as small and inconsequential as my life seemed to be, knowing what it felt like to be abused and to be treated as if I had no value, I would do my best not to treat others as if they had no value. This decision included non-human animals; the least that I could do was to stop eating them. Little did I know that this decision, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, would take me on a most amazing journey which recently included finding Sri Dharma Mittra as my yoga teacher.

While the deep pain in my life did not suddenly dissipate as a result of becoming a vegan, I did experience some immediate benefits. My overall physical health improved quickly and dramatically (To this day, at nearly 60 years old, I am far healthier than I was in my teens  and twenties.). Along with that, issues around body image and eating that had been a source of personal torture since my teens disappeared and never returned. These were miracles!

With veganism as a non-negotiable core value, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, I began the slow and arduous climb out of the deep pit that I found myself in. While I have utilized many additional means of recovery support along the way, I believe that the deepest and most profoundly transformative decision that I have made has been to become a vegan. Sri Dharma’s core teachings around Ahimsa certainly support this.

It is a rare individual who has not eaten animal flesh, dairy, and eggs. We have been born into cultures that treat food animals as commodities meant to be eaten. From birth we have been indoctrinated into a culture that tells us that we must consume animals, that it is normal and necessary for health. Upon questioning this indoctrination, however, we find that it is based upon false information. The human body is designed to thrive on a vegan diet. Additionally, on a deeper, spiritual level, the simple act of changing what we put on our plates at each meal – the decision not to participate in the abuse and slaughter of food animals, is liberating  beyond words. The benefits extend far beyond one’s health and spiritual development. As the effects of climate change become become increasingly evident, numerous sources of scientific research indicate that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming. (Perhaps the law of Karma is at work here…as we reap, so shall we sew.) What a blessing that, by choosing a plant-based diet, we are improving our own health, we are ceasing to participate in wide-spread violence towards sentient beings, and we are drastically reducing our contribution to the environmental stress on the planet!

In June 2015, I participated in the deeply transformative 200 hour LOAY training with Sri Dharma Mittra. Prior to making the decision to go through the LOAY training, as I searched for my yoga teacher, I started with one screening requirement: I needed a teacher who practiced and taught veganism as a core requirement of being a yogi. This one requirement narrowed the field of potential teachers down to few enough that I could count them on the fingers of one hand. Out of these few, I found myself drawn to Sri Dharma – his wisdom, dedication to his practice and to selfless service, his humility and egoless presence, and his fidelity to practicing and teaching the Yama of Ahimsa or non-violence. Ahimsa literally means A=not, himsa= killing or violence. In the LOAY Teachers’ Manual (2015, p. 4) Sri Dharma says, “Ahimsa means love; ‘thou shalt not kill!’ This applies not only to human beings, but to every living creature.”

Sri Dharma is one of the only yoga teachers of whom I am aware who does not shy away from teaching the yama of Ahimsa to his students truthfully. He regularly states while teaching that one must extend one’s compassion beyond one’s pets and that when one eats animals one is engaging in cruelty. He talks about how when one consumes animal products, one’s body becomes a morgue. In Sri Dharma’s words, “Without taking on the yama of ahimsa, there is little benefit to observing the other four yamas or any other aspect of the holy science of yoga.” (LOAY Teachers’ Manual, p. 5) I know, from the center of my soul, that this information is true and correct. The decision to become a vegan as a core component of one’s practice of Ahimsa will deepen and strengthen one’s  yoga practice. It will simultaneously improve the quality of one’s life immeasurably while benefiting other beings and the health of the planet. I highly recommend it!

Note: For additional information on the benefits of veganism that this blog has room for, I recommend reading The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle and viewing the documentary, Cowspiracy.

Susan Craig is a Berkeley, California native who participated in the transformational June 2015 LOAY 200 hour training. Susan strives to practice Karma Yoga each day in her job as a school district administrator where she oversees support services for marginalized youth, as an advocate for animals through vegan activism, and as a teacher of a weekly donation-based yoga class. She resides in Napa in the home of the four cats and a rabbit who rescued her. Susan is most grateful to have found Dharma Yoga and to have Dharma Mittra as her yoga teacher and spiritual guide.

Ten Tips for New Teachers…

by Jason Zagaro


As you grow as a yoga teacher, you realize there is a lot more happening during a “typical” class than you may have first realized.  



When I first began teaching, my main concerns were: (1) avoiding injuries and (2) timing – how in the world was I going to fill 75 minutes? 

Time is usually something that consumes the mind of a novice teacher  – we think too much and too fast, speak too fast, move too fast…  



Patience is a virtue as a teacher and it gets developed over time. You cannot please everyone in class. Stay true to yourself; be creative but don’t stray too far from your wheelhouse. Eventually your composure, personality, structure and experience will take over as a teacher.  



The following are ten teaching tips that I have discovered over the years of being a yoga instructor:

1. Keep it simple. 
Don’t try and be the best yoga teacher on the planet and remember everything they taught you in your training. If Sanskrit words come naturally and you feel comfortable using them, then do so. Otherwise, work on filling your time and watching the room so people don’t get injured. 



2. Decide what level of preparation is your preferred method. 
Some teachers have no idea what pose is coming next. Some teachers have the class scripted to the T. Some even sequence the entire class set to the music they play. Many teachers just teach on a whim, spontaneously reacting to who is in the room. A good teacher teaches to the level of the room.



 3. Bad music is more of a factor than good music.
If the music is “bad” or inappropriate for a yoga class, it can really dampen or ruin the class. Everybody remembers a teacher who plays awful music and it can even deter the students from going back to that class. My first teacher in college had one CD and for three years he played the same CD in every class. The CD was Krishna Das’ Pilgrim Heart, which was my first introduction to kirtan. I remember my first year training with him and I thought, “This music is awful!” After constantly hearing the same songs over and over, my frame of mind finally adjusted and I began to like the CD. If I hear Pilgrim Heart being played in a yoga studio now, I get flashbacks to that time in my life. Some lineages of yoga don’t have music at all; they want you to work on calming the mind, which means no distractions from your asana class.  



4. Be grateful to your students for coming to class.
I am always grateful to everyone who comes to take my class, even if some don’t follow the code of asana class perfectly. The fact that people would pay their hard earned money, drive to the studio, part from their families or home life for a period of time to listen to what I have to say and be guided by me as a teacher really makes me feel grateful.  



5. Set the guidelines for conduct in your classes.
As teachers, we are trained, and most of us practice, patience and understanding. We understand no one is perfect– including ourselves as yoga teachers! Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to set the code of conduct for the class. Some teachers will tell me about students not acting appropriately and I always ask them if they discussed the problem with the student. Sometimes students are not being disrespectful, it is that they just don’t know the parameters of the class.  It is our job as teachers to educate them.  




6. Encourage Your Students to Practice Away from Class.

As teachers, we have instincts that grow over time. We can usually tell who has a solid home practice.  



 7. Help you students overcome their fears.
If your students have a lot of fears, practicing asana is a great way to work on those fears. As teachers we love to help those who are fearful about poses to overcome that fear. It is a process where we build the courage to take the first step, and then proceed from there.



8. Celebrate when a student achieves a pose.
If someone has been working on a pose and he or she finally gets it in the class, the teacher is just as excited as the student. To work so hard at something and then finally achieve that goal is such a rewarding concept.



 9. Pay some, but not too much, attention to your numbers.
As yoga teachers we care about bringing people to our classes and pleasing the owner of the studio where we are teaching. Numbers are not important in the concept of yoga, but revenue is part of the reality of teaching yoga today.



10. Don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate it all.
In the end, you’ve created a peaceful environment for the students and introduced the beauty of yoga and watched it transform lives. When the class is moving as one, as one heartbeat, and the students are moving in sync, take a moment to stand back and experience the gratitude of being a part of the peaceful unity that is occurring during the class. 

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Jason Zagaro graduated from the 500-Hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in March 2013. He’s been studying Yoga tradition and philosophy for over eighteen years. Yoga has been the most wonderful experience that he has ever come across in his life. He started his training in 1995 with Ashtanga Yoga at the college that he attended, and later began to study and practice various forms of Hatha Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Integral Yoga and decided to become a certified Sivananda Yoga Teacher. 


“Must Read” Yoga Book Review: Yoga and Long Life, by Yogi Gupta


Katherine Labonte

The book Yoga and Long Life by Yogi Gupta is an absolute gem. It is one of my favorite yoga books. It is amazing how simple and yet in-depth it is at the same time. I am not sure I know any other yoga ‘manual’ that covers so much in such little space.
Yogi Gupta was obviously an intelligent man, and well learned. He starts out with such a clear message right on the cover page, with the symbol of Om and jnana mudra – symbolically representing the purpose, path, and result of yoga all in one.
The following topics are covered in the text: the definition of Yoga, Yoga and Christianity, philosophy of Yoga, types of Yoga, principles of relativity and duality, effects of Yoga, Yoga and Ayurveda, Yoga and Longevity, Yoga postures (asanas), breathing techniques, meditation, importance of Yoga, the necessity for a teacher, food and health, color and health, relaxation, and practice courses. Throughout the book, one can see that Yogi Gupta was familiar with all the main yogic texts. He refers to the following texts and authors: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Goraksha Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Rig Veda, Bhagavad Gita, Swami Vivekananda, Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, and Dr. Henry R. Zimmer to name just some.
What is a Yogic text, without a definition of Yoga? He defines Yoga as “a science of living.” What a beautiful definition. It is all-encompassing. He also states: “Yoga is a system of philosophic meditation and asceticism designed to affect the reunion of the soul with the universal spirit.” He makes it clear that it is not just for the body or mind, but for the spirit.
I love that he included a chapter on Yoga and Christianity, as, in my experience, so many Christians have been misled about Yoga being a cult or a religion, or “opening one’s mind to the devil.” He talks about Ghandi and Patanjali, and compares their teachings to Christ’s teachings. One example given of this is the yamas, or ethical rules. “Through Yoga a Hindu becomes a better Hindu, a Christian a better Christian, a Mohammedan a better Mohammedan, and a Jew a better Jew!”
Yogi Gupta refers to this text as a “handbook,” but I feel it is so much more. He says that we need to “transcend, as did the saints, the limits of the ‘gross’ physical self,” hence needing the techniques of yoga to bring us there. His explanation and diagram of the Ida and Pingala nadis and their purpose is very thorough. “It is by achieving a perfect equilibrium between these negative and positive influences in the body that the Hatha yogi reaches his goal.”
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There are a variety of places in the book where he refers to such things as the importance of a guru, the yamas and niyamas, the eight limbs, maya, karma (or, with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction), but ultimately he says, “in the highest forms of yoga (like Raja-yoga), he [the yogi] transcends it [maya] in Samadhi when he becomes part of the Primal Force.” All yogis (and non-yogis alike) should read such a book so that it becomes clear how inter-related the entire body is. He portrays this message through his discussion on the glands, Ayurveda, and the Chakras.
To me, the main value of the book is to very clearly show the interconnectedness within the body-mind-spirit complex; and Yogi Gupta demonstrates that through diet, concentration/meditation exercises, asana, and pranayama, one can have a positive effect on the state of one’s mind, spirit, and physical health. So, if one is not yet deeply connected spiritually, the “hook” will be on the physical health.  He says, “prevention is better than cure.” He also says, “One should try to restore one’s health while remaining in one’s normal place of residence and continuing one’s work. One does not achieve a healthy body merely by fleeing to the Himalayas, California, Florida or other health resorts.” He is showing that it is accessible to anyone who puts forth the effort, finally stating, “it [health] cannot be bought.”
Today, we think of such things as color therapy and raw foods as “new age”. But, Yogi Gupta lived on raw foods for more than twenty years and says, “I feel much better for it.” It is amazing how much he knew about the increased nutrient value of food, long before there was much publicized on that. I can see why green juices are so valuable! The color green “influences the heart, blood pressure and the emotions, and vitalizes the nerves. It also imparts wisdom, peace, harmony, sympathy and generosity.” He connected the concepts of our raw food with the color of the food, and their vibrational qualities.
I am grateful for Yogi Gupta’s work in the Americas, with Sri Dharma Mittra, and now, God willing, through me.

Yoga and Long Life can be purchased at the Dharma Yoga NY Center boutique or through the online store.       

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As a young woman, Katherine was a high school mathematics teacher about to embark on a Masters of Mathematics program. However, at the age of 28, Katherine recovered from a life-threatening and debilitating illness through Yoga and Colon Therapy. Ever since, she has been on a mission to share the profundity of both modalities, and to motivate others to delve deeper – both physically and mentally/ emotionally. Healing is found in the not so obvious ‘nooks and crannies’ of the body and the mind. She teaches private yoga, is a colon therapist, nutritionist, and instructor of colon therapy. She is eternally grateful for finding Sri Dharma Mittra and his complete Raja Yoga methods of healing, and hopes to spend the rest of her life sharing this with others.

Life of a Yogi Graduation Satsang, October 2012


Twice a year, the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training team gathers together to honor the trainees who have completed all their requirements to become certified Dharma Yoga Instructors. Sri Dharma himself presents the certificates, and friends and family are always invited! Below you’ll find a collection of photos from the recent graduation in October, and some reflections from five of our 200-hour graduates (Kelsey Tangel, Amy Stinchcombe, Elaine Kantanas, Sabrina Vigilante, and Mike Hazzard). All photos by Gabriela Luiz; quotes attributed following each image. 

(MH)

(SV)

(KT)

(MH)

 

…It is where I learned firmness and resolve in my practice and in the great practice of daily life. It is where I turned a corner in my life to understand in the most profound way that there is a Great Intelligence woven into the fabric of all of creation and that everything is intimately connected.
(SV)

(EK)

(AS)

(MH)

(AS)


Compiled by: Danielle Gray, Online Media Manager at DYNYC

Day Seven: Exploring Evenness


The Life of a Yogi
          I can’t even explain the insane amount of bliss that results from a Maha Sadhana with Sri Dharma Mittra. I had a little bit of a roller coaster sort of day, but after that workshop, everything is just erased. All I feel right now is devotion and ecstasy.
          My roomie and I overslept a little bit this morning, but it didn’t really phase me. That’s the main thing I’m noticing about myself lately, is that I just accept situations more readily and adjust myself according to the circumstances rather than fighting things. As Kim said last module, “Some things just aren’t worth getting upset over.” I think that’s going to become my personal mantra for the rest of my life, actually. It probably would have helped me to remember that later in the day when I was getting ruffled about some silly thing.
          The day started with pranayama and dhyana with Melissa, followed by a Dharma Shakti practice, which was a very basic class consisting of sun salutations, the main poses, relaxation, and some meditation. It was probably the deepest savasana of the training, actually – I think I’m finally beginning to understand the power of the simplest practices. We’ve been talking a lot this module about how we want to strive, as teachers, to be simple, clear, and direct. I think that’s why I love all the Dharma Yoga teachers (the mentors especially) – they all make difficult and/or complex asanas quite straightforward.
          We had Maha Shakti and Yoga Nidra afterwards with Sri Dharma, which were both awesome as usual. I just laugh so much in his classes… The element of joy is contagious. Then we had lunch, followed by a small group session where we practiced teaching the pranayama and dharana for Dharma III. Then we had our last small group session, and I got to teach. I felt pretty good about it, but I’m still trying to reconcile some of the feedback I got. Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing else I’m meant to do on this earth but teach yoga (and I feel like I’m starting to become a pretty decent teacher), and other times I feel like I’m a little kid and I just have no idea what I’m doing… It doesn’t help that I tend to take “constructive criticism” personally sometimes. Anyway, I’m thankful for the feedback, and it’s all just part of the process. I can’t expect myself to be perfect right off the bat! I certainly don’t expect it of others, so why should I hold myself to that kind of standard?
          After that we had Maha Sadhana, for which I only have a few pictures because the camera died partway through! There were a lot of people taking pictures, though, so I’m sure they’ll be posted on the other Dharma Yoga social media pages soon. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…
~Danielle