Category Archives: divine

Yoga For Trying Times

By Sri Dharma Mittra 

In terms of the world today and what the new (U.S.) president may be saying or doing, some people have a lot of fear or concern. What would you recommend for the people who are afraid or worried?

Many years ago, I asked my guru: what about the president now? He said to me with a smile: “Don’t you worry, my son. Everything is just perfect. If the majority of the people chose him, that’s just what the people deserve — are ready for.” So, everything is perfect. Not even one blade of grass moves without the will of the Almighty One. Do you think that the Almighty One is allowing something that is not right? Everything is perfect. We do our best to help, to influence him, but whatever is happening: perfect! People who get hurt in this process: they have their karma. Perfect. Everything is Divine. Don’t worry: there are Celestial Beings that went before us. They are watching the planet, allowing all these people to assume their positions. Everything is just perfect. Let’s do our best and pray for the president. Remember: he is our brother, too. In reality, he is doing Divine work. That’s what I think.

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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.

Recipe: Raw Vegan Chocolate Caramel Dream Bars

by Karen Fan

raw-vegan-chocolate-caramel-bars

Makes 8-10 servings

For the base:
1⁄4 cup raw walnuts
1⁄2 cup sprouted raw almonds (soaked 24 hours in water and peeled skin)
6 pitted dates
1⁄4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 Tbsp coconut oil, liquid

For the almond butter “caramel” filling:
1⁄2 cup spouted raw almonds
2 Tbsp coconut oil
9 pitted dates
2 Tbsp brown rice syrup
Pinch of Himalayan sea salt
2-3 Tbsp water

For the chocolate icing:
1⁄2 cup raw cacao powder
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
2-3 Tbsp water

1. To sprout the raw almonds, soak them overnight and then peel the skin. Set it aside for now.

2. To make the base, place the walnuts, almonds, dates, coconut flakes, and coconut oil in a food processor or high-speed blender and pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Scoop the mixture into your hands, and if the ingredients hold together, your base is perfect. Press the mixture into a square pan.

3. To make the caramel filling, place the raw almonds, coconut oil, dates brown rice syrup and sea salt into a food processor or high-speed blender, and process until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Add 2 to 3 tbsp of water to help make the consistency smoother while processing. Spread over the base.

4. To make the chocolate icing, place the raw cacao powder, coconut oil and brown rice syrup in a mixing bowl and stir until the mixture is creamy. Add 2 to 3 tbsp of water to make the consistency smoother. Spread the chocolate icing on top of the caramel filling.

5. Freeze the bars for a few hours. Chill for half an hour before slicing.

The Lone Dharma Yoga Teacher in the Desert

By Dani Gray

 

After my very first Dharma Yoga class in 2010, I knew something profound had happened.

Even before the class was over, I kept thinking, “This is not like anything I’ve done before. This isn’t just about ‘becoming more flexible.’ There is something else going on here, and I have to find out what it is.”

I was training to be a dancer at that time and had a knack for memorizing movement, so I went home and repeated the practice I had been taught, exactly as I learned it, nearly every day for the next two months. By the end of that time period, I was completely changed – many issues that I had been struggling with for years (physical, mental, emotional) had simply disappeared, and have not returned since that time. It took no extra effort on my part; all I had done was this simple asana practice, with an easy pranayama exercise and short meditation to close.

Upon realizing the transformation that had occurred, I had only one thought, “I have to learn how to share this with other people.” I applied for the 200-hour Life Of A Yogi (LOAY) teacher training program immediately.

Fast forward to today, five years later, when I’ve just recently finished the immersion portion of my 800-hour training, and have been teaching regularly where I live (the slightly strange tourist town of Sedona, Arizona) for a little over a year – on a more full-time basis for several months.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that teaching this much is the most perfect extension of everything I’ve learned – the practical application of all this sadhana, particularly the yamas and the niyamas, with a major emphasis on ahimsa, compassion.

I quickly noticed that what my students receive during my classes has a lot less to do with how much I know, and a lot more to do with the way I am. If I am strong in my own practice (and, as a result, centered & grounded within myself,) the teachings flow naturally & lovingly, and students are noticeably more receptive. Discovering how to meet students where they are and keep them engaged, without changing the core essence of the practice, has been a dynamic and fascinating learning process for me.

There are a lot of things I could say about what it’s like to be the only active Dharma Yoga teacher around for hundreds of miles – it has been immensely challenging at times, and I catch the mind occasionally making up stories about how what I do doesn’t really make a difference, or how students aren’t actually interested in really absorbing everything this practice can offer them. Usually at those times of doubt, Grace shows itself in some form – a student sharing a profound shift that’s occurred in his/her life, or a deep appreciation for the practice overall – and I am reminded why I began teaching in the first place.

As the beginnings of a small sangha have started to form in our town, I’ve witnessed the immense power of like-minded individuals coming together for a common purpose, and the transformations that occur without us having to even talk about it.

This practice speaks for itself, and one thing that has never wavered within me is my faith in what I have learned through this sadhana, and the truth of my own experience. To be one of the many teachers carrying the torch of this lineage has always been, from my perspective, an incredible privilege, and a call to truly live the teachings – to offer our lives in service as much as possible.

 

5-4-15Dani Gray currently lives and teaches in Sedona, Arizona.

https://www.facebook.com/dani.gray.948

Mineral Rich Vegan Ginger Fudge Cake (Gluten Free)

By Ivy Mok

I had some inspiration from a friend, who was hesitant to bring her mother to a Christmas buffet last year. The next day after buffet, her mother had an appointment for body check. She was afraid the rich meal would yield undesirable results in her mother’s blood test results.

That brought me think of a yoga sutra from Patanjali:

Yoga citta virtti nirodhah. Yoga is stilling the changing state of the mind.

Sri Dharma Mittra explained to us that it was good to always shift one’s mind, and to also to shift one’s consciousness. This is the way to be creative and to be receptive. This is the way to see light in darkness, to see chance in risk, to see love in fear.

When it comes to dessert, people usually think it has to be unhealthy to be tasty. Many famous chefs do not care if they use refined sugar and animal butter lavishly because to them, dessert has to be delicious, and in their mind, deliciousness does not come with health.

I experimented with this recipe a few times and finally came up with this version. This is a gluten free, refined sugar free, vegan cake, with loads of fibers (psyllium husks, flaxseeds, teff flour, almond meal) and it is highly rich in minerals (blackstrap molasses & teff flour). Most of all, it is tasty and it does not make you feeling thirsty or uneasy (common symptoms if you consume too much refined sugar or processed food). It is indeed a nourishing treat.

Vegan ginger fudge cake
Ingredients (for making 1 loaf, i.e. around 36 cubes)

Dry:
100g teff flour
50g quinoa flour
50g potato starch
25g hazelnut meal
25g almond meal
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp himalayan salt

Egg replacement for baking:
3 tbsp ground flaxseeds
9 tbsp warm filtered water

Wet:
1/2 cup unsulphured organic blackstrap molasses
2 tbsp organic extra virgin coconut oil
1 ripe banana (mashed)
2 tbsp freshly squeezed ginger juice
2 tbsp psyllium husks

  • Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Grease a regular loaf pan with coconut oil.
  • Mix the flaxseeds and warm filtered water well until it is thick and creamy. Set aside for later use.
  • Sift all the dry ingredients into large mixing bowl.
  • Combine the wet ingredients thoroughly, add psyllium husk at the end, then add in the flaxseeds mixture, whisk until well blended.
  • Add the dry ingredients (small portions at a time, to make the mixture smooth, even, with no lumps) into the wet, well blended mixture, stir to make sure they mix well.
  • Pour the mixture into the greased pan, bake at 350 deg F until set in the middle with a knife and it comes out clean, around 40 minutes.
  • Cool on rack, then cut it into cubes when it’s completely cool.

Can serve either cool by refrigerating it or serve warm by reheating it in the oven.
Serve best with fruit or herbal tea.

Ingredient highlights:

Teff grain / flour
This is a staple grain commonly found in Ethiopia, color ranges from white to dark red. The
taste is like hazelnut, so it is naturally sweet & nutty. It is a gluten free grain so it is excellent for people with gluten intolerance. It is also high in minerals such as manganese (~8.5mg), magnesium (~175mg), potassium (~400mg), phosphorus (~400mg) and it is rich in vitamin B (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pathothenic acid), it has ~7g of dietary fiber per 100g. It also contains choline, vitamin k, and it has very low fat content (~2.5 g per 100g).

Organic unsulphured blackstrap molasses
Blackstrap molasses has the highest antioxidant among all other sweeteners, making it a very healthy kind of sweetener. It is very rich in iron, folate, along with some B vitamins, which all combine to work synergistically to promote red blood cell production.

It also contains high amount of magnesium, calcium. Magnesium is a crucial mineral for
maintaining heart health. People who are magnesium deficient are more prone to muscle
spasms, including heart muscles. Magnesium is also vital in balancing calcium for bone
production and energy. It is necessary for nervous system health. It is essential to over 300
metabolic processes and the synthesis of almost all the other minerals and vitamins.

Blackstrap molasses is also rich in potassium. Potassium deficiency may result in weak
muscles. It helps to calm the nervous system and boosts heart health.

Organic unsulphured blackstrap molasses is particularly rich in manganese, of which its ions function with a number of enzymes, to combat damage of free radicals. Like magnesium, manganese also supports cellular absorption of nutrients, and is beneficial to the nervous system.

 

IvyMokBlog 3A physiotherapist based in Hong Kong, Ivy learned yoga as a remedy for lost souls in a hectic city. She is blessed to quickly find her lineage in yoga despite living on another side of the world from her beloved guru, Sri Dharma Mittra. Constantly a student on all sorts of therapeutic modalities (visceral manipulation, craniosacral therapy), she finds the ultimate medicine for all sorts of ailments is “self-realization.” Ivy is always ready to spread whatever she learned to her students and patients.

Raw Vegan Spaghetti with Carbonara

By Ivy Mok

As Sri Dharma Mittra said, “The secret is really to eat the right food and to realize the knowledge.”

From constant practice of yoga, I can tell eating a diet that is vegan and almost completely raw, is the best diet for my body. This is something I experienced after the 500-hour Life of a Yogi teacher training last year. My asana practice progressed faster than ever (I was more flexible, light) and my mind was calm. My skin has been very clear and I have become more compassionate to others. This was one of the quickest ways to transform myself, my practice, and my mind.

Just experiment by giving yourself one to two days a week of eating raw vegan meals and you can tell the changes from the inside out. Withdrawal syndrome could be unpleasant if you have been indulging in a processed food, high sugar diet, and other stimulants. Listen to your body and use your intuition to gradually leave the old diet habit and eat in a purified and compassionate way.

Ingredients:

½ Zucchini (around 3 inches long), spiralized
Handful of rocket leaves aka arugula
2 medium crimini mushrooms
¼ avocado, sliced

Sauce:

A handful of cashews (10-15), soaked for 4-6 hours
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
½ tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tbsp coconut nectar
1-2 basil leaves
¾ avocado
Suitable amount of water (I used ~100ml)

Put all the above ingredients into high speed blender and blend. Add in water until they are well blended. Water amount depends on how you like the consistency.

Mix the sauce into the spiralized zucchini evenly. Add arugula, crimini mushroom, and ¼ avocado sliced nicely with the zucchini “pasta” on the plate, add in a dollop of sauce on top for mixing with the salad, sprinkle with diced raw pecan and half a teaspoon of za’atar on top.

 

 

IvyMokBlog 3A physiotherapist based in Hong Kong, Ivy learned yoga as a remedy for lost souls in a hectic city. She is blessed to quickly find her lineage in yoga despite living on another side of the world from her beloved guru, Sri Dharma Mittra. Constantly a student on all sorts of therapeutic modalities (visceral manipulation, craniosacral therapy), she finds the ultimate medicine for all sorts of ailments is “self-realization.” Ivy is always ready to spread whatever she learned to her students and patients.

 

 

 

Are You My Guru?

by Reno Muenz

Since my daughter was born two years ago I have had the opportunity to revisit some of the classic children’s books I read as a child. One of them, Are You My Mother?, tells the story of a little bird who falls from the nest while his mother is away. He sets out on a quest to discover who his mother is. He meets many interesting characters along the journey but none of them turns out to be his mother. Finally, in the end, he returns to the nest to find his mother waiting for him. My experience on the path of yoga is quite similar to this children’s story.

I developed an interest in yoga as a teenager. Not an interest in the postures, but rather an interest in yogis, like the Buddha and the Sadhus of India. It was Bhagavan Das’ “It’s Here Now (Are You?)” that really turned me on to the world of yogis and spiritual practice. After high school I studied Religion in University, with a focus on Eastern Philosophy, and began practicing the asanas.

Many years have passed and I have dedicated my life to the study and practice of traditional yoga. I have had many teachers along the way and have studied a handful of disciplines. I am eternally grateful for each of these teachers who have inspired me and offered fuel to keep my flame burning bright, but I have known all along that I was not prepared to dedicate myself to any one practice. I had not found my “mother,” so to speak.

“If the guru comes I will know,” I have always told myself.

Reno Muenz with Sri Dharma

The teachings are very clear that if you desire to experience the higher states of consciousness, by means of yoga techniques, you will need a guru to guide you. Someone who has mastered the practice. I have been in the company of a few masters in my life, yet knew in my heart that they were not my guru. The difference between a teacher and a guru is that a teacher will offer guidance for certain parts of your life or practice. They will arrive when you need them. And you will probably have many in this lifetime. A guru, on the other hand, will pass the Light from their lamp to your wick, allowing you to see the Light that is within, or the Supreme Self. This is a lifelong relationship. It is as sacred as the relationship between a child and his or her parents. It is not to be taken lightly, as it is just a permanent as getting a tattoo. You have to know that you know that you are making the right decision and that the guru is honest and compassionate, without a doubt.

This is something that I have thought about for many years. “Will I ever have a guru?” “Is it really that important?” “Are you my guru?” All of these questions have danced through my mind.

About 3 years ago I saw this book called Asana at a yoga school I was teaching at. I was so moved by the photos in the book. I was really inspired. “Who is this amazing person?” I thought to myself.

I discovered his name was Sri Dharma Mittra and began looking into him. I discovered his Maha Sadhana DVDs and began to practice them at home. I devoured all the extras on the DVDs like a true yoga nerd and made this a regular part of my daily life. As a traditional yoga practitioner, I’ve never been much for practicing in front of a television screen, but Sri Dharma really spoke to me. I was practicing more Ashtanga and Jivamukti Yoga which took up a lot of my time, but I kept going back to the DVDs. “Someday, I would love to practice with this man.”

I read as much as I could from Sri Dharma online, which there is quite a bit (many thanks to the amazing staff at the Dharma Yoga New York Center). Then in the film Enlighten Up, I saw Sri Dharma again. Of all the amazing yogis in this film, it was Sri Dharma who grabbed me and spoke to my heart.

What I attracted me to Sri Dharma Mittra from afar was his depth. Not only was this man a master asana practitioner, he also had a deep knowledge of the scriptures, he chanted and played the harmonium, he emphasized pranayama, yama and niyama nearly every time he was interviewed (even on his DVDs), and most of all he appeared to be so humble.

My life, as it is for most experienced yoga teachers, was very busy and didn’t have a lot of space for travelling, unless it was work related. It had been a long time since I was able to sneak away for my own personal studies, not to mention it had also been a long time since I had felt inspired to do so. My life continued on with my inspiration from Sri Dharma coming from interviews and video clips via the internet, wondering when/if we would ever meet.

Reno Muenz 2Finally, at the encouragement of my mother and partner, I looked into what it would take for me to head to New York City, to find out if this humble master was my guru.

I wrote the entrance essay and sent it off with my deposit, not knowing if my attending would even be financially possible, or geographically possible, as I live on the West Coast of Canada. Some time passed and I spent a lot of time focusing my awareness on being in New York City with Sri Dharma. Manifesting.

I had a telephone interview set up and spoke with one of the great staff at the Dharma Yoga Center. “It just feels like I should be going.” I told my partner, who is always supportive and shared very little doubt as to whether or not we could make it happen. Even though we both knew it would be a stretch for me to be away from work and the family during the training.

I was very excited to receive my acceptance to come to New York and study with Sri Dharma Mittra. “This could be my guru!” I thought.

I was able to scrape the cash together to take part in the training and headed off to New York City.

Upon my arrival I spent a couple of days at the center practicing with Sri Dharma Mittra. I was absolutely amazed by him. His strength and flexibility, his devotion and dedication, his sweetness and sense of humor. “This is my guru.” I thought. I had never thought that before. I even became very emotional upon meeting him for the first time, which by the way is out of character for me.

The training was absolutely life changing. Dharma’s Senior teachers shared the same dedication that I have for the traditional practice of Yoga. It felt like coming home.

I remember a mentor of mine explaining the guru to me years ago. He said to me that if you are luck enough to meet your Sat Guru in this lifetime, you will know right away. I was always searching to see if I knew. And up until now I never have. But since meeting Sri Dharma Mittra, I know that I know.

I have since taken on a discipleship with the master and couldn’t be happier. I am dedicated to spreading the teachings of Yoga as described by Sri Dharma  Mittra and am grateful for my spiritual family of Dharma Yogis. As Dharma says in his prayer in the Asana Book. “Once we return home, may we never leave again.”

It feels good to be home. To have answered the question “Are You My Guru?”

 

Reno MuenzReno Muenz (Chaitanya Deva) is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and a certified Dharma Yoga instructor. His knowledge of traditional yoga science/philosophy, combined with a great sense of humor, and love for music make him a unique and inspiring teacher.  He is dedicated to a lifelong commitment of sharing the teachings of his guru, and the great masters of the past, in a way that is accessible and inspiring for students of all levels of experience.
You can find him in Vancouver BC Canada hanging with his daughter Marley Summer. Or teaching yoga classes at Semperviva Yoga and One Yoga. He is the founder of Sadhaka Yoga school which offer students an opportunity to deepen their understanding of traditional yoga techniques. Reno can also be found behind the turntables, sharing his love for music at many conscious events such as the Wanderlust Yoga festivals. You can connect with him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dharmayogavancouver or email oneloveyoga@gmail.com for more information on Sadhaka Yoga courses.

Time for Tapas: Make a Commitment for Guru Purnima

by Kali Om

title photo by Mia Park

“People become depressed when they neglect their spiritual practice.” –Sri Dharma Mittra

What are you putting off that would deepen your yoga practice?

Is it to clean up your diet? To devote 20 minutes a day to meditation? To stop bed-texting and devote time to reflecting upon the day’s events? To work on a certain pose on a regular basis?

Rather than putting it off indefinitely, consider committing to a new level of practice for a four-month period, starting on Guru Purnima, which this year falls on Saturday, July 12.

Guru Purnima is a special full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad in which yogis commit to deepening their practice in order to honor their spiritual preceptor and all spiritual preceptors dating back to the sage Vyasa, who edited the Vedas, Puranas, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Mahabharata.

Ganesh-21

The guru is considered to be a living example of yoga, a saintly person who shares the practices that can bring the dedicated disciple face-to-face with God. On Guru Purnima, devotees may get up early and spend the day fasting, praying, and singing their guru’s praises. Of course, the best way to honor the guru is to follow his or her teachings and achieve the goal of yoga–self-realization. Indeed, nothing pleases the guru more than seeing the disciple stand on his or her own two feet.

Whether you have a guru or not, Guru Purnima gives yogis a wonderful opportunity to recommit to their spiritual practice, knowing that others around the world are doing the same thing. This collective consciousness is a powerful aid.

On this day, yogis make a commitment called a sankalpa, or a sacred vow. This vow is traditionally kept for a chaturmas, or a four-month period.

A sankalpa made on Guru Purnima is not like a typical New Year’s resolution, where one makes a vague, lofty plan that is followed for a few days and is then jettisoned as old habits reappear. Instead, it is a specific goal with a detailed plan on how to attain it. It is written down, signed, and then given to a spiritual preceptor or teacher.

photo by Mia Park

photo by Mia Park

This practice is part of the yogic observance of tapas, or purifying austerities. Tapas falls into three categories: austerity, worship, and charity. It can include practices to be taken up or habits to be given up.

“That which purifies the impure mind is tapas,” said Swami Sivananda. “That which regenerates the lower animal nature and generates divine nature is tapas. That which cleanses the mind and destroys lust, anger, greed etc., is tapas. That which destroys tamas (dullness) and rajas (impurity) and increases satva (purity) is tapas.”

What you choose to do for Guru Purnima should be something that is reasonable given your particular circumstances. It should also be somewhat challenging. Usually, we have an idea floating around the back of our minds. If that is the case, write it down and visualize how it could be put into action. Remember, it should be appropriate for your particular stage of spiritual practice, and that yoga is, ultimately, about authentically wanting to clean up your act

Once you figure out what your commitment will be, write it down, sign it, and put it into practice–not just for the guru or teacher, but also for your own spiritual unfoldment.

Because ultimately, the real guru is right there, seated in your own heart as your inmost Self.

Choosing–and Keeping–Your Sankalpa

It is best to write down the vow that you wish to keep for Guru Purnima. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to follow through. Include the steps you will take to accomplish it. Sign it and give it to someone you believe in, or burn it. Then, keep quiet about it and do the work.

If you do not have any ideas, here are a few places to start:

  • Give up a bad habit that is not serving you, such as bed-texting, having a glass of wine before bed, eating junk food, gossiping, or spending time with people who bring out the worst in you.
  • Spend five minutes a day reading the Yoga Sutras or other scripture.
  • Keep a daily spiritual diary, and write down your practices and how well you kept (or didn’t keep) yama, yoga’s ethical foundation. For more ideas, read Swami Radha’s 1996 book, Time To Be Holy.
  • Repeat a certain number of rounds of mantra each day, using a mala (a 108-bead rosary used for meditation). “A rosary is a whip to goad the mind towards God,” said Swami Sivananda in his book Japa Yoga (available for free, at dlshq.org/teachings/ japayoga .htm ).
  • Develop a home practice. Resolve to do 20 minutes of asana, 12 rounds of pranayama, asana , and/or 20 minutes meditation each day. Or promise yourself that you’ll go to class a certain number of times each week.
  • Give up eating meat. If this seems too drastic, consider going vegetarian once a week (for more info, visit meatfreemondays.com or vrg.org).
  • If you are not yet ready to deepen your yoga practice, perhaps there is something in your life that needs to be resolved first. Consider diving into that project you’ve been avoiding, such as putting your finances or house in order, or clearing out a practice space in a bedroom or corner of the living room.
  • Consider volunteering once a week or month through selfless service or Karma yoga, which should be performed without attachment to results. For example, resist the urge to brag about it or put it on your résumé. For ideas, visit volunteermatch.org and read Ram Dass’s 1985 book, How Can I Help?
  • Take a weekly Internet and smartphone fast, or practice silence once a week. Or vow to eat a meal in silence–no TV, no talking, no texting or reading–once a day or once a week.
  • Give away one object you no longer use each day or week. Give the items to charity, or post them on freecycle.org.
  • If you have a tendency to run behind schedule (i.e., you are always late), vow to arrive five minutes early to each of your appointments.
  • Put the Yoga Sutras into practice. Read Yogi Cameron Alborzian’s new book The One Plan: A Week-by-Week Guide to Restoring Your Natural Health and Happiness. And do the exercises.

 

Cara Jepsen

Kali Om (Cara Jepsen) , E-RYT 500, is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and has been teaching yoga since 1998; she is the senior teacher of Dharma yoga in Chicago and has completed Sri Dharma Mittra’s LOAY 200-, 500-, and 800-hour trainings. She will lead yoga and meditation retreats November 1-2, 2014 at the beautiful Port for Prayer in Frankfort, IL and in Belize February 7-14, 2015. For more information, visit yogikaliom.com.

Sacred Space: Creating a Home Altar

by Ishvara Pranidana Om  

Altars are always present in Holy places.  Altars are by definition a place where sacrifices and offerings are made, but are also physical reminders of Divinity.  It is good to keep an altar in the home because it serves as a reminder to hold sacred space for the spiritual realm, which is increasingly difficult in our busy world.

There aren’t any particular rules about the appearance, location, or use of the altar, and they may range from elaborate to simple, large or a windowsill, inside or outside.  Here a few points to consider when you create your home altar:

  • Location, location, location:  Designate a spot that is out of the way, yet visible.  An altar in a busy location, like the counter right when you walk in the door, might be subject to clutter like house keys and mail.  Alternately, if the altar is not visible, the flowers may wilt and the area could become dusty and neglected.  Also, consider the height, as down low may not be a good option if you have children or small pets.

Altar_Urban

  • Size: Small spaces may call for a windowsill or shelf;   however, a larger area may support the use of a lovely table or the top of a piece of furniture.  If you have an outdoor space, you can make one out of rocks or wood.

Altar

  • Purpose:  Decide what purpose the space is being held for.  Is it a temporary situation, like the celebration of an upcoming birth or prayer for a sick relative, or long-term general use?  Keep in mind, the use of the altar can change as life itself is constantly shifting and changing.  However, determining a purpose in advance will help to decide the following factors:
  • Content:  Pictures or photographs of a Guru or other holy people, inspirational texts, flowers or plants, crystals or stones, altar cloths, incense, symbols (such as the Pranava) statues or figures or candles are examples of a few. And simplicity is good if you are just starting out. Your altar is also an ideal location to keep your mala or meditation shawl safe.

Altar_Windowsill

  • Upkeep: An altar free of clutter denotes respect, as does freshly watered flowers and plants.  Keep the area dust free and change the contents as necessary.

Altar_Woodstove

Once you create your altar, it is preferable to use it regularly as burning incense and offerings of prayers and flowers done repeatedly increase the potency of vibration in that spot.  And creating or continuing a ritual at your altar is also an excellent form of daily discipline, or Tapas.  You may pray there or light incense or candles with intention.  Or, you can just pause there and express gratitude or mentally send love to someone.

(Pictures by Ishvara Pranidana Om)

Ishvara_Pranidana_OmIshvara has been a devoted student of Sri Dharma Mittra since 2009 and has completed the 200, 500 and 800-Hour Dharma Yoga Lif of a Yogi Teacher Trainings in New York City. She is also the mother of three children ages seven, six and 2 months.  She lives in Jefferson City, MO.

Internal Spring Cleaning: Time To Let Go of What’s Holding You Back

By Kali Om 

“Be kind to everyone; forgive everyone everything.” Sri Dharma Mittra

Flower_by_Cyndi_Lawler

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  —Mahatma Gandhi

On the season opener of Yogi Cameron: A Model Guru, ayurvedic therapist YC treats a 25-year-old with autism named Zach. Zach is angry, and YC wants to know why. Zach says other children at the synagogue he attended harassed him. “How old were you when that happened?” YC asked. “Seven or eight,” Zach replied. “That was a long time ago,” says YC. “When are you going to let it go?”

In modern American culture, we tend to hold on to ancient grievances and use them as an excuse to avoid dealing with the things we don’t like about our life: I’m not living up to my potential because my parents beat me / spoiled me / weren’t there for me / were too strict with me / gave me too much freedom or attention / ignored me / favored my siblings over me / [your excuse here]. In America, we like to play the blame game and say that our problems are someone else’s fault.

But in yoga we understand that the soul is eternal, and that our soul, or Atman, chooses the parents we will have, and the circumstances we find ourselves in. In yoga, we know that these birth families or circumstances give us the best possible opportunity to burn off our old karma and learn the lessons we need to know in this lifetime—that each unpleasant thing is happening for a reason, according to our deeds from the past.

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

I first heard about the laws of karma and reincarnation in the 1970s, when the film The Reincarnation of Peter Proud aired on TV. But I didn’t really believe in it until 30 years later, when I heard about it from the lips of my guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, and realized that everything we are going through now is a result of our past deeds. He shared his own experiences and backed them up with passages from the great yoga scripture the Bhagavad-Gita. When I thought about what he said, I realized that everything “bad” that happened to me in my life—and believe me, there was a lot of unpleasantness—led to something good. Every single time. I realized that these “bad” or unpleasant experiences taught me a lesson, fostered personal growth, or set my life in a new direction (such as when my mother died, and I started practicing yoga) and stopped taking them personally.

As Bhagavad-Gita says, “That which is like poison at first but like nectar in the end—that happiness, born of the clear knowledge of the Self, is said to be of the nature of sattva [peace and harmony].”  Sri Dharma often says he is thankful when something unpleasant happens to him, because it means he has burned off one more karma.

This is easy to understand on an intellectual level. Yet many of us still have doubts and see ourselves flogging the same old dead horse, over and over, stuck in our old ways of being, thinking, and acting. If we do this long enough, we could end up with a terrible illness. Because in yoga, it is believed that all disease begins in the mind (and then migrates straight to the colon).

So give it some thought: Is there something you haven’t let go of that is holding you back? Is there someone you need to forgive, or someone of whom you should ask forgiveness? Is there someone you need to thank?

Is there someone you need to confront, or to cut loose from because the relationship is no longer serving you?

Do you need to forgive yourself for something?

What is holding you back from doing what you want with your life?

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

It is never too late to ask these questions, and spring is a wonderful time of year to let go, an opportunity to begin anew. The most direct way is to do this internally, by practicing svadhyaya, or self-study. This can be done in meditation and through journaling, by asking and answering the questions posed above.

Svadhyaya can be helped by the physical act of letting things go and clearing out the clutter in your living space. Because if there’s clutter at home, there is clutter in the mind. Perhaps it is your stuff—mental, physical, spiritual—that is holding you back.

Often, when we make an external effort, what we need to do internally becomes abundantly clear. After all, cleaning and organizing is a type of meditation (and spring is the best time to do it). Still not convinced?  Read my comprehensive March 2010 Yoga Chicago article, “Paring Down Can Improve Your Yoga Practice and Help the Planet.Another wonderful resource for getting started is Karen Kingston’s book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Clutter Forever.

Once the physical debris is out of the way, it is much easier to work on internal letting go.

There are many ways to express forgiveness. It can be done in person, or on the phone, or in a letter (I do not recommend doing it via e-mail, voicemail, Facebook, or texting, which would smack of insincerity). It can also be done mentally, if the person is no longer around or still poses a threat to you. (There is no need to stir up trouble or reopen old wounds; in some cases it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, and offer forgiveness mentally. Sri Dharma always says, “Love the bad man, but keep the distance.”)

Sometimes, we come to realize that we have caused harm and need to ask forgiveness, which can be done in much the same way. Just keep it simple and straightforward, name exactly what you are sorry for, express your regret at causing harm, and do not make excuses for your behavior.

There are many types of forgiveness meditations. One of the most simple and direct is from former Buddhist monk and author Jack Kornfield. As with any meditation, begin sitting comfortably in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed (if the floor is not comfortable, sit in a chair with the head, neck, and spine in a straight line). Breathe deeply and comfortably, and contemplate how forgiveness can help you soften your heart.

Begin by asking forgiveness of others you have harmed. Visualize each situation where you have caused pain, and experience the emotions it elicits. Realize that you only caused them harm because of your own pain, fear, anger, or confusion. Then, say to each person, “I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.”

Orchids_by_Cynthia_Lawler

Next, focus on forgiving yourself for all of the times you have wittingly or unwittingly been the cause of your own pain. Visualize each instance and feel the emotions. Then, say to yourself, “For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain, and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.”

Finally, focus on forgiving those who have harmed you. Imagine each episode, and allow the emotions to come up. Then, repeat the following: “I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion, and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.”

Don’t be surprised if this practice is difficult at first. It can take a lot of time to master it. You may find it helpful to start with small things, and work towards bigger ones.

As Kornfield said, “Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and images work gradually in their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving kindness.”

You may find you prefer a different forgiveness meditation, such as this simple yet very specific one from the Buddha Dharma Education Association. Or you may create your own; it is important that the practice feel authentic to you. That way you’re more likely to actually do it, and your efforts will be unforced.

Just remember that any sincere effort to let go of physical and emotional clutter, no matter how small, will yield rewards. As if by its own accord, you may find your practice starts to deepen, roadblocks fall away, old injuries disappear, and wonderful new things start to appear in your life.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself and see.

(All pictures by Cindy Lawler)

 

Cara_JepsenKali Om (Cara Jepsen) , E-RYT 500, is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and has been teaching yoga since 1998; she is the senior teacher of Dharma yoga in Chicago and has completed Sri Dharma Mittra’s LOAY 200-, 500-, and 800-hour trainings. She also studied five times in India with Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. She will lead yoga and meditation retreats November 1-2, 2014 at the beautiful Port for Prayer in Frankfort, IL and in Belize February 7-14, 2015. For more information, visit yogikaliom.com.