Category Archives: humor

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.

Effort as Offering: Changing the way we approach our practice

headstand

by Eileen Lorraine

My life has gone upside down many times; in my yoga life though, inverting has always eluded me. I came up with many viable reasons for this, blaming my gymnastics teacher who denied me my beloved balance beam until I learned to do multiple backward summersaults on the mat. Yawn. I blamed my thick thighs which I felt were far too heavy to lift higher than my hips. Gravity’s got me like. I blamed my unwarranted fear that kept me rooted to the ground no matter how many people kindly attempted to show me their way of going upside down on their heads. Feeling somewhat defeated, I eventually came to accept it as fact. I cannot do a headstand. There, I said it. Let others do it, let others teach it. It just won’t be me.

I suppose all along there was something deeper inside me that wasn’t fully buying such a definitive statement, and what didn’t come as a surprise to those who know my rebellious spirit, I applied to do the Life of a Yogi 500 hour teacher training with the man who dubbed the headstand, the “King of Poses”. In August 2015, I took a micro-sabbatical from my corporate gig and teaching classes in Las Vegas to join 65 other yogis from all over the world in New York’s Dharma Yoga Center (DYC). Feeling much like my first day at a brand new school, I entered the temple thinking, “What the hell did I get myself into?” During our first practice together as a group, Sri Dharma Mittra called sirsasana ten minutes into class. Ten minutes into class?! So I sat while the rest of the room went upside down, all the while trying to fake a look of serenity and confidence in my “watchasana”, when inside I was crumbling. “I want to do that,” I thought. “I should be able to do that! I don’t deserve to be here. I don’t deserve to be a teacher. What am I doing here?” And on and on and on the internal dialog went until sweet relief came when I heard Dharma-ji say, “Ok. Now break the pose.” (Holding self-chastising-asana is remarkably exhausting.)

Soon after, we were paired off into small groups of six. These were to be my peers for the two contact modules during our training, led by my first of two mentors, Andrew Jones. Being paired with Andrew, a senior teacher at DYC, was a gentle gift from the Universe. His soft British accent and kind demeanor invited me to share my dark confession with the group, “I can’t do headstand. And I want to. I really, really want to.” I expected to be met with instructions to go into a headstand and then feel the familiar shame of not being able to go any further than a deep version of dolphin pose. But that’s not what happened. Instead he simply said, “So you can’t do headstand. Its ok, you don’t have to.”

Wait, what?

Four words were all it took. “YOU DON’T HAVE TO,” and I was suddenly set free. Andrew continued, asking if I could consider removing the goal of conquering the pose, to take if off of my to-do list and to remember that asana is not the yoga I was after. That it wasn’t what pulled me away from my life in Las Vegas and called me to spend this time with Dharma-ji. He reminded me that our practice is an offering, and in that sense no matter how little or how much I invert myself, it is enough. For God, it has always been enough. And it was then that I gave myself permission to release the white knuckle grip I had on this pose, to slow down, to open my mind in a way that could finally absorb the technical hints my mentor and peers lovingly shared with me. And little by little over the course of the next eight days, my legs began to go up. It wasn’t until I returned to the security of my home did I fully invert away from the wall, but let me just say, it was an amazing feeling. I’m up, I’m up! I had a huge sense of pride, not for conquering the pose but for being able to let go of my ego enough to make my all my efforts an offering. And let that offering be enough.

Self-realization happens in subtle moments when we witness ourselves for whom we truly are, made of our strengths and our limitations. It happens in the moments when we release what is outside of us and instead go quietly inside, gently encouraging ourselves (with a sweet English accent if possible, it bloody helps!) to experience the moment, not the result. Without bringing compassion to our practice, there is no yoga.

shirshasana1 Shirshasana2 Shirshasana3 Shirshasana4 Shirshasana5 Shirshasana6 Shirshasana7 headstand

Shanti Shanti Shanti Om.

Yoga Myths

By Alexis Corchado

Handstands_Blog©Lea Forgo

Prior to becoming a Yoga teacher, I wasn’t very aware of the “Yoga Myths” surrounding our beloved practice. To me, it was all peaches and cream with a dollop of Pranayama. But as I embark on my teaching career, I’ve noticed misconceptions and false notions floating around Yoga. I been brought to chuckles at some of the ideas prospective students have even before taking their very first class.

Myth #1 – Yoga is an activity for women

Ok, I must admit that this seems to be true in most commercial Yoga classes. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of students are female. However, this is starting to change. More and more men are becoming acquainted with the practice and its immense benefits. As a result, they’re telling their “macho” buddies about it and the buzz is spreading. Even world champion boxer, Juan Manuel Marquez incorporates asana and meditation into his pre-fight training regimen.

I think this belief centers around the cultural limitation placed on men with regard to feeling vulnerable in public. Women seem more inclined to engage in activities like Yoga that encourage one to look within, and to get in touch with emotions or whatever else happens to be inside of them. Blame it on gender roles and society telling men that they must be stoic at all times.

Myth#2 – Yoga is for “white” people

This is a myth that not only infuriates, but saddens me deeply, because I am of Latino descent. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for the amount of times I’ve heard students of mine (I’m also a substitute teacher in a public school district,) or in my old neighborhood, tell me that Yoga is something that white people do. Yoga is a practice open to anyone regardless of color, religion, or race. To associate a certain activity with a particular skin tone is absurd to me, but I must say that although it’s a false notion, I can understand why it exists. The fact of the matter is that all too often when we glimpse the glossy covers of a Yoga magazine or website homepage, more often than not we’re treated to a photograph of an individual of Caucasian descent. To add fuel to the previous myth, that individual will nine out of ten times also be a woman.

The truth is that the latter and the former myths are reinforced by the marketing of the billion-dollar industry that this ancient practice has become in the West. Let’s face it: Yoga classes and monthly memberships, not to mention retreats, are for the most part, very expensive, especially in major metropolitan areas. The above-mentioned demographic tends to be the one that has the discretionary income available to invest in Yoga. That being said, this is also changing and thankfully so. When I take glimpses around the main room at the Dharma Yoga Center I’m greeted by smiles from individuals representing numerous nations and walks of life, not to mention Sri Dharma Mittra himself is a Latino male. Yoga is for all of us!

Yoga Myth #3- Yoga is just stretching

This myth is, above all, the furthest from the truth. Does Yoga include stretching? Absolutely! Is that all there is to Yoga? No way! I quote the famous second verse from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha.” Translation: Yoga is the stilling of the mind into silence. This is where heart of Yoga lies. The asana practice is a tool for strengthening the body and creating radiant health. But it’s only the beginning; one branch on the eight-limbed tree that is Yoga. Our practice is about traveling within, shedding external distractions, communing with the true, lasting self, and understanding the multitude of afflictions that lead us to unhappiness and suffering. Yoga is a spiritual science that transcends the body and puts us on the path to comprehending universal truth, or God. It challenges as well as relaxes, forces us to accept our flaws or limitations, and encourages us to improve on them. To say that Yoga is just stretching is equivalent to saying that the Grand Canyon is just a crack in the Earth’s surface.

Yet again, I can comprehend the origins of this myth. Sadly enough, through the commercialization of Yoga in the West, Yoga has become just that, in classes offered across the nation it is just stretching. It appears as though Yoga has been morphed into countless manifestations in the hopes of drawing more business and as a result, the essential nature of the practice is being lost. I’ve been to a few classes, particularly hot Yoga classes, where not so much as an inkling of meditation or spirituality could be found. It felt like I was in an aerobics class (an incredibly sweaty one at that.) As teachers of Yoga, we can’t forget Ashtanga or the eight limbed tree of our practice. We can’t extract the very heart and soul out of what we teach in the hopes of drawing more business, or becoming more attractive to students less inclined to the metaphysical aspects of Yoga. It’s exactly these aspects that, in this day and age, must be upheld and are most in need. For this reason, I hold Sri Dharma Mittra and his way of teaching in the highest regard. Sri Dharma is Yoga on every conceivable level. His approach is classical in its method of preserving the ancient teachings of our practice.

So once again, is Yoga just stretching? Nooooooooooo!

Myth #4 – Yoga is too difficult

Yoga can be infinitely challenging and many asanas are achieved only after years of dedicated practice. But the beauty of Yoga lies in the fact that it is approachable from wherever you happen to be physically or mentally. Most of my students assume they’ll be standing on their heads during their very first class. I assure them that, in time, if they so desire, they will! But advanced asanas aren’t a requisite of Yoga. One’s practice is personal and unique. We all come to Yoga with a set of strengths and weaknesses. As I write this, I’m instantly reminded of my stubborn hamstrings.

What’s important is that we forget about competing with our peers and going into full splits, and instead appreciate the progress that will come when we’re compassionate with ourselves and our bodies. You do what you can do at your own pace. Yoga is a lifelong journey; it shouldn’t feel like a race. Self- realization doesn’t come overnight; it takes time. In basketball, one doesn’t start with shooting from the three point line, not even if your name is Lebron James. You start with dribbling, ball handling, and layups. Yoga is no different. So next time you’re in downward facing dog and your legs won’t comply, trust that this will change. Enjoy the process!

Myths abound and are associated with countless people, objects, events, or activities the world over. But let us try and remember that myths are false notions and often become roadblocks to our progress or experience of life. In the words of Sri Dharma Mittra, “be receptive.” Always strive to experience things for yourself, formulate your own well-informed opinions and in the process, help to shatter pre-existing myths.

 

Alexis Corchado

 Alexis Corchado lives in Union, New Jersey. He has been practicing Yoga for about a year and is in the internship phase of his LOAY 200-hour Teacher Training. Off the mat you can find him playing in the mountains or on the beach or dancing the night away to Salsa and Merengue. Nature is his biggest inspiration and having a sense of place is part of his passion. Alexis is forever grateful for the presence of Dharma Yoga, and all that it represents, in his life.

Day Six: Flux


The Life of a Yogi
          Another day gone… This morning I could hardly believe it was the beginning of day six, and even though the morning seems like a really long time ago, I’m still having trouble grasping the fact that there are only two days left of the training. It makes me think of what Sri Dharma says about the Supreme Self: “No notions of time…” and all of that. But then again, I’m pretty sure the fact that I have no notion of time right now is more related to exhaustion than enlightenment.
          I was really tired this morning for some reason – not too sore or anything, just a general fatigue. I was a little agitated at myself, because I had really wanted to be totally alert for pranayama/dhyana and discourse with Sri Dharma (this is only the third time we’ve had him for discourse this module, so I wanted to absorb as much as possible). Even though I was tired most of the morning, I stopped being so serious and agitated at myself once Baxter started barking at Sri Dharma while he was demonstrating lion pose; it was hilarious and SO adorable.
          We had another small group teaching session after discourse (the last one of those is tomorrow, and I’ll be teaching), followed by Master Sadhana – with Yoshio today. Both of those were really fun; Yoshio’s class is just so full of love, and I’m a big fan of his sequencing and general style.
          After lunch we had a lecture with Eric on yogic scripture, which was really interesting. I started becoming more fascinated with scripture while I was reading the Atmabodha in between modules, so I appreciated the clarification he offered on some subjects, and his recommendations for further reading. I already have a bunch of books about yoga at home, and I feel like all I’m going to want to do once I go home is sit in my room and read!
          Then we had a session with Andrew regarding teaching Dharma Raja Yoga Basics, which is a course that concerns itself with the last three limbs of yoga – dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. It was cool to have a structural outline for teaching a class without asana, because that’s something I’m really interested in doing in the near future. We had Andrew for the rest of the evening as well – Maha Shakti and Yoga Nidra. The Maha Shakti was really nice; I ended up practicing near most of my small group members, so I felt really safe and supported throughout the class. That’s been one of the coolest things about this program – developing relationships with my group and a lot of the other trainees as well. I think that’s one of the things that feels different this module, actually: we are all just really comfortable with each other now, so it feels like home even more so than last time.
          Unfortunately I fell asleep during Yoga Nidra. I was CONVINCED that I wouldn’t, because I had stayed awake through the savasana at the end of Maha Shakti… But then I made the mistake of letting my attention wander just a little bit at one point, and I was so tired today that that was all it took… I was asleep before I even knew it. Oh well, I’ll have another chance at it tomorrow with Sri Dharma!
          Tonight I think it’s going to be straight to bed – there’s not enough time left to waste any of it being tired!
~Danielle