Category Archives: liberation

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.

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.

A Walden State of Mind

by Barrie Rosencrans

You know what they say: sometimes what you’re looking for can be found right in your own back yard.

I live in a place called Walden, about an hour’s drive from Cleveland, a serene and idyllic community built to emanate the tranquility and earth-bound Shangri-La made most famous by Henry David Thoreau.  You don’t bump into Walden; it’s a destination.  Little did I know this fact of life—my life—would come full circle at the top of 2015.

When change is in the air, things are stirred, and sometimes we’re unsettled. Think of the autumn leaves preparing for winter, or a storm that’s beginning to rain. I was fully unaware when I met Sri Dharma for his NYC New Year’s Eve Immersion that he would visit Walden, where I not only live but am also a proprietor of the wellness center. I decided to truly practice one of the yamas (non-hoarding aparigraha,) and share Walden and its beauty with Sri Dharma Mittra.  It’s important to me that Walden, in addition to its serene horse-farm surroundings and organic local menu, also feed the soul.

Sri Dharma Mittra arrived at Walden on April 17, 2015 with a message of compassion, trust, kindness, goodness, friendships, self-investigation, love for all beings everywhere (“even the piggies.”)  His teachings embodied principles of the Yamas, individual precepts of the Niyamas, asana postures, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, chanting, kriyas, mantra, Yoga Nidra and meditation. (Touching all of Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga in one weekend!) The medical/ clinical benefits of yoga were also a message that he delivered during his visit.

This was a definite highlight of my pursuit in bringing a yoga studio to Northeast Ohio (NEO,) an area currently in the midst of a cultural boom, but still in need of my native NYC touch. Two years ago, Dharma Yoga teachers first came to Walden, sharing their hearts and opening NEO’s minds to Dharma Yoga’s philosophies.

In Sri Dharma Mittra’s never-ending supportive manner, his teachings encouraged me to take risks, be enthusiastic, and to realize that truly all I have is me. All my fears washed away as I dove into the growth of Walden Wellness.

When Sri Dharma came to teach, he spoke of protecting and saving our earth as well as realizing the world beyond our own conception and even to other galaxies. This brought to mind a statement by esteemed Astronomer Carl Sagan, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

Sri Dharma’s lectures during the Satsang and Maha Sadhana segments of his Walden immersion truly opened minds up to the possibility of space, time and personal existence.

My karma may be to share yoga- cost effectively- to those people who could not travel to NYC, but who could truly benefit from practicing and studying Dharma Yoga here. Without ever expecting anything in return, I worked on my dream and thought, “If not now… when?”

During a class with Sri Dharma Mittra I heard him make reference to the “Eternal Now”, a concept which stayed with me, in my heart for days- thinking, pondering, and examining what I can do to make the present moments count. We could all think, “What do I currently have that I can share?” It may make your “eternal now” seem significant, promote contemplation.

A true Walden state of mind is difficult to sum up here in words, simply because it’s an embodiment of your lifestyle every single day.  It’s honoring your full surroundings: the people, the nature, the animals.  (As a result of Sri Dharma MIttra’s talk on loving the animals, we scheduled successful vegetarian and vegan cooking classes last Spring.)  Moreover, when we create positive changes we affect all around us, every living thing benefits from our actions.  My dream is to turn my little piece of Ohio into a dreamscape for those who yearn to go inside themselves to be their best and share that magnanimous love.

“The best that could happen IS happening” – Sri Dharma Mittra

Jan. 2015- New Year’s Immersion

 

IMG_1857Barrie, a New York City native and professionally trained dancer,  discovered yoga in 2001 while pregnant with her third child. Since then Barrie has wholeheartedly embraced the Dharma Yoga 8 limbed path of Raja Yoga and is a devoted teacher of daily donation based classes, spreading yogic love via Walden Wellness. With much heartfelt gratitude Barrie attributes her road to Sri Dharma Mittra in 2015 after learning under Sri Andre Ram at Walden in January 2014. Barrie–wife, mother of three teenage boys, and two golden retrievers–holds a masters degree from Case Western Reserve University’s Medical School in metabolism & nutrition, is currently the proprietor of Spa Walden (www.yourwalden.com).

Taking the Gastro-Intestinal Tract to the Cleaners

By Brando Lee Lundberg

Whether it’s a particular holiday season or the tilt of the earth that provides motivation to renew, cleanse, let go of, or cultivate, there is a natural tendency to change the habits of the body and mind, just as the hemispheres undergo changes each season.

One of the kriyas, or yogic cleansing actions, used to promote internal purity on the physical and subtle levels is called Shanka-Prakshalana.  This technique cleans out the entire gastro-intestinal tract.  It involves drinking lukewarm salt water and performing specific asana postures in a dynamic fashion until the urge to defecate arises.  One relieves oneself a number of times until the entire gastro-intestinal tract has been cleaned – evidenced by clear evacuations that look much like water.  While there are other techniques for achieving the same result of this kriya – such as eating only watermelon for four days or more until what emerges is of a similar color to watermelon, or heading to a local wellness center for colon hydrotherapy also known as colonics – Shanka-Prakshalana is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to achieve the same result in 45 minutes to one and a half hours.

Shanka-Prakshalana is recommended in cases when one slips into following a particularly unhealthy diet, in which case, the kriya is recommended once every few months for a system reset.  If one is following a vegan diet with few processed foods and not overeating, this technique may not be necessary.  Consult a medical professional if there are any doubts.

Having completed two Shanka-Prakshalana kriyas, each spaced apart by approximately one and a half years – the first upon switching to a vegan diet and the second after a particularly unhealthy holiday season eating extravaganza – I have compiled the following notes for those considering this kriya technique.

Preparing the saltwater:

  • Add one tablespoon (15 milliliters) of sea salt or Red Himalayan salt to one quart (.95 liters) of room temperature or warm, filtered or spring water.  It’s important that regular table salt not be used, as it is less pure than the kinds listed above. Prepare at least two quarts.  Mix well.

Drinking the saltwater and performing the yoga postures:

  • Drink down the first quart. Some find that holding the nose helps get the salt water down.
  • Try to drink the entire salt solution (the first quart) within 15-20 minutes. Some will be able to get it down within five-10 minutes. Others will vomit if they take it too quickly. If you’re super sensitive, try to get it down within 30 minutes.
  • After drinking the first quart, carry out some gentle yoga postures. The following are recommended: Tadasana variation, Tiryaka Tadasana, Katti Chakrasana, Tiryaka Bhujangasana and Udarakarshanasana. Further instructions on these asanas can be found via Swami Googlenanda: http://www.jalanetipot.com/asanas1.html
  • Following the asanas, listen to the body, deeply. If the body is telling you that it needs more rest before starting to drink the salt water again, rest on the left side. If the body is telling you that it could drink more, fill another one quart with the saline mixture. Drink one cup at a time, and then repeat the exercises for two minutes before drinking another cup until you feel you can longer drink anymore. Rest on the left side until the body lets you know you can continue drinking and doing the exercises or have to use the bathroom.
  • Continue this cycle of drinking, yoga postures, resting on the left side, and evacuating until your evacuations are clear as water.
  • Occasionally, some people have to drink up to a gallon of water before evacuations run clear, so plan accordingly. It took me two quarts and two cups (480 milliliters). Others need less than two quarts, however. Each body will be different.

Post kriya:

  • Sri Dharma advises resting for 45 minutes after the evacuations are complete and not planning anything that will require much exertion for the rest of the day. The first time I performed this kriya I had a nice calm energy afterwards and was comfortable moving around the house, preparing a simple meal, et cetera. This second time around I was more fatigued and dehydrated immediately afterwards.  After drinking enough coconut water and filtered water to quench my thirst I rested for an hour. The calm energy appeared after I got up, and I was fine with moving around thereafter.
  • Once one has sufficiently rested and is ready to consume some food, Sri Dharma recommends preparing a simple lentil soup, green peas or starchy grains.  One may also consider consuming only watermelon or fruit juices, or to fast all together for a day or more after performing this kriya.  Use your intuition.

Good luck and much OM!

 

100023096_largeBrando first came across some yoga postures in 2002 as part of a six month get into shape program presented in Outside magazine.  For the next 10 years, yoga served the same purpose – strength and flexibility.  In February 2013, this changed upon meeting Sri Dharma Mittra at Kripalu.

The Sound of Silence

By Jerome Burdi

It’s easier to tame a lion than your own mind.

This is because the tool needed to quiet the mind is intangible and for many people unfathomable. It is silence.

“Go into seclusion and rest your mind on the silence,” Sri Dharma Mittra says.

Enjoy the senses, the master says, but be prepared to live without anything the world offers them. And learn to be happy about it.

Moving into silence is something hard to do and even encouraged not to do in this world of technology, where a quiet mind is ruptured every minute or less by our smart phones with all their gadgets and apps. We live in a busy world and if you’re living in New York City, it’s an even busier one.

I’ve seen people crossing the street checking their smart phones, riding their bikes and texting in front of a sunset, and of course, we’ve all been in conversations where a phone becomes a third party in them.

It’s hard to quiet the mind. But as, Dharmaji says, our practice of yoga depends on it.

He comes from a long line of yogis, poets and saints who have said the same.

“Silence is the language of God,” the beloved Sufi saint Rumi said, “all else is poor translation.”

Silence is the thing we need most to succeed in striping away the layers to get to the voice of God inside, our true Self.

“Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind,” reads The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

But silence and being alone is also a thing most of us dread.

I remember before I went on a 10-day silent vipassana meditation retreat, I could not sit still for five minutes in meditation. I was so enthusiastic about learning this ancient meditation technique that sitting for long periods with an aching back and legs was well worth it. I learned to sit!

This is a compliment vipassana meditators sometimes pay each other: “You’re a good sitter.”

But vipassana focuses on getting you to sit for an hour without moving. This is dreadful for most people. Sri Dharma uses something more practical, especially for the fast paced impatient New Yorker.

“Practice for five minutes, but do it every day,” he often says.

This is the key to success. Doing a little each day helps to keep the enthusiasm going and helps you to gradually increase your meditation practice.

And no matter how busy you are, there is always time. Get up earlier. Meditation is better than sleep.

As the Zen proverb goes: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Once you get in the habit of giving yourself the gift of silence, of becoming the witness, it will become your favorite part of the day. I like to practice the first thing in the morning. Sri Dharma encourages practicing in the morning to make sure you get it in, calling it your “insurance policy.”

Then anything else you do after that is extra credit.

When we go silent, we can go within.

“Yoga is an internal practice,” Sri Pattabhi Jois said. “The rest is just a circus.”

At one point during my vipassana retreat I was looking out along a river while the leaves were changing and falling like feathers, squirrels were working frantically to gather their winter’s bounty, and I could almost hear the trees breathing on the mountainside.

I began to weep at the perfect beauty that we are all in together. This same feeling can come anywhere at anytime once you learn how to allow yourself to become silent. Sometimes I get it while riding the subway car to Manhattan in the morning, and everyone looks like flowers.

“When you are quiet,” Sri Dharma said, “you see everything with love.”

 

 

Jerome Burdi is a Brooklyn native who discovered yoga during a shamanic retreat in Brazil in 2010. Since then, he’s been enveloped by the path of the yogi. He left his job as a newspaper journalist to go to Rishikesh, India, and become a yoga teacher. Upon returning to NYC, he discovered Dharma Yoga and has been hooked. Though Jerome grew up in NY, he had to go to India to come back and see Sri Dharma with clear eyes and to hear the truth that is Dharma Yoga.

 

Jerome is also a Middle Eastern style percussionist and holistic nutritionist

 

 

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.

The Four Core Concepts from the Bhagavad Gita

By Gary Mark



Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra, c. 1830 painting

“Bhagavad” means “God” and “Gita” means “Song.”  “Bhagavad Gita,” therefore, can be translated as “The Song of our Lord.” Krishna, one of many incarnations of The Lord, explains that he lives in each and every one of us, meaning that “Song of our Lord” is also the song that praises the beautiful divine within each one of us! As I type these words my heart cries tears of joy. I feel so fortunate to have found the Gita and to have found Sri Dharma Mittra.


There are four core concepts from the Gita which extolls the beautiful potential that exists vibrantly in each one of us and, indeed, in every atom of the entire cosmos, known and unknown, seen and unseen.


Concept one:  Look to your Dharma


Dharma can mean “law of the universe,” “social and religious rules,” and/or one’s own individual mission or purpose.  On the individual level, it can also mean a number of things. For example, in the Gita, Krishna points out to Arjuna that his Dharma is to be a warrior whether he likes it or not. He cannot escape his Dharma and he must fulfill it. Arjuna is a warrior for what is right and just. He is not just a warrior for fighting’s sake. His Dharma must be grounded in a proper purpose. Whatever role we are fulfilling at the moment is our Dharma at that moment.


Applying this on a personal level, I followed my Dharma as a Finance and Accounting professional for the last 30 years. Recently, coinciding with my new practice of Yoga Asana and study of Hindu or Yoga scriptures, I began to find less and less meaning in my profession. I am now in a period of transition, seeking to find a new and more meaningful personal Dharma.  I am a “householder” (someone who lives among and provides for his or her family), and as much as I would love to throw caution to the wind and become a Sadhu, I need to be mindful of the effect of my actions on those around me. Therefore, following the counsel of the spirits, I am proceeding on a step by step basis, finding my way with the Lord’s merciful guidance.


Concept two:  Do it full out


Both Hinduism and Buddhism extoll this virtue of absolute commitment.  In fact, many books have been written about the power of focus and single-mindedness, including the Gita. I first learned about this concept when I began practicing Buddhism in 1977 and I poured myself wholeheartedly into my career development. As a result, I was very successful from a materialistic standpoint. Success in life is no accident and it is a result of pursuing one’s Dharma full out, no holding back.


Upon looking back, I see that I did not always carry out my Dharma as a husband and father and I have made mistakes that have impacted others’ lives unfavorably. Had I had the vision to take the longer and broader view on things, I may not have made these mistakes. I feel that I was more concerned with material success at any cost, even if others had to pay a price. I now see that I was not acting properly in these and probably many other cases. In this last chapter of my life, I would like to pursue my new Dharma with more mindfulness and focus on proper context and big picture focus.



Krishna displays hisVishvarupa (Universal Form) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra (Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 11).

Concept three:  Let go of the fruits of your labor


When we invest our efforts or resources, it tends to take on our self-identity in our minds. Subconsciously, we associate this identity with life/death.  This mistaken association leads us to regard all critics or those who appear to get in our way as mortal threats to be neutralized, lest we “die.”


The Gita exhorts us to release this incorrect view and to realize that our self and the phenomenal world at large are not real.  What is real is “Self,” the divine within all life, sentient and insentient. Even the air we breathe has the divine nestled in every particle. Therefore, instead of jealously guarding our self-worth, we are much better letting all that go and acting out of gratitude for the opportunity to work on our Dharma. Krishna says we our entitled to work, but not to any of the fruits of our work. When we adopt this attitude, all we can feel is gratitude, no matter what happens.


I have found that as I endeavor to embrace this concept, I am shown which areas need work and I am grateful to be shown these things and grateful to be able to improve so I can one day serve others with gratitude and without attachment to the fruits.


Concept four:  Offer it all up to the divine


I feel this concept is closely related to its predecessor. How much easier it becomes to let go of the fruits when one is offering every moment up to the divine. The ultimate form of this is when one feels that God is acting through him/her.  In truth, this is what is happening all the time, we just fail to see it and that failure results in suffering and angst.


Sri Dharma Mittra has a saying on his website and in his teachings.  He says, “Reduce your wants and lead a happy and contented life. Never hurt the feelings of others and be kind to all. Think of God as soon as you get up and when you go to bed.”  

I believe this last sentence resonates with this fourth core concept from the Gita upon which this post is focused. It provides a very practical way to begin to incorporate this concept in one’s life. Begin the day focused on God and end the day focused on God.  What a beautiful way to live! Om Namah Shivaya.



________________________________________________

Gary Mark has practiced yoga for the last three years and studied Bikram and Dharma Yoga during this time. He has spent the last year studying intensely at Dharma Yoga Los Angeles and completed his LOAY 200-Hour Teacher Training and Certification at the Dharma Yoga New York Center in June to September 2013.  Gary is currently enrolled in the LOAY 500-Hour Teacher Training at the Dharma Yoga New York Center.

    

      

The Four Building Blocks of Meditation

By Alan C. Haras

 “After mastering the art of concentration, one proceeds to meditate.  The constant practice of meditation leads to realization of self.” Yogi Gupta

©Dharma Yoga Center

The Catholic theologian Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. referred to Meditation, or dhyana, as it is referred to in the Yoga Sutras, as the means through which we connect to the “portion of God dwelling in the center of our chest” – in the spiritual heart.

The various practices of yoga are designed to empower us with the ability to sit still long enough in order for the “mind to settle into silence”, revealing the changeless, eternal Self.


Let’s explore the various components of meditation, using the framework of Father Burghardt’s definition, and the substance of the yogic teachings as passed on by Sri Dharma Mittra.


·        Long


According to SwamiSivananda, concentration, or dharana, is defined as twelve seconds of unbroken focus on one point.  Meditation, or dhyana, is said to be about 2.5 minutes, while samadhi is about thirty minutes.
 

Sri Dharma Mittra emphasizes that the purpose of asana is intended to prepare one to sit in meditation long enough to perceive the Self.  Traditionally, it is said that one should build up to being able to sit for three hours without distraction.  


Of course, progress is made in stages.  Patanjali Maharishi says that, “The practice of yoga will be firmly rooted when it is maintained consistently and with dedication over a long period of time.”  The Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi TeacherTraining Manual reminds us that, “the more one practices, the faster progress is made.” 


·        Loving


In order to persevere in the practice of meditation, one must be motivated by a burning desire for liberation, or mumukshutvaWithout a passion for God or the Self, progress is virtually impossible.  One may be motivated to practice for a time out of fear, or a desire for some benefits, but it is really love which leads us onward, beyond ourselves. 

Patanjali says that samadhi comes from complete surrender to the Almighty One.   Surrender takes place when we love something more than we love our own illusions.  Of the nine different forms of yoga, bhakti yoga is the path of union with the Self through love.  Whether one is devoted to a particular form of God, one’s Guru or the Truth, the spiritual aspirant is spurred on by a love which consumes the small self and draws them into a transforming union with Ultimate Reality.

·        Look


There is a beautiful word in Sanskrit – darshan– which refers both to how one sees things, as well as to actually “to have sight of” something or someone.  When one goes to a temple or to see a Guru, one is going to have darshan.  This kind of “look” is not a stare or a glare, but a gaze, by which one sees beyond the appearance of things into the things into their essence.


This kind of vision is depicted in yogic literature and art as the “third eye” – a vision that sees beyond the apparent duality to the unity we all share.  The yogi is one who lives in two worlds at once – simultaneously aware of multiplicity, while remaining absorbed in the Supreme Self beyond names and forms.  One “sees”, not merely with physical eyes, but with the divine eye, or divya chakshu.


·        Real


When asked what is really Real, the great sage Sri Ramana Maharshi answered, “That which does not change.”  The question we must then ask is, “What does not change?”  We live in a world of constant change.  Change appears to be the only thing we can count on.  However, the yogis assure us that there is a changeless reality, but it is to be found only within.  It is known as the atman – the portion of God residing within our own heart.  This atman, the changeless reality within us, is said to be identical with Brahman– the changeless reality that pervades the entire cosmos.  This Supreme Self is like the movie screen upon which the play of names and forms unfolds, while remaining unstained by any of the moving pictures. 


The practice of meditation establishes us in the role of the eternal witness, observing the movements of the body, mind and emotions, without getting caught in them.  One is able to “do what needs to be done” without being identified with the “doer”, thus allowing the mind to remain absorbed in the Infinite.

1. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Alistair Shearer
2. Fourteen Lessons in Raja Yoga by Swami Sivananda
3. Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training Manual
4. Bhagavad Gita by Swami Nikhilananda.



—————————————————————————————————————————
Alan Haras (Bhaktadas Om) is the owner of Hamsa Yoga in Lake Orion, Michigan.  He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Michigan State University, is finishing up a two-year training in Spiritual Direction from the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House, and is pursuing his Masters in Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy.  He has been blessed to spend three years studying Advaita Vedanta with Dr. John Grimes, ten years studying the Jivamukti Yoga method, as well as having spent time in India with the late kirtan-wala and bhakti yogi Shyamdas.  In 2012-13, Alan completed the 200, 500 and 800-hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Trainings with Sri Dharma Mittra, made a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  As a teacher, he is deeply grateful for the opportunity to offer “the greatest charity of all” – sharing and promoting spiritual knowledge.