Category Archives: life of a yogi

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.

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.

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.

On the Cusp of Transcendence

by Dani Gray

During the summer leading up to my 500-hour training, I spent a lot of time at the Dharma Yoga Center. I was living on the Upper West Side, and finding that the only way I really wanted to spend my time was taking class – being around Sri Dharma Mittra as much as possible.

In that time of my life, the devotion that blossomed within me was unprecedented; although I had done my 200-hour training about one year prior, I had never felt this level of unconditional love for a teacher before. Dharmaji awakened many other aspects of my human self that were previously hidden or diminished in their expression, and as my 500-hour training approached, I knew I was ready for the level of growth and transformation that awaited me – I craved the intensity of sadhana that was being offered through this program, and I couldn’t wait to start.

Now that I am teaching almost full-time, people ask me often about my experiences in teacher training, and I almost always tell them that the trainings I have done were, without a doubt, the best investments I ever made in myself – the seeds that were planted during the immersions continue to bear fruit even today, almost three years after the completion of my 500-hour.

Especially as I’ve begun to prepare for my 800-hour training, people ask even more questions:

“Are you excited? You must be so excited.”
“Wow, 800 hours? How does that fit into a week?”
“So what are you going to be learning, exactly?”
“Oh my gosh, you’re going to be a completely different person when you get back.”

All these questions and comments come to me with such pure love and joyful curiosity, from enthusiastic students and fellow teachers in my community; these reflections from others have brought me to very deep levels of self-inquiry – both getting clear within myself about my intentions for this training, and also realizing that there is, in reality, no way to prepare for the immensity of what lies ahead.

I remember the summer before my 500-hour training very clearly: it was the first time the 800-hour was being offered, and each day when I would take class with the trainees or catch snippets and sound-bytes from their sessions underneath the door to the studio, I would always think to myself, “I don’t know that I’ll EVER be ready for that training.”

Now I’m here, about to begin, and it’s still true – in so many ways, I am not ever going to be ready. To have the honor and privilege to learn such high-level, subtle practices, and be given the tools to teach these processes to others – it’s almost unbelievable, and to even think of the possibility humbles me.

To embark on the journey of the 800-hour training is, from my perspective, the ultimate extension and expression of the practice of Dharma Yoga. The essential pillars of this practice, of everything that Dharmaji shares with us, have come back to me over and over as the training has come closer, and their obvious necessity has become clear:

-Remain as a witness.
-Renounce the fruits of your actions (and any expectations).
-Abide in this eternal present.
-Be receptive, to the infinite Grace of G-d.

5-4-15Dani Gray currently lives and teaches in Sedona, Arizona. https://www.facebook.com/dani.gray.948

Letting Go of Self-Imposed Limitations

By Barb Cooper

I was fortunate enough to attend the Dharma Yoga Center’s immersion weekend in celebration of Sri Dharma’s 76th birthday in May. I hadn’t been back to the DYC in an entire year (I live in Texas) and this year, I went there pretty much spiritually bankrupt, physically depleted, and in ethical conflict. Whereas in the past, my focus had centered on reconnecting with my physical yoga practice and the yogis who have come to mean so much to me, this time I went because I was longing to sit at the foot of the master, to soak up as much of his love and healing as I could. I’d been ill –I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to practice the asana.

And, you know, I learned such a huge lesson.  We get out of our spiritual experience with Sri Dharma Mittra what we are willing to receive.  He is unchanging and constant, offering all he knows to all who come before him. But he meets us where WE are; he’s not offering us lessons that are beyond our capacity to understand and experience.

In the past, I have had such a longing to connect with him, but I was simultaneously a little afraid of him. I always tell the story of the time I sneaked out of an immersion weekend for a cup of coffee. I came back to the DYC and readied myself for the next class, sitting cross-legged on the floor and closing my eyes to settle my singing blood. I opened my eyes to find Sri Dharma looking right at me, smiling.  “How are you going to find bliss,” he said, “If you can’t even give up coffee?”

For a long time, I told that story as evidence that Sri Dharma is psychic (he is) and as evidence that you can’t get away with anything when you are with him.

But what I understand now is that it was never actually about the coffee. It was never about getting away with anything. It was never about judgment. It was always about him answering my deepest wish that he see me.  He was saying, “You are seen. Come.”

I wonder what would have happened if I had met his eyes and smiled back, instead of looking away guiltily?

Well, actually, I know what would have happened.  I know because it happened this year at the immersion. This time, I went to him in pain and needing healing.  I watched him.  I sat as close as I could to him.  When I closed my eyes, I tried to channel him—to feel a little of the peace he feels.  And he read my heart.

Every word he spoke seemed to be directed at helping me down the path to true yoga. I felt enveloped by his love—so much so that as I walked through the streets of Chelsea, I could hear his voice in my head. And I finally understood that all the barriers I have to self-realization are ones I built myself. Sri Dharma’s frequent exhortations to “be receptive to the grace of God” are more than just a slogan.  He’s urging us to let ourselves be cracked wide open in ways we can’t even imagine –and all it takes is a searching and open heart.

I returned to Texas profoundly and permanently changed. I used to fear that the great physical distance between the DYC and me would dilute the effect of the healing I receive when I go there.  I know now that the only limits we experience are the ones we put on ourselves.

 

“Let each man take the path according to his capacity, understanding and temperament. His true guru will meet him along that path.”

― Sivananda Saraswati

 

Barb CooperBarb Cooper, 50, is a mother, a well-socialized introvert, a Texas-to-New York-to-Texas transplant, and a writer by nature and training. Barb graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in June 2013 and teaches yoga at Rasna Yoga in Austin, Texas. Read more of her musings at sothethingisblog.blogspot.com

An Interview with Sri Dharma’s Modern Handyman, Adam Frei

By Hannah Allerdice

 Sri Dharma has often referred to himself as the handyman to his Guru, Yogi Gupta. My heart swells to think of Sri Dharma as a disciple, lovingly shaving Yogi Gupta’s hair, preparing his vegetables (slowly taking all of the sides of the mushrooms off), and preparing juices for Satsang.  Although he’s not fixing electric wires, or serving Sri Dharma’s personal needs, in many respects, Adam Frei is Guru-ji’s handyman, lovingly serving him with full dedication and love.

Most of us know Adam as the director of Sri Dharma’s Life of A Yogi teacher trainings and for his stunning devotional kirtan. Indeed, many of us swoon ourselves to his chanting. But Adam is behind the scenes for so much of Sri Dharma’s beautiful interviews and writings. He edited the comprehensive LOAY TT manual (soon to be published!), and has been instrumental in conveying Sri Dharma’s messages within his interviews and other writings. He also spreads Sri Dharma’s messages throughout the wild world of social media. In his direct teachings, in New York and when he travels, he is a bright, clear channel of Sri Dharma’s teachings. This might be why I’ve heard Sri Dharma say, “Next life I will be Adam and Adam will be in my place.”

Last year, I interviewed Adam to learn more about him, and from him. We talked about his spiritual journey, meeting and developing a relationship with Sri Dharma, common obstacles and tricks for staying on the spiritual path, and what it means to be a yoga teacher. His messages bring out the qualities – the virtues – that Adam embodies: love, strength, clarity, humility, cheerfulness, kindness and devotion. May you learn and cherish this as much I have!

 

Q: Can you talk a little about your own spiritual journey?

 

Adam: Yes. I started singing when I was very young. One of the places that I sang from the time I was young was in Synagogue. So, I always had a certain experience that was more experiential – than anyone telling me to think a certain way or feel a certain way. That sense of connection, and that experience, was something that I looked to find other ways and tried to understand, especially as a teenager. I actually served as a cantorial soloist for three years starting from the time I was thirteen, so I was the person leading the service, which is mostly song in a synagogue. And, there was a difference between that and regular performing – dealing with people’s energy. I was thinking about those things.

I went into yoga because I liked the idea of something that was integrated. It was ethical rules, breathwork, it was meditation, it was the asana to help to maintain the physical. I just really liked the idea of something that was comprehensive because to just meditate, I don’t know– I always had the ability to just sit and be completely still. I really liked yoga. It was one of those things, when, from first times I practiced, I felt like it was exactly what I was looking for.

The [Sri Dharma Mittra] poster for me was a very important part of my yoga journey. No one I ever spoke to at Kripalu, where I used to look at the poster, had any idea of who Dharma was. No one could ever give me information other than, “Yea, it’s a great poster, we sell it. We have it in two sizes.” When Dharma’s DVD’s came out, I had this advanced copy of the Level 2 that I was sent. I remember practicing it and being like, “Whoa, this is awesome!” And, realizing, “Wait! Dharma is alive, this is the same guy as the poster!”

Coming and taking class with Dharma for the first time – it really blew me away. For me, it was everything that I was looking for in terms of a teacher. It’s funny because everyone has such a different experience with Dharma. You know people often say that he never tells them what to do. Dharma always told me what to do. From the very first time I met him, he would always say things to me like, “you need to do this, or do this.” I found that to be very helpful.

I never used to ask Dharma anything, but Dharma always, like so many people say, used to answer all of my questions as a part of the teachings. I’d be thinking about something riding the subway in, I’d go to the class and then he’d talk about that exact thing and answer the question. I remember at some point Dharma saying to me, “You are like Arjuna, you’re always asking questions.” But I never asked him anything! In fact for the first year and a quarter, we never even spoke, directly, other than him teaching me within the class.

It’s exactly what I think I was looking for. And as much as anything else, certain things that I thought, or realizations that I had. Dharma at different points, if I ever asked him a question, would say to me, “You already know the answer.” And I’d say, “Oh, he’s right.” Or, he would say to me, “Why are you asking me, you know just as much as I do.” And I am not saying this from a place of ego. He was validating and helping me to have more confidence.

 

Q: Some people talk about when they meet their teacher, they are overwhelmed. Did you have that feeling when you met Sri Dharma?

 

Adam: No it really wasn’t like that. I think I came to the first class with Dharma in a certain way, almost having given up. At that point, I’d been actively looking for a teacher for about seven years. I was planning that that summer to go to India. My thought was that I wasn’t finding it here and in different places I’d gone in North America. I thought, since that was where yoga came from, it could be a place where I could find something. I already had a schedule when I was going to take my shots. It was really far into the planning stage.

That first class – in those days the noon class was the most popular class. The place was completely jammed full. It was a lot of yoga teachers who would plan their day so to take that class. And they were teaching before and after. I set down my mat, I went toward the back of the carpet, assuming, like everyone else, that Dharma would teach at the front of the room, and Dharma came in and put his mat right in front of where my mat was. There were 60 people in the room, all the way back to the bathroom. There were people in the hall down there. Almost in every pose he adjusted me. He had all these things to say, it wasn’t about the adjustments, it wasn’t like fixing, it was about showing me how to go deeper, or “this is another way to do it, or try this way.” And always, “open your eyes, look at me, I am right here. The reason I’m doing this is for you.” That, in and of itself, was amazing. That someone had all this information and was so generous to share. Then, just the experience I had in savasana, which was just very different than any kind savasana experience I’d ever had which then meant that the meditation was so different.

I talked to Dharma briefly afterwards. He was so uncomfortable. I tried to thank him. So often teachers are usually like, “come to my retreat. Would you like to buy my book?” And here was Dharma saying, “I didn’t do anything, you don’t have to thank me.” I was thinking, “What?” And there were people stacked up to talk to him and he got out of there as fast as he could and almost ran down the stairs. I was just fascinated by the whole experience.

I rearranged my entire work schedule so I could be at those classes at least twice a week. In the summers I was there four or five days a week. I just made it a part of my life. A big thing for me also was when Dharma came back from his first trip to Japan. He came in that day, about a half hour early. I always went early, so I could warm up so I could do the class. He sat down, and instead of going through his own practice, like he always used to do in those days, he sat down he started talking to me. “So, I was in Japan.” He started telling me about Japan – the students, the experience of teaching there. And he said, “some day you’ll go to Japan and you’ll teach there.” We literally had never spoken a word outside of him teaching in the class and all of a sudden it was like, oh, okay… It’s always been a really good thing for me – and I just I feel so fortunate, I feel so blessed to have the experience of being able to learn from him. He is so generous. To this day, he still has things to tell me. Even though he insists that I know all his tricks. There is always something else. I just love it, I love being around him.

 

Q: How has your relationship with Sri Dharma changed?

 

Adam: Basically after I had been there a couple of years, around New Years, Dharma had started saying to me, “Why are you still here? You’re done. You don’t need to be here anymore.”  He’d say that in class, in front of everyone. I felt a little embarrassed about it. We were at Kripalu, He said this every time he saw me at Kripalu. I said, “Dharma. You may think, and I am sure you are right, because you know better than I do, that I am done, but I feel like even if I am done, if I stay maybe I can help in some way. And, in some way, for everything you have done for me and everything you do for everyone else, maybe I could somehow help a little bit, and I’d like to stay around.”

There are things that come up. Like, about six years ago, I asked Dharma, “Someone asked me, since you weren’t there, if I could charge their malas for them and I don’t know if I am comfortable.” Dharma got angry at me: “What do you mean? You do it. If someone asks you, you do it.” I guess too, I think this was a long time ago, actually, Dharma said something along the lines of, “Let’s just be friends.” He was sort of trying to not have me be so reverent – or insisting upon reverence all the time. “Lets just be friends- treat me like you’d treat your friends.” For me, sometimes its hard, because I feel an enormous reverence for Dharma. But also I have the sense that because this is what he asks, I’ll be obedient. To the degree that I am able to because that’s the way he’d like it to be and that is what is comfortable for him.

 

Q: What have been some big obstacles for you? Can you share what kinds of things you learned to overcome them?

 

Adam: It sounds kind of ridiculous to say, but I feel like some of the biggest obstacles that I have had are not as recent. I used to try more to do things, try to make things happen. The more I have been able to go into the surrender, the fewer obstacles there are. It’s not to say there aren’t obstacles. It’s always this thing of being patient until things work themselves out in whatever way they work out. I used to think, particularly when I was more interested in singing opera professionally and was doing that a bit- that I am going to prepare, that I am going to do, and based on my preparation, and based on everything, this is going to be the result. If that wasn’t the result, I’d have that feeling that I have to work harder, I have to do, and I have to make. I started to understand over time, there is no “do,” no “make.” There is making your best effort, but being unattached. The less you are attached, the less you worry. I could say something completely asinine as part of this interview. But in a certain way, I can’t help that because that is what I am supposed to say.

I used to get very nervous, I’ve noticed in recent years, I don’t get that nervous. I think it is because I am not attached to the result. I mean, I cannot say that I am not at any level, I am not perfect, I am not perfected. I try to make the effort and offer up the fruit, whatever it ends up being.

 

Q: Do you feel like that this is your work — this is your internal, personal work?

 

Adam: I don’t feel that way at all. It used to be internal work. There were certain things, certain experiences I had where I thought I needed to put names to them or I needed to categorize them, to be able quantify them. Because of the way this brain and the body is, I needed that for my own development. I don’t think of anything in terms of myself. I don’t mean that I have no ego, no personality. It’s not to say I walk around, and if someone spits on me I say thank you. I don’t know how to explain it. I used to have a lot of goals, I used to have a lot of things – I don’t feel that way anymore. I have an obligation to my family, to take care of them, having brought two children in the world. I want to do everything I can for their life – to set them on the right path, and be the best husband that I can, and support my wife and our household and the rest of my family. I don’t really think in things for myself. Lately, I gained some weight as my metabolism has slowed down in recent years, and I am making an effort to lose it at this point, because there are some asanas I can’t demonstrate and it’s good for the students to see certain things. It was something I let go of for a while. But, I feel like I want to do something about it. I feel like this is the house I am living in and it’s a very comfortable and nice house. Everything works well and I am grateful.

It’s not like where Dharma will say, “I already have my diploma.” I see there are a lot of things I could still do or achieve. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just not something I think actively about.

 

Me: That sounds very peaceful!

 

Adam: It wasn’t always that way. When I was younger, I was very competitive. I used to ski race, so I was competitive about that. I used to be interested in jobs, careers. At this point, it’s just different.

 

Q: What are some tricks that you have for staying on the path, and remaining useful on the path?

 

Adam: I don’t know if they are really tricks, per se. One of the things is first to have the courage to have the experience – and to try. Because, if you are willing to go into places that sometimes seem a little dangerous, scary, and certainly unfamiliar – that’s where you grow the most, where there is the opportunity to experience the most. Moving toward enlightenment, in psychological terms, is uncoupling the thinking processing mind from the part of our being that just experiences –that just sort of records and witnesses. If you went to that place, and stayed at that place, you’d stay insane. To be willing to go to that place, but keep that thread to come back. People think, or they look at enlightenment like it’s going to be a life changing experience, they are going to be a different person – like everything that is broken will suddenly be fixed. I don’t personally think that enlightenment is anything about that. It is coming to see something that at a certain point you already know, but you are not willing to accept with every fiber of your being. I think, once you accept it with every fiber of you being then everything is different, everything is just changed. Everything you experience, you perceive, you see and experience from a different place, a different perspective.

For me, seeing Dharma and the way he lives his life is helpful. He still has a family, and things he has to deal with. Like, his basement flooded. He drove all the way to the city and had to turn around and drive back home. What are you going to do? You have to take care of it. It’s that whole Zen thing: before enlightenment the laundry, after enlightenment, the laundry. Things have to be done. I think of it and feel it in a different way. I am not saying I am enlightened, but a lot of people think that something is going to fundamentally shift, that they will become superman, or super woman. I think all that stuff is all expectation, all attachment. It is all imposing a form on something that is not about form.

Dharma talks about the part of us that is not affected. Something happens, someone cuts you off in traffic, you get that flash of anger and it is gone as soon as it comes. That flash of anger, it’s gone – it is just body and mind going through whatever experiencing it is having. It’s not that you don’t walk around without the body and mind living out the karma of this lifetime – the prarabdha karma. It’s going to be whatever it is going to be – sometimes you are going to be good, sometimes it is going to be bad, sometimes you are going to be hot, sometimes you’re going to be cold, it doesn’t matter.

 

Q: Do you feel like there are any other lessons that would be helpful for our spiritual community – more messages emphasized?

 

Adam: There are two things. One is that I think it’s really important for people to stop confusing that asana and yoga are synonymous. And, it’s very hard, because where we are with yoga in the West, it is mostly a physical practice. But by looking at yoga in that way, you are stuck with just 1/8th. I think there is so much more to the system – if people are able to see the other parts as just as important, then yoga has the potential to change everything.

The second point is one Yogi Gupta always made: You have to discover your tendencies, your dharma. What works for you, you have to do a lot of it. It is certainly true that there are things we don’t like to do. But if you are a person to sit and sing and that’s something where you have a strong sense of connection – you should do that a lot. And just because everyone else enjoys these punishing asana classes — that may be helpful at some level, but it won’t help you make the most progress. The body and the mind have their tendencies and those are built-in. Figure out what those are and work with that. I think that is something that can help everyone make progress.

 

Q: You are the director of the LOAY teacher training program and you see the development of teachers. What are some things to consider when wanting to be a teacher?

 

I always go back to something that one of Dharma’s senior teachers said in response to the question, “What it is you want to do as a teacher?”

They said, “You want to be someone who helps someone find God.”

I thought, “Wow! How many people approach teaching yoga like this? I think about that answer daily. There are some people who teach parts of yoga- and that can be helpful. But, if they are really wanting to be someone who wants to share the full Ashtanga yoga with someone else – that is a big thing – a big level of responsibility. When we go through it, we don’t necessarily understand what we are going to be involved in.

When you go to teach the public classes, sometimes people are there for the workout, and that’s wonderful and great, and there are people who are really doing something devotional. You teach all of them. You try to help all of them. I think the biggest thing about being a teacher is that people have a fantasy that they will become famous. That people will be interested in what you have to say. Teaching is service – you try to do whatever you can to help people make progress. I always echo what Dharma says, teacher training is here to help you make progress so then, over time, you can help others make progress on their way.

 

hannahHannah was born in Manhattan, NY, and raised in Florida and Georgia. She came to practice with Sri Dharma Mittra in 2007 after learning under Saraswati Om in Syracuse, NY. Hannah completed the 200-hr and 500-hr LOAY in 2008 and 2011 and is honored to be a mentor in the LOAY Teacher Training programs. She teaches yoga and stress management, leads kirtan, does energy healing and cares for her growing family in Washington D.C. She feels so grateful to be a student of Sri Dharma Mittra and a part of his loving Dharma Yoga family. You can find more at hannahabricker.com.

The Ying and Yang of the Dharma Yoga 200 hour LOAY Teacher Training

By Kathy Goelz

The temple seems so large and spacious — then suddenly it’s the size of your living room.
You’ll ask yourself when, where, and why –then realize: “Everything is perfect.”
You may come with anxiety, but leave “with a mind settled into silence.”
You will develop a sense of pride — then realize “I am not the doer.”
You’ll stand firm as a warrior– then fall and roll like a circus clown.
You’ll sing and laugh– then cry.
You’ll have doubts– then learn “I can have the best of the best.”
Your pranayama practice will change from “Breathing like a mouse” to “breathing like a horse.”
Yoga becomes not just poses, but an offering. “This is for you my Lord”
You may feel as though you can’t take another class, but do “because it has to be done.”
You will be exhausted and fatigued, but give 100% because the mentors and Sri Dharma will.
You may be confused about God, but that will change to devotion and surrender.
You may not be sure what Yamas and Niyamas are, but just watch Dharma-ji and you’ll learn instinctively.
Maha Shakti will energize you– then 5 minutes later you’ll struggle to stay awake during Yoga Nidra.
You may eat meat now, but learning about compassion and ahimsa you won’t let “your stomach be a grave yard.”
You may never have done volunteer work, but hearing about selfless service will change that.
You’ll walk in alone, and leave as friends and family.
You’ll come with questions, and leave with Self Knowledge!
Om Shanti , Shanti, Shantih

 

KathyKathy Goelz has practiced yoga for 17 years and is now embracing the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra with a full heart. Goelz started teaching after a Senior Yoga teacher training at Shanti Niketan Ashram’s North Carolina School of Yoga under the supervision of Chandra Om. Since October of 2014, Goelz has been teaching a chair yoga class at the Love Yoga Shala in Patchogue, NY. In March 2015, she completed the Dharma Yoga LOAY 200-hour immersion and hopes to graduate in May. Goelz will continue to teach in her community and at Love Yoga Shala.

 

With An Open Heart, The Path Unfolds With Ease

By Steve Fazzari

I was introduced to Sri Dharma’s teachings by my brother and disciple of the Guru, Reno Muenz, but the first time I met Sri Dharma – in this lifetime, at least – wasn’t in the waking state, it was in a dream.

Awakening from my dream, I was immediately enveloped by Sri Dharma’s love, and right away I knew there was something bigger at play. Even though I was on the other side of a continent, in a different country, I knew Dharmaji was calling to me; I was ready. Without a plan, and with seemingly none of the necessary parts in place, I set the intention that I would make my way to NYC to be with Sri Dharma. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know when; but twice weekly, during the Psychic Development techniques, I set the sankalpa, or intention, that I would somehow make it to the temple to study with the living master himself.

They say when you are living your dharma, or path, everything becomes easy. Sure enough, bit by bit, every piece of the puzzle began to fall into place. They say a true master is only concerned with intention. Sometimes we get too caught up in the minor details and forget the big picture. Where will I get the money? How will I get the time off work and school? Then we concern ourselves with those minor details that seem insurmountable, and they consume us. Instead, I opened myself up to the infinite potential of the universe. When I did, it was almost like I dove into the river of life and it was carrying me towards my destination.

For my work in developing and implementing Food For Thought — a vegetarian-based nutrition education program for youth in Vancouver’s marginalized Downtown Eastside — I was nominated by a faculty member at the University of British Columbia for the Edward JC Hossie Leadership award. This prestigious award is presented to a student who displays outstanding leadership within both the UBC and Vancouver community as a whole.

The money I received for winning the award, while not enough to cover the entire cost of the training, represented a significant portion of the necessary funds. If I had been too focused on getting the money, I may have stopped offering my programs to youth to work somewhere else. Then I wouldn’t have been nominated for the award, and likely wouldn’t have had enough money. By staying true to my intentions, maintaining a strong root in service, and being open to infinite possibilities, all those things that seemed like big obstacles at first turned out to be inconsequential. Before I knew it, I was registered for the 2014 Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in NYC.

Being in Sri Dharma’s physical presence for the first time, you immediately sense his humble, open nature. When Sri Dharma looks at you, his pure, unconditional love is clearly apparent. I knew he was seeing me — not my physical appearance, but truly seeing me, with all my faults and flaws — and loving me unconditionally. Sri Dharma doesn’t only love you if you’re clean, or respectful, or only if you act how he thinks you should. He loves you regardless. This is how Sri Dharma feels for all living beings.

I don’t study with Sri Dharma for physical health, or to have the ability to do cool looking poses. Those things don’t really matter, and aren’t permanent anyway. I study with Sri Dharma because I want to learn how to see the Self in all beings. I want to tap into the source, and live in a place of unconditional love like he does.

Life provides us these wonderful opportunities all over the place. We just have to be more receptive to the possibilities, and often get out of our own way. We are capable of so much. We just have to harness our true potential and unleash it in a directed and purposeful way.

Be receptive to the infinite potential within.

 

Stephen FazzariSteve Fazzari (Shankara Deva) is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His dedication to the path of Yoga, as well as his drive to serve, make him a committed and inspiring teacher. He aims to preserve and share the classical teachings of Hatha Raja Yoga, as taught by Shiva, and since passed down from Guru to student, through Yogi Gupta, Dharma, and then to himself. His classes are playful and fun, but grounded in the goal of developing compassion for all living beings and gaining Self Realization.
He shares his offerings at Dharma Yoga Vancouver (www.dharmayogavancouver.com). You can contact him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stevefazzari, by emailing him at stevefazzari@gmail.com, or on instagram @stevefazzari.

The Bethlehem Star Guiding Us to Sri Dharma

By Gaia Bergamaschi

The 6th of January is celebrated as Epiphany according to the Western Christian tradition and the etymology of the word Epiphany from the ancient greek meaning “manifestation, striking presence reminds me of the importance of experiencing the presence of our spiritual masters who manifest and teach devotion, prayers, and sadhana (spiritual practice).

Although I am far way from our beloved Sri Dharma and the Dharma Temple in New York, geographically speaking, when I returned to Italy from the last module of the teacher training in November, I promised myself I would engage in special spiritual practice to overcome the physical distance. My intention is to turn the illusion of being alone into the real aptitude “bhavana” of a yogini blissfully active in the Dharma community and in the world around it.

Before starting the asana, pranayama, and meditation practices, I close my eyes and focus my inner sight into the shining eyes of Dharmaji. Whenever I can, I connect myself to the starting hours of the weekly and weekend lessons, repeating the purification mantra. It’s a remote distance bhakti yoga tool which I am sure I share with many others!

In the same way the Three Wise Men (Magi) let the Bethlehem star guide them towards Jesus’s feed trough (a symbol of nourishing humanity), I imagine every yoga practitioner joining an inner path towards “satya,” the eternal truth, which can be considered nourishment for our actions.

Sri Dharma, the teaching faculty, and all the people working and studying in the Temple act as the light which diminishes the obscurity represented by the afflictions described by Patanjali as the five kleshah: avidya: spiritual ignorance, asmita: ego pride, raga: attachment, dvesa: hate and abhinivesa: fear of death (Yoga Sutra II.2).

The attachment to a sacred and spiritual place has to translate into the faith to rebuild it into a secret corner of our hearts. The light has always been there because it is eternal — regardless of the contingent life we’ve been assigned. As we’ve learned, if one is endowed with true wisdom as to the fleeting and painful nature of the worldly enjoyments, one can exert oneself in the right direction to do or undo one’s Prarabdha, the portion of Karmas ripened for actual experience in this current birth.

During Sri Dharma’s psychic development lessons, I often dreamed of sitting on a stardust mat. The stardust has the power to transform itself into the original stars it comes from, letting the inner child hidden in every one of us to come out through the coexisting presence of the voice and of the silence of the master. The marvelous and precious Sri Dharma logo immediately appears in my inner landscape as the reincarnation of that child!

Coming out from this dream state, I’d like to symbolically share with you the gifts I offered to Sri Dharma during the Epiphany day:

–       gold as my yama and niyama practices;
–       frankincense as my prayers and mantra chanting;
–       myrrh as my continuous learning experience.

As Sri Dharma said, “The universal principles of spiritual disciplines can elevate the seeker into eternal God communion. This is the true goal of yoga.”

During this special day, I’d like to celebrate with you the manifestation of the divine presence in all of us, committed and generous sadhakas, thanks to the living example of one of the greatest living Hatha yogis.

 

 

GBGaia Bergamaschi started her yogic path about ten years ago. After having been certified by the Vedanta Forest Academy of Swami Sivananda and having studied in India, she discovered Sri Dharma. Since the first step into the temple she knew Dharmaji was the Acharya she had always been connected to, regardless of space and time. She’s currently teaching in Milan according to Dharma style and Dharma ethical principles. After quitting her job in the investment banking sector, she took another degree in clinical psychology. She aims at merging the yama and niyama with the relational psychoanalysis and the humanistic psychology, creating yoga-therapy protocols inspired to Sri Dharma targeted to people who suffer from personality and mood disorders.