Category Archives: mudras

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.

The Magic of Mantra, Japa and Kirtan

by Martin Scott

I didn’t know it at the time, but Sri Dharma was present at the beginnings of my practice.

I was very musical as a child, forming an extremely tight bond with music at a very young age.  My first piano lesson was the same day as my first day of first grade and I played my last recital my senior year of high school.  I joined the school band in fourth grade playing the tenor saxophone, then went through a bunch of different instruments – French horn, trumpet, flute, oboe, tuba, baritone – until I quit band my junior year in high school.

I would save my allowance and ask my dad to drive me to the store so I could spend hours perusing records before I finally made the decision as to which one of the many-coveted vinyl discs would end up living with the other beloveds I had so carefully chosen.  I would spend hours in my room memorizing every word to every song and commit to memory every melody.  This passion for all kinds of music grew with me all the way through adulthood.

With this deep-rooted love for music I’ve always loved chanting in yoga classes.  I was first introduced to this part of the practice by my teacher, Stephanie Snyder, and it quickly became my favorite part of the class.  She always began and ended her classes with different a chant every time.  At first I just loved the melodies, the smile that these lovely tunes always put on my face and the overwhelming sense of happiness that stayed with me with once they were done.  I listened very carefully to learn the words so that I could sing along, enunciating each word and working hard to be right on key, which was made a little easier since she plays the harmonium.  When I got home from class I would look up these chants online to learn the words and their meanings.  I was certain that knowing the translations would make me understand them even more.

One of my favorite chants that I learned, and the most mysterious of all, was the Purification Mantra.  Stephanie told us that she had learned it from her teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra.  She told us how this powerful mantra would purify anything that the sound touched, including the mind, the practice, everything.  I found myself chanting the Purification Mantra when I was washing dishes, when I was riding my scooter, out for a walk, settling in for my practice – all the time!  I asked Stephanie what it meant and she told me that she didn’t know and that I didn’t need to know and that it is more powerful when you don’t know the meaning.  This piqued my interest.

I started to realize that the effects of the mantras were what was making me feel so clear and grounded, not the happy tune or the words.  The repetition of the words were calming my mind, clearing things out and giving me that feeling of peace and calm.

“Many students of meditation and spiritual life complain of a noisy mind, out of control senses, and emotional challenges. One of the most significant, single suggestions of the ancient sages is the use of mantra japa, or sacred word to focus the mind. No amount of intellectualizing will convince you of this. It must be practiced for the benefits to be experienced.  Regardless of what mantra you use, one of the most important principles is the practice of constant remembrance. By cultivating such a steady awareness many benefits come.”(www.swamij.com)

When I sit with my mala and chant my mantra 108 times, I almost forget the words that I am saying.  The japa of the mantra calms the vrittis to the point that my own voice becomes a separate entity.  The cadence, rhythm, and repetition of the mantra are the simplest way to “nirodhah the vrittis.” Now I don’t try to figure out the words or what they mean when I learn a new mantra.  I just get into the groove of it and let the mantra work its magic.  These are some of my favorite times with Sri Dharma – comfortably sitting, chanting, responding incessantly what he calls out and feeling the amazing sense of clarity and calm that comes without really knowing what I’m saying.

 

Martin.Scott.HeadshotInspired and passionate, Martin Scott brings a light and humorous energy to every class he teaches; whether in Union Yoga, his own studio, or as messenger of yoga to other communities. Employing a distinct expression of devotion, tradition and levity, Martin teaches in a way that holistically inspires his students. Martin is committed to honoring his teachers, all of which who have led him to a life devoted to the study of yoga, as well as to teaching yoga to others. Most of all, Martin honors his guru, Sri Dharma Mittra

Mudras: When the Hands Mirror the Heart

by Jessica Monty Schreiber

©Jeffrey Vock
 
I arrived at the park one early Saturday morning and peace permeated the air — the peace best experienced in the early hours of the day before the other earth inhabitants rise from their warm beds.  The grassy spaces at the park were speckled with peaceful warriors slicing the air with their hands, making graceful shapes with their limbs, and using the energy that drives us, pushing and pulling with resistance and strength. Tai Chi, what a beautiful art form.  


Watching people use their hands and bodies to create shapes, I am only now becoming aware of the importance and significance of the mudras. A mudra is a gesture one specifically makes with one’s hands and arms. In India, these mudras aim to connect the yoga practice to divine and cosmic energy.

Apes use their hands to communicate, blind children clap their hands with excitement, and it is universal for one to cover one’s mouth in shock, horror or pain.  Moreover, it is an amazing power to be able to control our body in such a way to focus our consciousness and help manipulate our experience. The knowledge and experience of mudra techniques is so powerful.
The other day I hugged my friend who was overcome with grief and sadness. I imagined I was creating a cocoon, enveloping her with love — spiraling a web all over her branching from my arms.  There she wept, which I knew was difficult for her, as being vulnerable can be for many people. Still, I held her in my safe chrysalis, strongly creating a place of protection.  She felt that energy field; I know it with all my heart.  That is a mudra.
©Jeffrey Vock
 
As yoga asana practitioners, we breathe, balance, strengthen, and stretch our body all at once, simultaneously trying to connect with our higher Self. We strive to achieve a meditative state, ” a comfortable seat,” to commune with our divine nature. While I practice toppling tree pose, I perform kali mudra (interlocking your fingers, releasing the index fingers.) I concentrate on my erect index fingers touching and in turn, creating a one single pointed finger.  Sometimes I feel I could stay in this asana forever. That is a mudra.
 
Sometimes when I am frustrated with my son’s behavior, and when I am reprimanding or disciplining him, I notice my index finger wagging in his face.  Pointing at him as if he was the problem, only to know with my heart that the reflection of his behavior is my own. I don’t like this mudra. That is a mudra.
I hope this post inspires you to do your own research in the art of mudras. There are many informational references on how to you can specifically use mudras in your yoga practice, but only with your personal research and experience will you understand the importance and significance of a mudra.
 
©Jeffrey Vock
 
I will leave you with this beautiful obituary written by Laurie Anderson shortly after the death of Lou Reed:
To our neighbors:
What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.
Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people, this is our spiritual home.
Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!
Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.
 

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us. ~ Laurie Anderson, his loving wife and eternal friend.

Gratefully, Jessica Monty Schreiber has been practicing yoga daily since 2000. Jessica became certified to teach Bikram Yoga in 2003 and taught yoga in Miami Beach, FL and all over New York City.  Although she predominately taught Bikram yoga during that time, she took full advantage of the diverse yoga community by practicing the different yoga styles that New York City has to offer. In 2005 Jessica studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and became a certified Holistic Health Counselor. It brings her much pleasure to serve her community in the areas of health and wellness. Jessica participated in the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training in 2010.  She is currently in the internship phase of her training. Jessica takes great pride in her career as mother of two boys. Striving to find a balance in a domestic life is a daily yoga practice in itself. Jessica is passionate about yoga and wellness.  Her intention as a teacher is to inspire the practitioner to reveal their true beautiful and bright selves.  With hard work, positive effort and practice, we can all be healthy, happy, and free!