Category Archives: music

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

Karma Yoga and the Art of Selfless Service: The Reggie Deas Story


By Freddy Pastore

“Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us.” Ram Dass
Often, the more we have in life the more disconnected we become from those who have very little. However, by “being receptive” to the needs of others, sometimes Karma Yoga finds you.
My Karma Yoga found me last July in Asbury Park on the New Jersey Shore. After practicing yoga on the boardwalk I stopped at the Twisted Tree Cafe for a fruit smoothie breakfast. As I waited to pay, something caught my eye on the “community board” next to the register. Though most of the board was over-loaded with business cards and advertisements, a picture of an acoustic guitar snapped in half caused me stop and pay attention.
Above it read, “Reggie Deas Needs Your Help – Call Steve.” On the back of the postcard was a story about Reggie Deas, a homeless musician who found his way to Ocean Grove and was living under the boardwalk. His guitar had been destroyed and Steve was organizing an effort to have it replaced. I called Steve and offered my help but since there was such an outpouring of support, Reggie not only had the new guitar but also a case. Steve said that Reggie was however still homeless and in need of help. I agreed to meet with Steve and Reggie in the park the next day.
It only took a few minutes of listening to Reggie play music to realize that he was a gifted musician. Though his playing was a little rough around the edges, his instrument was played with true knowledge and in his voice was love of music. Reggie, though currently homeless had attended Berkley College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts; a prestigious music school in which many of the greatest musicians in the world had passed through the halls. And seemingly here was one music great living under a boardwalk in a beach town. Reggie’s story immediately called to mind the movie “The Soloist,” based on a similar story of a Juilliard trained musician who was also homeless. Through Sri Dharma Mittra’s inspirational teachings on Karma Yoga (and the fact that I too am a musician), I knew I needed to help Reggie.
Sitting with Reggie in the park that day, with his new guitar and only a single duffle bag full of his possessions, a roof over his head was evidently his biggest need. The first and most obvious thought was a homeless shelter but Reggie refused. In his words “I rather live on the street.” The biggest problem with a shelter is “lock-down” at 7pm, the time when Reggie does best playing music on the boardwalk for money. Also, since Reggie was not suffering from any form of addiction he did not want to be around others whom are often in this unfortunate state.
I brainstormed with the fundraising group and after many hours of making phone calls and surfing the internet, I found a room in The Whitfield Hotel, a very large hostel-style hotel just one block from the beach. With the help of the nearly $1,000 left over from the guitar collection fund, by the end of that afternoon, Reggie had a roof over his head.
Over the next several weeks I continued to contribute to Reggie’s well being however I could. Tapping into my work in Finance, I created a “project plan” to organize efforts around Reggie’s needs. I outlined and prioritized various aspects that the fundraising group could do together to help Reggie establish himself in Ocean Grove. On the list: (1) find a part-time job (2) obtain a pre-paid cell phone (3) resolve an outstanding court fine (4) seek medical attention, and (5) play the music he so loved in local venues. Working together with the fundraising group we were able to accomplish everything on the list.
Reggie worked part-time mowing lawns for a local real estate company and slowly adjusted to his new life. But above all Reggie loved playing music and to see Reggie do what he loved to do and having played a small part in making that happen for him was special. Some of my best memories from the summer was rehearsing and performing with him several summer nights at the Barbaric Bean and Day’s Ice Cream Shop.
When summer passed into fall Reggie came to me because he wanted to move to San Diego, California where he had some friends. Although he had established some roots in Ocean Grove, he was concerned about playing music for money through the winter. It was late September and the New Jersey boardwalks were basically deserted. Although my first reaction was think of all the reasons why he shouldn’t go, I quickly realized that it was Reggie’s life to live and not mine. Reggie had his own Dharma and it was essential for him to go and pursue his dreams, wherever they make take him.

As Sri Dharma says, do it because it has to be done,” and I had been there for Reggie because it had to be done. By doing selfless service (seva) I found that I had also served myself. We can all make a difference, no matter what. So next time you come across someone in need remind yourself that yes,I can help. Yes, I will do this. Yes, change is possible.

Check out Reggie Deas
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Freddy was introduced to yoga by his wife, Amy Pastore (E-RYT 500 Hour yoga instructor). At first, practicing yoga was an excuse to be around Amy – even if it meant enduring 26 excruciating posture holds in 105 degree heat! Over the years, the practice of asana gave way to the deeper purpose of yoga. This resulted in physical, mental and spiritual transformation. Freddy has attended many yoga workshops with world renowned teachers and in 2012 he completed the Life Of A Yogi 200-Hour Teacher Training Program with Sri Dharma Mittra in New York City. Freddy also holds a certification in Basic Thai Massage from the Loi Kroh School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Together with his wife, Freddy is the co-founder of iflow Yoga, a modern, eclectic Vinyasa style yoga drawing from their diverse yoga experiences.  Freddy is also an accomplished bassist who has performed and recorded with many of New York City areas top jazz, rock and pop musicians.

Day Seven: Exploring Evenness


The Life of a Yogi
          I can’t even explain the insane amount of bliss that results from a Maha Sadhana with Sri Dharma Mittra. I had a little bit of a roller coaster sort of day, but after that workshop, everything is just erased. All I feel right now is devotion and ecstasy.
          My roomie and I overslept a little bit this morning, but it didn’t really phase me. That’s the main thing I’m noticing about myself lately, is that I just accept situations more readily and adjust myself according to the circumstances rather than fighting things. As Kim said last module, “Some things just aren’t worth getting upset over.” I think that’s going to become my personal mantra for the rest of my life, actually. It probably would have helped me to remember that later in the day when I was getting ruffled about some silly thing.
          The day started with pranayama and dhyana with Melissa, followed by a Dharma Shakti practice, which was a very basic class consisting of sun salutations, the main poses, relaxation, and some meditation. It was probably the deepest savasana of the training, actually – I think I’m finally beginning to understand the power of the simplest practices. We’ve been talking a lot this module about how we want to strive, as teachers, to be simple, clear, and direct. I think that’s why I love all the Dharma Yoga teachers (the mentors especially) – they all make difficult and/or complex asanas quite straightforward.
          We had Maha Shakti and Yoga Nidra afterwards with Sri Dharma, which were both awesome as usual. I just laugh so much in his classes… The element of joy is contagious. Then we had lunch, followed by a small group session where we practiced teaching the pranayama and dharana for Dharma III. Then we had our last small group session, and I got to teach. I felt pretty good about it, but I’m still trying to reconcile some of the feedback I got. Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing else I’m meant to do on this earth but teach yoga (and I feel like I’m starting to become a pretty decent teacher), and other times I feel like I’m a little kid and I just have no idea what I’m doing… It doesn’t help that I tend to take “constructive criticism” personally sometimes. Anyway, I’m thankful for the feedback, and it’s all just part of the process. I can’t expect myself to be perfect right off the bat! I certainly don’t expect it of others, so why should I hold myself to that kind of standard?
          After that we had Maha Sadhana, for which I only have a few pictures because the camera died partway through! There were a lot of people taking pictures, though, so I’m sure they’ll be posted on the other Dharma Yoga social media pages soon. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…
~Danielle