Category Archives: outreach

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.

Embodying Sri Dharma’s Teachings and Letting Her Goodness Shine Through

By Jerome Burdi

 

The yoga class was packed wall to wall with amazing students moving together into poses, following the lead of the beloved master. It was the end of a teacher training so the atmosphere was in high vibration.

That class was more than a decade ago but Dharma Yoga teacher Kim Jeblick remembers it like yesterday. It was her first class with Sri Dharma Mittra. Kim was already a yoga teacher but came out of a fitness background rather than the path of Self-realization that she would soon be steeped in.

Sri Dharma guided the students into extended side angle pose. While they were holding the pose, he walked over to Kim and moved her fingers into jnana mudra. It was the first time Sri Dharma adjusted her. By the end of the class she knew she found true yoga and a guru to guide her to her highest Self.

“After shavasana, I felt like my whole body was vibrating,” Kim said.  “There was a subtle humming and I thought, ‘This must be the real yoga.’”

She discovered Sri Dharma through his famous 908 Asana Poster. She ordered it to put up on the wall at her studio, Maximum Motion Fitness in Jersey City. After ordering the poster, Kim found out about Dharma Yoga Center and decided to take a class with Sri Dharma.

Sri Dharma’s classes were intensely physical when Kim started attending. If you ever heard her laughing in class, it’s because the pose seemed beyond her reach.

“When I can’t do the pose I just laugh,” she said. “It’s the, ‘Oh, that’s the impossible’ laugh. Then I found out, with practice, the poses could be accomplished.”

Kim has remained close to Sri Dharma ever since her first class and became a certified teacher in the 200, 500 and 800-hour levels. She’s now a mentor for others during teacher trainings.

“Dharmaji has no ulterior motives, hidden agendas or anything like that,” Kim said. “He shares all of his knowledge freely and really wishes all of us to become Self-realized in this lifetime.  He is the sweetest, kindest person and I am only here to help him with his work.”

She recalled a time in her early days of teaching Dharma Yoga where she was asked to cover a Maha Sadhana practice for Sri Dharma and she asked him how to teach it.

“He said to me, ‘Oh don’t worry about that. Just let your goodness shine through,’” Kim recalled.

“I think that it is good advice not only for all teachers but also for all people. Sometimes we don’t really see our own goodness, only our shortcomings and if we are worried about being whatever our idea of ‘perfect’ is then it is difficult to be receptive and sensitive to the needs of others.”

The teachings of Sri Dharma shine brightly through Kim. She is full of compassion and knowledge as a teacher.

“Kim has served as a mentor and example for an entire generation of students and teachers, modeling the best of what our teacher expects of all of us consistently in a way that always demonstrates humility and deep understanding,” said Adam Frei, program manager and director of Dharma Yoga’s Life of a Yogi teacher training programs.

“On a personal level, Kim is one of my teachers and has always been a part of what makes the Dharma Yoga New York Center so special.”

Kim has taught regular classes, held workshops, subbed for Sri Dharma, and has assisted him when he travels for workshops and teacher trainings.

“Kim disseminates the teaching of yoga with a selfless, egoless attitude,” said Ivy Mok, who recently completed her 500-hour Dharma Yoga teacher training and had Kim as a mentor.

“Her spiritual presence and calmness is infectious, which instantly shifts her students to a sattvic state. She is a great channel for Dharma’s teaching. If one wants to know how to copy the guru physically, mentally, and spiritually, one should come to learn from Kim.”

Kim is grateful to Sri Dharma for helping her. But the master remains humble.

“I felt like Dharma brought me back to God and one time I said to him, ‘Dharma, thank you so much.’ And he said, ‘That’s not me, that’s your karma.’ So he didn’t even take credit for it.”

She teaches 6:30 p.m. Fridays at Dharma Yoga Center in New York City. Though she teaches Dharma Yoga at her own studio, there’s nowhere quite like the place where the master himself teaches.

“It’s effortless to teach here, it just comes through,” Kim said. “I just sit there and think of Dharma and how he teaches.”

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

The Spiritual Impulse

By Alan C. Haras

“Fire exists in the firewood, coal and charcoal, but without ignition from a spark of fire from without it cannot burn.  So the forces Divine within you do not grow without the impulse from the Preceptor.”

~Yogi Gupta (Sri Swami Kailashananda), from Yoga & Yogic Powers, p.46

There is an ancient tradition practiced by some yogis to continually tend a sacred fire.  This dhuni fire represents the fire of self-knowledge and it reduces all apparent phenomenon into a single, irreducible essence.  This sacred ash, or vibhuti, is often given to others seekers as prasad – a blessed and healing substance.  It is the duty of such yogis to keep this sacred fire going, offering the benefits of their dedicated practice as a healing remedy to all beings.

As sadhakas, we are all tending the sacred fire that we have received from our Guru at the time of initiation.  The Sanskrit word for “initiation” is diksha, which means “to ignite,” and interestingly enough, the English word “ignite” is related to the Sanskrit word agni – meaning “divine fire.”  A yogi who seeks initiation from a guru is seeking to be ignited by the sacred fire or “spiritual impulse” of the guru.  This invisible power is a “quickening” agent that speeds up the spiritual progress of the disciple.

We all contain within us great treasures of spiritual forces, but they typically remain asleep until awakened by the grace of the guru.  This grace cannot be received from any book.  In Yoga and Yogic Powers, Yogi Gupta says, “By reading the menu, your hunger cannot be satisfied.”  Similarly, any amount of reading about spiritual topics will not satisfy our spiritual hunger.  We must seek out a qualified Preceptor, and in receiving instructions from him or her, become receptive to the transmission of this spiritual impulse.

All genuine gurus have received this divine spark from their teacher.  Having received the blessing of the spiritual impulse, they continued to cultivate that sacred fire through their own sadhana, or spiritual practice.  It is not enough simply to “get” initiation – one must “give” themselves to their practice.  In this sense, initiation marks a new beginning.  One entrusted with the sacred fire becomes responsible for tending it and making it grow.  “Being initiated” means “becoming a disciple” and making the life-long commitment to the path of self-realization.

The word “disciple” comes from the Latin root discere which means “to learn.”  All are able to learn, but each individual learns at his or her own rate.  According to Swami Sivananda, an individual’s capacity is based upon their readiness to receive the divine spark of the guru’s instructions.  Some, he says, are like gunpowder – when the fire of knowledge is brought near to them, they are instantly ablaze with realization.  Others are like charcoal, who need only a little time in the presence of fire before they are completely consumed and transformed.  Still others are like dry firewood and need to stay in the fire a little while longer.  And then there are those who are like wet firewood – when they are in the presence of Truth, all they do is “smoke.”  This kind of disciple will need ample time to “dry out” before any real learning is possible.

If we approach a fire without proper respect, it is possible that we could get burned – not through any intention made by the fire, but simply through our own inattention. And yet, if we stay too far away, we won’t be able to enjoy the warmth that the fire provides.  Similarly, when a disciple approaches a guru with the divine qualities of reverence, humility and obedience, her or she is able to receive the spiritual impulse of the teacher.  Yogi Gupta says that this impulse is the “energized thought” of the teacher, and although it is invisible, it is “far more powerful than electricity.”

One receives the spiritual impulse through transmission.  The Guru received it from his or her Guru, and blesses the disciples with that same impulse upon their initiation.  It is like a lit candle passing the flame to an unlit candle – it is now up to the disciple to protect that flame, keep it burning brightly, and eventually, to pass on the living flame to a qualified disciple.  The flame does not belong to anyone, but is pure grace; the pure gift of the enlightened teachers to those who are sincerely seeking Self-Realization.  It is transmitted through the Guru’s presence and teachings, and is received only by those who have cultivated the necessary qualities of a disciple.

 

Alan Alan C. Haras (Bhaktadas Om) is the owner of Hamsa Yoga in Lake Orion Michigan, a commissioned Spiritual Director in the tradition of Ignatian Spirituality, and a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Religion Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy, and completing his 800-hour Advanced Dharma Yoga Teacher Certification.
www.hamsayogacenter.com

Selfless Service in a Frenetic World

By Barb Cooper
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi
There are a lot of different interpretations of what Karma Yoga (Selfless Service) is and how it fits into a budding yogi’s practice.  For me, Karma Yoga is where my entire practice comes together—all the limbs of yoga, the relinquishing of the ego, not being attached to the fruits of one’s labor, actions as offerings to the Divine—Karma Yoga is where my practice meets the real world.

 

I’m given to the concept of Karma Yoga naturally. As someone who has fought depression and anxiety for much of her life B.Y. (before yoga,) I learned that the best antidote for sadness is doing something for someone else –-to turn the focus outward.  Last year, in response to the almost crippling grief I felt after the mass murder of school children in Connecticut, I implemented a systematic campaign aimed at sowing little seeds of love in the world.
I started by buying the next person behind me a hot tea in the tea shop, or coffee at the deli.  A few times, I bought the next person behind me some soup at the local bakery. The effort seems to have blossomed from there, and has ended up genuinely changing my life over the past year.
Because what I’ve found is that the impulse to give people stuff is matched by the impulse to just…well, GIVE in general.  So I rush to hold the door open for people or I let people out in traffic. I help people carry their packages to their cars. I just try to adopt an attitude of service, offering whatever is needed in the moment to whomever I encounter.
The interesting thing about Karma Yoga is that it gives back to you exponentially. I really didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect these small acts of devotion to change the way I viewed the world, but that’s what happened. I find that the more I look for ways in which to give to others, the more I genuinely SEE the people around me. And when I’m genuinely noticing them and their struggles, it’s so easy to tap into a vast compassion for them. That compassion, in turn, begins to translate into everything I see around me—animals, insects, this planet.
This year, if you aren’t already doing it, try this: in the midst of all the holiday chaos and demands on your time, do one small kind thing.  Just one tiny thing—open the door for someone, or buy a cup of tea for someone who looks like he or she needs it.  Take some hot chocolate to the crosswalk guard you pass every day. Surprise your mail carrier with some hand warmers.  Just one small thing that shows someone that you’ve noticed him or her.  Sometimes, just being seen is enough to begin a ripple of kindness.
“Giving of any kind… taking an action… begins the process of change, and moves us to remember that we are part of a much greater universe. ” ~ Mbali Creazzo 
_________________________________________________

Barb Cooper, 48, is a mother, a well-socialized introvert, a Texas-to-New York-to-Texas transplant, and a writer by nature and training. She considers herself a grateful observer, a recovering perfectionist, and no longer shy. 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.

 

 

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
_________________________________________________
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 Four: Presence


The Life of a Yogi
          Today I feel like I found my groove again. I almost wish today could be the first day all over again! I felt like I finally became truly receptive again, and I learned more than I would ever expect to learn in just one day.
          We started the day with pranayama and dhyana with Adam. I always look forward to sessions with Adam because I know we’ll start with really awesome chanting… And I was not disappointed this morning; we did a chant that I have only heard once or twice before, and then it was stuck in my head all day long. The second session was a review of some of the required reading from between the modules – the Gheranda Samhita mainly, but Adam also read from a book by Swami Sivananda, which was great; it really inspired me for the day.
          We then had our second small group teaching session, which was quite lovely, although I had expected it to be somewhat grueling (first practice of the day, the thought of noon class looming over us, etc.). I’m starting to feel like Dharma III will be an accessible practice for me to do every day after this module, whereas a few days ago I was pretty overwhelmed by that idea. The practice was beautiful; the trainee from our group that taught really set up a safe, sattvic environment, and by the end of the practice I was so calm.
          I was pretty ready, physically and mentally, for Master Sadhana, but then about ten minutes into the asanas, my arms were basically ready to collapse beneath me. I got a second wind and felt excellent by the end of the class, for which I was grateful, but I still felt like it was the hardest Master Sadhana of the training thus far. Lunch came and went quickly; I ventured outside to search for some pineapple (to get rid of some of the inflammation in my body), and it was snowing!
          By the time the first afternoon session began, it was snowing sideways… The wind must have been crazy! You sort of lose track with what’s going on outside, though, during these intensives. It’s impossible to remain concerned with things other than the action you are engaged in – it’s just too much for the brain and the body to cope with if you’re existing someplace else simultaneously. In my experience, anyway.
          After lunch we had a session on assisting and adjusting for Dharma III, and then another small group teaching session, which was equally lovely as the morning – except that we were all so much more exhausted and starting to lose steam… But that was in no way related to the teacher, more the general feeling of the room – by the third asana practice of the day, things get a little hard, ya know?
          To finish the day we had Maha Shakti and Psychic Development with Sri Dharma, which I felt like I just floated through – I didn’t even think very much about it (a pretty amazing thing, for me), but I just found myself totally present in my body and in the room… Surrendered to the task at hand. During savasana I stayed completely alert the entire time, and I started to feel some energy opening up in different areas along my spine – it was pretty cool to experience.
          Four days done… Now it’s come to the point where I don’t want it to end.
~Danielle
Sri Dharma plays with Baxter (Swami Dogananda)