Category Archives: path

Yoga For Trying Times

By Sri Dharma Mittra 

In terms of the world today and what the new (U.S.) president may be saying or doing, some people have a lot of fear or concern. What would you recommend for the people who are afraid or worried?

Many years ago, I asked my guru: what about the president now? He said to me with a smile: “Don’t you worry, my son. Everything is just perfect. If the majority of the people chose him, that’s just what the people deserve — are ready for.” So, everything is perfect. Not even one blade of grass moves without the will of the Almighty One. Do you think that the Almighty One is allowing something that is not right? Everything is perfect. We do our best to help, to influence him, but whatever is happening: perfect! People who get hurt in this process: they have their karma. Perfect. Everything is Divine. Don’t worry: there are Celestial Beings that went before us. They are watching the planet, allowing all these people to assume their positions. Everything is just perfect. Let’s do our best and pray for the president. Remember: he is our brother, too. In reality, he is doing Divine work. That’s what I think.

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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.

LOAY Teaching Manual: The Master’s Amazing Teachings and Techniques Are Now Available for Everyone

By Jerome Burdi

Sri Dharma Mittra is always passing on knowledge from deep within the wells of his being. It may be hard to grasp, or to remember for some, or maybe some of the words to a mantra are elusive.

Since the recent publication of the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher’s Manual, all of these techniques that will put you on the fast track to Self-Realization are available at your fingertips. The beautiful book was set to motion by Sri Dharma’s wife and longtime disciple, Eva Grubler, aka Ismrittee Devi Om, with the help of Life of a Yogi teacher training director Adam Frei.

“There are no books without a true purpose,” Eva said. “The Life of a Yogi Teachers’ Manual is the condensed work, and a constant reminder of the teachings of beloved Yogi Sri Dharma Mittra. It is a book of devotion and love for the purity of these teachings as expressed by Sri Dharma for the past half century. And best: you can have it with you at all times!”

For two-and-a-half years, Adam had a series of meetings and conversations with Sri Dharma during which they slowly went over all of the basic material.

“It was an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to edit the manual into its current form,” Adam said. “It was, for me, the experience of a lifetime.”

The deep information given during teacher trainings has been compiled in the book, along with old photos of Sri Dharma, charts he drew by hand, and a bunch of yogi recipes that will prepare the body to go to the higher levels of the practice.

I especially love all the mantras from the lineage spelled out and translated, and the breathing techniques. These have helped me as a teacher and student. It’s good to study and practice these properly while you’re on your own. Then when you practice with the master you can go much deeper with confidence.

There’s a breakdown of the main yogic texts and just about all things yoga. One of the things I love about Sri Dharma is he makes all this knowledge available to anyone who cares to seek it out: teacher trainees, students, or anyone else.

I can hear the words of the master when I read the text:

“It’s important to repeat difficult things at least three times. You’ll find that with each repetition, the difficulty lessens. Repeating something seven times is better than three times, while ten times is truly ideal. Always keep the laws of physics in mind, as they are so often the key to unlocking the physical aspect of the postures. Also, just open your eyes whenever you are in class and observe what’s going on around you. You can learn so much this way.”

Sri Dharma emphasizes the importance of personal practice. There’s also a section in the book on what practices to do, especially if you are one of the many people with limited time. For a man who is widely known for his stunning asana, Sri Dharma is always talking about how the poses are not important. Just the basic ones will give you what you need as you continue on your path to the higher limbs of concentration, meditation, and Self-Realization.

Sri Dharma: “Regarding the aspiring yogis who may read these words, I wish you all to be engaged in constant practice — this is the secret to making progress. Meditate on compassion, stay vegan and seek enlightenment. Be obedient to your teacher and reverent to all. Oh my loved ones, keep yama and niyama. Then, you will have a shortcut to immortality.”

“Lastly, I love you all. I am you and you are me.”

 

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

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

The Yoga of Truly Seeing

By Barb Cooper

When I finished my LOAY teacher training requirements and graduated in 2013, I felt like it was the end of the most transformative chapter in my life.  It turned out to be the beginning of an entirely new way of serving the world.

In 2007, I had reconstructive foot surgery, during which something went wrong that left me on the couch in abject chronic pain for three years. It was yoga (and acupuncture) that triggered my healing, and then brought me to study with Sri Dharma Mittra. In Sri Dharma, I found the Guru who resonated with my hungry, directionless soul.

Although I have never had a conversation with Sri Dharma (I am too shy to approach him,) I know he sees me. I feel a deep connection to him. And there have been some funny moments: There was the time I came back after a coffee break to a session during a weekend immersion, sat down in a group in front of him, closed my eyes and tried to connect with my breath.  I opened my eyes to find him looking directly at me.  “How are you going to find bliss, “ he said, smiling, “when you can’t even give up coffee?”

Yep. He sees me.

So, I began teaching in March of 2013. In August of that year, after my family moved back to Texas, the dream of opening my own small studio became a reality. And things started to get weird and, um, magic started happening.

I know how that sounds.

In addition to the students for my Sri Dharma-inspired regular vinyasa classes, people in chronic pain and with chronic conditions began sort of…well, appearing in front of me, seeking healing through yoga. It wasn’t the usual injuries due to age or over-use, either. These were people with dramatic and excruciating physical needs. The first client who came to me had her entire spine fused except for three vertebrae, a frozen shoulder and muscles that her brain couldn’t talk to!

I had no idea what I was doing.

I did have an enormous desire to see others find the kind of healing that I found. Much of what I learned about yoga therapy, I learned by watching videos and reading medical texts.  I did hours of research on the specific conditions of my students. For each student, I developed a customized yoga sequence, modifying poses and sequences to suit their needs.  Every few months, we adjusted the sequences together, just seeing what was possible and what accommodations were no longer necessary.

Because I had such a profound experience with chronic pain myself, I know how to touch and talk to people who are hurting. I know, above all, that people in pain need to be reassured that I am not going to hurt them –that they are safe with me. I am very careful to ask permission before I adjust my clients, and then I do so in the gentlest way I can.  Often, I just hold people in the poses until they can hold themselves.

One of the most transformative things about my teaching practice has been developing the eyes to really see my students. I’ve learned that my students are used to feeling invisible –this is true of both the healthy and those who are struggling with health issues, actually. I make sure my clients know that I am truly seeing them. I see where they hold their pain, how their bodies change as their pain levels change.  Sometimes I see things in their bodies that they aren’t aware of until I mention it.

Healing is happening. It’s amazing and miraculous, and it is real.  Recently, over the holidays, I had a 15-year-old concussion victim, who had losses in balance and short-term memory.  After three private sessions, she was almost back to normal! My first client’s shoulder unfroze, her brain started talking to her muscles and today, she can do headstands.

I know that this healing isn’t coming from me. (Heck, I still haven’t been able to give up coffee.) First of all, it is in my students’ unwavering willingness to persevere. They come back to every class, and they come willing to work. It is so inspirational.

It’s also the healing power of yoga and, I believe, it’s Sri Dharma’s gentle healing spirit. Before each session, I repeat the Mantra for Purification, and another one where I ask, “free me from my ego, fill me with love and healing.” I know that when I can set aside my own ego, yoga can use me as a channel through which healing comes.

All of this has changed my life in a truly amazing and profound way. Although I still struggle to set my ego aside off the mat, when I can do so, I can really see the people in my life– my yoga students as well as my friends and family. I find I am less reactive to things that might have once angered me or hurt my feelings.  I am beginning to see people without judging them.  I may never be able to do this as comprehensively as Sri Dharma does, but it has given me a glimpse of how peaceful life can be when lived in a life of service.

 

Barb 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

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

From Istanbul to Dharmaland, with Love

By Gülnihal Özdener

I was walking home from Dharma Yoga Center on the third night of my 500-hour teacher training in September and mantras echoed in my head as I was gazed up into the sky, counting the stars. Then I saw 50 of them on a flag in front of a tall building. It hit me then — I had been in the United States for almost three months! In Manhattan for almost three months!

Why hadn’t I ever realized that before? Of course, I was not speaking Turkish or having Turkish food, but I felt like I was home the entire time, without realizing I was thousands of miles away from home. But it was still home.

Coming to New York to meet Sri Dharma Mittra, after the most troubling period of time in my life, has been a remedy. The wounds of a psychologically abusive relationship pushed me onto a path where I found Dharma Yoga. The legendary Mark Kan’s class forced my body gently to its physical limits in a way that felt so right. I said, “That’s it! This is what I want to do!”

There I was, on my mat, in Sri Dharma’s temple. Krishna Das music was on. The incense was wrapping me up kindly. Since my first day in the city, I was at Dharma Yoga Center every single day. I was lucky enough to practice twice-a-day with Dharmaji and the great teachers he taught. The energy is always so embracing, you can never feel like an outsider.

I looked around the temple; more than 100 people practicing, 70 of them were teacher trainees. I saw that each body is different. Each has a story that brought them into this very temple, practicing with Dharmaji. Hearts beating as one in each pose, all fuelled with so much enthusiasm. There was no judgment, only pure love. There was abundant help, encouragement, and unconditional support. The compassion that Sri Dharma always emphasizes turned us into a very large multinational family.

The self is one, as Sri Dharma teaches us, and those 100 plus people in the temple were moving all together as one. Even the beginners, who happened to find themselves in the middle of so many advanced asana practitioners, found the courage to try the seemingly impossible.

For me, many poses were hard to practice, either because of my mild scoliosis or out of stiffness. But when I saw my family moving and trying and falling and getting back up — even after some six to eight hours of asana practice in a day — I didn’t give up. I found myself in poses that would have been impossible elsewhere. I am not even mentioning the experiences I had during our morning pranayama and meditation sessions.

People in Turkey were, and are, asking me, “Oh you must have visited a lot of places! Three months is a long time!”

That makes sense, New York City (or Manhattan, to be more specific) is a crazy place with so many entertaining or touristy options, and I have been to some of them. But it never felt like I was touring Manhattan. I was at the center, in the temple almost every day! There were times when we had our breakfast, lunch, dinner at the center, or when we took naps.

Then I thought; well, yeah, I have been to many places. Especially within my mind, soul, and body. Those were wonderful places, and my guide was mostly Dharmaji, and other beloved Dharma teachers.

If you’re talking about the city, for me, Manhattan is Dharmaland.

 

Gulnihal OzdenerGülnihal Özdener met yoga when she was 19 and absolutely hated the first few months of practice. Later on, she realized her scoliosis-related pain started to fade and her grumpiness turned into calmness, so she applied for her first teacher training at the age of 23.  Two years later, she contacted the Dharma Yoga Center, applied for the 500-hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training. Now back in Istanbul, she spreads the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra via the classes she offers, humbly continuing the lineage of Yogi Gupta.
Find her at facebook.com/gulniyleyoga or yogawithgulni@gmail.com.

A Journey into the Self

By Gena Rockwell

As soon as I signed up for the training, I knew that it was meant to be. I had never even practiced Dharma Yoga, but when I stumbled upon the website and saw that it was actually possible to study with Sri Dharma, whom I had admired through his famous poster and his interviews for years, I jumped at the opportunity. To prepare, I purchased his Maha Sadhana DVDs, began to practice them regularly and immediately fell in love with the Dharma Yoga.

It was five years after completing my 200-hour teacher training in vinyasa yoga, and I knew that this training would take me to the next level as a teacher. Little did I know what a profound effect this experience would have on my life as a whole.

The moment I walked into the Dharma Yoga Center on my first day of class, I immediately felt calm and serene. I was warmly greeted at the front desk and directed to the temple, which was huge and beautifully decorated with candles, images of Shiva, Ganesh, and Sri Dharma’s guru, Yogi Gupta.

As I gathered with the 70 yogis from all over the world, I could sense that everyone was as excited and humbled as I was when Sri Dharma walked into the room to lead us through our pranayama practice and spiritual discourse. Throughout the first day we did hours of asana practice along with more pranayama, meditation and kirtan. At the end of the day, my body was exhausted but I was so full of energy at the same time. As the week progressed, I continued to be filled with some kind of divine energy even though our 14-hour days were packed with up to eight or more hours of asana practice.

I got to know my fellow yogis more throughout the first week and I couldn’t believe how amazing each and every person was. These were some of the kindest most sincere people I had ever met.

But then again, it all made sense because we had all sought out Sri Dharma as our guru, one of the most kind and sincere voices in the yoga world.

The mentors were amazing, as well. Each mentor had a special gift to give, and did so with so much compassion and humility. I knew the training would be great, but I had no idea how welcomed and at home I would feel right away.

“This is it, this is real yoga,” I thought to myself constantly.

Kindness, compassion, and humility, these are Dharma’s true teachings. While he is one of the most renowned practitioners of asana in the world, his true teaching is much deeper. He encourages us to realize that we are a reflection of the divine, to be kind to others, to be kind to the animals, to see ourselves in others, to always practice compassion, and to make every action an offering to the divine.

Throughout both of the training modules, we performed hours upon hours of challenging asana but in a way, it seemed effortless. I credit this to the fact that not only were we all moving together as a collective consciousness, but we were all also aligning our practice with a higher purpose,­ seeing our practice as serving something greater than ourselves.

There is something very profound that happens when you practice in this way. Suddenly, the ego or sense of “I am­ness” begins to evaporate. Your muscles are not each working individually to hold you in the pose. You are not thinking “This foot goes here, this arm goes there.” You cease to become the doer, and instead become one with all of creation.

I believe that each one of us experienced to some degree throughout the course of the training the true meaning of yoga: Union with the divine. This divine energy guided us through every 14-hour day, leaving us not only with sore muscles, but with beaming radiance,­ and a childlike sense of wonder for all of existence.

We practiced and learned many techniques to get to this place, and will keep them with us forever.

I thought that I was going to learn how to be a better teacher, but what I really learned was how to go deep inside to the place of God­-consciousness that exists within us all, the true self. Then the teaching happens naturally.

 

Gena RockwellGena Rockwell is a yoga instructor, massage therapist and musician who lives in Shepherdstown, W. Va. In 2013 she received her certification as an ayurvedic yoga specialist from the Himalayan Institute and this year she had the honor of studying under yoga master, Sri Dharma Mittra for her 500 hour yoga certification.

Time for Tapas: Make a Commitment for Guru Purnima

by Kali Om

title photo by Mia Park

“People become depressed when they neglect their spiritual practice.” –Sri Dharma Mittra

What are you putting off that would deepen your yoga practice?

Is it to clean up your diet? To devote 20 minutes a day to meditation? To stop bed-texting and devote time to reflecting upon the day’s events? To work on a certain pose on a regular basis?

Rather than putting it off indefinitely, consider committing to a new level of practice for a four-month period, starting on Guru Purnima, which this year falls on Saturday, July 12.

Guru Purnima is a special full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad in which yogis commit to deepening their practice in order to honor their spiritual preceptor and all spiritual preceptors dating back to the sage Vyasa, who edited the Vedas, Puranas, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Mahabharata.

Ganesh-21

The guru is considered to be a living example of yoga, a saintly person who shares the practices that can bring the dedicated disciple face-to-face with God. On Guru Purnima, devotees may get up early and spend the day fasting, praying, and singing their guru’s praises. Of course, the best way to honor the guru is to follow his or her teachings and achieve the goal of yoga–self-realization. Indeed, nothing pleases the guru more than seeing the disciple stand on his or her own two feet.

Whether you have a guru or not, Guru Purnima gives yogis a wonderful opportunity to recommit to their spiritual practice, knowing that others around the world are doing the same thing. This collective consciousness is a powerful aid.

On this day, yogis make a commitment called a sankalpa, or a sacred vow. This vow is traditionally kept for a chaturmas, or a four-month period.

A sankalpa made on Guru Purnima is not like a typical New Year’s resolution, where one makes a vague, lofty plan that is followed for a few days and is then jettisoned as old habits reappear. Instead, it is a specific goal with a detailed plan on how to attain it. It is written down, signed, and then given to a spiritual preceptor or teacher.

photo by Mia Park

photo by Mia Park

This practice is part of the yogic observance of tapas, or purifying austerities. Tapas falls into three categories: austerity, worship, and charity. It can include practices to be taken up or habits to be given up.

“That which purifies the impure mind is tapas,” said Swami Sivananda. “That which regenerates the lower animal nature and generates divine nature is tapas. That which cleanses the mind and destroys lust, anger, greed etc., is tapas. That which destroys tamas (dullness) and rajas (impurity) and increases satva (purity) is tapas.”

What you choose to do for Guru Purnima should be something that is reasonable given your particular circumstances. It should also be somewhat challenging. Usually, we have an idea floating around the back of our minds. If that is the case, write it down and visualize how it could be put into action. Remember, it should be appropriate for your particular stage of spiritual practice, and that yoga is, ultimately, about authentically wanting to clean up your act

Once you figure out what your commitment will be, write it down, sign it, and put it into practice–not just for the guru or teacher, but also for your own spiritual unfoldment.

Because ultimately, the real guru is right there, seated in your own heart as your inmost Self.

Choosing–and Keeping–Your Sankalpa

It is best to write down the vow that you wish to keep for Guru Purnima. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to follow through. Include the steps you will take to accomplish it. Sign it and give it to someone you believe in, or burn it. Then, keep quiet about it and do the work.

If you do not have any ideas, here are a few places to start:

  • Give up a bad habit that is not serving you, such as bed-texting, having a glass of wine before bed, eating junk food, gossiping, or spending time with people who bring out the worst in you.
  • Spend five minutes a day reading the Yoga Sutras or other scripture.
  • Keep a daily spiritual diary, and write down your practices and how well you kept (or didn’t keep) yama, yoga’s ethical foundation. For more ideas, read Swami Radha’s 1996 book, Time To Be Holy.
  • Repeat a certain number of rounds of mantra each day, using a mala (a 108-bead rosary used for meditation). “A rosary is a whip to goad the mind towards God,” said Swami Sivananda in his book Japa Yoga (available for free, at dlshq.org/teachings/ japayoga .htm ).
  • Develop a home practice. Resolve to do 20 minutes of asana, 12 rounds of pranayama, asana , and/or 20 minutes meditation each day. Or promise yourself that you’ll go to class a certain number of times each week.
  • Give up eating meat. If this seems too drastic, consider going vegetarian once a week (for more info, visit meatfreemondays.com or vrg.org).
  • If you are not yet ready to deepen your yoga practice, perhaps there is something in your life that needs to be resolved first. Consider diving into that project you’ve been avoiding, such as putting your finances or house in order, or clearing out a practice space in a bedroom or corner of the living room.
  • Consider volunteering once a week or month through selfless service or Karma yoga, which should be performed without attachment to results. For example, resist the urge to brag about it or put it on your résumé. For ideas, visit volunteermatch.org and read Ram Dass’s 1985 book, How Can I Help?
  • Take a weekly Internet and smartphone fast, or practice silence once a week. Or vow to eat a meal in silence–no TV, no talking, no texting or reading–once a day or once a week.
  • Give away one object you no longer use each day or week. Give the items to charity, or post them on freecycle.org.
  • If you have a tendency to run behind schedule (i.e., you are always late), vow to arrive five minutes early to each of your appointments.
  • Put the Yoga Sutras into practice. Read Yogi Cameron Alborzian’s new book The One Plan: A Week-by-Week Guide to Restoring Your Natural Health and Happiness. And do the exercises.

 

Cara Jepsen

Kali Om (Cara Jepsen) , E-RYT 500, is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and has been teaching yoga since 1998; she is the senior teacher of Dharma yoga in Chicago and has completed Sri Dharma Mittra’s LOAY 200-, 500-, and 800-hour trainings. She will lead yoga and meditation retreats November 1-2, 2014 at the beautiful Port for Prayer in Frankfort, IL and in Belize February 7-14, 2015. For more information, visit yogikaliom.com.

Sacred Space: Creating a Home Altar

by Ishvara Pranidana Om  

Altars are always present in Holy places.  Altars are by definition a place where sacrifices and offerings are made, but are also physical reminders of Divinity.  It is good to keep an altar in the home because it serves as a reminder to hold sacred space for the spiritual realm, which is increasingly difficult in our busy world.

There aren’t any particular rules about the appearance, location, or use of the altar, and they may range from elaborate to simple, large or a windowsill, inside or outside.  Here a few points to consider when you create your home altar:

  • Location, location, location:  Designate a spot that is out of the way, yet visible.  An altar in a busy location, like the counter right when you walk in the door, might be subject to clutter like house keys and mail.  Alternately, if the altar is not visible, the flowers may wilt and the area could become dusty and neglected.  Also, consider the height, as down low may not be a good option if you have children or small pets.

Altar_Urban

  • Size: Small spaces may call for a windowsill or shelf;   however, a larger area may support the use of a lovely table or the top of a piece of furniture.  If you have an outdoor space, you can make one out of rocks or wood.

Altar

  • Purpose:  Decide what purpose the space is being held for.  Is it a temporary situation, like the celebration of an upcoming birth or prayer for a sick relative, or long-term general use?  Keep in mind, the use of the altar can change as life itself is constantly shifting and changing.  However, determining a purpose in advance will help to decide the following factors:
  • Content:  Pictures or photographs of a Guru or other holy people, inspirational texts, flowers or plants, crystals or stones, altar cloths, incense, symbols (such as the Pranava) statues or figures or candles are examples of a few. And simplicity is good if you are just starting out. Your altar is also an ideal location to keep your mala or meditation shawl safe.

Altar_Windowsill

  • Upkeep: An altar free of clutter denotes respect, as does freshly watered flowers and plants.  Keep the area dust free and change the contents as necessary.

Altar_Woodstove

Once you create your altar, it is preferable to use it regularly as burning incense and offerings of prayers and flowers done repeatedly increase the potency of vibration in that spot.  And creating or continuing a ritual at your altar is also an excellent form of daily discipline, or Tapas.  You may pray there or light incense or candles with intention.  Or, you can just pause there and express gratitude or mentally send love to someone.

(Pictures by Ishvara Pranidana Om)

Ishvara_Pranidana_OmIshvara has been a devoted student of Sri Dharma Mittra since 2009 and has completed the 200, 500 and 800-Hour Dharma Yoga Lif of a Yogi Teacher Trainings in New York City. She is also the mother of three children ages seven, six and 2 months.  She lives in Jefferson City, MO.