Category Archives: soul

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.

An Opportunity to Serve the One who Serves So Many

By Smita Kumar

Sant Kabir wrote this verse to sing the glory of guru and wonders: “If both guru and God were to appear at the door, whose feet will I worship first?” He then adds, “The guru’s feet because without the guru how would I have recognized (known) God?”

Two years ago when I started practicing Dharma Yoga, I thought it was going to help me deal with the challenges of my graduate study. When I graduated from 500 hour LOAY teacher training in May, it was clear that I came to the U.S. to learn from Sri Dharma Mittra. If I had not undertaken the 500 hour training last year, I would have been participating in the graduation ceremony at my school. However, instead of graduating from school, I graduated from teacher training on the very same day!

A desire to spend time with Sri Dharma took me to training, and during the last several months I often found myself speechless when someone asked me about the training. I still do not know what happened and I am not sure if I will know. All I know is — I lived several lifetimes and became aware of a certain silence deep inside me. There were days when the training felt challenging, but interestingly, everything fell by the wayside and all I did was to carry out my daily practices.

I also encountered a challenging life experience that questioned my faith in God, guru and my practice. I felt let down and forsaken, as though I was suffering despite my practice. In those dark moments, I received messages from Sri Dharma to go beyond fear and doubt, but I did not know how. To my surprise, I found the answer in one of the daily meditation practices– have faith! I learned I could not have survived the test without God’s grace and the guru’s support.

It is interesting to learn that nothing moves without God’s grace and the guru’s guidance. The following incident taught me that Sri Dharma is ever so perceptive and gives us way more than we desire. I do not recall when, but somewhere over the last two years I had a desire to serve Sri Dharma like he served his guru; cooking, cleaning, taking care of all his needs and just doing everything. I had dreams of cooking for him and sometimes I made vegan sweets, which I took to New York, and Sri Dharma lovingly accepted them.

With Sri Dharma’s Washington DC visit, my dream came true — I was blessed to have the opportunity to cook for him. I even planned to submit my dissertation before his arrival to ensure there was no distraction. Just as I was busy deciding the menu and preparing for his visit I received a call from the organizers to inquire if I would be available to take care of Sri Dharma during his visit — such as receiving him from the train station and dropping him back. I just froze. I was amazed at God’s lila and the guru’s blessings.

Lastly, my mother had planned to visit from India to participate in my dissertation defense, but somewhere deep down I hoped she would come for my 500-hour graduation. However, I was shy to ask, as it meant showing my deep love and faith for my guru, it meant opening myself for any judgment, and most importantly, it meant making myself vulnerable—what if she declined?

Nonetheless, I faced my fears and asked. She was interested, but was unsure if it was logistically feasible. A day was left for the graduation and I still did not know if Ma (mother) was coming, so amidst my anxiousness I offered it all to God and Sri Dharma — “You will bring Ma if she is meant to come.”

An hour later I received a call from my mother confirming that she was going to be there! My mother came and all I did was cry. I was overwhelmed with her presence, and more importantly, I realized there was nothing more to complain about. Slowly, it was becoming clear that I was receiving all that I desired and more — not just with my mother’s visit, but by coming to this country to learn yoga, finding my guru, getting an opportunity to serve my guru (for a day), and simply everything.

 

Smita KumarGrowing up in India in a family of Karma Yogis, Smita was exposed to the teachings of Bhagavad Gita and started practicing asana nearly a decade ago to find peace (and something more). However, it was only after coming to the U.S. that she found her yoga home with Dharma Yoga and since then her life has not been the same. She continues to be surprised and humbled with all that she has received and continues to receive from Sri Dharma and his teachings.

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

By Kathy Goelz

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

 

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

 

Internal Spring Cleaning: Time To Let Go of What’s Holding You Back

By Kali Om 

“Be kind to everyone; forgive everyone everything.” Sri Dharma Mittra

Flower_by_Cyndi_Lawler

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  —Mahatma Gandhi

On the season opener of Yogi Cameron: A Model Guru, ayurvedic therapist YC treats a 25-year-old with autism named Zach. Zach is angry, and YC wants to know why. Zach says other children at the synagogue he attended harassed him. “How old were you when that happened?” YC asked. “Seven or eight,” Zach replied. “That was a long time ago,” says YC. “When are you going to let it go?”

In modern American culture, we tend to hold on to ancient grievances and use them as an excuse to avoid dealing with the things we don’t like about our life: I’m not living up to my potential because my parents beat me / spoiled me / weren’t there for me / were too strict with me / gave me too much freedom or attention / ignored me / favored my siblings over me / [your excuse here]. In America, we like to play the blame game and say that our problems are someone else’s fault.

But in yoga we understand that the soul is eternal, and that our soul, or Atman, chooses the parents we will have, and the circumstances we find ourselves in. In yoga, we know that these birth families or circumstances give us the best possible opportunity to burn off our old karma and learn the lessons we need to know in this lifetime—that each unpleasant thing is happening for a reason, according to our deeds from the past.

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

I first heard about the laws of karma and reincarnation in the 1970s, when the film The Reincarnation of Peter Proud aired on TV. But I didn’t really believe in it until 30 years later, when I heard about it from the lips of my guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, and realized that everything we are going through now is a result of our past deeds. He shared his own experiences and backed them up with passages from the great yoga scripture the Bhagavad-Gita. When I thought about what he said, I realized that everything “bad” that happened to me in my life—and believe me, there was a lot of unpleasantness—led to something good. Every single time. I realized that these “bad” or unpleasant experiences taught me a lesson, fostered personal growth, or set my life in a new direction (such as when my mother died, and I started practicing yoga) and stopped taking them personally.

As Bhagavad-Gita says, “That which is like poison at first but like nectar in the end—that happiness, born of the clear knowledge of the Self, is said to be of the nature of sattva [peace and harmony].”  Sri Dharma often says he is thankful when something unpleasant happens to him, because it means he has burned off one more karma.

This is easy to understand on an intellectual level. Yet many of us still have doubts and see ourselves flogging the same old dead horse, over and over, stuck in our old ways of being, thinking, and acting. If we do this long enough, we could end up with a terrible illness. Because in yoga, it is believed that all disease begins in the mind (and then migrates straight to the colon).

So give it some thought: Is there something you haven’t let go of that is holding you back? Is there someone you need to forgive, or someone of whom you should ask forgiveness? Is there someone you need to thank?

Is there someone you need to confront, or to cut loose from because the relationship is no longer serving you?

Do you need to forgive yourself for something?

What is holding you back from doing what you want with your life?

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

It is never too late to ask these questions, and spring is a wonderful time of year to let go, an opportunity to begin anew. The most direct way is to do this internally, by practicing svadhyaya, or self-study. This can be done in meditation and through journaling, by asking and answering the questions posed above.

Svadhyaya can be helped by the physical act of letting things go and clearing out the clutter in your living space. Because if there’s clutter at home, there is clutter in the mind. Perhaps it is your stuff—mental, physical, spiritual—that is holding you back.

Often, when we make an external effort, what we need to do internally becomes abundantly clear. After all, cleaning and organizing is a type of meditation (and spring is the best time to do it). Still not convinced?  Read my comprehensive March 2010 Yoga Chicago article, “Paring Down Can Improve Your Yoga Practice and Help the Planet.Another wonderful resource for getting started is Karen Kingston’s book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Clutter Forever.

Once the physical debris is out of the way, it is much easier to work on internal letting go.

There are many ways to express forgiveness. It can be done in person, or on the phone, or in a letter (I do not recommend doing it via e-mail, voicemail, Facebook, or texting, which would smack of insincerity). It can also be done mentally, if the person is no longer around or still poses a threat to you. (There is no need to stir up trouble or reopen old wounds; in some cases it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, and offer forgiveness mentally. Sri Dharma always says, “Love the bad man, but keep the distance.”)

Sometimes, we come to realize that we have caused harm and need to ask forgiveness, which can be done in much the same way. Just keep it simple and straightforward, name exactly what you are sorry for, express your regret at causing harm, and do not make excuses for your behavior.

There are many types of forgiveness meditations. One of the most simple and direct is from former Buddhist monk and author Jack Kornfield. As with any meditation, begin sitting comfortably in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed (if the floor is not comfortable, sit in a chair with the head, neck, and spine in a straight line). Breathe deeply and comfortably, and contemplate how forgiveness can help you soften your heart.

Begin by asking forgiveness of others you have harmed. Visualize each situation where you have caused pain, and experience the emotions it elicits. Realize that you only caused them harm because of your own pain, fear, anger, or confusion. Then, say to each person, “I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.”

Orchids_by_Cynthia_Lawler

Next, focus on forgiving yourself for all of the times you have wittingly or unwittingly been the cause of your own pain. Visualize each instance and feel the emotions. Then, say to yourself, “For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain, and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.”

Finally, focus on forgiving those who have harmed you. Imagine each episode, and allow the emotions to come up. Then, repeat the following: “I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion, and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.”

Don’t be surprised if this practice is difficult at first. It can take a lot of time to master it. You may find it helpful to start with small things, and work towards bigger ones.

As Kornfield said, “Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and images work gradually in their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving kindness.”

You may find you prefer a different forgiveness meditation, such as this simple yet very specific one from the Buddha Dharma Education Association. Or you may create your own; it is important that the practice feel authentic to you. That way you’re more likely to actually do it, and your efforts will be unforced.

Just remember that any sincere effort to let go of physical and emotional clutter, no matter how small, will yield rewards. As if by its own accord, you may find your practice starts to deepen, roadblocks fall away, old injuries disappear, and wonderful new things start to appear in your life.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself and see.

(All pictures by Cindy Lawler)

 

Cara_JepsenKali 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 also studied five times in India with Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. 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.

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!

Where Most of Us Get Stuck: Understanding the Throat Chakra

By Sara Schwartz 
©Enid Johnstone
 
I once heard someone quote Sri Dharma Mittra and said that ‘most of us are stuck in our throat chakra.’ I’ve always wondered what that meant. With a little bit of research here’s what I came up with:
 
The chakra system is a description of our subtle anatomy and a part of the map of our spirit.
 
The seven chakras form at the intersections of our Ida and Pingala Nadis. These two main Nadis also intersect seven times along the Shashumna Nadi, the central energy channel which runs down our spines. Nadis, subtle energy channels, carry concentrated prana, or vital energy through our systems.
 
The idea is that our Divine Cosmic Energy, also known as Kundalini energy, lays dormant at the base of our spine. This is why our awareness of divine self is also dormant. As we practice, we raise our Kundalini energy from the base of our spines and we experience physical, spiritual, and emotional evolutions. The final destination is for Kundalini to unlock our seventh crown chakra, allowing us to experience enlightenment.
 
Each chakra has physical and spiritual manifestations based on whether it is closed, or if it is open. As the Kundalini rises and your chakras open, you evolve into each of the seven stages. By the time you get to your fifth chakra, your throat chakra, you are fairly evolved.
 
For example, the root chakra at the bottom of our spines deals with our base desires: Our need for food, sleep, and shelter. A person who is stuck at this level of evolution might hurt themselves or others to advance materialistically. A person with an open root chakra does not worry about where the food and money will come from but simply devotes his life to service, knowing the universe will provide.
 
The throat chakra is located somewhere around the base of the throat. A physical manifestation of an open throat chakra is a beautiful, clear, and resonant voice. You might have a good sense of hearing. Your shoulder and neck muscles are relaxed if your throat chakra is open. Physical manifestations of a tight throat chakra would be chronic head colds, thyroid imbalances, a tense neck and shoulders.

The Sanskrit name of the throat chakra is Vishuddha, which means purification. Emotionally, the throat chakra governs expression, so an open and healthy throat chakra means that we are comfortable telling the truth. With an open throat chakra we make sure that our actions serve the greater good and we embody a pure way of living.
 
The good news is that the Life of a Yogi Teaching Training Manual says, “Once one’s consciousness arrives at the Fifth Chakra, it never descends again.” The amount of knowledge it takes to progress up to your fifth chakra prevents you from descending back into ignorance.
 
When your consciousness is in your fifth chakra, your personality is marked by an interest in spiritual seeking. You try to cultivate, “self-denial, self-control, austerity, steadfastness, uprightness, renunciation, dedication, truthfulness and tranquility.” The throat chakra is a good place to be: spiritually aware and seeking, telling the truth, living a pure life.
 
But there is more on the spiritual path beyond the fifth chakra. Once in the sixth chakra, located at the space between your eyebrows, you can glimpse the spirit world in this lifetime.
 
So how can we evolve our consciousness past the throat chakra? Sri Dharma says, “After long and painful spiritual practices such as self-purification, the mind, heart, and intellect are purified and the consciousness is expanded to the level of Divine Perception.”
 
You can start this process of self-purification by watching what you say, and watching what you eat. Sri Dharma often says “If you control what you put into and what comes out of your mouth, you have controlled much of your mind already.” With that in mind, try following a vegan diet for a while, and thinking about what you say before you say it, and perhaps not saying most of what you intend to say.
 
Anodea Judith recommends you take a Vow of Silence to help heal the throat chakra. In her book Wheels of Life,she writes, “By avoiding verbal communication, one can open up other avenues of communication. Namely, communication with higher consciousness.”
 
Mouna, or spiritual silence, is a great way to deepen your connection to the divine. Think of the second yoga sutra of Patanjali: “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.” So to be verbally quiet is a good start to being mentally quiet.
 
To be in the throat chakra evolution-wise is a good sign. And it would make sense that most of us are stuck in the throat chakra because we are sincerely practicing, but maybe not predicting the future quite yet.
 
Om Namo Shivaya! 

_____________________________________

Sara Schwartz lives in Queens, New York with her husband Yancy. She currently teaches at Yoga to the People, where she received her 200-hour certification in 2010. She graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training in 2013. “Offer up the fruits of your practice” is her favorite advice from Sri Dharma Mittra. She is very grateful for the guidance of Sri Dharma and all of his teachers.

 

Lost and Found: Five things I learned from leaving my practice

by Jessica Gale

©Enid Johnstone
In the past three years, my life has changed more than the previous ten. Through this time of transition, I re-evaluated many aspects of my life: what I do, what I believe, and what I want. For a long time, yoga escaped my inner evaluations because I thought it was something forever firm in my life.

This spring I transitioned into becoming an urban farmer. Often my days were a flurry of activity and my nights of exhaustion. Physical tiredness became my excuse for putting my yoga practice on hold. As spring led to summer though, I could not seem to revive my daily practice. I continued teaching. I took a class here and there. I would take a few moments for some sun salutations and stretches. But of course, I did not receive the benefits yoga offered.

And so I gave up, knowing yoga and what it meant to me, needed re-interpretation and re-evaluation in my life. During that time, my temper grew shorter, my back tighter, and my sense of peace fleeting at best.

I live in a large city and I am not a city girl. I grew up in the country and on the ocean. A great deal of my sense of peace is derived from open, natural spaces. But for now, I must live in the city. The pace, the constant noise, the crowds all wear me down considerably during the day. During particularly bleak days I would wonder how in the world does it. How Sri Dharma does it? New York City has to be one of the busiest, most chaotic, and crowded places I have been. For me, his strength and gentleness are a testament to his devotion to yoga in a place as crazy as New York.

So, I spent my summer fleeing the city on weekends and fighting desperately to hold onto peace and let go of anger.

And I have failed, miserably some days.

This morning, thinking on all this, I knew I had to fail. I fell into yoga so quick and fervently when I started that I took no time to contemplate it. I needed to leave my yoga practice for perspective and to understand what it means to me now and why it still is essential. I could not be a content human being and certainly not a good teacher until I figured it out.

This is what I discovered:




·        If you live in a beautiful place and derive everyday peace and quiet from it, you are so lucky. But I realize now, as important as a sense of place and home are, things happen. Sometimes you have to move. Sometimes places change. However, your inner landscape can remain fixed and pristine.
·        I need yoga because I need silence, desperately. Silence in the face of the busy city and silence in the face of my racing mind. Yoga, in the end, is not about the asana, it is about being able to sit in stillness and settle the mind into silence. It is only in that silence that peace can be found. Silence in a place is fleeting. Silence found inside oneself everyday resonates and carries peace throughout the day.

·        I need silence through yoga because it is the path to surrender, or Isvara Pranidhana. In the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training manual Sri Dharma wrote, “Devotion to God is the total surrender of the ego. Once one has knowledge of the Self, one knows that everything is God. One is then able to surrender the ego in order to achieve enlightment. Surrender in order to obtain Divine help from within. Imagine having the hand tied behind the back: one needs help! If one surrenders to the Lord, one will be set free.

·        I need silence in order to surrender. I need surrender in order to find peace and contentment. I realized, for myself, yoga is my path towards these things.

·        This is the pattern of my life: to question and sometimes break my beliefs again and again. But each time, the right ones for me come back all the stronger.

I started my practice again today. My back is still tight, my mind too busy, and the worries of the world still intrude. But I feel better. It is a new beginning.
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Jessica Gale has practiced yoga for nine years and studied Ashtanga, Kripalu and Dharma Yoga during this time. She spent the last three years studying intensely at Dharma Yoga Syracuse, New York and completed her LOAY 200-Hour Teacher Training at the Dharma Yoga New York Center in May 2012. She is currently completing her internship hours and hopes to achieve full certification soon. 

Five Ways To Conquer Cravings

By Sara Schwartz



I used yoga to quit smoking. I did so after I noticed that after my Power Vinyasa class I was less eager to grab a cigarette. It also turned out that I liked the taste of fresh air, so when I decided to give up smoking, I just figured I would do a ton of yoga and it would be easy.

Turns out that quitting smoking was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The craving struck and sat like a piece of lead on my throat and tongue. Sometimes, it settled around the center of my chest. The craving created a real physical ache as well as annoying mental repetitions. “If I only had… I would feel better…”

To break a habit you have to use the force of willpower and willpower is essentially the movement of the spirit. You need willpower to move through a craving. Logically, cravings just cause us mental pain, and this mental pain is the feeling of an old habit breaking. To pass through cravings is to be in touch with the divine force of will. In a craving you can sense the movement of your spirit, strengthening your connection to your spiritual anatomy.

The second time I came face to face with intense cravings was during my Dharma Yoga Life of aYogi 500-Hour Teacher Training when we were instructed to follow a fairly strict vegan diet.

“Food is a very emotional experience,” LOAY Director Adam Frei told us. I thought to myself: I don’t have any emotional issues with food – I’ll eat anything!  But then, I realized I couldn’t have my Chai Tea Latte and I cried! Chocolate cake, even though I never ate it, became my newest obsession. But I stuck with the diet; I ate my salads and drank my juices. At first my body didn’t feel very good. I was tired and hungry all the time. I realized I was detoxing. Then I adjusted and began to feel calmer, cleaner, and my yoga practice felt solid.

Overcoming my cravings meant I had to stake out uncomfortable territory. I had to re-visit what I had done when I quit smoking. 

Here are five ways to get rid of cravings and live a healthier life:

    • Make a list of why you want to give something up and allow that to become your mantra. Why would I want to follow a yogic diet? Because “healthy body, healthy mind”. So when I craved chocolate cake I asked myself “does this cake cultivate a healthy body better than a banana?” Of course the banana wins this round!
    • Take one day, one moment, and one breath at a time. This is what they say in Alcoholics Anonymous and I used it to quit smoking. Each morning I would think, “today I am not going to smoke.” If during the day the craving was bad I would think: “right now, I am choosing not to smoke.” If I was in front of a store ready to jump in and buy a pack of cigarettes, I would think “now I am inhaling; now I am exhaling” as I breathed.
    • Read spiritual literature. Sri Dharma Mittra recommends this all the time! When you are feeling uninspired and uncertain, the Bhagavad Gita can point you in a good direction. Arjuna also didn’t know why he was supposed to fight, and Krishna gives him a ton of reasons why he should. Sometimes you might not be sure why you’re fighting your cravings, so you too can apply Krishna’s counsel.
    • Practice Pranayama. It can be as simple as a square breath: Inhaling for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four. If the craving is strong you might try a stronger, more complicated Pranayama: like Nadi Shodana with Kumbakha (alternate nostril breathing with breath retentions). As Swami Sivananda said “the veil is removed by the practice of Pranayama. After the veil is removed the real nature of the soul is realized.”
    • Remove the tempters. Clean your kitchen of those culprit foods. When you shop at the grocery store first go to the fruit and vegetable section. When I tried to quit smoking I stopped going to the smoker’s corner on my lunch break and I went to the park instead.
These are just techniques to test out in the laboratory of your own experience. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a cigarette or a piece of chocolate cake. After I had decided to quit smoking I slipped up for a good year before I was actually able to buckle down and commit to a daily yoga practice. During the LOAY Teacher Training Diet one day I walked into a Starbucks and had a cup of tea and a scone and enjoyed every moment of the sugary and caffeinated goodness. But the next day I woke up and was back on track.
Over the long run the cravings get less and less. And now, three years later, if I smell a cigarette it makes me feel sick. Now, most sweets are too sweet for me since I spent half a year not eating sugar.

You can create the life you imagine! It just takes time, awareness, and as Sri Dharma says, a little bit of ‘angry determination’ to get back up again after you fall.

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Sara Schwartz lives in Queens, New York with her husband Yancy. She currently teaches at Yoga to the People, where she received her 200-hour certification in 2010. She recently graduated from the Dharma Yoga Center Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training. “Offer up the fruits of your practice” is her favorite advice from Sri Dharma Mittra. She is very grateful for the guidance of Sri Dharma and all of his teachers.

Are You a REAL Yoga Teacher?


By Melody Abella

As part of the 2012 Arts Festival Day at an elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia, my friend & fellow Dharma Yoga teacher, Brittanie DeChino, and I volunteered to do a few yoga demonstrations to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. 
 We taught them sound breathing (a breathing technique we learned from Sri Dharma Mittra), sun salutations, balancing poses, partner yogaand a few other fun things. It was a nice change from my daily office yoga gigs.
At the end of each 20-minute presentation, we opened it up for a few questions from the kids. In the last group, which was about 75 fifth-graders, one girl asked: “Are you real  yoga teachers?” Of course, we said with a smile. “We are real yoga teachers.” Though now I’m thinking, what is a realyoga teacher?
From an educational standpoint in the United States, the Yoga Alliance defines the educational requirements to be considered a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) with their organization. Is being an RYT enough to be considered a real yoga teacher? I say no. In fact, you can become a RYT and not ever teach an actual yoga class. Or you can become a RYT and teach yoga classes every day – though I don’t think whether you teach yoga classes or not makes you a real yoga teacher either.
To me what makes a real yoga teacher is someone who shows up in life doing their best in every moment. Someone who shows up in life for other people – helping others, giving to others, and not expecting anything in return (AKA Karma Yoga). Someone who inspires others naturally through their actions.
To me a real yoga teacher honors the universal vows of yama (sutra 2.30) and niyama (sutra 2.32). And if a “teacher” only follows the first yama of ahimsa (nonviolence in thought, word and action), to me they are a realyoga teacher.
To quote my teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra: “Without ahimsa, there is no yoga.” He’s right. How we treat others is way more important than whether we can put our legs behind our head…
A real yoga teacher takes time to pause daily –whether it’s to move (asana), meditate, or just simply open a yoga text, like The Yoga Sutrasor The Bhagavad Gita, and reflect.

A real yoga teacher is a truth seeker – someone who is following their heart and sharing from the heart. As Sri Dharma always says, the goal of yoga is self-realization.
So how is yoga related to art (a question posed by one bright fourth-grader later that day)? Brittanie explained to her that practicing yoga calms you, which creates space within you, opening you up to endless amounts of creativity. And as I type this, I realize that teaching yoga is an art, just as living yoga is an artistic journey. Both take constant practice, dedication and an open heart to whatever and whoever shows up in the moment. Isn’t this all art?
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Passionate about sharing the power of yoga & its transformational benefits, Melody Abella founded a mobile yoga business (abellaYoga) in 2006. abellaYoga travels to corporate and private clients in Washington, D.C., Alexandria and Arlington, VA to teach yoga in homes, offices, hotels, and conference centers. Grateful for experiences gained in the telecom/tech corporate world, this ex-marketing yoga-chick is happy to share all she knows about yoga. Believing through discipline and devotion we have the power within to make positive changes in our bodies, lives and this world, Melody teaches her students “anything is possible”. Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says you must have “angry determination.” Melody received her 500-hour Dharma Yoga Teacher certification in May 2012. She continues to hop the train from DC to NYC monthly to practice with Sri Dharma Mittra at the Dharma Yoga New York Center.

~Teacher Profile of the Month~


Chikako Mizokami
 
Chikako teachesDharma II on Tuesday & Thursday mornings, 10:30 – 11:45 AM.
1.    Where were you born?
CM: Japan!
2.  What do you do when you don’t teach yoga?
CM: Practice yoga off the mat. I believe yoga is a living science and it comes fully alive when we integrate the teachings into our everyday life.
3.  What are three things that are always in your fridge?
CM: My photographer friend said my fridge is a farmer’s market; she was amused and took pictures.
4.  What is your favorite vegetarian restaurant in the area?
CM: It was Kajitsu until recently, but now I have to find my new favorite.
5.  What is one practice you must do every single day?
CM: Connect and give gratitude to our divine mother, Gaia. We are all stewards of the Earth.

Chikako met Sri Dharma Mittra in 2007, and according to her, he inspired her commitment to the overall practice and lifestyle of yoga. She never really thought she would teach, being quite shy typically, but for her the process has unfolded quite naturally. As a student in her class, one would never guess that she ever had any hesitations about teaching.
She is greatly inspired by healing, as well as the transformations she has witnessed in students – especially those who begin to incorporate meditation, pranayama, and Yoga Nidra into their lives consistently. While the goal of yoga may be Self-Realization, she also recognizes that the path helps us examine our tendencies and unfold our individual dharma (meaning our highest purpose, or most authentic life path).
For Chikako, the practices of yoga are like a roadmap that helps us find our true selves. In her words, they are “like the most high-tech GPS you can imagine – like a celestial GPS; instead of going through the satellite, it goes right to the source”. This is the main thing she hopes to give her students – a deeper sense of connection to their Supreme Self.
Author/interviewer: Danielle Gray, Online Media Manager at DYNYC