Category Archives: sutras

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.

Ahimsa and Veganism

by Susan Craig

“The most violent weapon on earth is the table fork.” Mahatma Gandhi

I became a vegan nearly 30 years ago – long before I found Sri Dharma. My decision to stop eating animals was born out of a very hopeless period in my life when I was severely abused. During that darkest days of my life I made a pact with myself that, as small and inconsequential as my life seemed to be, knowing what it felt like to be abused and to be treated as if I had no value, I would do my best not to treat others as if they had no value. This decision included non-human animals; the least that I could do was to stop eating them. Little did I know that this decision, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, would take me on a most amazing journey which recently included finding Sri Dharma Mittra as my yoga teacher.

While the deep pain in my life did not suddenly dissipate as a result of becoming a vegan, I did experience some immediate benefits. My overall physical health improved quickly and dramatically (To this day, at nearly 60 years old, I am far healthier than I was in my teens  and twenties.). Along with that, issues around body image and eating that had been a source of personal torture since my teens disappeared and never returned. These were miracles!

With veganism as a non-negotiable core value, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, I began the slow and arduous climb out of the deep pit that I found myself in. While I have utilized many additional means of recovery support along the way, I believe that the deepest and most profoundly transformative decision that I have made has been to become a vegan. Sri Dharma’s core teachings around Ahimsa certainly support this.

It is a rare individual who has not eaten animal flesh, dairy, and eggs. We have been born into cultures that treat food animals as commodities meant to be eaten. From birth we have been indoctrinated into a culture that tells us that we must consume animals, that it is normal and necessary for health. Upon questioning this indoctrination, however, we find that it is based upon false information. The human body is designed to thrive on a vegan diet. Additionally, on a deeper, spiritual level, the simple act of changing what we put on our plates at each meal – the decision not to participate in the abuse and slaughter of food animals, is liberating  beyond words. The benefits extend far beyond one’s health and spiritual development. As the effects of climate change become become increasingly evident, numerous sources of scientific research indicate that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming. (Perhaps the law of Karma is at work here…as we reap, so shall we sew.) What a blessing that, by choosing a plant-based diet, we are improving our own health, we are ceasing to participate in wide-spread violence towards sentient beings, and we are drastically reducing our contribution to the environmental stress on the planet!

In June 2015, I participated in the deeply transformative 200 hour LOAY training with Sri Dharma Mittra. Prior to making the decision to go through the LOAY training, as I searched for my yoga teacher, I started with one screening requirement: I needed a teacher who practiced and taught veganism as a core requirement of being a yogi. This one requirement narrowed the field of potential teachers down to few enough that I could count them on the fingers of one hand. Out of these few, I found myself drawn to Sri Dharma – his wisdom, dedication to his practice and to selfless service, his humility and egoless presence, and his fidelity to practicing and teaching the Yama of Ahimsa or non-violence. Ahimsa literally means A=not, himsa= killing or violence. In the LOAY Teachers’ Manual (2015, p. 4) Sri Dharma says, “Ahimsa means love; ‘thou shalt not kill!’ This applies not only to human beings, but to every living creature.”

Sri Dharma is one of the only yoga teachers of whom I am aware who does not shy away from teaching the yama of Ahimsa to his students truthfully. He regularly states while teaching that one must extend one’s compassion beyond one’s pets and that when one eats animals one is engaging in cruelty. He talks about how when one consumes animal products, one’s body becomes a morgue. In Sri Dharma’s words, “Without taking on the yama of ahimsa, there is little benefit to observing the other four yamas or any other aspect of the holy science of yoga.” (LOAY Teachers’ Manual, p. 5) I know, from the center of my soul, that this information is true and correct. The decision to become a vegan as a core component of one’s practice of Ahimsa will deepen and strengthen one’s  yoga practice. It will simultaneously improve the quality of one’s life immeasurably while benefiting other beings and the health of the planet. I highly recommend it!

Note: For additional information on the benefits of veganism that this blog has room for, I recommend reading The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle and viewing the documentary, Cowspiracy.

Susan Craig is a Berkeley, California native who participated in the transformational June 2015 LOAY 200 hour training. Susan strives to practice Karma Yoga each day in her job as a school district administrator where she oversees support services for marginalized youth, as an advocate for animals through vegan activism, and as a teacher of a weekly donation-based yoga class. She resides in Napa in the home of the four cats and a rabbit who rescued her. Susan is most grateful to have found Dharma Yoga and to have Dharma Mittra as her yoga teacher and spiritual guide.

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.

Self-Practice with B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga

By Jessica Dodd

Gale_Super_Dancerpose

My self-practice of yoga began in a small village made up of five families, tucked away in the historic Basque valley of Northern Spain. Using B.K.S. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga as a guide, I rolled out my mat each day and practiced yoga. The room I stayed in had a beautiful bareness, located in a mere corner space of an old adobe building, with gorgeous blue frame windows that let in the light. Before practice each day I swept the floor which collected dust quickly. It was in this room that I developed the confidence to practice on my own.

Studying Light on Yoga played an important role in my development as a yogi. The text begins simply with “What is Yoga?”  As a recent college graduate who spent four years earning a bachelor’s of fine art in sculpture, this was the perfect introduction for me.  I had decided to change hats from learning and expressing myself through three-dimensional art to using my skills as a maker and give back more significantly to the world. I turned to small-scale organic farming, a respectable way of life that brings nourishment to the people. This journey of giving back and serving others led me to work on many parts of my being.

I had been traveling and volunteering on small family farms for a year when I arrived in that tiny town of Spain. I read through Iyengar’s opening words in Light on Yoga multiple times. I appreciated his straightforward writing which clearly illustrates the techniques, history, and path of yoga.

If it were not for his book, it may have been some time before I attempted to study the sacred science of yoga. Iyengar’s descriptive photographs were helpful to a beginner without a guru to learn from in person. He provides a thorough text describing the philosophy and practice of yoga that gives his readers a clear understanding well beyond a beginner level. I immediately began applying the Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances) on and off the mat. These codes of conduct helped me to realize yoga was not just done on a mat or cushion, but rather the practice was with me always.

Light_On_Yoga_BKS_Iyengar

With the book as my guide and my inner being as my greatest teacher, I practiced confidently on my own. Abhaya (non-fear) was a constant in my mind. I released any fear towards the practice of yoga. Instead I embraced it with the entirety of my being and learned to stay in the moment. Doing so helped me to consider the effects of my difficult childhood as cause for some of my personal traits as an adult. Once I learned to dislike only the actions done by persons of my life, rather than the persons themselves, I became free of ill feelings and full of forgiveness.

Iyengar’s fourfold remedy to overcome common obstacles, which were drawn from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, were also at the forefront of my thoughts. Maitri (friendliness) taught me to connect more easily with new people I met when I traveled. Karuna (compassion) was the backbone of my decision to work only for room and board on each small family farm as most farmers have very little money. Mudita (delight) enveloped me as I admired each farmer for their talents and the beautiful bounties they produced for their communities. Upeksa (disregard) helped me through challenges with other persons, reminding me to first look within myself.

Light on Yoga is a sacred book in my collection. Though I do not practice a classical Iyengar style of yoga today, I believe this book helped me develop a strong foundation for my practice. Learning to manage fiery dedication, honoring the light within, and being light at heart takes courage. Today I have that courage and I look forward to sharing it with others within the Dharma Yoga community and beyond.

Jessica_DoddJessica Dodd is a craftswoman living in the mountains of Western North Carolina.  She founded and runs a sustainable textile business that focuses on organic linens naturally dyed with plants.  Her yoga practice is present in all threads of her life.  She enjoys living a simple homestead lifestyle, getting her hands dirty tending the soils, and preparing meals for others.  She participated in the Dharma Yoga LOAY Teacher Training in February 2014.

Comparison: The Thief of Joy

by Rachel Carr

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt

Comparison and competition go hand in hand. Without comparison, there’s no need to compete. Without competition, there’s no need to compare. If there is one thing that yoga has taught me, it’s to let go of my competitive edge and “release any expectations of the fruit of my actions.” The practice is not about the achievement, but rather, the journey. In order to succeed on the path of yoga, one must refrain from comparing oneself to others.

I like to think I have a good handle on this. However, recently I almost walked away from my hard earned career as yoga teacher. That’s right, this Fall, I became so frustrated with the yoga industry that I started polishing up my resume, convinced it was time for me to get a “real job.” Even participating in the life-changing experience that is the LOAY 500-Hour teacher training with Sri Dharma Mittra did little to pull me out of how I was feeling. I was losing my footing on a path to which I felt so connected, and what is important to me as a yoga teacher and student started to become very unclear.

After much introspection and self-reflection I realized that the reason I was feeling this way all boiled down to comparison. Without knowing it, I was comparing myself to all of my peers in my community, especially in the digital and social media world, and it was making me second-guess everything I so fervently believed in. This realization completely humbled me, but at the same time propelled me forward.

My comparison to others was stealing my joy. 

I was so unhappy with how I was measuring up to others’ perceived success, that I was stopped paying attention to the good work I was doing. I have always believed there is a yoga practice and teacher for everyone. Like attracts like. You serve the students who show up to your classes and remain unconcerned by those who don’t. I have never believed that standing on your hands is a prerequisite for being a good yoga teacher, but in these past few months I let my ego lead the way and started to believe that was true. Self-defeating stories swirled through my head. “You’re not good enough.” “You’re not popular enough.” “Why can’t you do more?”

On second thought, perhaps my intention should be to stop caring so much about what others think about me. 

When you think about it, they go hand in hand. I wouldn’t feel the need to compare if didn’t worry so much what others thought about me and my ability to teach and practice yoga.

In theory, letting go of comparison seems easy enough, but in reality, there is a lot of work to be done. My first action step is to take breaks from social media on regular basis, and spend more time on my practice, relationships with friends and family, and writing. It’s so easy to be consumed by what appears before your very eyes. We are inundated with so much unwanted messaging these days.

Further, when the stories start to swirl, I’ll reconnect with the teachings. Sri Dharma says that instead of comparing yourself to someone else, you should see him or her as yourself. For example, if someone is doing an asana that you are still working on, then you think, “look, that is me. Look what a good job I am doing!” Instead of the ego driven, “why can’t I do that? I’ll never be able to do that. I must not be that good.”

This brings to mind Yoga Sutra 1.33 and the four keys to happiness. We are all made of the same eternal consciousness, so everything we experience is already experienced by all. What you can or cannot do is based on conditions from your karmas (previous actions). So you do your best, but know that everything is perfect just as it is. This is true contentment (Santosha). It doesn’t really matter what you can or cannot do physically, but what’s happening on the inside that matters most.

 

This post first appeared on the Blog Capricious Yogi.

Rachel Carr

 

Rachel Carr, E-RYT 200, RPYT,  is a Washington, DC based yoga teacher currently working on her Dharma Yoga LOAY 500-hour Teacher Training certification. She completed an interdisciplinary 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2008 and has been teaching ever since. In 2011, she participated in the Off the Mat, Into the World Leadership Training and became a Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher (RPYT) in 2012. She chronicles her yoga journey on her blog, Capricious Yogi.

Contentment – Discovered in a Bad Yoga Class

by Melody Abella

“By contentment, supreme joy is gained.”  sutra 2.42

Santosha is the Sanskrit word for contentment.  It’s first mentioned in The Yoga Sutras among the list of five niyamas. 
·        Side note:  My take on the niyamas is they guide our internal compass.  They’re ethical principles (or observances) that strengthen our character and guide us to live life in the best, most purest way possible.  As a result, they help us shine in a way that inspires others to live richer lives.  Richer meaning all the wealth we truly need is deep within, and not found held in a bank account.


©Jeffrey Vock
Back to santosha/contentment:

In my yoga studies, I’ve seen many deep definitions on contentment.  From a simple idea like contentment is being able to appreciate and live in the present moment to a more thought-provoking description of “Contentment is perfected in the absence of cravings.  It is the experience that nothing is lacking, that everything happens is an integral part of a Divine Plan.” (Inside the Yoga Sutras by Jaganath Carrera)

It’s often said that we already have everything we need.  Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says “all is within.” 

Our culture wants us to believe we need “things” or other people to make us happy.  The “things” list is long but a few examples:  new toys (cars, bikes, clothes, accessories), fancy restaurants, botox, a different boyfriend/husband/family.  You get the drift. 


The path of yoga leads us in the opposite direction…let go of external desires and internal contentment will be discovered.  The process of discovering contentment requires a huge mound of trust, courage and attention though. 


©Jeffrey Vock
It takes a lot of trustto follow a notion, such as the niyama contentment, when no one is there to hold your hand and lead you through the dark moments of life.  It also takes a lot of courage to fully step in and feel life as it is happening – feeling the awesome, okay, bad, scary and all the sensations in between that show up.  It takes a lot of payingattention to the present experience – being in it, as it is and not mentally jumping ahead to what’s happening 5 hours later the day.
Total confession here…I took a not so great yoga class recently in DC and it was there that I experienced santosha in a new way. 

So I signed up for what was listed as a vinyasa yoga /intermediate level class.  Let’s just say after starting in a restorative pose for ten plus minutes and not getting into my first Downward Facing Dog until twenty minutes into class, I was not content…

Thanks to my Grandmother’s constant words of wisdom, I reminded myself that there is always something new to learn in every situation in life.  Though I continued to find myself way too often checking the clock, realizing I had no idea the end time for the class and feeling I was stuck there.  Then I thought “I’m stuck here for a reason”.  That’s when I settled in and tried to make the best of it.


I can’t say I learned anything “new” from the teacher but I had a total realization that my life could be way worse.  Here I was on a Sunday morning surrounded by 40 or so others in a yoga class, bending and stretching in ways that many people aren’t able to do.  I have a healthy body and a great life.  The sun was coming out and I had a full day off ahead.  Life could be so much worse.  It was there and then I reminded myself of santosha.

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Passionate about sharing the power of yoga & its transformational benefits, Melody Abella founded a mobile yoga business 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.



Dharma Yoga Across The US

Q & A with Dharma Yoga teachers in the US…

This week: Monica Breen

– Detroit, Michigan  


By Nicole Sopko

Monica Breen is a lovely Dharma Yoga teacher who is also an artist in the Detroit-area. Her yoga studio is called BE NICE Yoga which was named in tribute to Sri Dharma Mittra’s emphasis on the first ethical rule of yoga, Ahimsa, instructing students to “just be nice.”

Where do you live?

I live in Hamtramck, Michigan, which is a little city of only two square miles, surrounded by the city of Detroit. It is probably the most culturally diverse community in Michigan, strongly represented by Polish, Arab, Indian, Yugoslav, Bangladeshi, and African American people. I’m grateful for my community! I live in an old Baptist Church (the former First Baptist Church of Hamtramck) with my husband and two rescued cats.



Which LOAY trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?
I completed the LOAY 200-hour training in 2005. I was inspired by my immediate connection to Sri Dharma’s teachings, which I felt after I dropped into one of his classes at the old studio on East 23rd Street. I returned to Michigan and continued to think about our meeting and I realized that the LOAY training had the potential to be a unique experience. I was correct!

I really responded to Dharma’s strong emphasis on the spiritual aspects of practice and its intersection with the sciences. In addition, Sri Dharma shares so many great and funny stories and it’s coupled with practical advice! His emphasizes on compassion, especially for animals is important as we enter into the seat of a teacher in our community.



How have the people you met in the training inspired you?
Our group was quite diverse with individuals from many different cities, countries, and backgrounds. I was impressed with the strong yoga asana! I made great strides with my postures by being immersed in the group, and at the same time I was completely humbled.

What is one practice that you do every day?
Seated meditation.

What are you currently working on?

I operate a little yoga studio in Detroit by the name of BE NICE Yoga. As a subsidiary of the studio we launched Project Social which is a program of events and activities which are developed by and for the community. The idea is to allow a space for the community to share and “test” knowledge and life practices which have been discovered or enhanced through the practice of yoga.

I think of Project Social as a lab where the studio community can bring their healthy and unique interests into a larger, social context. An example of a Project Social event is our upcoming Silent Nature Walk which we hope will serve to help us better appreciate nature and to investigate the intersection of ecology and yoga – all while forming stronger social bonds in our community.

Project Social aspires to many outcomes: to create interconnection between our practice and community, to be a platform for political and social exchange, to open a forum for sharing information that relates to health and well-being, and to deepen friendships within and beyond our yoga community. So far the response has been great!



How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY teacher training program affected your life outside of training?

From the program I learned that a strong and fulfilling lifestyle develops from the rigors and discipline of continued practice. With consistency and determination the division between practice and life all but disappears. Dharma helped me establish a holistic practice that includes a healthy spirituality, which is no less real or important as a healthy body or a healthy mind.

Can you share a little about your current teaching schedule?

I instruct 13 classes a week, mostly asana but include pranayama and meditation in many of my classes. My overriding philosophy is that we must meet our practice with a balance of determination and compassion. We must also be consistent. Practice evolves on a schedule that is very different than anything else we experience in our life and its timeline is much longer than I believe we really understand. I am always surprised along the way at how much I have learned and how little I actually know.



What books are you currently reading or studying?
I was just gifted the book How Yoga Works by Christie McNally and Michael Roach and I’m very excited to read it. And as always, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali…

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Nicole Sopko(Gopi Om) is a Dharma Yoga teacher living in Chicago, IL where she teaches Dharma Yoga and operates a nationwide vegan natural food company alongside her (life) partner. She takes great care to be always aware of the ways in which these two responsibilities intersect and spends her time promoting compassion in all forms. She is a dedicated and loving student of Sri Dharma’s and visits New York as frequently as possible to absorb the benefits of his holy teachings in person.

Yoga’s Little Secret: Pranayama

by Melody Abella

 “…the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled.  This is pranayama.”  sutra 2.49

Pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Outside of the yoga world, no one talks about fully dedicating attention to your breath unless you’re hyperventilating or experience some other health issue like pneumonia or asthma.  Even then, in my limited experience, the medical world rarely knows what the power of conscious breathing has to offer.

To the general population of non-yogis, yoga is typically only associated with physical movements/poses (asana).  Don’t get me wrong.  Yoga asana offers a ton of benefits such as improving balance and coordination, increasing strength and flexibility and boosting confidence and concentration.  There are many, many reasons to do it.  And in most asana classes, breathing is usually mentioned and encouraged but it tends to be secondary in the minds of many students (at least those newer to asana).

Pranayama (breath control) is really the heart and soul of yoga, just as breathing (the exchange of oxygen and carbon-dioxide) is essential to keeping our hearts pumping and blood flowing.  The benefits of exploring pranayama can be as grand as easing high blood pressure and asthmatic symptoms to as simple as cleansing the body and calming the mind.

There are numerous pranayama techniques, each having their own specific function and benefit.  For instance:

·        Kapalabhati cleanses the lungs, warms the body and tones the abdominal muscles. 

·        Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) has a calming and balancing effect on the nervous system. 

·        Sound breathing improves concentration and can positively shift your energy (i.e. awakening the chakras). 

For details on some of these techniques, check out The Science of Pranayama.  If the techniques I’ve mentioned sound too esoteric (which I get!), Max Strom’s Learn to Breathe DVD might be your speed.

My current fav:  Calming Breath.  Why?  It’s easy.  Anyone can do it.  Plus, it can be done anywhere, anytime. 

Simple instructions:  

  • Work with a 4:2:4 breathing ratio for a few weeks (5-10 minutes a day). 
  • This means inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 4.  
  • As this gets easy, you can increase the ratio to 6:3:6, or 8:4:8.  
  • Don’t be too ambitious.  Remember it’s called calming breath so more doesn’t mean better.
Again in my mind, pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Trust me, this  blog post here really doesn’t do it justice!  Explore it for yourself.  Read up on it.  Find a yoga teacher who can guide you and answer your questions.  And just like asana, practice it daily.

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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.