Category Archives: kirtan

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.

Sri Dharma’s Humble Power Helped This Popular Teacher Find His Way

By Jerome Burdi

Mark Kan’s reputation preceded him during my 500-hour teacher training at Dharma Yoga Center. Some of his students from London came to learn with Sri Dharma Mittra and they told me about how challenging Mark’s class was. It’s a good thing I like challenges.

Mark was one of the mentors during the training and offered a master class during it. The class was intense, a hail of inversions and a flow of physical postures that didn’t seem to stop. The class ended only because we ran out of time. Mark could have kept going. But myself and most others were ready for the sweet dreamless sleep of savasana, which was beautiful.

Though Mark’s classes are physically challenging, if you’re receptive, you can also pick up on the spirituality coming through the class. That’s because Mark, despite being as comfortable on his hands as he is his feet, is more than just the asanas. He’s a sadhaka who is extremely reverent and grateful to Sri Dhamra Mittra.

I caught up with Mark recently while he was in New York mentoring a 200-hour training at the center.

Q: How did your yoga journey begin?

A: My yoga journey began when my life was “in the meantime.” I was a little lost and I was disillusioned with my [graphic design] career and compensating that with a very disruptive social life.

My upbringing began in the Catholic tradition so I always had this spiritual seed that was planted but never really germinated because of things that happened when I was a young adult. My parents got ill and passed away when I was in my 20s and that was a difficult time. I lost my path and lost my faith. I ambled half way through my 30s just thinking I wanted to get by. That’s when I started to think I needed something else. Some colleagues I was working with were practicing yoga so I decided to give it a try.

Q: What did you find once you started yoga?

A: I felt like I needed more of a spiritual path. Unfortunately the teachers I was turning to weren’t that spiritual. It was asana focused but there was no one to guide me anywhere. I realized they had the same weaknesses as me. And I thought, ‘Where do we go from here?’

But I carried on with the practice. I practiced Sivananda Yoga, Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Bikram Yoga, I tried everything and I enjoyed the challenges that they brought. And then, very suddenly, my eldest brother died in his sleep. It was such a difficult time for me. I was really heartbroken. I was just lost for a whole year. I didn’t know who to turn to. There was no one to turn to except my siblings. We were all struggling to work out how this could have happened, why it happened. Who could do this to us?

One afternoon after practicing Bikram Yoga, I was browsing around their book shop and I came across the 608 asana book [by Sri Dharma Mittra]. I was just flicking through it and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a proper yogi.’ Just looking at the poses and seeing the message that was coming from the poses. You look at people doing asana now, and it’s very impressive, very gymnastic and graceful but with Dharma’s poses you just felt that power coming through them. And you just think, ‘Somebody’s worked very hard to get to that stage and he’s gone through every conceivable process to get there.’

But I thought he wasn’t alive anymore because the pictures looked old!

Shortly after, I was practicing Ashtanga Yoga and my teacher mentioned that Dharma Mittra was coming to London. I was really blown away by that. He was coming in February 2006. I booked the whole weekend on the basis of this book.

Q: What was it like to meet Sri Dharma?

A: I went and saw a short man, like myself, just wandering around, no ego there, just looking really quiet and content.

That day was a big turning point for me. Before he did any asanas, he sat everybody down and started talking about God dwelling in the right side of your heart. I’d been in such a dark place for so long because of my brother’s death. So it was just like somebody picking you up and holding you and saying everything was going to be alright. He switched a light on in a really dark heart. I felt everything was going to start be be OK as I sat and listened to him intensely. Up until that point I still ate meat and when he spoke about going vegetarian, it made so much sense. That evening I went home and there was chicken in the fridge and there was shrimp in the freezer. I just took it out and threw it in the bin and it’s never been back since.

Q: How was the practice?

A: The actual practice that day blew me away. I thought I was quite good at the time. I was in a room full of London’s most advanced yogis and it shocked me. As far as the asana goes, I thought, ‘That’s really challenged my ego.’ I realized if I want to develop my asanas, how far I needed to go.

Becoming a yoga teacher

After his fateful meeting with Sri Dharma, Mark went to northern India and spent time in the Sivananda ashram where he became certified as a yoga teacher. Upon returning to London, he still thought about Sri Dharma and felt a calling to practice with him again, which he did, in February 2008 for the 500-hour training. Mark said it was amazing practicing and learning with the sangha at the former Dharma Yoga East.

When Mark went back to London and started teaching Dharma Yoga, it was an instant hit. And it has continued to grow. There are now about 15 Dharma Yoga certified teachers teaching in the London area.

Mark usually practices two hours a day, channeling Sri Dharma through his asana, and it shows in his stunning practice and teachings.

“I’m still honored to be in his presence,” Mark said at the Dharma Yoga Center as the sun was shining through the windows. “Look at this city, look at what goes on and we’re all here. I could be out there doing anything but I just want to be here. That’s the measure of him.”

With a laugh, he added, “Another thing to end on is he never knows my name. He thinks I’m Mike from Hong Kong.”

 

 

Jerome Burdi is a Brooklyn native who discovered yoga during a shamanic retreat in Brazil in 2010. Since then, he’s been enveloped by the path of the yogi. He left his job as a newspaper journalist to go to Rishikesh, India, and become a yoga teacher. Upon returning to NYC, he discovered Dharma Yoga and has been hooked. Though Jerome grew up in NY, he had to go to India to come back and see Sri Dharma with clear eyes and to hear the truth that is Dharma Yoga. Jerome is also a Middle Eastern style percussionist and holistic nutritionist

Jerome Burdi is a Brooklyn native who discovered yoga during a shamanic retreat in Brazil in 2010. Since then, he’s been enveloped by the path of the yogi. He left his job as a newspaper journalist to go to Rishikesh, India, and become a yoga teacher. Upon returning to NYC, he discovered Dharma Yoga and has been hooked. Though Jerome grew up in NY, he had to go to India to come back and see Sri Dharma with clear eyes and to hear the truth that is Dharma Yoga. Jerome is also a Middle Eastern style percussionist and holistic nutritionist.

The Magic of Mantra, Japa and Kirtan

by Martin Scott

I didn’t know it at the time, but Sri Dharma was present at the beginnings of my practice.

I was very musical as a child, forming an extremely tight bond with music at a very young age.  My first piano lesson was the same day as my first day of first grade and I played my last recital my senior year of high school.  I joined the school band in fourth grade playing the tenor saxophone, then went through a bunch of different instruments – French horn, trumpet, flute, oboe, tuba, baritone – until I quit band my junior year in high school.

I would save my allowance and ask my dad to drive me to the store so I could spend hours perusing records before I finally made the decision as to which one of the many-coveted vinyl discs would end up living with the other beloveds I had so carefully chosen.  I would spend hours in my room memorizing every word to every song and commit to memory every melody.  This passion for all kinds of music grew with me all the way through adulthood.

With this deep-rooted love for music I’ve always loved chanting in yoga classes.  I was first introduced to this part of the practice by my teacher, Stephanie Snyder, and it quickly became my favorite part of the class.  She always began and ended her classes with different a chant every time.  At first I just loved the melodies, the smile that these lovely tunes always put on my face and the overwhelming sense of happiness that stayed with me with once they were done.  I listened very carefully to learn the words so that I could sing along, enunciating each word and working hard to be right on key, which was made a little easier since she plays the harmonium.  When I got home from class I would look up these chants online to learn the words and their meanings.  I was certain that knowing the translations would make me understand them even more.

One of my favorite chants that I learned, and the most mysterious of all, was the Purification Mantra.  Stephanie told us that she had learned it from her teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra.  She told us how this powerful mantra would purify anything that the sound touched, including the mind, the practice, everything.  I found myself chanting the Purification Mantra when I was washing dishes, when I was riding my scooter, out for a walk, settling in for my practice – all the time!  I asked Stephanie what it meant and she told me that she didn’t know and that I didn’t need to know and that it is more powerful when you don’t know the meaning.  This piqued my interest.

I started to realize that the effects of the mantras were what was making me feel so clear and grounded, not the happy tune or the words.  The repetition of the words were calming my mind, clearing things out and giving me that feeling of peace and calm.

“Many students of meditation and spiritual life complain of a noisy mind, out of control senses, and emotional challenges. One of the most significant, single suggestions of the ancient sages is the use of mantra japa, or sacred word to focus the mind. No amount of intellectualizing will convince you of this. It must be practiced for the benefits to be experienced.  Regardless of what mantra you use, one of the most important principles is the practice of constant remembrance. By cultivating such a steady awareness many benefits come.”(www.swamij.com)

When I sit with my mala and chant my mantra 108 times, I almost forget the words that I am saying.  The japa of the mantra calms the vrittis to the point that my own voice becomes a separate entity.  The cadence, rhythm, and repetition of the mantra are the simplest way to “nirodhah the vrittis.” Now I don’t try to figure out the words or what they mean when I learn a new mantra.  I just get into the groove of it and let the mantra work its magic.  These are some of my favorite times with Sri Dharma – comfortably sitting, chanting, responding incessantly what he calls out and feeling the amazing sense of clarity and calm that comes without really knowing what I’m saying.

 

Martin.Scott.HeadshotInspired and passionate, Martin Scott brings a light and humorous energy to every class he teaches; whether in Union Yoga, his own studio, or as messenger of yoga to other communities. Employing a distinct expression of devotion, tradition and levity, Martin teaches in a way that holistically inspires his students. Martin is committed to honoring his teachers, all of which who have led him to a life devoted to the study of yoga, as well as to teaching yoga to others. Most of all, Martin honors his guru, Sri Dharma Mittra

12 Recommendations to Assure Radiant Success in Yoga in 2014 and Beyond

By Sri Dharma Mittra, edited by Adam Frei

 
 
1.    The secrets to success in yoga are constant practice, lots of repetition and perfect obedience to the teacher and the teachings. 

2.   Do something occasionally to radically shift the mental state, i.e.: spiritual singing (Kirtan) with enthusiasm or try sneaking up on someone without a heart condition and scare them.
3.   Come to recognize that Asana (posture practice – the 3rdlimb of yoga) is a great tool and help, is part of the overall process of purification that is yoga and leads to radiant health and wellness when done regularly, but on its own is not yoga.
4.   Hold the breath a little each day, i.e.: do the main breathing (Alternate-nostril Pranayama) each day.
5.   Meditate, but meditate in a way that’s productive. Going into a trance state where you don’t know who or where you are may leave you feeling some bliss, but will not help you to attain Self Knowledge. Study the yoga scriptures and bend the thoughts to always trying to discover the how and why of everything. Then you will indeed make rapid progress in yoga.
6.   Remember G-d always and learn to recognize Him in everything. Be kind to everyone. By placing yourself in others, you develop compassion.
7.   Recognize that making your best effort each day is more important than perfection in the practice.
8.   Engage regularly in Karma Yoga. Taking action dedicated to others and with no expectation of any fruits from said action is a Sadhana or spiritual discipline that is available to all. Do it because it has to be done and expect nothing.
9.    Study scripture / follow something outside yourself to ensure that you are on the path, and not being led astray by the ego.
10.Observe Yama and Niyama – the Ethical Rules and Yogic Observances – the first and second limbs of classical, Eight-limbed Yoga. If you don’t know what they are, find out and put them into practice. Without Yama, there is no yoga.
11.Clean up the “house” (the body) and the diet, or else you go no-where. Eating flesh or other animal products represents a lack of compassion. Work on your compassion every day through the choices you make concerning the manner in which you feed this body since this has a great effect upon the mind and your spiritual progress also.
12.Be receptive. Discover your tendencies and do lots of what helps you to make rapid progress, i.e.: the style of yoga and / or the teacher and techniques best suited to you. Once you find what works for you, do it every day without fail. Then you will surely achieve radiant success in yoga. 
Legendary yoga teacher Sri Dharma Mittra first encountered yoga as a teenager before meeting his Guru in 1964 and beginning his training in earnest. Sri Dharma founded one of the early independent schools of yoga in New York City in 1975 and has taught hundreds of thousands the world over in the years since. Sri Dharma is the model and creator of the “Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures”, the author of ASANAS: 608 Yoga Poses, has released two DVD’s to date – “Maha Sadhana” Levels I and II, and the Yoga Journal book Yoga was based on his famous Master Chart. Sri Dharma continues to disseminate the complete traditional science of yoga through daily classes, workshops and his “Life of aYogi” Teacher Trainings at the Dharma Yoga New York Center and around the world. For more information on all things Dharma, please visit: https://dharmayogacenter.com.

Adam Frei was born in Stamford, Connecticut, grew up in the wilds of West Redding, and is now a New Yorker. After years of mostly solitary Sadhana practice, he found his way to Yogi Sri Dharma Mittra. His entire practice changed during that first Master class, and he must have done something extremely rare and good in a previous incarnation to have finally met the teacher in this lifetime. He is grateful to have taken part in the transformative Dharma Yoga 200 and 500-Hour “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training intensive immersions. They helped him understand that teaching is just one more component of practice as we all strive to copy the teacher in word, thought and deed. He has been teaching at the New York Center and beyond ever since his first teacher training and, after years of involvement with the Teacher Training programs on the staff side, is now blessed to be the director of these programs. 

What is a Mantra?

By Alan C. Haras


©Natasha Phillips

In the 3rd and 4thcenturies, many spiritual seekers left Europe and traveled to the Egyptian deserts to approach wise men and women who had been living prayerful lives looking for God.  When they finally arrived at the cell of these wise men and woman (abba or amma), tradition says that these seekers would ask: “Abba, speak to me a word, by which I might have life.” They might then receive a “prayer-word” or some brief instruction.  The pilgrim would take this “word” back with them to their home country and build their spiritual life around this one “word.” 


In the yogic tradition, these “words of power” are called mantras, and they are traditionally whispered into the ear of the disciple by a guru.  The guru is someone who has realized the essence of a mantra.  The Sanskrit word guru actually means “weighty one”.  These gurus have gravitas, and their words carry a lot of weight.  Because the guru has yoked their mind and heart with Truth, when they are approached by a seeker who is humble and sincere, the Truth emerges from them as the perfect thing the student needs to hear to continue their journey.  Indeed, such words give life to the soul who is thirsty for God.


Traditionally, at the time of initiation one receives a mantra, a mala(rosary) and a spiritual name.  The ceremony marks a new birth for that individual into their spiritual family.  But in order to realize the full benefit of the mantra it should be “awakened and put into action.” 



©Jeffrey Vock


Along with receiving the mantra comes both the permission to us it, as well as transference of psychic power from the master.  The mantra contains within it the enlightened wisdom of the spiritual preceptor, and like a zip file, must be unpacked through continued repetition to reveal its full meaning and power.   


 The word mantra comes from two Sanskrit roots – man or manas which refer to the mind/heart, and tra which means “to protect”.  The root tra also means “to cross over” and comes into English words such as “travel” and “traverse”. 


The practice of mantra protects the mind and heart from distraction, and helps us to cross over the discursive mind.


There are many types of mantras.  Some are used to produce specific results – to overcome illness or to achieve worldly success – while others are employed solely for the purpose of Self-realization.

©Jeffrey Vock

Mantras sung in the spirit of devotion, with melody and rhythm, are known as kirtan– the foundational practice of bhakti yoga.  Other mantras are performed silently, like the Hamsa/Soham mantra which is produced effortlessly by the sound of the incoming and outgoing breath.  But the Guru Mantra is given special importance in the world of mantras. 


The mantra given by one’s guru at the time of initiation provides invisible protection for the disciple, and acts like the “red phone” at the White House during the Cold War – it is a direct line to the Supreme. 


Swami Satyasanghananda says that “the mantra is a link between you and the cosmos, between you and the deeper mysteries of the universe.” The specific number of the syllables in the mantra given by the guru is designed to make up for any deficiencies in the disciple’s aura or energetic body.  The more one recites the mantra, the more one gains spiritual wealth.


By establishing the psychic link with the guru through recitation of the mantra, one becomes receptive to spiritual guidance across all planes of existence, and is able to stir the spiritual awareness which resides in one’s spiritual heart.



As Sri Dharma Mittra says, the outer guru shows you how to find the inner guru, situated in the right side of the heart, in the center of the chest.  The practice of mantra is one proven method for gaining access to this sacred chamber of the heart – the goal of all spiritual disciplines.



1.     Yogi Gupta, Yoga and Yogic Powers (New York, Yogi Gupta, 1958), 52 – 62

2.     Swami Satyasanghananda Sarasvati, Light on the Guru and Disciple Relationship, 101
3.     Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, (Paraclete Press) quote taken from Introduction.

4.     Maha Sadhana bySri Dharma Mittra (DVD) – Spiritual Discourses, The Importance of a Teacher



____________________________________________

Alan Haras (Bhaktadas Om) is the owner of Hamsa Yoga in Lake Orion, Michigan.  He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Michigan State University, is finishing up a two-year training in Spiritual Direction from the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House, and is pursuing his Masters in Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy.  He has been blessed to spend three years studying Advaita Vedanta with Dr. John Grimes, ten years studying the Jivamukti Yoga method, as well as having spent time in India with the late kirtan-wala and bhakti yogi Shyamdas.  In 2012-13, Alan completed the 200, 500 and 800-hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Trainings with Sri Dharma Mittra, made a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  As a teacher, he is deeply grateful for the opportunity to offer “the greatest charity of all” – sharing and promoting spiritual knowledge.

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?
_________________________________________________
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

What I learned from reading the Bhagavad Gita


By Arin Farrington

 I recently re-read the Bhagavad Gita. It is the fourth re-read in 15 years but this time with a different translation. This go around, I found myself reeling from the depth of wisdom, scope of matter, and sheer force of the book. My conclusion is that with every new read, further insight will be presented to the reader and one will come to understand the text more and more.
The Bhagavad Gitais one of mankind’s greatest philosophical achievements. And although we are in a different era than it was written, the message and lessons continue to be relevant in this day and age. I wondered while reading it, “does human nature really evolve?” Perhaps for those who read with an open mind and pure devotional heart and absorb the teachings of the Gita and other sacred Hindu texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Vedas and Upanishads.
The Gitain particular takes the reader deep into his/her very humanness and provides tools for ethical living and eventual evolution. Just as we, as thoughtful human beings, confront our dilemmas and choices, Arjuna hesitated and questioned his role before launching into a battle that led to devastation and destruction. With Krishna’s guidance Arjuna comes to terms with his own nature and most importantly his dharma, or individual responsibility. Arjuna, as a member of the Kshatriya or warrior caste, and as an instrument of the divine, must follow the law of his inner being which has been determined by the actions of all past lives.
The 18 chapters of the Gita, placed in the middle of the much longer epic, Mahabharata, introduce the reader to the main tenets of yoga in action: what it means to practice yoga on all levels. The yogi attempts to “yoke” his/her individual body, mind and spirit self with the divine or greater Self (Atman), which is part of the Universal Self (Brahman, or Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute).  The Gita provides important tools for this purpose! So while we practice asana and pranayama (Hatha yoga) to prepare for Raja yoga, and learn the yoga teachings (Jnana yoga), we are engaging in a form of Karma yoga, all of which are in turn Bhakti yoga, in that the true practitioner is acting in a devotional manner. All yoga can lead to Samadhi (total bliss) resulting from utter concentration and detachment from sense objects.
In Samadhi we may realize one of the Gita’s most important revelations: that we all are One. All actions, all thoughts, all beings are connected; all are minute pieces of the much greater whole. Brahman is within us! The godhead is an ocean which refuses no river. Interestingly enough, this idea echoes throughout history: from the sacred text of Buddhism (the Diamond and Lotus Sutras), the writings of innumerable philosophers (Plato to San Augustine to Hegel), to psychiatry (Jung’sconcept of “synchronicity” hinges on belief in the ultimate “Oneness” of the universe), and science. For example, in modern physics, the four dimensional space-time concept of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also exhibits Oneness, which in Stephen Hawking’s words is: “Space and time not only affect, but also are affected by, everything that happens in the universe.”
In our daily and mostly unexamined lives we mostly live in darkness, maya, brought about by Prakriti, or base nature. We are unable or unwilling to lift the veil of ignorance (avidya) and recognize the true state of things. There is a right path of action (dharma) which creates equilibrium when discovered and embraced. We are all the product of the actions in past lives and these determine our balance of gunas.
Recognizing how the three gunas (rajas, sattva and tamas) combine to influence the way we live is an important step in creating balance. If rajasic, one may be driven by lust and passions that lead to attachment and anger and can poison the chance for liberation and happiness.  If tamasic, one may welcome delusion and may be too lazy to work towards ones best interest. Only in a sattvic state can we be truly peaceful and balanced. The three gunas are reflected in the way we think and act, including what we eat and how we speak. To break the cycle of death and rebirth on the wheel of Samsara, our actions (Karma) must be conscious, but not predicated on the results.
There is a universe of potent ideas, significance and meaning in the Gita, most of which I am sure I have not even fully grasped! For example, in Chapter 11 when Krishna reveals to Arjuna his true form through temporary divine sight, I too am overwhelmed by what I begin to see in the Gita. Unlike Arjuna, I am not terrified. The Gita is a tremendous guide for a peaceful, healthy and liberated life and most certainly a life-long study.
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Arin Farrington will graduate from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 200-hour teaching training in May and hopes to continue with the LOAY 500-hour training this fall. She currently lives in Mexico City, where she is a university professor and freelance writer. Fifteen years ago, a doctor advised yoga for back pain (from poor alignment), and she never looked back—or suffered back pain again. Over the years, she has practiced varied styles and studied with different teachers, all of which have led to Sri Dharma Mittra.

Dharma Yoga Abroad

Q & A with Dharma Yoga teachers around the world…
We’re starting a new blog series to catch up with countrywide and global Dharma Yoga teachers. Find out what they’re up to – teaching in exotic locations, inspiring students all over the globe, and living the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra every day!
This week:
Gerson Frau (Brazil and Mexico)
By Nicole Sopko
Gerson Frauis an inspiring Dharma Yoga teacher who shares his time between Brazil and Mexico. Gerson’s presence (and his accent!) is, in many ways, very much like Sri Dharma Mittra’s. He’s a wonderful teacher who inspires his students, and his attitude is perfectly summed up in his statement: “I just keep learning every day and seeking Reality.”
What books are you currently reading or studying?
GF: The Bhagavad Gita (Swami Nikhilananda), Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Swami Satchidananda – I love him!) and Self Knowledge by Swami Nikhilananda.
What is the one practice you do every day?
GF: Pranayama and meditation, at least 5 times a week.
Which teacher trainings have you completed?
GF: The Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 200- and 500-hour trainings.
What would you say about the people who you met during your trainings? How have they inspired you?
GF: There are so many amazing people are under Sri Dharma Mittra’s umbrella. We all inspire one another, support one another and shared an amazing experience during our training.
What are you currently working on?
GF: Regular Dharma Yoga classes and workshops in Brazil and also several workshops in Mexico, as well as Maha Sadhanas all over both countries. We’re doing a Dharma Yoga event in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, and this year’s will be the sixth time! 40 students attended last year. (Dharma Yoga in Puerto Escondido at the Santa Fe Hotel, June 27 -30, 2013)
 
Why are these projects a priority?
GF: I am following my dharma by practicing and sharing the teachings of Yoga.  It is my commitment for this lifetime.
How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY teacher training program affected your life outside of training?
GF: Finding Sri Dharma Mittra (or Sri Dharma having found me…) shifted my life completely. The LOAY teacher training program is an immersion to Self Realization. It’s hard to explain in words, but it’s hard to keep living the way you used to after the training.
Any final thoughts to share with us?
GF: Since I first started studying with Sri Dharma Mittra, I teach every day. It doesn’t matter how many students attend class. Students from Mexico have been inspired and many have gone to New York to take the LOAY Teacher Training themselves. Yoga is not so popular in Brazil but I feel students spontaneously start going beyond the physical practice even if they came to class only for a physical yoga practice. They end up going beyond or feeling the curiosity of getting to experience more than the physical.
Gerson will be one of the DYLOAY mentors for the upcoming June 2013 200-Hour Teacher Training Program in New York City. To learn more about Gerson, visit his website: www.yogifrau.com.
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Nicole Sopko (Gopi Om)is a Dharma Yoga teacher living in Chicago, IL where she teachesDharma 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.

Six things one Dharma Yoga Teacher wants you to know….

By Fay Inger

·        I don’t judge you, your body or your practice.

Life is interesting because people come in all shapes and sizes, with personalities as diverse as snowflakes. I’m no better than my students because I teach yoga. As Sri Dharma teaches, we are not our bodies and we are not our minds. You have a body and you have a mind, but you are so much more than the sum of your parts. Your body is perfect, you are perfect and your practice is exactly where it should be at this time.

·        My practice isn’t perfect either.

I’ve been practicing yoga for ten years, and while that may seem like a long time, it actually isn’t relevant to poses that I’ve “mastered.” I am naturally flexible with a very bendy back, but I lack raw strength. It’s easy for me to do king pigeon but my forearm balance and handstands are nonexistent. That doesn’t mean I can’t teach poses I cannot do – in fact it makes me a great teacher because I understand you have your own strengths and weaknesses. We are all a work in progress, I just happen to be the one guiding the class.

·        I take your limitations and baggage seriously.

Your range of motion and limitations are a factor in your yoga practice. Because of that I would never force a student to go into a pose they couldn’t get into on their own, or force someone into a pose they didn’t feel ready to do. I was always terrified of doing headstands despite the gentle encouragement of my teacher. Once, a well meaning substitute teacher took me into headstand and failed to provide adequate support. It resulted in me falling over and reinforced my fears.  Ultimately it wasn’t encouragement or support that helped me move past my fears, it was time. We all have our issues to work through and sometimes they manifest on the mat.


·        You need to be pushed.

Not physically pushed as in pushed down a flight of stairs, but pushed to what you think your limit is so that you can surpass it. I know this because in my Life of a Yogi 500-Hour teacher training I was pushed to my limit multiple times and my practice evolved and excelled because of it.

The second day of our second month of training I was absolutely convinced that I could not do one more humble warrior; convinced my quads were too sore and my hips too tight to cooperate. I asked to sit out one asana practice so my achy muscles could rest. At the time I was annoyed when my request was denied.  I didn’t understand I was told “no” for my benefit and for me to grow.  But being told “no” did just that.  It forced me to push on, past the tired, sore and achy muscles.  It pushed me to realize that I am stronger than I thought I was.  I was pushed to understand that although my body may not have wanted to, my mind is stronger than my body.  I was pushed to ultimately realize I am so much more than just my physical body.

Real change begins when your back is against the wall.  You can rise to the challenge and surprise yourself with your strength and determination, or you can cower into the wall and refuse to grow.  I am your cheerleader and always want you to grow.

·        I didn’t become a yoga teacher because I wasn’t qualified to do anything else.

In fact, let me follow that statement with: I chose to forsake other, potentially lucrative professions because I love yoga. I love it so much that I want to devote my life not only to practicing it but teaching it; so much so that I love spending my days being my student’s cheerleaders, enriching their lives and helping them grow stronger in their practice every day!

·        Sometimes I worry.

Did you enjoy my class? Will you come back? Yoga teachers have feelings too, and sometimes we feel insecure. It helps to remember that the class is for my students benefit and not my own. It also helps if you liked the class to say so!

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Fay Inger is a 500-Hour Certified Dharma Yoga instructor for levels I to IV and completed the 800-Hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in August 2012. Fay took up yoga 10 years ago to help with her bad posture.  The bad posture is gone, but Fay’s love of yoga has stuck around! Currently living in Los Angeles, California, Fay primarily works as a private instructor. As she always says, “Yoga is a gift,” and it is her favorite gift to share!