Category Archives: pranayama

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.

The Transformation of the LOAY Teacher Training

by Gabriella DiGiovanni

For the past several years I spent a great amount of time exploring where to get my 200 hour yoga teacher training. Amidst the seemingly infinite amount of programs, I felt that there was no way I could choose among them. How would I know that I made the right choice? How could I possibly sift through all the programs to find the perfect one? And most of all, was I ready?

After practicing many different styles at many studios, I stumbled upon Dharma Yoga from a teacher in my hometown in upstate New York. I knew there was something special in the beautiful reality and simplicity of Dharma Yoga, so I decided to come to the source. I travelled to New York City to take class with Sri Dharma Mittra at the Dharma Yoga Center. From the instant I walked in the temple, I felt at home. After my first class with Sri Dharma, everything clicked. I knew that he was an extremely special teacher, and this was the life-changing teacher training that I had been waiting for. I decided to jump in and immerse myself in the spirituality I had been craving.

In retrospect, the application process itself was an initial offering for me in the journey of the LOAY teacher training. The questions allowed me to search within myself and organize my thoughts, goals, and feelings. Reflecting back, it is amazing to see how much those initial responses have changed and grown throughout my time as a Sadhaka. Additionally, the pre-training assignments helped to give me an intellectual and practical background of Yoga before entering the training. It was extremely beneficial to read the scriptures and develop a more committed self-practice before the immersion. Not only did my heart begin to open, but the calling for me to join the path became stronger every day. I was becoming more ready for the immersive experience I was about to have, and preparing myself to get the most out of the training.

The night before the immersion began, I had countless thoughts running through my mind. Was I spiritually advanced enough? Was my physical practice strong enough? Is this the right time? What am I getting myself into? The mind and ego were playing tricks on me to make me feel unsure, but I was about to find out that there was no doubt that I was where I was for a reason. Everything was perfect. It was time to let go.

The first morning of the immersion, I left for the DYC with excitement, curiosity, and a little bit of nervousness. When I arrived and sat in the temple with the other Sadhakas, I felt a sense of extreme gratitude and serenity. Sri Dharma entered the room, and the vibrations of his incredible energy filled the temple. I felt a great desire to be near him, and listen intently to every word he spoke, and watch the way he explains. His words were simple, deep, honest, and funny. I felt wildly blessed to have the opportunity to learn from such a true master of Yoga. Everything in every moment of my past and my present had led me to this experience. I was home.

From the first day of the training, we entered into a very well organized, detailed, and time-efficient schedule. The schedule offered us the chance to truly live life as a Yogi. Every morning we had the chance to begin our day learning pranayama techniques, mantras, kriyas, and more. Sri Dharma and his amazing senior teachers gave us foundational lectures that helped lay the spiritual stepping stones for developing our own understanding and practice of Yoga. The support system of Sri Dharma, the mentors, and other trainees helped me reach much further than I would have alone in these exercises. As Sri Dharma says, “Imagine yourself in the practice you wish to access.” From this, I am thankful to have been able to watch Sri Dharma and his disciples so that I can now imagine that I can access their practice and continue to advance spiritually.

We were broken up into small groups and given two mentors. The small group sessions gave us the opportunity to practice teaching in a non-judgmental and supportive setting, with people who felt like brothers and sisters. All the mentors guided us with love and compassion, and gave us encouragement in this wonderful time of learning. Each of Sri Dharma’s teachers and disciples are unbelievable teachers, mentors, friends, and yogis. DYC’s senior teachers exude positive vibrations and clearly represent the pure teachings. Here it is okay not to be perfect, but to simply try our best and make our classes an offering. It was a powerful moment to realize that I am a vessel for these sacred teachings, and that we must lose attachment to the outcome of our actions as both teachers and students of Yoga.

My entire practice sky-rocketed through the opportunity to take daily asana classes with Sri Dharma along with hearing his daily lectures. I became so much more connected to the search for my true Self, and shifted the perspective of my practice more towards compassion than ever. My heart opened to Self-discovery and releasing attachment to allow my consciousness to flow freely. During this process I began to lose the initial grip on the results of my actions, and as a result my physical practice was deepened greatly. I did things I never knew I was able to access just by being in Sri Dharma’s presence and focusing on the Self. I felt myself grow by gaining a much deeper comprehension of compassion, and what it means to integrate it into every part of my life. While I was already following a vegetarian diet, the shift towards a complete vegan diet with the support of my co-trainees transformed my views on the subject. As a result, I now feel more connected to others and my practice by practicing ahimsa on a greater scale.

One of the many moments that stands out from the immersion was the Kirtan hosted by our mentors and Sri Dharma Mittra. The music was beautiful and the energy was so pure and full of devotion. I will never forget the sounds and feelings from our Kirtan, and how it transformed and strengthened us all as seekers of the Self. We were all able to connect deeply to ourselves and others through this devotional music.

I felt the bonds between our Dharma Family grow stronger each day. It seemed as though I had known the other trainees for my entire life, and that we were simply meeting again. The love, support, and compassion that came from each Sadhaka made me realize that I will never have to feel alone again on this journey. While we went our separate ways after the immersion ended, I know that we all continue to carry each other along with us.

In summation, there is no way to put the feeling of Sri Dharma Mittra’s presence into words. Just by being in the same room as Sri Dharma, my practice was elevated to a new level. Dharma Yoga is based around compassion and respect for all living beings. From this, Sri Dharma presented me with wisdom that brought me closer to the Divine that lies behind all of creation. Additionally, Sri Dharma revealed to me that the Guru lies within myself. From this I understand that I have all the tools I need to realize the Self. In this space I discovered Yoga as it was meant to be practiced, passed down through generations by enlightened Yogis. I cannot thank the staff and senior teachers enough for all of their kindness and compassion. I am so blessed to have had this amazing experience, and take it with me every day of my life. I am looking forward to taking future trainings with the Dharma Yoga Center, which I am certain will only deepen my journey further. Thank you Sri Dharma and the Dharma Yoga Center for changing my life. It is not possible to give enough praise for this beautiful center and all the amazing beings that are a part of it.

 

GabriellaGabriella began practicing Yoga four years ago in search of spiritual guidance. When she discovered  Sri  Dharma Mittra and embarked on the Life of a Yogi teacher training, her life was catapulted into a new upward direction. Through Dharma Yoga, Gabriella has found a stability and peace through constant practice. She seeks to grow as both a teacher and student of Yoga. Gabriella also works on a farm and apple orchard, and is a supporter of sustainable agriculture and small farms.

 

Mindfulness with the Foot on the Pedal

by Lisa Markuson

Mindfulness. It’s a hot topic on social media outlets and the news.  But what is mindfulness?

Well, have you ever seen a cyclists whizzing around on the road, texting while biking? You don’t have to be a yogi perusing the Dharma Yoga blog to know that bike-texting is not being mindful of the task at hand and foot.

But I’m not here to berate masochistic compulsive communicators, I swear. In fact, the opposite is true. I want to talk about how cycling isn’t just the ecologically, physically, and socially healthful mode of transit, but is also a means to improve your mental and emotional health, strength and equanimity – much like a regular yoga practice. When riding a bike, every pedal is a new opportunity to be grateful for your legs, your feet, your trusty steed, the home you are leaving, the destination you are approaching, the air filling your lungs, society that paves the roads…you get the idea. I’ve always had a sense of this fact, but my recent experience of the Life of a Yogi yoga teacher training program at Dharma Yoga Center this February really catalyzed these ideas.

Bike_NY_©Enid_Johnstone

Mindfulness isn’t about being a Jedi who can fine tune proprioception to the point that you could take apart and reassemble a bike while blindfolded in a sandstorm. It is also very closely linked to the crucial tenets of compassion and loving-kindness, which can also be embodied while you are on a bike. What could be kinder and more compassionate then being a safe, engaged, calm cyclist, sharing the road, being present, and appreciating the people around you? If nothing else, it may keep you from yelling threats at tourists riding tandem in your way.

So here are five ways to make your bike ride more mindful and compassionate:

  1. When you’re getting ready to ride, take time to do a few simple stretches to wake your body up, get your blood pumping and stimulate your brain. A few sun salutations are a great start. Side stretches, loosening up the spine, hamstring stretches, and hip opening movements will improve your cycling, and an inversion like a headstand or a forward fold will bring oxygenated blood to the brain and wake you up better than coffee.
  2. Before you push off for your first pedal take 20 seconds to pause and visualize a safe, pleasant ride, and smile. Seriously, actually smile – it tells your body to produce all sorts of calming, pleasing chemicals.
  3. While riding, be aware of the mechanical processes and symbiosis of your body and your bike. Allow the body awareness that you’ve developed through your asana practice to translate to your ride and acknowledge the muscles of your legs and feet that are working in harmony to propel the pedals of your bike, the graceful simplicity of the machine amplifying your movements.
  4. Notice your breath and you may be surprised to realize how shallow it usually is, and how often we hold our breath because we’re focused elsewhere. Gently remind yourself to take full, slow, luxurious breaths while you ride, especially in heavy traffic or challenging terrain and you will be calmer, happier and will ride better overall.
  5. Develop new thought habits. Sri Dharma Mittra always encourages us to use each movement or action as an offering to God and you can do the same thing while on your bike. As a cyclist, it is easy to feel like you’re getting pushed around by cars, thwarted by pedestrians and on the defensive. However, if you give yourself permission to feel compassion and empathy for the other people with whom you share the road and the world, you’ll be amazed at how much happier and safe you feel. If a car cuts you off, wish them a safe and stress-free day. If another cyclist blows through a light, don’t curse at them but send a positive thought their way. It isn’t easy at first, but once you get started it quickly becomes second nature and it is worth it.

wheel_Lisa_Markuson

See if you can give some or all of these a try on your next ride and notice if it makes a difference in how you feel on your bike and off. If even one person who reads this finds that they have a better ride or a better day overall I’ll be thrilled so let me know how it works and how you feel. So let’s go ride! And of course, be receptive.

 

Lisa_Markuson

Lisa helps run an indie bike adventure company in Brooklyn, NY, and has completed Dharma Yoga Teacher training, splitting her time between NYC and our nation’s capital, Washington DC. Lisa is a Buddhist, queer, nomadic, New Age nonconformist, and likes to listen to jazz and funk and ambient sounds while collecting ideas on her blog, Disco Granola. She is only mostly vegan and gluten-free. Inspirations and role-models include but are not limited to: Gertrude Stein, Bill Murray, Mark Twain, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elena Brower, Haruki Murakami, and her father. Find her on twitter/instagram @lisamarkuson or tumblr at http://discogranola.tumblr.com

Sacred Space: Creating a Home Altar

by Ishvara Pranidana Om  

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

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

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

Altar_Urban

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

Altar

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

Altar_Windowsill

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

Altar_Woodstove

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

(Pictures by Ishvara Pranidana Om)

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

Kriyas to Help Soothe Nasal Congestion

By  Liz Schindler 

 

Kriyas are ancient cleansing techniques designed to purify both the physical and spiritual bodies. The kriyas are effective processes that facilitate both physical and subtle purity. Purity, or Saucha, is one of the niyamas or yogic observances that yogis strive to achieve.
Some kriyas are morning practices, preceding pranayama and asana, and often facilitate clearing of the nasal passages, the digestive system and the psychic channels, as well as help ready the system for morning sadhana (practice). The kriyas shared here are especially helpful during allergy and flu/cold season to remove phlegm, clear the sinuses and airways and alleviate sinus pressure. For best results perform these kriyas daily.
Jala Neti
Jala neti is possibly the most widespread of the kriyas in the west. It consists of rinsing the nasal passageway with lukewarm saline solution or salt water, by using a small pot with a long spout to send the solution in one nostril and out the other. Neti pots are available in most drug stores, as are pre-mixed packets made for mixing with warm water and pre-measured for a net pot.
Jala neti clears the nasal passages, thins mucus and decreases the intensity of inflammation, making it very helpful in easing symptoms of allergies and sinus congestion and/or sinus pressure from a cold or flu. Jala neti also helps to flush the tear ducts, clearing mucus and debris from the eyes. Jala neti is associated with the ajna chakra or third eye and may help fine tune intuition, concentration and visualization.
Method:
 
1) Warm some purified water in a kettle and test the warmth on the inside of the wrist or forearm. The water should be a comfortable warm temperature and not too hot. Next fill the neti pot and mix in either one pre-mixed store-bought nasal rinse of your choice or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
 
2) To rinse the nasal passages, stand over a sink in front of a mirror and tilt your forehead forward. Begin by placing the spout in the right nostril, tilting the head slightly to the left and pouring the solution into the right nostril. You may feel pressure at first but the water will slowly start to come out of the left nostril, sweeping out debris in it’s path and clearing the nasal passageways. After pouring about one half the contents of the pot, switch nostrils and reverse the rinsing process.
 
3) When you’ve emptied the pot perform a few exhalations through the nostrils to remove any leftover solution. Restrain from holding the nostrils and blowing the nose as this may force water and pressure into the ears.
 
4) Next, fold forward and left the head hang as you perform a few more exhalations through the nostrils. All water should be drained from the nostrils to avoid infection.

 

Kapalabhati

Kapalabhati is both pranayama as well as a kriya, and an element of a daily practice for many yogis. Translated as “skull shining breath,” it is renowned for powerfully cleansing the entire respiratory system. Sri Dharma Mittra recommends practicing two rounds of kapalabhati daily for all those living in a large city because it is an excellent way to rid the airways and lungs of pollutants. In addition to cleansing the respiratory system, it offers the benefits of oxygenating the blood, clearing the mind, strengthening the abdominal muscles and diaphragm and is a simple warm up for any pranayama practice. Kapalabhati is the opposite of natural breathing as it consists of forceful exhalations and passive inhalations. Kapalabhati is a very powerful practice and is not recommended for those with heart disease, high blood pressure, a hernia or during an asthma attack.
Click here for a short demonstration: Kapalabhati 

Method:
 
1) Find a comfortable sitting position and a tall spine. Begin by passively inhaling or taking in just half of a normal breath through the nose. Exhale forcefully through both nostrils as you push the abdomen back vigorously (note: it may be helpful for beginners to place one hand on the abdomen to feel the correct sensation of the belly moving towards the spine during exhalation). Continue passively inhaling and forcefully exhaling, pumping the breath out in a rhythmic pattern. The exhalations should be faster than the inhalations and there should be one or two exhalations per second.
 
2) After completing a round of kapalabhati, breathe out completely. Then inhale deeply and hold the breath for as long as comfortable. Exhale slowly and begin the process again for the second round of kapalabhati.
* Beginners should perform kapalabhati for 10-15 seconds per round and can work up to two minutes per round as they become more advanced.
**If kapalabhati is inaccessible due to severe congestion, I sometimes employ bhramari pranyama (humming bee breath) as an alternative. The sound literally vibrates the sinus passages and facilitates drainage. To try brahmari pranayama make your hands into fists and point your index fingers, plugging the ears. Close the eyes and inhale and as you exhale make a high pitched humming noise with the mouth, as Sri Dharma says “like a female bee.” Chanting mantra and om has a similar effect of vibrating the nasal cavities. The humming exhale should be loud and long. Perform three rounds.
Kapal Randra Dhauti
Kapal Randra Dhauti is a very simple kriya that can facilitate drainage of the frontal sinuses. It is recommended to perform this kriya dailu upon waking, after meals and again at night.
Method:
While sitting upright, use the thumb of the right hand to rub the space between the eyebrows.

Liz Schindler found yoga during a stressful period of her life and has returned to it again and again for over ten years to calm both body and mind. After moving to New York and beginning to study with Sri Dharma Mittra, she soon came to realize her need to share her love of yoga with others. Liz is a 200-Hour Certified Dharma Yoga Teacher. She currently lives and teaches in Brooklyn, NY.

 

    
      

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. 

The Effects of Pranayama on Thoughts and Actions

By Jonathan Rosenthal 

©Jeffrey Vock
Pranayama (control of Prana through breath) is themain focal point for managing thoughts and actions, according to The Science of Pranayama by Swami Sivananada.
Even before I started practicing yoga, I foundthat inhaling deeply, holdingmy breath as long as is comfortable,and exhaling very slowly was themost effective technique to regulate my thoughts and actions in moments of indecision and doubt.

“Before he eats, before he drinks, before he resolves to do anything, Pranayama should be performed first and then the nature of his determination should be clearly enunciated and placedbefore the mind.  – Swami Sivananda.

Prana, however, is not solely breath. Breath contributes to prana, but not all prana is derived from breath.

Swami Sivanandasays, “The Prana may be defined as the finest vital force in everythingwhich becomes visible on the physicalplane as motionand action, and on the mentalplane as thought. The word Pranayama, therefore, means the restraint of vitalenergies.” Thisseems to suggestthat prana is fed by the needs of air, water and food and then directed towards the vayus, like thoughts and actions. Prana is hard to conceptualize, and therefore visualize and manipulate directly.

Perhaps the control of breath is a startingpoint to control prana. According to Swami Sivananda, “If you control the flywheel (the prana) you control the wheels (the other organs). Similarly, Sri Dharma Mittra says,the attention is a magnetfor prana. Perhaps combining control of breath with the guidance of attentionallows one to indirectly manipulate prana.

Breath is the most compulsory need for survival. Itis impossible to survive without breath for the amountof time one can survive withoutfood and water. This is why controllingthe breath is such an important tool, both in and out of yoga. Returning to this basic need shatters the illusion of all the other needs (e.g. fears, desires, doubts)” – almost like throwing a wrench at a triangular enclosure of mirrors that reflect and deceive you endlessly.

Fears and doubts are no match for Pranayama. By removing the focus from these ungrounded anticipations  and placing the focus on the most basic and essential need, Pranayama shatters the mirrored labyrinth of imaginary and illusory needs.

I imagine that allneeds”are really illusions. We are not really hungry, it is thebody that is hungry; we are not cold, it is the body that is cold. In fact, Swami Sivananda describes Pranayama techniques that eliminate needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep and these same techniques can even cool or warm the body – sitkari and sitali are cooling,suryabheda and ujjayi are warming, and bhastrika restores normal temperature. Further, sitkari and sitaliboth trump hunger, thirst, and sleep. All of theseseem to suggestthat pranayama is a practice mainly used to shatter the illusion of needs.

It is interestingthat Swami Sivananda advises specifically to avoid straining while doing Pranayama: “Some people twist the muscles of the face when they do Kumbhaka (breath retention). It shouldbe avoided. It is a symptom to indicate that they are going beyond theircapacity.

If practicing Pranayama becomesa need in and of itself,it has become an illusion extraordinaire. This is much like a drug given in excess quantitythat then becomesa poison. In pursuingPranayama as a need in and of itself,the practitioner has only replaced an unnecessary “need” with a new one.

Pranayama should be practiced each and every day, but it is not the end of the world to miss a day; Pranayama should be practiced not as a need in and of itself, but as a technique that, by focusing on the only real need, prana, shatters the illusion of the others.

_____________________________________


Jonathan Rosenthal took his DharmaYoga Life of a Yogi 200-Hour Teacher Training in June 2013. His motto is: “With everything I do, I try to remember we are yogis first and foremost and that we should view life as a task to be done, but with compassion, sincerity, angry determination, and a renunciation of the fruits of actions. I am grateful to the teachers who made this perspective possible and try to return the favor by teaching others.” He is in the internship phase of his LOAY teacher training.

For Yoga Teachers: Five Ways To Serve With Joy

By Jessica Gale

©Jeffrey Vock

Recently, upon borrowing mats from a yoga center for a workshop, I reflected on new connections and coincidences since moving to Toronto, Canada, and teaching yoga.

I thought about my growing social circle and sharing yoga with them; the yoga center I borrowed mats from; the workshop venue which was rented inexpensively to me by friends of friends (whom I had taught at home); and that all these new contacts kept me in the loop of any new jobs and opportunities and promoted my teaching.

All of this started with my eagerness to share yoga and my belief in karma yoga (selfless service). Acts of selfless service are free from the idea of receiving something in return and instead focus on the act of giving and surrender.

Selfless service will always be a part of my teaching.  The wonderful surprise is that for all I give, positive returns come back to me.  

Here are a few ways to include selfless service in your life:

·        Teach for free or barter

One of my students has chronic Lyme disease. I too had Lyme disease for several years and know firsthand that yoga helps. When I met his partner and heard of his situation, I immediately offered to teach them both. They were reluctant at first because they could not pay but they were willing and wanted to barter. In exchange, I receive muffins, preserves, and other small treats every week when I come to teach. But the real payoff and is seeing a friend recovering from a lengthy illness and there is no amount of money that can match this true reward.

For many of us, yoga is sometimes our sole profession and teaching classes for free is not feasible. However, a few karma yoga classes go a long way in helping people that cannot afford to attend but will reap the benefits of yoga.

Students, the elderly, even the unemployed with limited or no income, would greatly appreciate this and many are willing to pay in their own way by service or gifts in kind. Know the limits to what you can give and then give as much as you can.

©Jeffrey Vock

·        Teach what someone wants to be taught

As lovers of yoga, we sometimes forget that yoga can be overwhelming for some people. For example, my neighbor had difficulty with her breathing and I offered to teach her yoga. She was keen to learn breathing exercises but due to her age and inexperience, was not interested in the physical practice. While I knew that she would benefit from the physical exercises, I decided not to push it and I only taught her some simple pranayama exercises.  She found relief from the exercises and continued to talk about how beneficial it for months afterwards.

·        Share your time and your experiences

People are very curious about yoga teachers and I often find myself answering questions and sharing what I know. It can be overwhelming when you are in the midst of something or in a hurry!  So when I find myself becoming anxious or glancing at my watch during these situations, I try to remember to slow down and to share what I was so lucky to learn.

·        Volunteer

My first connection to potential students was made through volunteering. I helped out twice a week at an urban farm for some time and it was fantastic to help nurture plants and assist busy farmers. A number of wonderful connections developed from this time and it all began with selfless service.



©Enid Johnstone
·        Focus on small acts

Selfless service may sometimes seem like a tall order but really it’s not!

We don’t have to make huge sacrifices to include it in our day. Small opportunities occur around us all the time, but the first step is to slow down.

Do you need to be the first person on the grocery line? Can you hold the door for the people coming in? Would you pick up your partners clothes if it was left on the floor? 

I believe the key to Karma Yoga is to remember Ahimsa (compassion or non-violence) and to think, what are the loving acts I can do today?


_____________________________________

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 CNY Yoga (Dharma Yoga) in 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. Jessica lives in Toronto, Canada.

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.

_____________________________________


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.

15 Truths I learned from Sri Dharma Mittra

By Sorsha Anderson


Picture by Natasha Phillips
  1. To make progress you must learn to do three things: Fast, keep silent and wait
  2. Breathe as slowly as possible for an hour and watch your cravings disappear. 
  3. See yourself in the practice you are not able to access right now.  Imagine yourself in it.   
  4. Do the work.  Not because you expect results, but because it’s work that needs to be done.  
  5. In the beginning, do the poses any way you can. 

  6. You can become king of the gods by watching…
  7. Cultivate compassion–the rest will come. 
  8. Expect nothing.  Do it because it has to be done. 
  9. Avoiding discipline is a trick of the mind.  It enjoys its pleasures.  The mind will throw you down.  It is powerful. 
  10. There is no ‘mine’.  Where there is ‘mine’, there is bondage.
  11. Be kind to all beings.  Everyone passes through the same obstacles.
  12. You can reach higher states with drugs, but there is a blackness behind it.  You despair because you know you cannot get there without the help.  When you achieve higher states with meditation, you feel bliss because you realize no one can take it from you.
  13. Yoga is…perfect obedience to the teacher.
  14. Drop the elbows. Don’t think!  Forearm stand!
  15. After enlightenment, there are plenty of exciting jobs for you to do! 



_________________________

Sorsha Anderson is a certified Dharma Yoga Teacher who lives and teaches in Vermont.  She has been practicing since 1991 and worked with very gentle and restorative yoga until her 30’s when she wandered into a hot and sweaty, but meditative vinyasa studio.  Neither a dancer nor gymnast as a child, and after having had two children, she surprised herself by balancing in crow for the first time at 36.  She never looked back.  Sorsha approaches each new pose with a sense of optimism and adventure and delights in encouraging others to try what only seems impossible at first glance.  She particularly enjoys teaching older women who are trying to find their way back to their bodies after a sometimes very long absence.  Sorsha is thankful to have found her way to the Dharma Yoga Center and makes the trip from Vermont as often as she can.  She offers gratitude for the beautiful physical and spiritual teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra.