Category Archives: relaxation

Effort as Offering: Changing the way we approach our practice

headstand

by Eileen Lorraine

My life has gone upside down many times; in my yoga life though, inverting has always eluded me. I came up with many viable reasons for this, blaming my gymnastics teacher who denied me my beloved balance beam until I learned to do multiple backward summersaults on the mat. Yawn. I blamed my thick thighs which I felt were far too heavy to lift higher than my hips. Gravity’s got me like. I blamed my unwarranted fear that kept me rooted to the ground no matter how many people kindly attempted to show me their way of going upside down on their heads. Feeling somewhat defeated, I eventually came to accept it as fact. I cannot do a headstand. There, I said it. Let others do it, let others teach it. It just won’t be me.

I suppose all along there was something deeper inside me that wasn’t fully buying such a definitive statement, and what didn’t come as a surprise to those who know my rebellious spirit, I applied to do the Life of a Yogi 500 hour teacher training with the man who dubbed the headstand, the “King of Poses”. In August 2015, I took a micro-sabbatical from my corporate gig and teaching classes in Las Vegas to join 65 other yogis from all over the world in New York’s Dharma Yoga Center (DYC). Feeling much like my first day at a brand new school, I entered the temple thinking, “What the hell did I get myself into?” During our first practice together as a group, Sri Dharma Mittra called sirsasana ten minutes into class. Ten minutes into class?! So I sat while the rest of the room went upside down, all the while trying to fake a look of serenity and confidence in my “watchasana”, when inside I was crumbling. “I want to do that,” I thought. “I should be able to do that! I don’t deserve to be here. I don’t deserve to be a teacher. What am I doing here?” And on and on and on the internal dialog went until sweet relief came when I heard Dharma-ji say, “Ok. Now break the pose.” (Holding self-chastising-asana is remarkably exhausting.)

Soon after, we were paired off into small groups of six. These were to be my peers for the two contact modules during our training, led by my first of two mentors, Andrew Jones. Being paired with Andrew, a senior teacher at DYC, was a gentle gift from the Universe. His soft British accent and kind demeanor invited me to share my dark confession with the group, “I can’t do headstand. And I want to. I really, really want to.” I expected to be met with instructions to go into a headstand and then feel the familiar shame of not being able to go any further than a deep version of dolphin pose. But that’s not what happened. Instead he simply said, “So you can’t do headstand. Its ok, you don’t have to.”

Wait, what?

Four words were all it took. “YOU DON’T HAVE TO,” and I was suddenly set free. Andrew continued, asking if I could consider removing the goal of conquering the pose, to take if off of my to-do list and to remember that asana is not the yoga I was after. That it wasn’t what pulled me away from my life in Las Vegas and called me to spend this time with Dharma-ji. He reminded me that our practice is an offering, and in that sense no matter how little or how much I invert myself, it is enough. For God, it has always been enough. And it was then that I gave myself permission to release the white knuckle grip I had on this pose, to slow down, to open my mind in a way that could finally absorb the technical hints my mentor and peers lovingly shared with me. And little by little over the course of the next eight days, my legs began to go up. It wasn’t until I returned to the security of my home did I fully invert away from the wall, but let me just say, it was an amazing feeling. I’m up, I’m up! I had a huge sense of pride, not for conquering the pose but for being able to let go of my ego enough to make my all my efforts an offering. And let that offering be enough.

Self-realization happens in subtle moments when we witness ourselves for whom we truly are, made of our strengths and our limitations. It happens in the moments when we release what is outside of us and instead go quietly inside, gently encouraging ourselves (with a sweet English accent if possible, it bloody helps!) to experience the moment, not the result. Without bringing compassion to our practice, there is no yoga.

shirshasana1 Shirshasana2 Shirshasana3 Shirshasana4 Shirshasana5 Shirshasana6 Shirshasana7 headstand

Shanti Shanti Shanti Om.

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 Sound of Silence

By Jerome Burdi

It’s easier to tame a lion than your own mind.

This is because the tool needed to quiet the mind is intangible and for many people unfathomable. It is silence.

“Go into seclusion and rest your mind on the silence,” Sri Dharma Mittra says.

Enjoy the senses, the master says, but be prepared to live without anything the world offers them. And learn to be happy about it.

Moving into silence is something hard to do and even encouraged not to do in this world of technology, where a quiet mind is ruptured every minute or less by our smart phones with all their gadgets and apps. We live in a busy world and if you’re living in New York City, it’s an even busier one.

I’ve seen people crossing the street checking their smart phones, riding their bikes and texting in front of a sunset, and of course, we’ve all been in conversations where a phone becomes a third party in them.

It’s hard to quiet the mind. But as, Dharmaji says, our practice of yoga depends on it.

He comes from a long line of yogis, poets and saints who have said the same.

“Silence is the language of God,” the beloved Sufi saint Rumi said, “all else is poor translation.”

Silence is the thing we need most to succeed in striping away the layers to get to the voice of God inside, our true Self.

“Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind,” reads The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

But silence and being alone is also a thing most of us dread.

I remember before I went on a 10-day silent vipassana meditation retreat, I could not sit still for five minutes in meditation. I was so enthusiastic about learning this ancient meditation technique that sitting for long periods with an aching back and legs was well worth it. I learned to sit!

This is a compliment vipassana meditators sometimes pay each other: “You’re a good sitter.”

But vipassana focuses on getting you to sit for an hour without moving. This is dreadful for most people. Sri Dharma uses something more practical, especially for the fast paced impatient New Yorker.

“Practice for five minutes, but do it every day,” he often says.

This is the key to success. Doing a little each day helps to keep the enthusiasm going and helps you to gradually increase your meditation practice.

And no matter how busy you are, there is always time. Get up earlier. Meditation is better than sleep.

As the Zen proverb goes: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Once you get in the habit of giving yourself the gift of silence, of becoming the witness, it will become your favorite part of the day. I like to practice the first thing in the morning. Sri Dharma encourages practicing in the morning to make sure you get it in, calling it your “insurance policy.”

Then anything else you do after that is extra credit.

When we go silent, we can go within.

“Yoga is an internal practice,” Sri Pattabhi Jois said. “The rest is just a circus.”

At one point during my vipassana retreat I was looking out along a river while the leaves were changing and falling like feathers, squirrels were working frantically to gather their winter’s bounty, and I could almost hear the trees breathing on the mountainside.

I began to weep at the perfect beauty that we are all in together. This same feeling can come anywhere at anytime once you learn how to allow yourself to become silent. Sometimes I get it while riding the subway car to Manhattan in the morning, and everyone looks like flowers.

“When you are quiet,” Sri Dharma said, “you see everything with love.”

 

 

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

 

 

Yoga Nidra: Exploring the Deepest Relaxation Practice

by Marija Kundakovic

 “Yoga Nidra: Extremely deep relaxation with psychic instructions.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra 
 
©Natasha Phillips
             
I fell in love with yoga because of savasana. This may sound strange (or lazy…?) to many people who practice yoga to improve physical strength and flexibility, because savasana involves simply lying on the mat for 10-15 minutes and relaxing. But it was exactly there, in my first savasana, that I started feeling that yoga was truly “working” for me. I could feel my busy mind finally getting less noisy, and I started being receptive tothe present moment.
 
The majority of us are very busy and distracted by our daily duties, worries and little desires, without having the chance and time to stop and try to understand our true nature and what really lies within us. We identify with our ever-changing bodies and minds and with our egoistic constructs of ourselves that make us feel efficient and safe in the environment that we live in. We are constantly projecting ourselves in the future or getting caught up within the past. But how do we go beyond that? How do we reach our essence and improve our understanding of our surroundings and of our purpose in life?
 
For me, the answer lies in the practice of Yoga.  The Asana practice is only an introduction to what yoga can offer in terms of self-knowledge and self-development. Slowly, with my constant practice, I started being able to lose my body sensations and quiet my mind during relaxation and meditation, and to go beyond the regular frame of body and mind. This gave me a completely new perception of myself, with more subtle levels of existence and the awareness that there is certainly much more beyond my ego and its little wishes and concerns. Within my six-year yoga practice, I think that my first class of Yoga Nidra with Sri Dharma Mittra was one of the biggest milestones. 
   
©Natasha Phillips
 
Sri Dharma Mittra likes to say that, “relaxation is the best antidote for all impurities”. Once after savasana in his regular asana class, he suggested we come to Yoga Nidra, in which you lie down in savasana and relax for an hour. As a long-time savasana lover, I thought, “Oh, that would be really nice,” and I decided to check out this class, expecting it to be, literally, a long, one-hour savasana. I went to class.  We were instructed to lie down in savasana, not to move or fall asleep, and to stay attentive throughout the practice while listening to the instructions.
 
It turned out that Yoga Nidra is an active meditation. Sri Dharma first guided us to bring the awareness to each part of the body, slowly starting from the left hand thumb and then moving through all the limbs, ending with the individual facial features and back of the head. This was followed by the stage in which we were asked to evoke the experiences of opposite sensations and feelings, such as sensations of extreme hot and cold, and very busy and quiet environments, briefly, one after another. We were then asked to visualize some images and landscapes and were led through an enjoyable imaginary journey.
 
I don’t remember when exactly, but I can clearly evoke an amazing moment when I lost all my body sensations while being aware of everything that was happening. And then I felt like I was floating… And then I heard Sri Dharma say “you are everywhere” and I felt … I was … indeed … everywhere…
 
©Natasha Phillips
The practice of Yoga Nidra ended with a resolution, “my will power is rapidly improving,” repeated three times and we were then slowly brought to the regular waking state. I came out of the class transformed. I felt lighter, elevated, and refreshed. (Someone met me just after the class and asked me if I had a facial — no kidding, inside and out!)
 
I wondered what exactly happened in that hour of Yoga Nidra (a.k.a. Psychic Sleep) which Sri Dharma said could substitute for several hours of ordinary sleep. As a scientist (that’s my profession), I started reading articles and books to better understand with my mind what happened beyond my body, and beyond my “regular” mind in that class. 
 
Briefly, this is what literature says: Yoga Nidra is a method of inducing deep physical, mental, and emotional relaxation in which the body is in a sleep-like state somewhere between being awake and being asleep. Unlike regular sleep, the consciousness is maintained in Yoga Nidra. And, unlike the fully awakened state in which only the intellectual mind is operating, when you are able to completely relax in Yoga Nidra, the subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind open, allowing the penetration into the depths of the mind that are not normally available. For instance, rotation of consciousness through different body parts induces physical relaxation while evoking the opposite, intense feelings in Yoga Nidra enables emotional relaxation. 
 
©Natasha Phillips
 
The visualization stage of Yoga Nidra, which usually involves images that have universal significance and powerful associations, brings the hidden contents of the deep unconscious into the conscious mind. The practice of visualization develops self-awareness and induces deep mental relaxation.  This practice also sets the mind into a peaceful and calm state that makes the unconscious mind very receptive to positive thoughts and suggestions, and this is why the practice ends with the resolve to increase will power (or any other resolution that the practitioner would like to achieve through practice). Please do not mistake this for hypnosis because the resolve in Yoga Nidra is made by practitioner, who is aware of it, and the teacher is there only to guide the practice.
 
During practice of Yoga Nidra, one’s consciousness travels from one layer to another, according to its current state and capacity. In some cases, the practice will bring only some sort of relaxation, sleep, or pleasant experience. Sometimes it may go very deep and bring fantastic experiences. The ultimate outcome of Yoga Nidra, similar to meditation, is total harmony and integration between all levels of consciousness and merging with the universal consciousness or achieving the highest level of consciousness, known as samadhi. 
 
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Marija Kundakovichas a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is currently a Research Scientist and Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University in NYC. She is an epigeneticist studying how life experiences leave an imprint on our genes shaping the brain and behavior throughout life. In addition to her scientific quest, her yogic path has been essential for her self-inquiry and search for understanding of life. She is thankful to all yoga teachers that have left the imprints on her yoga practice, including the teachers from Chicago Yoga Center, Mandiram Yoga Barcelona, and Jivamukti Yoga NYC. She is particularly thankful to Sri Dharma Mittra and the teachers at Dharma Yoga New York Center. Marija completed the Dharma Yoga “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training under the guidance of Sri Dharma Mittra in June 2013. She is currently in the last stages of her internship and looks forward to sharing her knowledge of yoga with others.