Category Archives: sutras of patanjali

Indaba Recap

by Adam Frei

It has been four days since we returned from London and somehow it seems to have taken place a few months ago. Sri Dharma said to me at the start of our trip that in a moment it would be over. On our way back to the airport, he said: “You see? Already finished – like a dream.” It was, for all of us that went, a very pleasant dream.

Sri Dharma travels less these days than a few years ago, but he still travels quite a bit and his teaching takes him around the world. For the last couple of years, he has been saying that he really wanted to take the Dharma Yoga Kirtan Band along with him. As the London workshops seemed like they were going to be large and some of the band members had the dates available, we were able to make it happen. Although my position at the Center means that I get to work closely with Sri Dharma, it has been a while since I’ve been able to travel with him. It was, for me, a very special opportunity.

The venue was part of the Lords Cricket Ground in North London. It easily accommodated the 250 plus people that were part of each session. The presenters, Indaba Yoga, did a great job managing every aspect of the weekend. Most of the classes were two hours long. Somehow, Sri Dharma managed to include a full practice of Asana as part of each one, a brief, but focused spiritual discourse, an introduction to basic Pranayama techniques, recitation of mantra, Kirtan with the band and a full experience of Yoga Nidra. The classes never felt rushed, yet he managed to include so much. Spiritual discourse treated such topics as compassion, the Kleshas and the Koshas. What particularly impressed me was how Sri Dharma gave us a full experience of Yoga Nidra, sometimes in as little as twelve minutes, but that included complete relaxation of the body, visualization and autosuggestions. Truly extraordinary. The enthusiasm of the students was wonderful to observe.

Some highlights from Sri Dharma’s teaching as part of and outside of the workshops:

Indicating a small, cube refrigerator: “You see, that’s the perfect size for a Yogi.”

“I’m going to add some extra sugar to all the sessions this weekend.”

“We are doing Rabbit (Pose) here now. I bet if I look around the room, I see many Camels. If I catch any Camels, I throw them out.”

“If G-d come here right now and catch you not singing, that would be a catastrophe!”

“The action of compassion is to see yourself in others.”

“The orchestra is going to come and play now, so leave your mats and come close.”

“Move together like in a parade. Then we share all the knowledge psychically and become one.”

“I have an old car (body). The brakes don’t work so well anymore and some of the systems are starting to shut down. That’s why I always try and put the best quality fuel in. In about 10 or 20 years, I’ll be back with a new car.”

“We’re going to do Spiritual Breathing now so you feel spiritually inspired.”

“If you are interested to go deeper into yoga, you should read The Yoga-Sutras and The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. For those just interested in living a more ethical life, there’s The Dammapada.”

“From the Hubble Space Telescope, we know that there are millions of blue planets. Some are ahead of us. Some, still with dinosaurs. The reason the aliens never come here, is because when they look through their telescope and zoom, zoom in on McDonalds, they see us eating animals, and then they never come here. They are soft and their limbs are tender. They are afraid that if they come here, they get eaten.”

“In one generation, it is predicted that there will be harmony among all the people of the earth. Then no need for the first step of yoga – the Ethical Rules – what for?”

“Do you know about the Koshas? These are the sheathes that cover Atman. It's good to know about them so you can negate them.”

“You become one with G-D at this moment. One with the Supreme Self.”

Special thanks to Kenny Steele, owner of Idaba Yoga, Olga Asmini, Indaba Yoga’s exceptional manager, her wonderful team, Mark Kan, our main Dharma Yoga teacher in London who really established Dharma Yoga there, Andrew Jones who did much work behind the scenes in advance of these workshops, Pam Leung and Yoshio Hama for beautiful demoing throughout the weekend, to Andrew and Yoshio for playing until their fingers bled, for the dedicated students who came from all over Europe and America to be part of this weekend and to Sri Dharma Mittra who somehow seemed fresher, funnier and more energized by Sunday night than he had at the start and who at almost 77 years of age continues to devote his life to sharing what he knows with all of us that are fortunate enough to learn from him.

 

Adam Frei is the director of the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training programs at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC.

Ahimsa and Veganism

by Susan Craig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mineral Rich Vegan Ginger Fudge Cake (Gluten Free)

By Ivy Mok

I had some inspiration from a friend, who was hesitant to bring her mother to a Christmas buffet last year. The next day after buffet, her mother had an appointment for body check. She was afraid the rich meal would yield undesirable results in her mother’s blood test results.

That brought me think of a yoga sutra from Patanjali:

Yoga citta virtti nirodhah. Yoga is stilling the changing state of the mind.

Sri Dharma Mittra explained to us that it was good to always shift one’s mind, and to also to shift one’s consciousness. This is the way to be creative and to be receptive. This is the way to see light in darkness, to see chance in risk, to see love in fear.

When it comes to dessert, people usually think it has to be unhealthy to be tasty. Many famous chefs do not care if they use refined sugar and animal butter lavishly because to them, dessert has to be delicious, and in their mind, deliciousness does not come with health.

I experimented with this recipe a few times and finally came up with this version. This is a gluten free, refined sugar free, vegan cake, with loads of fibers (psyllium husks, flaxseeds, teff flour, almond meal) and it is highly rich in minerals (blackstrap molasses & teff flour). Most of all, it is tasty and it does not make you feeling thirsty or uneasy (common symptoms if you consume too much refined sugar or processed food). It is indeed a nourishing treat.

Vegan ginger fudge cake
Ingredients (for making 1 loaf, i.e. around 36 cubes)

Dry:
100g teff flour
50g quinoa flour
50g potato starch
25g hazelnut meal
25g almond meal
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp himalayan salt

Egg replacement for baking:
3 tbsp ground flaxseeds
9 tbsp warm filtered water

Wet:
1/2 cup unsulphured organic blackstrap molasses
2 tbsp organic extra virgin coconut oil
1 ripe banana (mashed)
2 tbsp freshly squeezed ginger juice
2 tbsp psyllium husks

  • Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Grease a regular loaf pan with coconut oil.
  • Mix the flaxseeds and warm filtered water well until it is thick and creamy. Set aside for later use.
  • Sift all the dry ingredients into large mixing bowl.
  • Combine the wet ingredients thoroughly, add psyllium husk at the end, then add in the flaxseeds mixture, whisk until well blended.
  • Add the dry ingredients (small portions at a time, to make the mixture smooth, even, with no lumps) into the wet, well blended mixture, stir to make sure they mix well.
  • Pour the mixture into the greased pan, bake at 350 deg F until set in the middle with a knife and it comes out clean, around 40 minutes.
  • Cool on rack, then cut it into cubes when it’s completely cool.

Can serve either cool by refrigerating it or serve warm by reheating it in the oven.
Serve best with fruit or herbal tea.

Ingredient highlights:

Teff grain / flour
This is a staple grain commonly found in Ethiopia, color ranges from white to dark red. The
taste is like hazelnut, so it is naturally sweet & nutty. It is a gluten free grain so it is excellent for people with gluten intolerance. It is also high in minerals such as manganese (~8.5mg), magnesium (~175mg), potassium (~400mg), phosphorus (~400mg) and it is rich in vitamin B (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pathothenic acid), it has ~7g of dietary fiber per 100g. It also contains choline, vitamin k, and it has very low fat content (~2.5 g per 100g).

Organic unsulphured blackstrap molasses
Blackstrap molasses has the highest antioxidant among all other sweeteners, making it a very healthy kind of sweetener. It is very rich in iron, folate, along with some B vitamins, which all combine to work synergistically to promote red blood cell production.

It also contains high amount of magnesium, calcium. Magnesium is a crucial mineral for
maintaining heart health. People who are magnesium deficient are more prone to muscle
spasms, including heart muscles. Magnesium is also vital in balancing calcium for bone
production and energy. It is necessary for nervous system health. It is essential to over 300
metabolic processes and the synthesis of almost all the other minerals and vitamins.

Blackstrap molasses is also rich in potassium. Potassium deficiency may result in weak
muscles. It helps to calm the nervous system and boosts heart health.

Organic unsulphured blackstrap molasses is particularly rich in manganese, of which its ions function with a number of enzymes, to combat damage of free radicals. Like magnesium, manganese also supports cellular absorption of nutrients, and is beneficial to the nervous system.

 

IvyMokBlog 3A physiotherapist based in Hong Kong, Ivy learned yoga as a remedy for lost souls in a hectic city. She is blessed to quickly find her lineage in yoga despite living on another side of the world from her beloved guru, Sri Dharma Mittra. Constantly a student on all sorts of therapeutic modalities (visceral manipulation, craniosacral therapy), she finds the ultimate medicine for all sorts of ailments is “self-realization.” Ivy is always ready to spread whatever she learned to her students and patients.

Time for Tapas: Make a Commitment for Guru Purnima

by Kali Om

title photo by Mia Park

“People become depressed when they neglect their spiritual practice.” –Sri Dharma Mittra

What are you putting off that would deepen your yoga practice?

Is it to clean up your diet? To devote 20 minutes a day to meditation? To stop bed-texting and devote time to reflecting upon the day’s events? To work on a certain pose on a regular basis?

Rather than putting it off indefinitely, consider committing to a new level of practice for a four-month period, starting on Guru Purnima, which this year falls on Saturday, July 12.

Guru Purnima is a special full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad in which yogis commit to deepening their practice in order to honor their spiritual preceptor and all spiritual preceptors dating back to the sage Vyasa, who edited the Vedas, Puranas, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Mahabharata.

Ganesh-21

The guru is considered to be a living example of yoga, a saintly person who shares the practices that can bring the dedicated disciple face-to-face with God. On Guru Purnima, devotees may get up early and spend the day fasting, praying, and singing their guru’s praises. Of course, the best way to honor the guru is to follow his or her teachings and achieve the goal of yoga–self-realization. Indeed, nothing pleases the guru more than seeing the disciple stand on his or her own two feet.

Whether you have a guru or not, Guru Purnima gives yogis a wonderful opportunity to recommit to their spiritual practice, knowing that others around the world are doing the same thing. This collective consciousness is a powerful aid.

On this day, yogis make a commitment called a sankalpa, or a sacred vow. This vow is traditionally kept for a chaturmas, or a four-month period.

A sankalpa made on Guru Purnima is not like a typical New Year’s resolution, where one makes a vague, lofty plan that is followed for a few days and is then jettisoned as old habits reappear. Instead, it is a specific goal with a detailed plan on how to attain it. It is written down, signed, and then given to a spiritual preceptor or teacher.

photo by Mia Park
photo by Mia Park

This practice is part of the yogic observance of tapas, or purifying austerities. Tapas falls into three categories: austerity, worship, and charity. It can include practices to be taken up or habits to be given up.

“That which purifies the impure mind is tapas,” said Swami Sivananda. “That which regenerates the lower animal nature and generates divine nature is tapas. That which cleanses the mind and destroys lust, anger, greed etc., is tapas. That which destroys tamas (dullness) and rajas (impurity) and increases satva (purity) is tapas.”

What you choose to do for Guru Purnima should be something that is reasonable given your particular circumstances. It should also be somewhat challenging. Usually, we have an idea floating around the back of our minds. If that is the case, write it down and visualize how it could be put into action. Remember, it should be appropriate for your particular stage of spiritual practice, and that yoga is, ultimately, about authentically wanting to clean up your act

Once you figure out what your commitment will be, write it down, sign it, and put it into practice–not just for the guru or teacher, but also for your own spiritual unfoldment.

Because ultimately, the real guru is right there, seated in your own heart as your inmost Self.

Choosing–and Keeping–Your Sankalpa

It is best to write down the vow that you wish to keep for Guru Purnima. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to follow through. Include the steps you will take to accomplish it. Sign it and give it to someone you believe in, or burn it. Then, keep quiet about it and do the work.

If you do not have any ideas, here are a few places to start:

  • Give up a bad habit that is not serving you, such as bed-texting, having a glass of wine before bed, eating junk food, gossiping, or spending time with people who bring out the worst in you.
  • Spend five minutes a day reading the Yoga Sutras or other scripture.
  • Keep a daily spiritual diary, and write down your practices and how well you kept (or didn’t keep) yama, yoga’s ethical foundation. For more ideas, read Swami Radha’s 1996 book, Time To Be Holy.
  • Repeat a certain number of rounds of mantra each day, using a mala (a 108-bead rosary used for meditation). “A rosary is a whip to goad the mind towards God,” said Swami Sivananda in his book Japa Yoga (available for free, at dlshq.org/teachings/ japayoga .htm ).
  • Develop a home practice. Resolve to do 20 minutes of asana, 12 rounds of pranayama, asana , and/or 20 minutes meditation each day. Or promise yourself that you’ll go to class a certain number of times each week.
  • Give up eating meat. If this seems too drastic, consider going vegetarian once a week (for more info, visit meatfreemondays.com or vrg.org).
  • If you are not yet ready to deepen your yoga practice, perhaps there is something in your life that needs to be resolved first. Consider diving into that project you’ve been avoiding, such as putting your finances or house in order, or clearing out a practice space in a bedroom or corner of the living room.
  • Consider volunteering once a week or month through selfless service or Karma yoga, which should be performed without attachment to results. For example, resist the urge to brag about it or put it on your résumé. For ideas, visit volunteermatch.org and read Ram Dass’s 1985 book, How Can I Help?
  • Take a weekly Internet and smartphone fast, or practice silence once a week. Or vow to eat a meal in silence–no TV, no talking, no texting or reading–once a day or once a week.
  • Give away one object you no longer use each day or week. Give the items to charity, or post them on freecycle.org.
  • If you have a tendency to run behind schedule (i.e., you are always late), vow to arrive five minutes early to each of your appointments.
  • Put the Yoga Sutras into practice. Read Yogi Cameron Alborzian’s new book The One Plan: A Week-by-Week Guide to Restoring Your Natural Health and Happiness. And do the exercises.

 

Cara Jepsen

Kali Om (Cara Jepsen) , E-RYT 500, is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and has been teaching yoga since 1998; she is the senior teacher of Dharma yoga in Chicago and has completed Sri Dharma Mittra’s LOAY 200-, 500-, and 800-hour trainings. She will lead yoga and meditation retreats November 1-2, 2014 at the beautiful Port for Prayer in Frankfort, IL and in Belize February 7-14, 2015. For more information, visit yogikaliom.com.

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

By Jessica Dodd

Gale_Super_Dancerpose

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

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

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

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

Light_On_Yoga_BKS_Iyengar

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

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

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

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

The Search for Peace

by Marci Moberg 

©Enid Johnstone

Everyone is searching for peace –peace within themselves, with others, in their environments, and in their homes.  Still, somehow peace escapes out the back door, and continues to elude people.  The search for peace faces multiple obstacles along the way that block the path and keep serenity at bay.  One supporting mechanism to finding peace now is through the practice of ahimsa.

Ahimsa, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is one of the five yamas, or ethical practices, that together form the first limb of the eight-limbed path of yoga.  While often translated as non-killing, the concept carries more nuance and depth.  

 

Sri Swami Satchidananda describes ahimsa as not causing pain. What he means by that is not causing pain in thought, word, and deed.  While many think of this as an externally focused practice, it is just as much an inside job, because neglecting the practice of ahimsa towards one’s self can create harm to others. 

Practicing ahimsa in one’s every day life may seem simple at first. On the surface it appears easy to not harm others and cause them pain.  People easily identify avoiding physical harm, using words unwisely like slandering another person, and other deeds that appear to overtly create pain and harm to another person.  

This makes the initial layer of the practice easy for many to adopt.  But the practice is deeper.  First the practice should include beings other than human beings.  This includes not killing or harming insects, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, and even being mindful of the treatment of plants and trees. 

Second, the practice should include the way our words and deeds affect others in subtle ways to cause harm that may otherwise not be obvious to us.  The effects of our actions on others are subtle and easily missed if we are not mindful of another person’s perspective and the potential ripples our actions may create. 

While we may have the best of intentions, beautiful intentions do not always result in beautiful action.  It is this delicate balance that makes practicing ahimsa a true art, rather than a hard science. 

While practicing ahimsa with word and deed can be challenging in subtle ways, even more difficult is the practice of ahimsa in thought.  The ego rarely comes up with something nice to say about another person.  It often moves us into a place of survival, protection, and defensiveness automatically without even taking pause. 

 

One of the beings it often most attacks is one’s self. I discovered that practicing ahimsa with one’s self truly requires a careful look at one’s thoughts throughout the day and the subtle messages we tell ourselves that perhaps are not so helpful.  Sometimes the thought is obviously harmful, like telling ourselves that we are unintelligent for forgetting to do something.  Other times the language is subtler. 

When I started to watch my own thoughts I discovered that negative messages that were harming me were sneakily sliding into what otherwise appeared to be efforts to be productive.  For example, when trying to get myself to focus on something like my research for my dissertation, I would tell myself internally that I was banned from checking e-mail or prohibited from calling a friend back so I would finish the task. 

This harsh language with myself set me up for an uncomfortable reality where I felt like doing my dissertation or any other task was punishment.  It drained all the enjoyment out of things I needed to spend my time on that I truly loved.  Sometimes it caused rebellious behavior in me as I rebelled against my harsh instructions to focus and checked my e-mail anyway, like a teenager rebelling against her parents.  In the end, this harsh internal language to myself was not helping me be productive, nor nurturing me. 

 

And the ripple effects it created were probably more harmful than I am even aware of now, and a pattern I continue to watch and slowly undo.

It is said that when the Buddha and other saints practiced ahimsa in the forest, animals would only kill if they were hungry and would otherwise dwell peacefully together.  The practice and non-practice of ahimsa I believe has more subtle energetic affects on the environment and relationships around us than we realize, especially with ourselves. 

SriDharma Mittra always emphasizes that what we focus our thought on is also where we direct our prana energy. As a result, it is key that we are sensitive to where we are directing prana.  In the end, if someone wants to truly experience peace with others, with his or her environment, and above all within his or herself, ahimsa is an essential element in unlocking the serenity we seek.


 
Marci Moberg came to yoga, meditation, and mindfulness through her own spiritual and healing journey.  First connecting to yoga in college as a form of exercise, she later connected to its deeper roots as an avid student and practitioner of many ancient contemplative traditions.  Marci is grateful to be a dedicated student of Felix Lopez, a former Buddhist monk and energy healer.  She is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) and is currently completing the 500-Hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training with Sri Dharma Mittra.  She teaches yoga, meditation, and mindfulness in the greater Washington DC area.  Off the mat and cushion Marci works in international development, is an experienced conflict resolution practitioner, and a doctoral candidate at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.  You can learn more about Marci and find her reflections on the study and practice of different spiritual traditions here: abhidhammayoga.com and seekreflectimplement.com

 

 

Where Most of Us Get Stuck: Understanding the Throat Chakra

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

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

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

 

Tapas for Teachers

By Liz Schindler

“Yoga is the path of purification of character and conduct (the cleansing of one’s physical and mental nature) wherein the highest state of reality and truth may shine undiminished in the hearts and minds of all beings.” –Sri Dharma Mittra
 
©Jeffrey Vock

 My Life of A Yogi Teacher Training Training wasn’t all rainbows and kittens! Well, it was mostlyrainbows and kittens, but also a whole lot of tapas. Tapas is perhaps the most transformative of the niyamas, or personal disciplines, set forth by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras as well as the basis for the “path to purification” that Sri Dharma Mittra refers to in his definition of yoga.
According to the LOAY manual, tapas is defined as heat, austerity, or burning away impurities through self-discipline.Tapas was at the beginning of my transformative journey and it fueled my passion to learn and grow and to push through self doubt. Tapas caused the deepening of my physical practice throughout the intensive ten days, fueled by my own fire and sweat. It was tapas that drove me to the training, got me through it, and forced a change in my body, mind and spirit.
       
Sri Dharma Mittra is referred to as the teacher’s teacher and for good reason! Sri Dharma is the perfect shepherd to the trainees because he didn’t only show us how to teach yoga classes, he shared his limitless experience, knowledge and wisdom.  The morning pranayama and spiritual discourse sessions were the highlight of my day and I cannot stress how challenging but rewarding the breath work was. I soaked up all the information on the kriyas, mantra, chakras, bandhas and mudras.  
©Jeffrey Vock
 
Yet there was still the element of tapas and the floor seemed to harden with each passing day and by day six easy poses were no longer easy. The pain of sitting with a tall spine (out of respect for Sri Dharma) was distracting at times but looking back I’m happy that I did it. It broke a mental barrier in my mind and got rid of “I can’t do this any longer” and replaced it with “I’m still doing this.” I read a quote somewhere that says “your mind will always give up before your body, just keep going” and I did.
The hard part was putting myself out there as a teacher and I cannot adequately express my horror as I taught my first Dharma I class to my group during the training. In contrast to my inexperience, my group was so advanced! Two of my group-mates had mothers that taught yoga and two others were already certified teachers. This was my first teaching experience ever and I was mortified. I remember my disappointment as I taught and how frustrated I was over the shakiness in my voice and the inaccuracy of my cues. But why was I so nervous? I had been falling on my sweaty face and loudly farting in front of these people for days! But suddenly their opinion mattered more than anything and I thought I was bombing it.


©Liz Schindler
 
After finishing my first practice teach (which felt like hours) my mentor Hannah Allerdice gave me an honest review of my teaching. She stressed her opinion that I would be a wonderful teacher because she could sense how much I cared about my students. At the time I thought she was just being kind, but looking back through my handy 20/20 hindsight goggles, I see she was on point. Because I care so much I was nervous and horrified while practice teaching. My drive to teach yoga stems from my gratefulness to all of my teachers for helping deepen my yoga practice and to open my heart. All I wanted then and now is to be able to share that same gift of yoga with my students.
       
By the end of the training I had more confidence in my teaching and a greater sense of sympathy for my own feelings. I made strong friendships and have new role models to look up to. I surpassed my own expectations and in turn have raised my self-expectations. The LOAY teacher training experience was truly life altering for me and I am forever grateful to Sri Dharma and all of his teaching staff. 

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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.

 

    

      

The Four Building Blocks of Meditation

By Alan C. Haras

 “After mastering the art of concentration, one proceeds to meditate.  The constant practice of meditation leads to realization of self.” Yogi Gupta

©Dharma Yoga Center

The Catholic theologian Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. referred to Meditation, or dhyana, as it is referred to in the Yoga Sutras, as the means through which we connect to the “portion of God dwelling in the center of our chest” – in the spiritual heart.

The various practices of yoga are designed to empower us with the ability to sit still long enough in order for the “mind to settle into silence”, revealing the changeless, eternal Self.


Let’s explore the various components of meditation, using the framework of Father Burghardt’s definition, and the substance of the yogic teachings as passed on by Sri Dharma Mittra.


·        Long


According to SwamiSivananda, concentration, or dharana, is defined as twelve seconds of unbroken focus on one point.  Meditation, or dhyana, is said to be about 2.5 minutes, while samadhi is about thirty minutes.
 

Sri Dharma Mittra emphasizes that the purpose of asana is intended to prepare one to sit in meditation long enough to perceive the Self.  Traditionally, it is said that one should build up to being able to sit for three hours without distraction.  


Of course, progress is made in stages.  Patanjali Maharishi says that, “The practice of yoga will be firmly rooted when it is maintained consistently and with dedication over a long period of time.”  The Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi TeacherTraining Manual reminds us that, “the more one practices, the faster progress is made.” 


·        Loving


In order to persevere in the practice of meditation, one must be motivated by a burning desire for liberation, or mumukshutvaWithout a passion for God or the Self, progress is virtually impossible.  One may be motivated to practice for a time out of fear, or a desire for some benefits, but it is really love which leads us onward, beyond ourselves. 

Patanjali says that samadhi comes from complete surrender to the Almighty One.   Surrender takes place when we love something more than we love our own illusions.  Of the nine different forms of yoga, bhakti yoga is the path of union with the Self through love.  Whether one is devoted to a particular form of God, one’s Guru or the Truth, the spiritual aspirant is spurred on by a love which consumes the small self and draws them into a transforming union with Ultimate Reality.

·        Look


There is a beautiful word in Sanskrit – darshan– which refers both to how one sees things, as well as to actually “to have sight of” something or someone.  When one goes to a temple or to see a Guru, one is going to have darshan.  This kind of “look” is not a stare or a glare, but a gaze, by which one sees beyond the appearance of things into the things into their essence.


This kind of vision is depicted in yogic literature and art as the “third eye” – a vision that sees beyond the apparent duality to the unity we all share.  The yogi is one who lives in two worlds at once – simultaneously aware of multiplicity, while remaining absorbed in the Supreme Self beyond names and forms.  One “sees”, not merely with physical eyes, but with the divine eye, or divya chakshu.


·        Real


When asked what is really Real, the great sage Sri Ramana Maharshi answered, “That which does not change.”  The question we must then ask is, “What does not change?”  We live in a world of constant change.  Change appears to be the only thing we can count on.  However, the yogis assure us that there is a changeless reality, but it is to be found only within.  It is known as the atman – the portion of God residing within our own heart.  This atman, the changeless reality within us, is said to be identical with Brahman– the changeless reality that pervades the entire cosmos.  This Supreme Self is like the movie screen upon which the play of names and forms unfolds, while remaining unstained by any of the moving pictures. 


The practice of meditation establishes us in the role of the eternal witness, observing the movements of the body, mind and emotions, without getting caught in them.  One is able to “do what needs to be done” without being identified with the “doer”, thus allowing the mind to remain absorbed in the Infinite.

1. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Alistair Shearer
2. Fourteen Lessons in Raja Yoga by Swami Sivananda
3. Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training Manual
4. Bhagavad Gita by Swami Nikhilananda.



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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.

Contentment – Discovered in a Bad Yoga Class

by Melody Abella

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

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


©Jeffrey Vock
Back to santosha/contentment:

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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Passionate about sharing the power of yoga & its transformational benefits, Melody Abella founded a mobile yoga business in 2006. abellaYoga travels to corporate and private clients in Washington, D.C., Alexandria and Arlington, VA to teach yoga in homes, offices, hotels, and conference centers. Grateful for experiences gained in the telecom/tech corporate world, this ex-marketing yoga-chick is happy to share all she knows about yoga. Believing through discipline and devotion we have the power within to make positive changes in our bodies, lives and this world, Melody teaches her students “anything is possible”. Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says you must have “angry determination.” Melody received her 500-hour Dharma Yoga Teacher certification in May 2012. She continues to hop the train from DC to NYC monthly to practice with Sri Dharma Mittra at the Dharma Yoga New York Center.