Category Archives: tapas

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.

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.

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.

10 Reasons to Go Upside Down

By Raquel Vamos

Group_Headstand

When I tell my students it’s time for inversions, I can sense panic in the room. To let go of our fears and embrace the world upside down, we must first begin to change our perspective. Here are 10 reasons why life upside down can be fun, healing, and can help your confidence!

1.  Facing Fear: Fear is what holds us back in life and keeps us from achieving our goals. When we face our fears on the yoga mat, we learn to bring this strength into the world around us. Most of the time we are more afraid of falling than we are of going upside down. In order to control our fear we must first identify it clearly. Facing your fear helps you live in the moment. It’s a practice of letting go and living in the now; an exercise to make your mind stronger.

2.  Refresh: Inversions bring the blood flow toward your head, which helps increase oxygen to your brain. Increased blood flow improves your mental functions like concentration, processing skills, and memory. Going upside down also helps calm your nervous system bringing about more balance and less anxiety caused by the external world.

Dharma_Mittra_Headstand

3.  Energize: Inversions are energizing. Most everything in our daily life, from work, family, electronics, and school drains our energy. Inversions are a tool that act like a shot of espresso. When I feel sleepy or tired, I go upside down and the blood flow to my head (see number 2) wakes me up. I feel alert and vibrant!

4.  Awareness: Going upside down develops awareness both physical and mental. First we are aware of the mechanics of getting up. Then, as we go deeper, we find a more subtle awareness of our physical and mental body working as one. Since you cannot see your feet or legs when you are upside down, you learn to feel where they are and move them with your mind. Without our vision to guide us, we feel insecure about being upside down. The sense of sight keeps us stuck in the external world, which can be so extravagant that we get stuck outside and forget the inside. Inversions help us rely less on sight and more on intuition to develop an inward awareness.

Dharma_Mittra_with_Pepper

5.  Strength and Balance: Inversions develop muscle strength and balance throughout your whole body. When you practice headstand you strengthen the stabilizer muscles in your neck, which helps you gain better control of your head. In forearm stands your shoulders gain strength and stability. In handstand your arms become lean and fit.  All inversions help develop core strength which is essential for asana and help you with better balance, stability, and endurance.  Most of all, inversions work the entire body so you don’t need to go to a gym and do ten different circuits to target individual muscles—inversions develop them all at once.

6. Concentration: When you are upside down you must focus entirely on what you are doing. It’s extremely hard to think about your personal life and problems when your feet are over your head. Your mind becomes one-pointed and you let go of all worries and doubts, bringing you into the present moment. In my opinion it’s a fast way to enjoy stillness.

7.  Breath Control: It is said in the yoga tradition that we are born with a certain amount of breaths to sustain us throughout life. Stress makes our breathing rapid and fast. When you go upside down the body forces you to inhale and exhale, otherwise it is too hard to hold the inversion. Synchronizing your breath in inversions help guide the movement.

Inversions

8. Get Happy: I have yet to meet anyone that is unhappy after going upside down. While inverting, you release endorphins and serotonin. These “feel-good” chemicals in your body relieve stressors in the mind which also help with depression and immediately improves your mood. 

9.  Playtime: Sri Dharma always says that we must act as children and have a light heart in life as well as on the yoga mat. Inversions bring out the inner child trapped inside the adult mind. This world can be so serious that we get lost in the adult mentality. We stop singing, we are afraid to dance, we have irrational fears of being judged, and the list goes on and on. The truth is we are all children wanting to play. Going upside down is a great way to ignite that long lost flame of innocent fun and play.

10.  Confidence: After a day of inversions you should notice a sense of confidence rising from deep within. You may feel empowered and charged with high esteem. Facing your fears and accomplishing the unthinkable helps you to see the power of mind over body. You realize you are capable of anything and raise the standards of your own potential.

(Pictures by Jeffrey Vock and Ana Cecilia Vargas)

Raquel_VamosRaquel Vamos has been teaching yoga for 3 years. She has a 150-Hour Hot Yoga Certification with Sayville Hot Yoga, RYT- 200 and is busy completing her Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Certification. Raquel has taught at Sayville Hot Yoga, Yoga for Life, Love Yoga Shala, Rocky Point Hot Yoga, Dharma Yoga NY Center, and Dharma Yoga Center LI.  She teaches privates, group classes, and workshops. Yoga is not just a job for Raquel she practices regularly with the Master Sri Dharma Mittra, taking meditation, Kirtan classes, and continued education classes.  Raquel is the owner of the Dharma Yoga Long Island studio, and hopes to spread the knowledge to those who wish to self-realize.

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.