By Gülnihal Özdener
I was walking home from Dharma Yoga Center on the third night of my 500-hour teacher training in September and mantras echoed in my head as I was gazed up into the sky, counting the stars. Then I saw 50 of them on a flag in front of a tall building. It hit me then — I had been in the United States for almost three months! In Manhattan for almost three months!
Why hadn’t I ever realized that before? Of course, I was not speaking Turkish or having Turkish food, but I felt like I was home the entire time, without realizing I was thousands of miles away from home. But it was still home.
Coming to New York to meet Sri Dharma Mittra, after the most troubling period of time in my life, has been a remedy. The wounds of a psychologically abusive relationship pushed me onto a path where I found Dharma Yoga. The legendary Mark Kan’s class forced my body gently to its physical limits in a way that felt so right. I said, “That’s it! This is what I want to do!”
There I was, on my mat, in Sri Dharma’s temple. Krishna Das music was on. The incense was wrapping me up kindly. Since my first day in the city, I was at Dharma Yoga Center every single day. I was lucky enough to practice twice-a-day with Dharmaji and the great teachers he taught. The energy is always so embracing, you can never feel like an outsider.
I looked around the temple; more than 100 people practicing, 70 of them were teacher trainees. I saw that each body is different. Each has a story that brought them into this very temple, practicing with Dharmaji. Hearts beating as one in each pose, all fuelled with so much enthusiasm. There was no judgment, only pure love. There was abundant help, encouragement, and unconditional support. The compassion that Sri Dharma always emphasizes turned us into a very large multinational family.
The self is one, as Sri Dharma teaches us, and those 100 plus people in the temple were moving all together as one. Even the beginners, who happened to find themselves in the middle of so many advanced asana practitioners, found the courage to try the seemingly impossible.
For me, many poses were hard to practice, either because of my mild scoliosis or out of stiffness. But when I saw my family moving and trying and falling and getting back up — even after some six to eight hours of asana practice in a day — I didn’t give up. I found myself in poses that would have been impossible elsewhere. I am not even mentioning the experiences I had during our morning pranayama and meditation sessions.
People in Turkey were, and are, asking me, “Oh you must have visited a lot of places! Three months is a long time!”
That makes sense, New York City (or Manhattan, to be more specific) is a crazy place with so many entertaining or touristy options, and I have been to some of them. But it never felt like I was touring Manhattan. I was at the center, in the temple almost every day! There were times when we had our breakfast, lunch, dinner at the center, or when we took naps.
Then I thought; well, yeah, I have been to many places. Especially within my mind, soul, and body. Those were wonderful places, and my guide was mostly Dharmaji, and other beloved Dharma teachers.
If you’re talking about the city, for me, Manhattan is Dharmaland.
Gülnihal Özdener met yoga when she was 19 and absolutely hated the first few months of practice. Later on, she realized her scoliosis-related pain started to fade and her grumpiness turned into calmness, so she applied for her first teacher training at the age of 23. Two years later, she contacted the Dharma Yoga Center, applied for the 500-hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training. Now back in Istanbul, she spreads the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra via the classes she offers, humbly continuing the lineage of Yogi Gupta.
Find her at facebook.com/gulniyleyoga or email@example.com.