By Brendan Lentz
Over the past two years, I had been contemplating doing some long-term travelling. The basic idea was to take a self-created sabbatical from my career in technology in New York City and travel around the world. I planned to visit family, friends and cities with Dharma Yoga communities. In late June of 2014, I donated, sold or stored my things and packed up what remained. This past summer I assisted at the Charm City Yoga festival in Maryland, taught workshops in Ohio and generally had a great time making new friends and enjoying my newfound free time.
A major stop on my journey was to visit longtime friends who had recently relocated to the Boulder, Colorado area. The timing of this visit worked out so that I would be able to be in Colorado at the same time Sri Dharma would be there for the Yoga Journal conference at the YMCA of the Rockies. I had never attended a Yoga Journal conference and I thought this was the perfect time to do it.
I arrived at the YMCA (elevation 8,010 feet) on September 19th, on the heels of a grueling 1,000-mile drive from Illinois to Colorado the day before. The setting is breathtaking. Beautiful views of snow covered mountains surround the YMCA campus and wildlife is abundant. It is a perfect setting for practicing yoga! I had just enough time to pick up my conference badge at the Administration Building and make it to the first of four classes taught by Sri Dharma over the next two days.
Sri Dharma gave an extended discourse before we started the physical asanas during the first class. He spoke about food and the importance of offering the food before we eat it. “May all beings enjoy this food through my senses,” is something he suggested we say before eating. I like this idea because it not only reminds us to be grateful for what we have, but it goes beyond. One way I look at it is this: I can use this food as nourishment so that I can maintain good health and use my body and mind in order to serve others. In that way my actions can create ways for more people to enjoy healthy food on a consistent basis. Later during the conference I joined some new friends for lunch at the cafeteria. We all agreed that this part of the discourse struck a chord and we all said the offering together before enjoying a delicious meal.
Sri Dharma offered ideas on how to transition to a vegetarian diet. The suggestion is to eat vegetarian Monday through Friday. You can buy one of the new Bullet blenders and use that to make blends in the mornings. If you are living with someone you can share the task. Each day you can alternate who makes the blended drinks to make it easier. As an example of blend Sri Dharma recommended some spinach, kale, fresh pineapple and protein powder. On the weekends you can be more relaxed in the diet. He suggested you might try a vegan pizza from Trader Joe’s. Sri Dharma stressed that it is important to let the senses enjoy food and not to be too strict. If you are too strict with yourself, then it won’t work. Over time you might find that you don’t even want to the pizza as much, but in the beginning he advises its best not to be overly strict. In my own experience I’ve noticed that the more I eat healthier food, the more I enjoy it and, over time, cravings for unhealthy food falls away.
With regard to the asanas, or the physical postures, Sri Dharma suggested that they are not required. If you don’t like to do the postures you can go to the gym, use the bike or swim as alternatives. He stressed that is important to keep the body in good shape. When I arrived the first day I had a fair amount of trouble breathing comfortably. While on a phone call to my father that day I was winded and had trouble even speaking. I know from studying with Sri Dharma in New York that he is in excellent physical condition but I wondered how he would handle the high altitude in Estes Park. When we did pranayama – breathing exercises, Sri Dharma did not seem to be impacted at all by the thin air. Towards the end of the weekend he shared with us that the first year he came to Estes Park he was winded but each year he returned he became more acclimated. At 75 years young, he is a living example of how you can maintain excellent physical health for many years through a committed practice of yoga and exercise.
Although Sri Dharma is known for being able to perform difficult poses, his classes at Yoga Journal were accessible to all levels. He spoke on compassion and the ability to place yourself in others. Along these lines I believe he made the classes less challenging since the altitude and the full days of classes already challenged many students. Instead he offered a little more discourse and made himself available before and after each class if anyone had questions.
I had a great time meeting new people and seeing friends who came from New York just for this event. I spoke with some people who wanted to learn more and I shared information about the Life of a Yogi Teacher Trainings that Sri Dharma offers regularly in New York. I had such a good time that I purchased pre-sale tickets for next year. The gorgeous natural setting with Rocky Mountains in the background are the perfect setting to practice yoga with Sri Dharma Mittra – the “Rock of Yoga.”