All posts by Adam Frei

There is Only Bliss–the 500 Hour LOAY Teacher Training

By Jerome Burdi

I remember looking around the room of one of the packed master classes during the 500-hour-teacher training and seeing students breaking their practice to help others get into a pose. That’s because they were not just students, but teachers, too.

I felt so happy to be there, seeing the community come together under the guidance of the teachers’ teacher: Sri Dharma Mittra. There are 67 souls in the teacher training that had its first eight-day module Sept. 7, and will have it’s second on Nov. 2. They came from all over the States and world including: China, England, Australia, Germany, France, Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Croatia. And there I was, too, taking the subway from my native Brooklyn.

It’s wonderful to be in the presence of these people with Sri Dharma and the group mentors. To be a student again and soak up so much knowledge just by being in the presence of a true master who shows the mark of one: humility.

Sri Dharma is open hearted and childlike, and that floods the training and his classes. There usually comes a point towards the end of class where he opens it up for students to “Do your own special thing,” including acroyoga. This is when it becomes like a big playground and we’re all children playing at the feet of our father.

The training’s 14-hour days start at 7 a.m. with pranayama. Before coming to the training, I didn’t have a personal pranayama practice. This is one of the things I hoped to receive from the training and receive it I did. Dharmaji and the fellow teachers were so knowledgeable that it became one of my favorite parts of the training.

It’s the perfect way to start the day in the hush of Manhattan mornings before all the madness begins. Incense circles the images of Indian dieties in the dimly lit room as we fill the atmosphere with positive vibrations, moving into higher states of consciousness through pranayama.

I watched everyone’s yoga practice grow during the course of the first module. We were like one big family helping each other get better. People had breakthroughs in their practice thanks to the energy in the room and the knowledge of Sri Dharma who was helping us all psychically.

That’s why a lot of students can do things in Sri Dharma’s class that they cannot do alone. With the power of the master and the sangha, all is possible, all is bliss.

The long days went so fast and there was not one moment that I did not want to be there with my fellow student/teachers, each sharing our strong points and improving our weaknesses.

The more difficult part of the training comes in the intermodule when you are left with only your inner strength, without the daily help of your fellow trainees or in some cases without the presence of Sri Dharma.

I am fortunate enough to be close to Sri Dharma, but I feel for my friends who are in far reaches of the world, some even without a Dharma yoga studio to practice in.

But as Sri Dharma says, all is perfect and we must be receptive to see this. And that’s why we’ve come to him. I look forward to our reunion in the great yoga temple where we will shine once more under the umbrella of Sri Dharma’s grace.

Jerome

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.

Light on BKS Iyengar

by Dharma Yoga staff

B. K. S. Iyengar, yoga master, legend, and Guru to thousands, died last week at the age of 95. Few people have done as much to make yoga as accessible to the masses as Iyengar, and few have shown by example what true yoga is.

Born into an impoverished family, the 11th of 13 children, Iyengar was a sickly child, suffering from malnutrition, malaria and tuberculosis. He found his way back to health through the practice of yoga, and became a tireless advocate of the eight limbs of yoga. Iyengar didn’t see a separation between the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga, according to John Schumacher, a longtime student of Iyengar’s in India and the United States and the director of the Unity Woods Yoga Center in D.C. “The physical body is a manifestation of the divine body,” he said. “How we approach the physical aspects is part of the whole package of yoga: body, mind, spirit, breath, and emotion.”

Sri Dharma Mittra has said that while he only had one yoga teacher, he considers Iyengar his Asana Guru, and Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga to be like a “yoga bible” for anyone serious about the topic. “I have been sneaking into that book and learning from him for years,” said Sri Dharma Mittra, adding that Iyengar was a master when it came to matters of alignment.

When Sri Dharma Mittra was planning the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Asanas, Light on Yoga was one of six books he used as points of reference, and has said many times that when one is doing Pranayama, the student should imagine he or she is an “expert like Iyengar.”

This weekend, the Dharma Yoga Center will honor the memory and contributions of B.K.S. Iyengar with three-and-a-half hours of classes taught by Sri Dharma Mittra dedicated to Iyengar’s memory. On August 30th, Sri Dharma is offering class from 10-1:30 (Maha Shakti, Yoga Nidra, and Psychic Development) all for only $45 if preregistered by 8/29.

“Mr. Iyengar, I see you as an embodiment of Lord Shiva for the way you teach and of Lord Rama for your elegance, love, and the way you dress. We have shared many students over the years in our love of these teachings. When things come from experience, they can truly be trusted.” –Sri Dharma Mittra

Listen to Sri Dharma Mittra’s interview and his thoughts on Iyengar here.

Karma Yoga

by Danielle Gray

As we have been told, karma yoga is the practice of selfless service – doing deeds with “no strings attached”, as Dharmaji would say. Karma yoga was a major part of Dharmaji’s path with Yogi Gupta, according to the LOAY teacher training manual. For me, the practice of karma yoga has begun to help me understand what “dharma” truly is, as well as to teach me how to interact with other people in the world in a better way.

Occasionally I find myself feeling unmotivated to do my sadhana for some period of days. Usually the cure for this lack of enthusiasm includes reading the section of the teacher training manual that talks about Dharmaji’s life when he was studying with Yogi Gupta. The fact that he was both paying for every class with the Master (meaning he had to work several paying jobs), as well as offering his services as a karma yogi is incredibly inspiring. Reading this  portion of Dharmaji’s story helps me realize that life is fairly simply if we allow it to be – just do what has to be done to move forward on your path, and forget the energetic charge that comes with complaining or creating stories about what it means to do the things you have to do! This is what it means to truly live your own dharma – to remove all resistance to what is happening or what must happen, and go forth with your best enthusiasm and your best efforts.

Keeping these things in mind helps me view each day differently. It helps me to remove the sense of self-entitlement that seems to permeate many of my peers’ lives. It helps me break the ego a little more, stay humble, and realize that no task is beneath me – no matter what I may have “accomplished” in this material plane.

When I am able to maintain this perspective with focus and clear intention, the world around me changes. Other people sense that I am receptive and deeply appreciate my openness and ability to listen. I accomplish every task that is given to me much more easily, and simultaneously, I create no attachment to any of this external feedback. Approaching everything in daily life as karma yoga simplifies my existence a great deal, and helps me reconnect with the act of giving constantly from a place of pure devotion. As Dharmaji says, “Devotion leads to the total surrender of ego,” and eventually to the goal: Self-Realization or God-Realization.

photo by Jeffrey Vock
photo by Jeffrey Vock

The practice of Dharma Yoga found Danielle in 2010, and after her very first class, she began to immerse herself in it, feeling a deep calling to share it with others. She participated in the 200-hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training program in June 2011 (completing her certification the following May), and she completed her 500-hour certification in May 2013. Additionally, she has over 18 years of experience studying dance & movement, which greatly informs her yoga instruction, especially in the aspects of anatomy and alignment. She is currently living in Sedona, AZ, teaching Dharma Yoga at several local studios.

Are You My Guru?

by Reno Muenz

Since my daughter was born two years ago I have had the opportunity to revisit some of the classic children’s books I read as a child. One of them, Are You My Mother?, tells the story of a little bird who falls from the nest while his mother is away. He sets out on a quest to discover who his mother is. He meets many interesting characters along the journey but none of them turns out to be his mother. Finally, in the end, he returns to the nest to find his mother waiting for him. My experience on the path of yoga is quite similar to this children’s story.

I developed an interest in yoga as a teenager. Not an interest in the postures, but rather an interest in yogis, like the Buddha and the Sadhus of India. It was Bhagavan Das’ “It’s Here Now (Are You?)” that really turned me on to the world of yogis and spiritual practice. After high school I studied Religion in University, with a focus on Eastern Philosophy, and began practicing the asanas.

Many years have passed and I have dedicated my life to the study and practice of traditional yoga. I have had many teachers along the way and have studied a handful of disciplines. I am eternally grateful for each of these teachers who have inspired me and offered fuel to keep my flame burning bright, but I have known all along that I was not prepared to dedicate myself to any one practice. I had not found my “mother,” so to speak.

“If the guru comes I will know,” I have always told myself.

Reno Muenz with Sri Dharma

The teachings are very clear that if you desire to experience the higher states of consciousness, by means of yoga techniques, you will need a guru to guide you. Someone who has mastered the practice. I have been in the company of a few masters in my life, yet knew in my heart that they were not my guru. The difference between a teacher and a guru is that a teacher will offer guidance for certain parts of your life or practice. They will arrive when you need them. And you will probably have many in this lifetime. A guru, on the other hand, will pass the Light from their lamp to your wick, allowing you to see the Light that is within, or the Supreme Self. This is a lifelong relationship. It is as sacred as the relationship between a child and his or her parents. It is not to be taken lightly, as it is just a permanent as getting a tattoo. You have to know that you know that you are making the right decision and that the guru is honest and compassionate, without a doubt.

This is something that I have thought about for many years. “Will I ever have a guru?” “Is it really that important?” “Are you my guru?” All of these questions have danced through my mind.

About 3 years ago I saw this book called Asana at a yoga school I was teaching at. I was so moved by the photos in the book. I was really inspired. “Who is this amazing person?” I thought to myself.

I discovered his name was Sri Dharma Mittra and began looking into him. I discovered his Maha Sadhana DVDs and began to practice them at home. I devoured all the extras on the DVDs like a true yoga nerd and made this a regular part of my daily life. As a traditional yoga practitioner, I’ve never been much for practicing in front of a television screen, but Sri Dharma really spoke to me. I was practicing more Ashtanga and Jivamukti Yoga which took up a lot of my time, but I kept going back to the DVDs. “Someday, I would love to practice with this man.”

I read as much as I could from Sri Dharma online, which there is quite a bit (many thanks to the amazing staff at the Dharma Yoga New York Center). Then in the film Enlighten Up, I saw Sri Dharma again. Of all the amazing yogis in this film, it was Sri Dharma who grabbed me and spoke to my heart.

What I attracted me to Sri Dharma Mittra from afar was his depth. Not only was this man a master asana practitioner, he also had a deep knowledge of the scriptures, he chanted and played the harmonium, he emphasized pranayama, yama and niyama nearly every time he was interviewed (even on his DVDs), and most of all he appeared to be so humble.

My life, as it is for most experienced yoga teachers, was very busy and didn’t have a lot of space for travelling, unless it was work related. It had been a long time since I was able to sneak away for my own personal studies, not to mention it had also been a long time since I had felt inspired to do so. My life continued on with my inspiration from Sri Dharma coming from interviews and video clips via the internet, wondering when/if we would ever meet.

Reno Muenz 2Finally, at the encouragement of my mother and partner, I looked into what it would take for me to head to New York City, to find out if this humble master was my guru.

I wrote the entrance essay and sent it off with my deposit, not knowing if my attending would even be financially possible, or geographically possible, as I live on the West Coast of Canada. Some time passed and I spent a lot of time focusing my awareness on being in New York City with Sri Dharma. Manifesting.

I had a telephone interview set up and spoke with one of the great staff at the Dharma Yoga Center. “It just feels like I should be going.” I told my partner, who is always supportive and shared very little doubt as to whether or not we could make it happen. Even though we both knew it would be a stretch for me to be away from work and the family during the training.

I was very excited to receive my acceptance to come to New York and study with Sri Dharma Mittra. “This could be my guru!” I thought.

I was able to scrape the cash together to take part in the training and headed off to New York City.

Upon my arrival I spent a couple of days at the center practicing with Sri Dharma Mittra. I was absolutely amazed by him. His strength and flexibility, his devotion and dedication, his sweetness and sense of humor. “This is my guru.” I thought. I had never thought that before. I even became very emotional upon meeting him for the first time, which by the way is out of character for me.

The training was absolutely life changing. Dharma’s Senior teachers shared the same dedication that I have for the traditional practice of Yoga. It felt like coming home.

I remember a mentor of mine explaining the guru to me years ago. He said to me that if you are luck enough to meet your Sat Guru in this lifetime, you will know right away. I was always searching to see if I knew. And up until now I never have. But since meeting Sri Dharma Mittra, I know that I know.

I have since taken on a discipleship with the master and couldn’t be happier. I am dedicated to spreading the teachings of Yoga as described by Sri Dharma  Mittra and am grateful for my spiritual family of Dharma Yogis. As Dharma says in his prayer in the Asana Book. “Once we return home, may we never leave again.”

It feels good to be home. To have answered the question “Are You My Guru?”

 

Reno MuenzReno Muenz (Chaitanya Deva) is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and a certified Dharma Yoga instructor. His knowledge of traditional yoga science/philosophy, combined with a great sense of humor, and love for music make him a unique and inspiring teacher.  He is dedicated to a lifelong commitment of sharing the teachings of his guru, and the great masters of the past, in a way that is accessible and inspiring for students of all levels of experience.
You can find him in Vancouver BC Canada hanging with his daughter Marley Summer. Or teaching yoga classes at Semperviva Yoga and One Yoga. He is the founder of Sadhaka Yoga school which offer students an opportunity to deepen their understanding of traditional yoga techniques. Reno can also be found behind the turntables, sharing his love for music at many conscious events such as the Wanderlust Yoga festivals. You can connect with him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dharmayogavancouver or email oneloveyoga@gmail.com for more information on Sadhaka Yoga courses.

The Magic of Mantra, Japa and Kirtan

by Martin Scott

I didn’t know it at the time, but Sri Dharma was present at the beginnings of my practice.

I was very musical as a child, forming an extremely tight bond with music at a very young age.  My first piano lesson was the same day as my first day of first grade and I played my last recital my senior year of high school.  I joined the school band in fourth grade playing the tenor saxophone, then went through a bunch of different instruments – French horn, trumpet, flute, oboe, tuba, baritone – until I quit band my junior year in high school.

I would save my allowance and ask my dad to drive me to the store so I could spend hours perusing records before I finally made the decision as to which one of the many-coveted vinyl discs would end up living with the other beloveds I had so carefully chosen.  I would spend hours in my room memorizing every word to every song and commit to memory every melody.  This passion for all kinds of music grew with me all the way through adulthood.

With this deep-rooted love for music I’ve always loved chanting in yoga classes.  I was first introduced to this part of the practice by my teacher, Stephanie Snyder, and it quickly became my favorite part of the class.  She always began and ended her classes with different a chant every time.  At first I just loved the melodies, the smile that these lovely tunes always put on my face and the overwhelming sense of happiness that stayed with me with once they were done.  I listened very carefully to learn the words so that I could sing along, enunciating each word and working hard to be right on key, which was made a little easier since she plays the harmonium.  When I got home from class I would look up these chants online to learn the words and their meanings.  I was certain that knowing the translations would make me understand them even more.

One of my favorite chants that I learned, and the most mysterious of all, was the Purification Mantra.  Stephanie told us that she had learned it from her teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra.  She told us how this powerful mantra would purify anything that the sound touched, including the mind, the practice, everything.  I found myself chanting the Purification Mantra when I was washing dishes, when I was riding my scooter, out for a walk, settling in for my practice – all the time!  I asked Stephanie what it meant and she told me that she didn’t know and that I didn’t need to know and that it is more powerful when you don’t know the meaning.  This piqued my interest.

I started to realize that the effects of the mantras were what was making me feel so clear and grounded, not the happy tune or the words.  The repetition of the words were calming my mind, clearing things out and giving me that feeling of peace and calm.

“Many students of meditation and spiritual life complain of a noisy mind, out of control senses, and emotional challenges. One of the most significant, single suggestions of the ancient sages is the use of mantra japa, or sacred word to focus the mind. No amount of intellectualizing will convince you of this. It must be practiced for the benefits to be experienced.  Regardless of what mantra you use, one of the most important principles is the practice of constant remembrance. By cultivating such a steady awareness many benefits come.”(www.swamij.com)

When I sit with my mala and chant my mantra 108 times, I almost forget the words that I am saying.  The japa of the mantra calms the vrittis to the point that my own voice becomes a separate entity.  The cadence, rhythm, and repetition of the mantra are the simplest way to “nirodhah the vrittis.” Now I don’t try to figure out the words or what they mean when I learn a new mantra.  I just get into the groove of it and let the mantra work its magic.  These are some of my favorite times with Sri Dharma – comfortably sitting, chanting, responding incessantly what he calls out and feeling the amazing sense of clarity and calm that comes without really knowing what I’m saying.

 

Martin.Scott.HeadshotInspired and passionate, Martin Scott brings a light and humorous energy to every class he teaches; whether in Union Yoga, his own studio, or as messenger of yoga to other communities. Employing a distinct expression of devotion, tradition and levity, Martin teaches in a way that holistically inspires his students. Martin is committed to honoring his teachers, all of which who have led him to a life devoted to the study of yoga, as well as to teaching yoga to others. Most of all, Martin honors his guru, Sri Dharma Mittra

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.

Mindfulness with the Foot on the Pedal

by Lisa Markuson

Mindfulness. It’s a hot topic on social media outlets and the news.  But what is mindfulness?

Well, have you ever seen a cyclists whizzing around on the road, texting while biking? You don’t have to be a yogi perusing the Dharma Yoga blog to know that bike-texting is not being mindful of the task at hand and foot.

But I’m not here to berate masochistic compulsive communicators, I swear. In fact, the opposite is true. I want to talk about how cycling isn’t just the ecologically, physically, and socially healthful mode of transit, but is also a means to improve your mental and emotional health, strength and equanimity – much like a regular yoga practice. When riding a bike, every pedal is a new opportunity to be grateful for your legs, your feet, your trusty steed, the home you are leaving, the destination you are approaching, the air filling your lungs, society that paves the roads…you get the idea. I’ve always had a sense of this fact, but my recent experience of the Life of a Yogi yoga teacher training program at Dharma Yoga Center this February really catalyzed these ideas.

Bike_NY_©Enid_Johnstone

Mindfulness isn’t about being a Jedi who can fine tune proprioception to the point that you could take apart and reassemble a bike while blindfolded in a sandstorm. It is also very closely linked to the crucial tenets of compassion and loving-kindness, which can also be embodied while you are on a bike. What could be kinder and more compassionate then being a safe, engaged, calm cyclist, sharing the road, being present, and appreciating the people around you? If nothing else, it may keep you from yelling threats at tourists riding tandem in your way.

So here are five ways to make your bike ride more mindful and compassionate:

  1. When you’re getting ready to ride, take time to do a few simple stretches to wake your body up, get your blood pumping and stimulate your brain. A few sun salutations are a great start. Side stretches, loosening up the spine, hamstring stretches, and hip opening movements will improve your cycling, and an inversion like a headstand or a forward fold will bring oxygenated blood to the brain and wake you up better than coffee.
  2. Before you push off for your first pedal take 20 seconds to pause and visualize a safe, pleasant ride, and smile. Seriously, actually smile – it tells your body to produce all sorts of calming, pleasing chemicals.
  3. While riding, be aware of the mechanical processes and symbiosis of your body and your bike. Allow the body awareness that you’ve developed through your asana practice to translate to your ride and acknowledge the muscles of your legs and feet that are working in harmony to propel the pedals of your bike, the graceful simplicity of the machine amplifying your movements.
  4. Notice your breath and you may be surprised to realize how shallow it usually is, and how often we hold our breath because we’re focused elsewhere. Gently remind yourself to take full, slow, luxurious breaths while you ride, especially in heavy traffic or challenging terrain and you will be calmer, happier and will ride better overall.
  5. Develop new thought habits. Sri Dharma Mittra always encourages us to use each movement or action as an offering to God and you can do the same thing while on your bike. As a cyclist, it is easy to feel like you’re getting pushed around by cars, thwarted by pedestrians and on the defensive. However, if you give yourself permission to feel compassion and empathy for the other people with whom you share the road and the world, you’ll be amazed at how much happier and safe you feel. If a car cuts you off, wish them a safe and stress-free day. If another cyclist blows through a light, don’t curse at them but send a positive thought their way. It isn’t easy at first, but once you get started it quickly becomes second nature and it is worth it.

wheel_Lisa_Markuson

See if you can give some or all of these a try on your next ride and notice if it makes a difference in how you feel on your bike and off. If even one person who reads this finds that they have a better ride or a better day overall I’ll be thrilled so let me know how it works and how you feel. So let’s go ride! And of course, be receptive.

 

Lisa_Markuson

Lisa helps run an indie bike adventure company in Brooklyn, NY, and has completed Dharma Yoga Teacher training, splitting her time between NYC and our nation’s capital, Washington DC. Lisa is a Buddhist, queer, nomadic, New Age nonconformist, and likes to listen to jazz and funk and ambient sounds while collecting ideas on her blog, Disco Granola. She is only mostly vegan and gluten-free. Inspirations and role-models include but are not limited to: Gertrude Stein, Bill Murray, Mark Twain, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elena Brower, Haruki Murakami, and her father. Find her on twitter/instagram @lisamarkuson or tumblr at http://discogranola.tumblr.com

Sacred Space: Creating a Home Altar

by Ishvara Pranidana Om  

Altars are always present in Holy places.  Altars are by definition a place where sacrifices and offerings are made, but are also physical reminders of Divinity.  It is good to keep an altar in the home because it serves as a reminder to hold sacred space for the spiritual realm, which is increasingly difficult in our busy world.

There aren’t any particular rules about the appearance, location, or use of the altar, and they may range from elaborate to simple, large or a windowsill, inside or outside.  Here a few points to consider when you create your home altar:

  • Location, location, location:  Designate a spot that is out of the way, yet visible.  An altar in a busy location, like the counter right when you walk in the door, might be subject to clutter like house keys and mail.  Alternately, if the altar is not visible, the flowers may wilt and the area could become dusty and neglected.  Also, consider the height, as down low may not be a good option if you have children or small pets.

Altar_Urban

  • Size: Small spaces may call for a windowsill or shelf;   however, a larger area may support the use of a lovely table or the top of a piece of furniture.  If you have an outdoor space, you can make one out of rocks or wood.

Altar

  • Purpose:  Decide what purpose the space is being held for.  Is it a temporary situation, like the celebration of an upcoming birth or prayer for a sick relative, or long-term general use?  Keep in mind, the use of the altar can change as life itself is constantly shifting and changing.  However, determining a purpose in advance will help to decide the following factors:
  • Content:  Pictures or photographs of a Guru or other holy people, inspirational texts, flowers or plants, crystals or stones, altar cloths, incense, symbols (such as the Pranava) statues or figures or candles are examples of a few. And simplicity is good if you are just starting out. Your altar is also an ideal location to keep your mala or meditation shawl safe.

Altar_Windowsill

  • Upkeep: An altar free of clutter denotes respect, as does freshly watered flowers and plants.  Keep the area dust free and change the contents as necessary.

Altar_Woodstove

Once you create your altar, it is preferable to use it regularly as burning incense and offerings of prayers and flowers done repeatedly increase the potency of vibration in that spot.  And creating or continuing a ritual at your altar is also an excellent form of daily discipline, or Tapas.  You may pray there or light incense or candles with intention.  Or, you can just pause there and express gratitude or mentally send love to someone.

(Pictures by Ishvara Pranidana Om)

Ishvara_Pranidana_OmIshvara has been a devoted student of Sri Dharma Mittra since 2009 and has completed the 200, 500 and 800-Hour Dharma Yoga Lif of a Yogi Teacher Trainings in New York City. She is also the mother of three children ages seven, six and 2 months.  She lives in Jefferson City, MO.

Not Invincible. A Tale on Loss and the Reality that Follows

by Fay Inger

Fay_Inger

I am a yogi, but I am not invincible. I know this because I was recently injured in car accident and X-rays (and later an MRI) revealed a total of 5 herniated discs in my lumbar spine. Two in particular are pressing on a nerve, shooting pain in to my glute and down into my leg and knee. The painful throb feels as if a red-hot fireplace iron is constantly and firmly poking me. My injuries are relatively small compared to serious injuries people sustain in auto accidents, but hearing that this will never ever fully heal, and the best I can do is manage the pain, is a difficult reality to accept. And because my profession involves movement and demonstration, the first questions that came to mind were about my ability to teach and practice yoga.

Yoga. Yoga is the love of my life and has been my life since 2001 when I was first introduced to it, and especially since 2008 when I began my voyage into the world of teacher trainings. From that point on, I was on a trajectory of feel-good body awareness and meditation. My life orbited around yoga to the point where it was no longer a hobby and it became my chosen profession. I loved the way it made me feel and I became obsessed with introducing other people to how good it could make them feel. I became a teacher of yoga.

I was high all the time from feel-good endorphins, increased circulation, length, and expansion in my body, meditation, and deep yogic breathing. It was exquisite. But the higher we are, the harder we fall and this experience has brought me back down to earth’s orbit, where for the first time in 12 years I feel…mortal. I am now like Superman in the second film when Clark Kent gives up his powers to grow closer to Lois Lane, except I didn’t willingly submit myself to this. Now I am forced to deal with the truth that 1) I am not actually invincible, 2) I can bend and break, and 3) I am emotionally attached to the experiences of my physical body.

Up until now I (sort of, half jokingly) believed that being a yogi equaled being invincible.  It is as if all the physical practice of yoga formed a protective shield around my body, just as Superman’s shield of invulnerability did.  Like I said, as if.

Every point of opposition between fantasy and reality is an opportunity to grow. While I am mourning the loss of my imagined super powers, I, as well as many yogis connected to the Dharma Yoga Center, experienced the loss of a dear friend, mentor, and inspiring yogi, Bernadette, who recently passed away. Bernadette was a strong yogi who was known to practice Bikram yoga to warm up for teaching a class. She was warm and genuine and knew exactly what to say to someone in a given moment. I was lucky to have Bernadette as a mentor and I will never forget the conversations we had. She is and will be missed. Her passing is a painful loss to all who knew her, but it also served as a lesson to naïve yogis who think we are invincible: We yogis are not inoculated against life any more than non-yogis. We may have been armed with tools to deal with life and conflict compassionately and with non-attachment, but if you have a date with karma, it will find you despite all the yoga and meditation practiced in the world.  In the end all we (yogis) can do is what anyone can do: deal with the matter at hand and make the most of the situation, and maybe keep a smile on your face in the process.

Fay_Inger

I always like to say, “Think good and it will be good.” Yoga has given me a lot to think good about. I can also see how yoga is a metaphor for life: How I deal with my stuff on my mat directly correlates to how I deal with stuff in my life. If I get bent out of shape when my “spot” in class is taken by an innocent and unknowing bystander, how will I react if I am cut off on the road? And on the days when my practice just isn’t strong and I allow that to ruin my day, how much more so will I come undone in the wake of an actual catastrophe?  If I cannot breathe through the hard poses, how can I possibly breathe through the tough moments in life? And if I cannot be grateful in a 90-minute class, how can I ever be grateful for the blessings in life, big and small?

Yoga mirrors life and provides a safe space to exam yourself in the confines of a piece of a rubber yoga mat, 2 feet by 6 feet: the space is small enough to allow you to move but not large enough to get away from yourself mentally or physically. So I explore. I take those 90 minute intervals to be fully present with myself so that I can be fully present with other people in the infinitely large world. On my mat I accept my imperfections and injuries so that I can be compassionate and loving to others’ imperfections and injuries. But most of all I love myself so fully and completely so that there are no imperfections, just a collection of stamps in the passport of my life that prove that I am not “perfect,” but I am whole.

So when you next see me in class and on my mat or teaching you in class, there is no need to ask if I am okay, because I am and will be. Instead just smile and catch my eye and know that in that moment we will both be whole.

(This post first appeared on the blog Fay Inger)

Fay_Inger Fay is an 800-Hour Certified Dharma Yoga instructor living in Los Angeles, California. Fay is a private yoga instructor, writes blog posts on yoga and wellness and is learning nutrition to better help her students reach their health and fitness goals. As she always says, “yoga is a gift” and it is her favorite gift to share!

Internal Spring Cleaning: Time To Let Go of What’s Holding You Back

By Kali Om 

“Be kind to everyone; forgive everyone everything.” Sri Dharma Mittra

Flower_by_Cyndi_Lawler

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  —Mahatma Gandhi

On the season opener of Yogi Cameron: A Model Guru, ayurvedic therapist YC treats a 25-year-old with autism named Zach. Zach is angry, and YC wants to know why. Zach says other children at the synagogue he attended harassed him. “How old were you when that happened?” YC asked. “Seven or eight,” Zach replied. “That was a long time ago,” says YC. “When are you going to let it go?”

In modern American culture, we tend to hold on to ancient grievances and use them as an excuse to avoid dealing with the things we don’t like about our life: I’m not living up to my potential because my parents beat me / spoiled me / weren’t there for me / were too strict with me / gave me too much freedom or attention / ignored me / favored my siblings over me / [your excuse here]. In America, we like to play the blame game and say that our problems are someone else’s fault.

But in yoga we understand that the soul is eternal, and that our soul, or Atman, chooses the parents we will have, and the circumstances we find ourselves in. In yoga, we know that these birth families or circumstances give us the best possible opportunity to burn off our old karma and learn the lessons we need to know in this lifetime—that each unpleasant thing is happening for a reason, according to our deeds from the past.

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

I first heard about the laws of karma and reincarnation in the 1970s, when the film The Reincarnation of Peter Proud aired on TV. But I didn’t really believe in it until 30 years later, when I heard about it from the lips of my guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, and realized that everything we are going through now is a result of our past deeds. He shared his own experiences and backed them up with passages from the great yoga scripture the Bhagavad-Gita. When I thought about what he said, I realized that everything “bad” that happened to me in my life—and believe me, there was a lot of unpleasantness—led to something good. Every single time. I realized that these “bad” or unpleasant experiences taught me a lesson, fostered personal growth, or set my life in a new direction (such as when my mother died, and I started practicing yoga) and stopped taking them personally.

As Bhagavad-Gita says, “That which is like poison at first but like nectar in the end—that happiness, born of the clear knowledge of the Self, is said to be of the nature of sattva [peace and harmony].”  Sri Dharma often says he is thankful when something unpleasant happens to him, because it means he has burned off one more karma.

This is easy to understand on an intellectual level. Yet many of us still have doubts and see ourselves flogging the same old dead horse, over and over, stuck in our old ways of being, thinking, and acting. If we do this long enough, we could end up with a terrible illness. Because in yoga, it is believed that all disease begins in the mind (and then migrates straight to the colon).

So give it some thought: Is there something you haven’t let go of that is holding you back? Is there someone you need to forgive, or someone of whom you should ask forgiveness? Is there someone you need to thank?

Is there someone you need to confront, or to cut loose from because the relationship is no longer serving you?

Do you need to forgive yourself for something?

What is holding you back from doing what you want with your life?

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

It is never too late to ask these questions, and spring is a wonderful time of year to let go, an opportunity to begin anew. The most direct way is to do this internally, by practicing svadhyaya, or self-study. This can be done in meditation and through journaling, by asking and answering the questions posed above.

Svadhyaya can be helped by the physical act of letting things go and clearing out the clutter in your living space. Because if there’s clutter at home, there is clutter in the mind. Perhaps it is your stuff—mental, physical, spiritual—that is holding you back.

Often, when we make an external effort, what we need to do internally becomes abundantly clear. After all, cleaning and organizing is a type of meditation (and spring is the best time to do it). Still not convinced?  Read my comprehensive March 2010 Yoga Chicago article, “Paring Down Can Improve Your Yoga Practice and Help the Planet.Another wonderful resource for getting started is Karen Kingston’s book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Clutter Forever.

Once the physical debris is out of the way, it is much easier to work on internal letting go.

There are many ways to express forgiveness. It can be done in person, or on the phone, or in a letter (I do not recommend doing it via e-mail, voicemail, Facebook, or texting, which would smack of insincerity). It can also be done mentally, if the person is no longer around or still poses a threat to you. (There is no need to stir up trouble or reopen old wounds; in some cases it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, and offer forgiveness mentally. Sri Dharma always says, “Love the bad man, but keep the distance.”)

Sometimes, we come to realize that we have caused harm and need to ask forgiveness, which can be done in much the same way. Just keep it simple and straightforward, name exactly what you are sorry for, express your regret at causing harm, and do not make excuses for your behavior.

There are many types of forgiveness meditations. One of the most simple and direct is from former Buddhist monk and author Jack Kornfield. As with any meditation, begin sitting comfortably in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed (if the floor is not comfortable, sit in a chair with the head, neck, and spine in a straight line). Breathe deeply and comfortably, and contemplate how forgiveness can help you soften your heart.

Begin by asking forgiveness of others you have harmed. Visualize each situation where you have caused pain, and experience the emotions it elicits. Realize that you only caused them harm because of your own pain, fear, anger, or confusion. Then, say to each person, “I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.”

Orchids_by_Cynthia_Lawler

Next, focus on forgiving yourself for all of the times you have wittingly or unwittingly been the cause of your own pain. Visualize each instance and feel the emotions. Then, say to yourself, “For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain, and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.”

Finally, focus on forgiving those who have harmed you. Imagine each episode, and allow the emotions to come up. Then, repeat the following: “I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion, and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.”

Don’t be surprised if this practice is difficult at first. It can take a lot of time to master it. You may find it helpful to start with small things, and work towards bigger ones.

As Kornfield said, “Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and images work gradually in their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving kindness.”

You may find you prefer a different forgiveness meditation, such as this simple yet very specific one from the Buddha Dharma Education Association. Or you may create your own; it is important that the practice feel authentic to you. That way you’re more likely to actually do it, and your efforts will be unforced.

Just remember that any sincere effort to let go of physical and emotional clutter, no matter how small, will yield rewards. As if by its own accord, you may find your practice starts to deepen, roadblocks fall away, old injuries disappear, and wonderful new things start to appear in your life.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself and see.

(All pictures by Cindy Lawler)

 

Cara_JepsenKali 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 also studied five times in India with Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. 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.