By Susan Craig
Reverence, obedience, self-discipline, vegan, being strict with oneself yet kind and compassionate towards all others, a strong desire for liberation. All of these are phrases that Sri Dharma Mittra uses to describe his no-nonsense approach to the Life of a Yogi. Being serious about yoga and teaching at Wanderlust may seem like an oxymoron, yet there he was, teaching at Wanderlust Squaw Valley!
Wanderlust is like an upscale, yogic version of Burning Man. It is a four-day festival of yoga and music in which participants play hard and party even harder. Celebrity yoga teachers and performing artists offer a variety of yoga and music experiences to choose from. There was delicious vegan food available and all things yoga for sale. Everyone was happy and friendly…and it was contagious. The collective consciousness at work!
Sri Dharma taught five classes at Wanderlust and I took four of them (due to a scheduling screw up I missed getting into one of his classes before it sold out) and filled in the holes in my schedule with a variety of classes with other instructors. While I thoroughly enjoyed the event, including the sampling of classes that I took from several well-known instructors, nothing at Wanderlust compared to being in the presence of Sri Dharma. He stood out both in his classical and technical instruction in the practice of yoga, and, more importantly, he was in a category all by himself with regard to his ability to guide individuals towards glimpses of God.
Sri Dharma was the only teacher I took class from who devoted time for the instruction and practice of pranayama, bandha, and mantra. None of the other teachers I took classes from devoted instruction to these important elements of yoga.
Sri Dharma personally modeled many of the poses, including demonstrating modifications for beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels, before asking participants to do them, in order to ensure that participants had options and could do them correctly. In addition, his assistant, Melissa, was at the front of the room demonstrating the asanas while Sri Dharma instructed. The other teachers from whom I took classes did little or no modeling/demonstrating of asanas. Sri Dharma devoted a generous amount of time for deep relaxation during savasana, whereas, in all other asana classes that I took, savasana lasted only about five minutes. Sri Dharma stressed the importance of a long, deep savasana in order to settle into silence.
Sri Dharma began and concluded each of his sessions by discussing the importance of observing the ethical rules, yama. He was the only teacher I experienced who told participants that they should not eat animals, and further, recommended veganism. Sri Dharma made it a point not to miss any opportunities to impart spiritual knowledge to his students. He neither teaches nor lives in a casual manner.
Sri Dharma spoke about how one cannot truly settle into meditation if one is eating animals, he repeated that one “must stop eating animals.” He described how the spiritual heart, located at the right center of the physical heart is there in all of us, “subtler than an atom.” Sri Dharma also spoke on the tremendous pain and suffering that we experience due to attachment, and how a serious practice of yoga under the guidance of a qualified teacher can help free us.
As soon as I saw Sri Dharma, I relaxed and dropped into a silent space. Sri Dharma’s classes at Wanderlust, in which there were 200 or so participants, were the only classes that felt peaceful and meditative to me. Sri Dharma says, “Seek out a person through whom God manifests a little more clearly and make such a one your teacher.” Sri Dharma is “such a one” to many of us. There is something very subtle, yet extremely powerful, that one experiences in Sri Dharma’s presence. To be near Sri Dharma, to look into his eyes, to observe his humility, is to experience a living yoga master who freely shares his spiritual knowledge to all who are interested. He lives this commitment from the bottom of his heart. He knows what he is doing, he is sincere, and his approach and presence are uniquely ego-less. To have Sri Dharma as a teacher is to have entered into a spiritual love affair with this humble man who manifests God more clearly. It is Sri Dharma’s commitment to share and promote spiritual knowledge to all; he says this is the highest form of charity. Whether at the Dharma Yoga Center in New York City, or at Wanderlust, Sri Dharma is the same… he is a rare true Karma Yogi on an urgent mission to impart the truth to us at every opportunity.
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.