By Brando Lee Lundberg
With 24 certified Dharma Yoga teachers, including four studio owners, over 50 Dharma Yoga classes offered per week, and a packed house at the convention center last year for Sri Dharma’s visit to Washington, the D.C. area has quickly become a mecca for Dharma Yoga– second only to New York City, where Sri Dharma lives and shares his practice at the Dharma Yoga Center.
What has led to this phenomenon? The close proximity of D.C. to New York City – a four to five hour car ride or three to four hour train ride – has certainly helped by making weekend or even daily trips possible for D.C. area Dharma Yoga practitioners. But this is true for other metropolitan areas of a similar size and demographic. While understanding the reasons behind the growth of Dharma Yoga in D.C. may elude linear or even rational explanation, one of the most significant factors lies in the service of two now-senior Dharma yoga teachers who first started sharing the practice: Justin Blazejewski and Hannah Allerdice. Justin participated the Life of a Yogi teacher training in 2008 and Hannah in 2009.
They offered the following thoughts about their experience of sharing the Dharma Yoga practice.
How did you first come into contact with Dharma Yoga? How long had you been practicing yoga before then?
Justin: I was practicing yoga for about six months before I went on my first yoga retreat in Bali. Once I returned I was inspired to look for a teacher training to help deepen my practice. I came across Dharma’s website and saw the 200-hour teacher training intensive and my curiosity was piqued. When I arrived to Dharma’s old studio in NYC, I walked up the stairs and Dharma was in the middle of the studio fixing some electrical wires and said, “Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you.” And then walked away. I knew in my heart I had found my guru.
Hannah: I came into contact with Dharma Yoga in 2007 through Saraswati Lorie Om, who has the beautiful Dharma Yoga Syracuse center. Before then, I had practiced on and off for about six or seven years.
When you returned to D.C. after your first training in 2009, how did you go about sharing the teachings of Sri Dharma?
Justin: I returned from teacher training on a Sunday and boarded a plane the following day for Afghanistan for a three-month work trip. While I was overseas I gathered local military personnel and contractors on the base every day and taught them the Level I Shiva Namahskara sequence, pranayama and meditation. My group grew from one to three people to about 10 people before I left to come home.
Once I was back in D.C. I began organizing free yoga classes in Meridian Hill Park every week. I encountered a similar pattern that I had overseas, with only a few students at the beginning, but after a few weeks the group grew. After a few months of teaching, a beautiful soul walked into one of my classes. She had just returned to D.C. after her 200-hour teacher training with Dharma. That beautiful soul was Hannah. I remember a feeling of love and joy knowing that I was no longer alone in sharing Dharma’s teachings and knew deep down in my heart that something special was about to grow and expand in this city.
Hannah: I started in our little apartment with three to six friends, teaching them Dharma 1 and Dharma 2, according to our internship requirements. About a month after that I met Jasmine (the owner of Yoga District) and started helping out with Yoga Activist. She then asked me to teach a class at Yoga District. And then I started to teach more and more classes.
What is it about Dharma Yoga?
Justin: After over six years practicing with Sri Dharma, my heart truly sings and feels the love for my guru every time I see him or bring him into my awareness. He is always with me in my heart no matter where I am in the world, and anytime I feel my energy drained, I take a bus to NYC and plug into the source for a recharge.
Hannah: Everything. Particularly the love that radiates from our beloved guru. It is infinite and through him takes so many forms, according to the student he is teaching. And, through his example, I learn how to love more and more.
What do you attribute to the success of Dharma Yoga in D.C.?
Justin: It was hard in the beginning, as I was the only Dharma Yoga teacher in D.C. Not many people had heard about him and I was a new teacher so it was hard to get exposure. I began by writing to all the yoga studios in the D.C. area, asking them if they wanted Dharma Yoga at their studio and nine out of 10 of them turned me down or didn’t reply. In the end I attribute “angry determination” and “doing the work because it has to get done,” as Sri Dharma Mittra often says.
Hannah: The teachers here are so dedicated, and are fully committed to living a life established in ahimsa. Just like Sri Dharma says, “everything comes from there [ahimsa].” And it is contagious, the love and deep truth of living life like this. Students can feel it. And, we are all so committed to updating our learning from Sri Dharma. We are all practicing with him regularly and sharing his love, his lightness, his simplicity, his humor. The students feel this too.
How did you contribute to building the Dharma Yoga community in D.C.?
Justin: I was the first Dharma Yoga teacher in Washington D.C. that shared the teachings in a yoga class environment. I continued to teach and sub in Virginia and D.C. as much as I could to expose as many people as possible to Dharma’s teachings. The first year was pretty slow but I started getting more and more students in my classes. By then Hannah and I were teaching at Yoga District and we started to get a lot more students coming to the Dharma Yoga classes. After a while the students began to be inspired by Dharma’s teachings and eventually decided to head up to NYC to do the LOAY teacher trainings. Once there were a few Dharma teachers in D.C., the roots of the sangha took form, and the tree of Dharma Yoga in D.C. just kept growing.
Hannah: I don’t really know. I helped water some plants I think, through Sri Dharma. There were a lot of yoga teachers here in D.C. when I moved here, and many of them hadn’t found a real, living master. When they came to the classes, and we all got to know each other, something was sparked. So, they all started to go to the trainings too. And then it blossomed. Now we all just love on each other and support each others continued growth, and keep welcoming new people in the community.
Any advice or words of encouragement for Dharma yogis seeking to build Dharma Yoga community where they live?
Justin: Angry Determination! Do the work with love and compassion, staying true to Dharma’s teachings no matter what! And the rest will come!
Hannah: Yes, serve just as Sri Dharma serves; embody his teachings, his way. Remember, we have been given the highest teachings, from a realized Yogi, stand supreme in that knowledge. And, keep charging up by staying connected to Sri Dharma physically, mentally and psychically.
Brando first came across some yoga postures in 2002 as part of a six month get into shape program presented in Outside magazine. For the next 10 years, yoga served the same purpose – strength and flexibility. In February 2013, this changed upon meeting Sri Dharma Mittra at Kripalu.