Category Archives: body

Yogi Favorites: Spinach Salad

Since the Popeye days, spinach has always been associated with iron and great energy and strength. We now know that this was due to an accidental but significant misplacement of a decimal point when German scientist Emil von Wolff was measuring iron levels in spinach in 1870 (this date was eventually corrected in 1937 – but by that time the myth had already taken hold).

Additionally, iron from plant sources are rich in non-heme iron, as opposed to heme iron found in animal sources. Non-heme iron is not as readily absorbed by the body, but Vitamin C can help increase levels of uptake so adding the lemon in this salad is truly essential.

Sun-dried and raw tomatoes are also both rich sources of Vitamin C, and together with lemon, they boost spinach’s nutritional power and add great benefits of their own.

Mushrooms are low in calories and  sodium, yet they provide important nutrients including selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D and more.

Spinach_Salad_@Marta_Simonetti2

 

Recipe:

-1 large bunch of spinach
-1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
-4 oz. chopped mushrooms
-Sea salt to taste
-1 squeezed lemon
-1 tsp. cumin (optional)
-Olive or flax oil (optional)
-Chopped avocado and tomato (optional)

Spinach_Salad_@Marta_Simonetti 4

Add the tomatoes and mushrooms to the spinach and toss. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Recipe Source: The Dharma Yoga LOAY Teacher Training Manual

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

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!

Why I Love Teaching Yoga

By Alexis Corchado 
I’ve always been told that I have a natural teaching ability… So after a while, I accepted this opinion as fact and majored in Elementary Education in college and substitute taught as well. 
 
But my major of choice became a drag and substitute teaching on and off for ten years in one of the worst school districts in the country wore my patience very thin. Many times amidst the chaos of the classroom I wondered to myself, “Why aren’t you teaching something you truly love with individuals that will appreciate your effort and commitment and in a loving and nurturing environment?” It was time for change and the immediacy could no longer be ignored.
 
Fast forward to spring of this year when the decision for change was finally made. After being re-acquainted with Yoga after a few year hiatus, it dawned on me: This is it! This is that “thing” I had been searching for.
 
I had instantly fallen in love with Dharma Yoga because I felt as though this was the Yoga of millennia ago; it felt authentic, natural and classical and I was in a state of fascination after that first asana class with Sri Dharma Mittra. It took me a nanosecond to decide that not only would I be a student at the Dharma Yoga Center, but that I would also enroll in the next Life of a Yogi 200-Hour Teacher Training scheduled. I decided then and there that I would teach Yoga and I knew that this would bring me joy, satisfaction, and happiness.

©Jeffrey Vock
 
Upon completing the LOAY Teacher Training (which was an experience worthy of its own blog post!), I was profoundly changed physically, mentally and spiritually and I was ready to take the gift of knowledge imparted to me by Sri Dharma and the Dharma Yoga teachers and share it with the world, or at very least anyone receptive to yoga!
 
As I sit here typing these words, I know that it was a wise decision to pursue Yoga as a vocation. 
 
So what is it that I love most about teaching Yoga? 
  • I find great enjoyment in sharing that which has impassioned me. Yoga has become my life to a significant extent. It is a love affair of sorts, and having the opportunity to expose another to the subject of my new found love is priceless.
  • I’m sure many teachers can relate to the incomparable feeling of taking a newcomer to the practice, (one who is usually full of judgments and reservations) and completely changing their outlook at the end of a class.
  • I’ve experienced with my students a shift in their perspective as well as their new found body and health awareness. I’ve observed long held misconceptions shatter and this fills me with a tremendous sense of contentment.
  • But it is the progress I observe in my students practice that is perhaps the reason I most love teaching Yoga.  In just a couple of classes I’ve seen students with very little flexibility and strength improve drastically. It is a wonder to share this with the students, some who have a tendency towards pessimism about their own abilities.
  • But Yoga being far from just a physical experience has also provided my students with a sense of what can be and what is possible on the mental and spiritual planes. I’ve taught public school teachers, who are some of the most stressed out individuals I have ever taught, and heard their praise of the limitless fruits of relaxation and gentle Pranayama. They speak of their sense of being transported to a different place, one where life is allowed to play itself out free of constraints created by time or obligations.
  • I’ve observed my students roll up their mats less jittery and unhappy than they were one hour previous. For 15 minutes at the end of class they experience a little slice of bliss. The fact that I facilitate this experience is one that I don’t take for granted no matter how many times it happens.
  • Yoga is amazing because it is a form of therapy for the teacher also.  When I’m fully present and in the teaching zone, not talking too much and giving my students the space to experience their poses, I find myself losing track of time and my own mental preoccupations. It’s just my students, their mats, and I, in one cohesive unit.
©Jeffrey Vock
 

As I complete my internship, I find myself increasingly excited about the prospect of teaching Yoga on a more full time basis. The more I teach the more aware of my student’s needs I become. Whether it’s the ongoing process of simplifying cues, offering variations to practitioners with different needs, or learning the art of pacing within a class, the challenge of instructing Yoga within itself is an element that makes me love teaching it even more.

The fruit of Yoga manifests itself in a myriad ways: confidence, physical and mental health, and a sense of who we really are beneath the veil of Maya, or illusion, are increased and nourished by this ancient practice. Being a guide for individuals on this path is what makes being a teacher of Yoga one of the noblest professions. Oh, and not many jobs allow you to come to the workplace in Prana Pants and a tank top 🙂 

 

Alexis Corchado lives in Union, New Jersey. He has been practicing Yoga for about a year and is in the internship phase of his LOAY 200-hour Teacher Training. Off the mat you can find him playing in the mountains or on the beach or dancing the night away to Salsa and Merengue. Nature is his biggest inspiration and having a sense of place is part of his passion. Alexis is forever grateful for the presence of Dharma Yoga, and all that it represents, in his life.  
 
 

Kriyas to Help Soothe Nasal Congestion

By  Liz Schindler 

 

Kriyas are ancient cleansing techniques designed to purify both the physical and spiritual bodies. The kriyas are effective processes that facilitate both physical and subtle purity. Purity, or Saucha, is one of the niyamas or yogic observances that yogis strive to achieve.
Some kriyas are morning practices, preceding pranayama and asana, and often facilitate clearing of the nasal passages, the digestive system and the psychic channels, as well as help ready the system for morning sadhana (practice). The kriyas shared here are especially helpful during allergy and flu/cold season to remove phlegm, clear the sinuses and airways and alleviate sinus pressure. For best results perform these kriyas daily.
Jala Neti
Jala neti is possibly the most widespread of the kriyas in the west. It consists of rinsing the nasal passageway with lukewarm saline solution or salt water, by using a small pot with a long spout to send the solution in one nostril and out the other. Neti pots are available in most drug stores, as are pre-mixed packets made for mixing with warm water and pre-measured for a net pot.
Jala neti clears the nasal passages, thins mucus and decreases the intensity of inflammation, making it very helpful in easing symptoms of allergies and sinus congestion and/or sinus pressure from a cold or flu. Jala neti also helps to flush the tear ducts, clearing mucus and debris from the eyes. Jala neti is associated with the ajna chakra or third eye and may help fine tune intuition, concentration and visualization.
Method:
 
1) Warm some purified water in a kettle and test the warmth on the inside of the wrist or forearm. The water should be a comfortable warm temperature and not too hot. Next fill the neti pot and mix in either one pre-mixed store-bought nasal rinse of your choice or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
 
2) To rinse the nasal passages, stand over a sink in front of a mirror and tilt your forehead forward. Begin by placing the spout in the right nostril, tilting the head slightly to the left and pouring the solution into the right nostril. You may feel pressure at first but the water will slowly start to come out of the left nostril, sweeping out debris in it’s path and clearing the nasal passageways. After pouring about one half the contents of the pot, switch nostrils and reverse the rinsing process.
 
3) When you’ve emptied the pot perform a few exhalations through the nostrils to remove any leftover solution. Restrain from holding the nostrils and blowing the nose as this may force water and pressure into the ears.
 
4) Next, fold forward and left the head hang as you perform a few more exhalations through the nostrils. All water should be drained from the nostrils to avoid infection.

 

Kapalabhati

Kapalabhati is both pranayama as well as a kriya, and an element of a daily practice for many yogis. Translated as “skull shining breath,” it is renowned for powerfully cleansing the entire respiratory system. Sri Dharma Mittra recommends practicing two rounds of kapalabhati daily for all those living in a large city because it is an excellent way to rid the airways and lungs of pollutants. In addition to cleansing the respiratory system, it offers the benefits of oxygenating the blood, clearing the mind, strengthening the abdominal muscles and diaphragm and is a simple warm up for any pranayama practice. Kapalabhati is the opposite of natural breathing as it consists of forceful exhalations and passive inhalations. Kapalabhati is a very powerful practice and is not recommended for those with heart disease, high blood pressure, a hernia or during an asthma attack.
Click here for a short demonstration: Kapalabhati 

Method:
 
1) Find a comfortable sitting position and a tall spine. Begin by passively inhaling or taking in just half of a normal breath through the nose. Exhale forcefully through both nostrils as you push the abdomen back vigorously (note: it may be helpful for beginners to place one hand on the abdomen to feel the correct sensation of the belly moving towards the spine during exhalation). Continue passively inhaling and forcefully exhaling, pumping the breath out in a rhythmic pattern. The exhalations should be faster than the inhalations and there should be one or two exhalations per second.
 
2) After completing a round of kapalabhati, breathe out completely. Then inhale deeply and hold the breath for as long as comfortable. Exhale slowly and begin the process again for the second round of kapalabhati.
* Beginners should perform kapalabhati for 10-15 seconds per round and can work up to two minutes per round as they become more advanced.
**If kapalabhati is inaccessible due to severe congestion, I sometimes employ bhramari pranyama (humming bee breath) as an alternative. The sound literally vibrates the sinus passages and facilitates drainage. To try brahmari pranayama make your hands into fists and point your index fingers, plugging the ears. Close the eyes and inhale and as you exhale make a high pitched humming noise with the mouth, as Sri Dharma says “like a female bee.” Chanting mantra and om has a similar effect of vibrating the nasal cavities. The humming exhale should be loud and long. Perform three rounds.
Kapal Randra Dhauti
Kapal Randra Dhauti is a very simple kriya that can facilitate drainage of the frontal sinuses. It is recommended to perform this kriya dailu upon waking, after meals and again at night.
Method:
While sitting upright, use the thumb of the right hand to rub the space between the eyebrows.

Liz Schindler found yoga during a stressful period of her life and has returned to it again and again for over ten years to calm both body and mind. After moving to New York and beginning to study with Sri Dharma Mittra, she soon came to realize her need to share her love of yoga with others. Liz is a 200-Hour Certified Dharma Yoga Teacher. She currently lives and teaches in Brooklyn, NY.

 

    
      

Yoga Nidra: Exploring the Deepest Relaxation Practice

by Marija Kundakovic

 “Yoga Nidra: Extremely deep relaxation with psychic instructions.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra 
 
©Natasha Phillips
             
I fell in love with yoga because of savasana. This may sound strange (or lazy…?) to many people who practice yoga to improve physical strength and flexibility, because savasana involves simply lying on the mat for 10-15 minutes and relaxing. But it was exactly there, in my first savasana, that I started feeling that yoga was truly “working” for me. I could feel my busy mind finally getting less noisy, and I started being receptive tothe present moment.
 
The majority of us are very busy and distracted by our daily duties, worries and little desires, without having the chance and time to stop and try to understand our true nature and what really lies within us. We identify with our ever-changing bodies and minds and with our egoistic constructs of ourselves that make us feel efficient and safe in the environment that we live in. We are constantly projecting ourselves in the future or getting caught up within the past. But how do we go beyond that? How do we reach our essence and improve our understanding of our surroundings and of our purpose in life?
 
For me, the answer lies in the practice of Yoga.  The Asana practice is only an introduction to what yoga can offer in terms of self-knowledge and self-development. Slowly, with my constant practice, I started being able to lose my body sensations and quiet my mind during relaxation and meditation, and to go beyond the regular frame of body and mind. This gave me a completely new perception of myself, with more subtle levels of existence and the awareness that there is certainly much more beyond my ego and its little wishes and concerns. Within my six-year yoga practice, I think that my first class of Yoga Nidra with Sri Dharma Mittra was one of the biggest milestones. 
   
©Natasha Phillips
 
Sri Dharma Mittra likes to say that, “relaxation is the best antidote for all impurities”. Once after savasana in his regular asana class, he suggested we come to Yoga Nidra, in which you lie down in savasana and relax for an hour. As a long-time savasana lover, I thought, “Oh, that would be really nice,” and I decided to check out this class, expecting it to be, literally, a long, one-hour savasana. I went to class.  We were instructed to lie down in savasana, not to move or fall asleep, and to stay attentive throughout the practice while listening to the instructions.
 
It turned out that Yoga Nidra is an active meditation. Sri Dharma first guided us to bring the awareness to each part of the body, slowly starting from the left hand thumb and then moving through all the limbs, ending with the individual facial features and back of the head. This was followed by the stage in which we were asked to evoke the experiences of opposite sensations and feelings, such as sensations of extreme hot and cold, and very busy and quiet environments, briefly, one after another. We were then asked to visualize some images and landscapes and were led through an enjoyable imaginary journey.
 
I don’t remember when exactly, but I can clearly evoke an amazing moment when I lost all my body sensations while being aware of everything that was happening. And then I felt like I was floating… And then I heard Sri Dharma say “you are everywhere” and I felt … I was … indeed … everywhere…
 
©Natasha Phillips
The practice of Yoga Nidra ended with a resolution, “my will power is rapidly improving,” repeated three times and we were then slowly brought to the regular waking state. I came out of the class transformed. I felt lighter, elevated, and refreshed. (Someone met me just after the class and asked me if I had a facial — no kidding, inside and out!)
 
I wondered what exactly happened in that hour of Yoga Nidra (a.k.a. Psychic Sleep) which Sri Dharma said could substitute for several hours of ordinary sleep. As a scientist (that’s my profession), I started reading articles and books to better understand with my mind what happened beyond my body, and beyond my “regular” mind in that class. 
 
Briefly, this is what literature says: Yoga Nidra is a method of inducing deep physical, mental, and emotional relaxation in which the body is in a sleep-like state somewhere between being awake and being asleep. Unlike regular sleep, the consciousness is maintained in Yoga Nidra. And, unlike the fully awakened state in which only the intellectual mind is operating, when you are able to completely relax in Yoga Nidra, the subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind open, allowing the penetration into the depths of the mind that are not normally available. For instance, rotation of consciousness through different body parts induces physical relaxation while evoking the opposite, intense feelings in Yoga Nidra enables emotional relaxation. 
 
©Natasha Phillips
 
The visualization stage of Yoga Nidra, which usually involves images that have universal significance and powerful associations, brings the hidden contents of the deep unconscious into the conscious mind. The practice of visualization develops self-awareness and induces deep mental relaxation.  This practice also sets the mind into a peaceful and calm state that makes the unconscious mind very receptive to positive thoughts and suggestions, and this is why the practice ends with the resolve to increase will power (or any other resolution that the practitioner would like to achieve through practice). Please do not mistake this for hypnosis because the resolve in Yoga Nidra is made by practitioner, who is aware of it, and the teacher is there only to guide the practice.
 
During practice of Yoga Nidra, one’s consciousness travels from one layer to another, according to its current state and capacity. In some cases, the practice will bring only some sort of relaxation, sleep, or pleasant experience. Sometimes it may go very deep and bring fantastic experiences. The ultimate outcome of Yoga Nidra, similar to meditation, is total harmony and integration between all levels of consciousness and merging with the universal consciousness or achieving the highest level of consciousness, known as samadhi. 
 
______________________________________________
 
 
Marija Kundakovichas a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is currently a Research Scientist and Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University in NYC. She is an epigeneticist studying how life experiences leave an imprint on our genes shaping the brain and behavior throughout life. In addition to her scientific quest, her yogic path has been essential for her self-inquiry and search for understanding of life. She is thankful to all yoga teachers that have left the imprints on her yoga practice, including the teachers from Chicago Yoga Center, Mandiram Yoga Barcelona, and Jivamukti Yoga NYC. She is particularly thankful to Sri Dharma Mittra and the teachers at Dharma Yoga New York Center. Marija completed the Dharma Yoga “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training under the guidance of Sri Dharma Mittra in June 2013. She is currently in the last stages of her internship and looks forward to sharing her knowledge of yoga with others.  

 

The Four Core Concepts from the Bhagavad Gita

By Gary Mark



Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra, c. 1830 painting

“Bhagavad” means “God” and “Gita” means “Song.”  “Bhagavad Gita,” therefore, can be translated as “The Song of our Lord.” Krishna, one of many incarnations of The Lord, explains that he lives in each and every one of us, meaning that “Song of our Lord” is also the song that praises the beautiful divine within each one of us! As I type these words my heart cries tears of joy. I feel so fortunate to have found the Gita and to have found Sri Dharma Mittra.


There are four core concepts from the Gita which extolls the beautiful potential that exists vibrantly in each one of us and, indeed, in every atom of the entire cosmos, known and unknown, seen and unseen.


Concept one:  Look to your Dharma


Dharma can mean “law of the universe,” “social and religious rules,” and/or one’s own individual mission or purpose.  On the individual level, it can also mean a number of things. For example, in the Gita, Krishna points out to Arjuna that his Dharma is to be a warrior whether he likes it or not. He cannot escape his Dharma and he must fulfill it. Arjuna is a warrior for what is right and just. He is not just a warrior for fighting’s sake. His Dharma must be grounded in a proper purpose. Whatever role we are fulfilling at the moment is our Dharma at that moment.


Applying this on a personal level, I followed my Dharma as a Finance and Accounting professional for the last 30 years. Recently, coinciding with my new practice of Yoga Asana and study of Hindu or Yoga scriptures, I began to find less and less meaning in my profession. I am now in a period of transition, seeking to find a new and more meaningful personal Dharma.  I am a “householder” (someone who lives among and provides for his or her family), and as much as I would love to throw caution to the wind and become a Sadhu, I need to be mindful of the effect of my actions on those around me. Therefore, following the counsel of the spirits, I am proceeding on a step by step basis, finding my way with the Lord’s merciful guidance.


Concept two:  Do it full out


Both Hinduism and Buddhism extoll this virtue of absolute commitment.  In fact, many books have been written about the power of focus and single-mindedness, including the Gita. I first learned about this concept when I began practicing Buddhism in 1977 and I poured myself wholeheartedly into my career development. As a result, I was very successful from a materialistic standpoint. Success in life is no accident and it is a result of pursuing one’s Dharma full out, no holding back.


Upon looking back, I see that I did not always carry out my Dharma as a husband and father and I have made mistakes that have impacted others’ lives unfavorably. Had I had the vision to take the longer and broader view on things, I may not have made these mistakes. I feel that I was more concerned with material success at any cost, even if others had to pay a price. I now see that I was not acting properly in these and probably many other cases. In this last chapter of my life, I would like to pursue my new Dharma with more mindfulness and focus on proper context and big picture focus.



Krishna displays hisVishvarupa (Universal Form) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra (Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 11).

Concept three:  Let go of the fruits of your labor


When we invest our efforts or resources, it tends to take on our self-identity in our minds. Subconsciously, we associate this identity with life/death.  This mistaken association leads us to regard all critics or those who appear to get in our way as mortal threats to be neutralized, lest we “die.”


The Gita exhorts us to release this incorrect view and to realize that our self and the phenomenal world at large are not real.  What is real is “Self,” the divine within all life, sentient and insentient. Even the air we breathe has the divine nestled in every particle. Therefore, instead of jealously guarding our self-worth, we are much better letting all that go and acting out of gratitude for the opportunity to work on our Dharma. Krishna says we our entitled to work, but not to any of the fruits of our work. When we adopt this attitude, all we can feel is gratitude, no matter what happens.


I have found that as I endeavor to embrace this concept, I am shown which areas need work and I am grateful to be shown these things and grateful to be able to improve so I can one day serve others with gratitude and without attachment to the fruits.


Concept four:  Offer it all up to the divine


I feel this concept is closely related to its predecessor. How much easier it becomes to let go of the fruits when one is offering every moment up to the divine. The ultimate form of this is when one feels that God is acting through him/her.  In truth, this is what is happening all the time, we just fail to see it and that failure results in suffering and angst.


Sri Dharma Mittra has a saying on his website and in his teachings.  He says, “Reduce your wants and lead a happy and contented life. Never hurt the feelings of others and be kind to all. Think of God as soon as you get up and when you go to bed.”  

I believe this last sentence resonates with this fourth core concept from the Gita upon which this post is focused. It provides a very practical way to begin to incorporate this concept in one’s life. Begin the day focused on God and end the day focused on God.  What a beautiful way to live! Om Namah Shivaya.



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Gary Mark has practiced yoga for the last three years and studied Bikram and Dharma Yoga during this time. He has spent the last year studying intensely at Dharma Yoga Los Angeles and completed his LOAY 200-Hour Teacher Training and Certification at the Dharma Yoga New York Center in June to September 2013.  Gary is currently enrolled in the LOAY 500-Hour Teacher Training at the Dharma Yoga New York Center.

    

      

Yogi Favorites (4) Dharma Salad

Avocados and tomatoes are both superfood fruits in their own right, but together they make a true power couple! 
 
The Dharma Salad is a great example of how good food combining can provide even more nutritional benefits. Tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene, which is better absorbed by the body when consumed with fatty foods like avocados. Lycopene is a pigment-rich nutrient from the carotenoid family that gives tomatoes, among other fruits and vegetables, their red hue. Studies have shown this powerful antioxidant’s potential to reduce risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

For the purest benefits, try to purchase organic and locally grown tomatoes. 

Here’s how to do it:

Cut one avocado into cubes.
 

 

Slice two large tomatoes.

 

Mix a splash of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil with a splash of Bragg’s liquid aminos or sea salt. Add the sprouts (any kind). Stir all ingredients together and enjoy!  (Serves 1-2)

Text: Lana J. Lee Pictures: Cayla Carapella & Enid Johnstone
Recipe Source and Sprouting Instructions: The Dharma Yoga LOAY Teacher Training Manual

Where Most of Us Get Stuck: Understanding the Throat Chakra

By Sara Schwartz 
©Enid Johnstone
 
I once heard someone quote Sri Dharma Mittra and said that ‘most of us are stuck in our throat chakra.’ I’ve always wondered what that meant. With a little bit of research here’s what I came up with:
 
The chakra system is a description of our subtle anatomy and a part of the map of our spirit.
 
The seven chakras form at the intersections of our Ida and Pingala Nadis. These two main Nadis also intersect seven times along the Shashumna Nadi, the central energy channel which runs down our spines. Nadis, subtle energy channels, carry concentrated prana, or vital energy through our systems.
 
The idea is that our Divine Cosmic Energy, also known as Kundalini energy, lays dormant at the base of our spine. This is why our awareness of divine self is also dormant. As we practice, we raise our Kundalini energy from the base of our spines and we experience physical, spiritual, and emotional evolutions. The final destination is for Kundalini to unlock our seventh crown chakra, allowing us to experience enlightenment.
 
Each chakra has physical and spiritual manifestations based on whether it is closed, or if it is open. As the Kundalini rises and your chakras open, you evolve into each of the seven stages. By the time you get to your fifth chakra, your throat chakra, you are fairly evolved.
 
For example, the root chakra at the bottom of our spines deals with our base desires: Our need for food, sleep, and shelter. A person who is stuck at this level of evolution might hurt themselves or others to advance materialistically. A person with an open root chakra does not worry about where the food and money will come from but simply devotes his life to service, knowing the universe will provide.
 
The throat chakra is located somewhere around the base of the throat. A physical manifestation of an open throat chakra is a beautiful, clear, and resonant voice. You might have a good sense of hearing. Your shoulder and neck muscles are relaxed if your throat chakra is open. Physical manifestations of a tight throat chakra would be chronic head colds, thyroid imbalances, a tense neck and shoulders.

The Sanskrit name of the throat chakra is Vishuddha, which means purification. Emotionally, the throat chakra governs expression, so an open and healthy throat chakra means that we are comfortable telling the truth. With an open throat chakra we make sure that our actions serve the greater good and we embody a pure way of living.
 
The good news is that the Life of a Yogi Teaching Training Manual says, “Once one’s consciousness arrives at the Fifth Chakra, it never descends again.” The amount of knowledge it takes to progress up to your fifth chakra prevents you from descending back into ignorance.
 
When your consciousness is in your fifth chakra, your personality is marked by an interest in spiritual seeking. You try to cultivate, “self-denial, self-control, austerity, steadfastness, uprightness, renunciation, dedication, truthfulness and tranquility.” The throat chakra is a good place to be: spiritually aware and seeking, telling the truth, living a pure life.
 
But there is more on the spiritual path beyond the fifth chakra. Once in the sixth chakra, located at the space between your eyebrows, you can glimpse the spirit world in this lifetime.
 
So how can we evolve our consciousness past the throat chakra? Sri Dharma says, “After long and painful spiritual practices such as self-purification, the mind, heart, and intellect are purified and the consciousness is expanded to the level of Divine Perception.”
 
You can start this process of self-purification by watching what you say, and watching what you eat. Sri Dharma often says “If you control what you put into and what comes out of your mouth, you have controlled much of your mind already.” With that in mind, try following a vegan diet for a while, and thinking about what you say before you say it, and perhaps not saying most of what you intend to say.
 
Anodea Judith recommends you take a Vow of Silence to help heal the throat chakra. In her book Wheels of Life,she writes, “By avoiding verbal communication, one can open up other avenues of communication. Namely, communication with higher consciousness.”
 
Mouna, or spiritual silence, is a great way to deepen your connection to the divine. Think of the second yoga sutra of Patanjali: “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.” So to be verbally quiet is a good start to being mentally quiet.
 
To be in the throat chakra evolution-wise is a good sign. And it would make sense that most of us are stuck in the throat chakra because we are sincerely practicing, but maybe not predicting the future quite yet.
 
Om Namo Shivaya! 

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Sara Schwartz lives in Queens, New York with her husband Yancy. She currently teaches at Yoga to the People, where she received her 200-hour certification in 2010. She graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training in 2013. “Offer up the fruits of your practice” is her favorite advice from Sri Dharma Mittra. She is very grateful for the guidance of Sri Dharma and all of his teachers.

 

Tapas for Teachers

By Liz Schindler

“Yoga is the path of purification of character and conduct (the cleansing of one’s physical and mental nature) wherein the highest state of reality and truth may shine undiminished in the hearts and minds of all beings.” –Sri Dharma Mittra
 
©Jeffrey Vock

 My Life of A Yogi Teacher Training Training wasn’t all rainbows and kittens! Well, it was mostlyrainbows and kittens, but also a whole lot of tapas. Tapas is perhaps the most transformative of the niyamas, or personal disciplines, set forth by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras as well as the basis for the “path to purification” that Sri Dharma Mittra refers to in his definition of yoga.
According to the LOAY manual, tapas is defined as heat, austerity, or burning away impurities through self-discipline.Tapas was at the beginning of my transformative journey and it fueled my passion to learn and grow and to push through self doubt. Tapas caused the deepening of my physical practice throughout the intensive ten days, fueled by my own fire and sweat. It was tapas that drove me to the training, got me through it, and forced a change in my body, mind and spirit.
       
Sri Dharma Mittra is referred to as the teacher’s teacher and for good reason! Sri Dharma is the perfect shepherd to the trainees because he didn’t only show us how to teach yoga classes, he shared his limitless experience, knowledge and wisdom.  The morning pranayama and spiritual discourse sessions were the highlight of my day and I cannot stress how challenging but rewarding the breath work was. I soaked up all the information on the kriyas, mantra, chakras, bandhas and mudras.  
©Jeffrey Vock
 
Yet there was still the element of tapas and the floor seemed to harden with each passing day and by day six easy poses were no longer easy. The pain of sitting with a tall spine (out of respect for Sri Dharma) was distracting at times but looking back I’m happy that I did it. It broke a mental barrier in my mind and got rid of “I can’t do this any longer” and replaced it with “I’m still doing this.” I read a quote somewhere that says “your mind will always give up before your body, just keep going” and I did.
The hard part was putting myself out there as a teacher and I cannot adequately express my horror as I taught my first Dharma I class to my group during the training. In contrast to my inexperience, my group was so advanced! Two of my group-mates had mothers that taught yoga and two others were already certified teachers. This was my first teaching experience ever and I was mortified. I remember my disappointment as I taught and how frustrated I was over the shakiness in my voice and the inaccuracy of my cues. But why was I so nervous? I had been falling on my sweaty face and loudly farting in front of these people for days! But suddenly their opinion mattered more than anything and I thought I was bombing it.


©Liz Schindler
 
After finishing my first practice teach (which felt like hours) my mentor Hannah Allerdice gave me an honest review of my teaching. She stressed her opinion that I would be a wonderful teacher because she could sense how much I cared about my students. At the time I thought she was just being kind, but looking back through my handy 20/20 hindsight goggles, I see she was on point. Because I care so much I was nervous and horrified while practice teaching. My drive to teach yoga stems from my gratefulness to all of my teachers for helping deepen my yoga practice and to open my heart. All I wanted then and now is to be able to share that same gift of yoga with my students.
       
By the end of the training I had more confidence in my teaching and a greater sense of sympathy for my own feelings. I made strong friendships and have new role models to look up to. I surpassed my own expectations and in turn have raised my self-expectations. The LOAY teacher training experience was truly life altering for me and I am forever grateful to Sri Dharma and all of his teaching staff. 

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Liz Schindler found yoga during a stressful period of her life and has returned to it again and again for over ten years to calm both body and mind. After moving to New York and beginning to study with Sri Dharma Mittra, she soon came to realize her need to share her love of yoga with others. Liz is a 200-Hour Certified Dharma Yoga Teacher. She currently lives and teaches in Brooklyn, NY.