Category Archives: breathing

A Journey into the Self

By Gena Rockwell

As soon as I signed up for the training, I knew that it was meant to be. I had never even practiced Dharma Yoga, but when I stumbled upon the website and saw that it was actually possible to study with Sri Dharma, whom I had admired through his famous poster and his interviews for years, I jumped at the opportunity. To prepare, I purchased his Maha Sadhana DVDs, began to practice them regularly and immediately fell in love with the Dharma Yoga.

It was five years after completing my 200-hour teacher training in vinyasa yoga, and I knew that this training would take me to the next level as a teacher. Little did I know what a profound effect this experience would have on my life as a whole.

The moment I walked into the Dharma Yoga Center on my first day of class, I immediately felt calm and serene. I was warmly greeted at the front desk and directed to the temple, which was huge and beautifully decorated with candles, images of Shiva, Ganesh, and Sri Dharma’s guru, Yogi Gupta.

As I gathered with the 70 yogis from all over the world, I could sense that everyone was as excited and humbled as I was when Sri Dharma walked into the room to lead us through our pranayama practice and spiritual discourse. Throughout the first day we did hours of asana practice along with more pranayama, meditation and kirtan. At the end of the day, my body was exhausted but I was so full of energy at the same time. As the week progressed, I continued to be filled with some kind of divine energy even though our 14-hour days were packed with up to eight or more hours of asana practice.

I got to know my fellow yogis more throughout the first week and I couldn’t believe how amazing each and every person was. These were some of the kindest most sincere people I had ever met.

But then again, it all made sense because we had all sought out Sri Dharma as our guru, one of the most kind and sincere voices in the yoga world.

The mentors were amazing, as well. Each mentor had a special gift to give, and did so with so much compassion and humility. I knew the training would be great, but I had no idea how welcomed and at home I would feel right away.

“This is it, this is real yoga,” I thought to myself constantly.

Kindness, compassion, and humility, these are Dharma’s true teachings. While he is one of the most renowned practitioners of asana in the world, his true teaching is much deeper. He encourages us to realize that we are a reflection of the divine, to be kind to others, to be kind to the animals, to see ourselves in others, to always practice compassion, and to make every action an offering to the divine.

Throughout both of the training modules, we performed hours upon hours of challenging asana but in a way, it seemed effortless. I credit this to the fact that not only were we all moving together as a collective consciousness, but we were all also aligning our practice with a higher purpose,­ seeing our practice as serving something greater than ourselves.

There is something very profound that happens when you practice in this way. Suddenly, the ego or sense of “I am­ness” begins to evaporate. Your muscles are not each working individually to hold you in the pose. You are not thinking “This foot goes here, this arm goes there.” You cease to become the doer, and instead become one with all of creation.

I believe that each one of us experienced to some degree throughout the course of the training the true meaning of yoga: Union with the divine. This divine energy guided us through every 14-hour day, leaving us not only with sore muscles, but with beaming radiance,­ and a childlike sense of wonder for all of existence.

We practiced and learned many techniques to get to this place, and will keep them with us forever.

I thought that I was going to learn how to be a better teacher, but what I really learned was how to go deep inside to the place of God­-consciousness that exists within us all, the true self. Then the teaching happens naturally.

 

Gena RockwellGena Rockwell is a yoga instructor, massage therapist and musician who lives in Shepherdstown, W. Va. In 2013 she received her certification as an ayurvedic yoga specialist from the Himalayan Institute and this year she had the honor of studying under yoga master, Sri Dharma Mittra for her 500 hour yoga certification.

Finding Strength in Brokenness

By Dharma Yoga Center Staff

It was a Tuesday night and Kat Milburn was feeling good. She was two weeks into her inter-module LOAY 500 hour teacher training and things were tough, but she was determined to get through it. The new vegan diet and daily practices were making her stronger in her practice. She knew she’d be a great Dharma Yoga teacher when it was completed.

Then the accident happened.

She was walking to her kitchen, but it was dark and she entered the door next to it, falling down 15 stairs to her basement. The pain was ripping through her. She opened her mouth to cry for help, but nothing came out.

“I couldn’t stand up and I couldn’t scream because my diaphragm was pushing into my back,” Milburn said. “I crawled half way up the stairs so my roommate could hear me.”

She was rushed to the hospital where the doctors worked on her, then told her the horrible news: She had broken bones in her left foot and also fractured her vertebrae.

One of the first things that came to mind was how she would continue her 500-hour Life of a Yogi teacher training. She could keep the diet for the most part, but she couldn’t practice pranayama and meditation while on painkillers and asana was out of the question.

She had about five more weeks before the second module began. Despite her injuries, Milburn knew she wanted to attend, even if she had to sit on the sidelines while everyone else did movements she no longer could.

The Dharma Yoga Center allowed her to continue her training and Milburn was relieved. After being an athlete her whole life and practicing asana seven days a week, the accident caused her to move into deep reflection.

“It was tough,” she said. “I was working towards the goal and it felt like someone pulled the rug from underneath me. I hurt myself where I couldn’t even do a practice.”

There were Dharma Yoga classes lined up for Milburn after the training near her Arlington, Va., home, but she is not sure when she will be able to teach them.

“I’m feeling like I’m letting everybody down,” she said.

Milburn knew that making her way back to the Dharma Yoga Center on Nov. 2 to complete the eight day training would help her spirits and help her to heal. She could not wait another year to complete it.

“Every day was a tough time,” she said. “It was physically hard, sitting in the chair on the sidelines. Everything happens for a reason. I was given the opportunity to sit and really watch Sri Dharma teach and that was a blessing. I was also given the opportunity to teach in a way I don’t do. I had to sit and picture myself doing the class every time people were doing it.

“We are all humans and we’re going to break down and we’ll have a time where we can’t demo all the time. Learning that was my biggest gift. It made me a stronger.”

Milburn also had support from the Dharma Yoga staff and her nearly 70 classmates, including two reiki healers who would check on her everyday.

“That’s really powerful to be around people who are genuinely concerned,” she said.

Other students told Milburn how inspiring it was to see her strength and determination to come back.

“They’d say, ‘You have the toughest practice of all,’” Milburn recalled. “I feel I made more progress during my own spiritual journey to sit and be silent and not listen to that nasty voice in your head. Remain unconcerned. You fall down a flight of stairs and it’s really hard to see the beauty in that.”

Milburn was right that making her way back to the Dharma temple would help her heal. When she returned home, the doctors were amazed at how fast she healed. A week after the second module ended, Milburn was given the OK to slowly start practicing again.

The Sound of Silence

By Jerome Burdi

It’s easier to tame a lion than your own mind.

This is because the tool needed to quiet the mind is intangible and for many people unfathomable. It is silence.

“Go into seclusion and rest your mind on the silence,” Sri Dharma Mittra says.

Enjoy the senses, the master says, but be prepared to live without anything the world offers them. And learn to be happy about it.

Moving into silence is something hard to do and even encouraged not to do in this world of technology, where a quiet mind is ruptured every minute or less by our smart phones with all their gadgets and apps. We live in a busy world and if you’re living in New York City, it’s an even busier one.

I’ve seen people crossing the street checking their smart phones, riding their bikes and texting in front of a sunset, and of course, we’ve all been in conversations where a phone becomes a third party in them.

It’s hard to quiet the mind. But as, Dharmaji says, our practice of yoga depends on it.

He comes from a long line of yogis, poets and saints who have said the same.

“Silence is the language of God,” the beloved Sufi saint Rumi said, “all else is poor translation.”

Silence is the thing we need most to succeed in striping away the layers to get to the voice of God inside, our true Self.

“Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind,” reads The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

But silence and being alone is also a thing most of us dread.

I remember before I went on a 10-day silent vipassana meditation retreat, I could not sit still for five minutes in meditation. I was so enthusiastic about learning this ancient meditation technique that sitting for long periods with an aching back and legs was well worth it. I learned to sit!

This is a compliment vipassana meditators sometimes pay each other: “You’re a good sitter.”

But vipassana focuses on getting you to sit for an hour without moving. This is dreadful for most people. Sri Dharma uses something more practical, especially for the fast paced impatient New Yorker.

“Practice for five minutes, but do it every day,” he often says.

This is the key to success. Doing a little each day helps to keep the enthusiasm going and helps you to gradually increase your meditation practice.

And no matter how busy you are, there is always time. Get up earlier. Meditation is better than sleep.

As the Zen proverb goes: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Once you get in the habit of giving yourself the gift of silence, of becoming the witness, it will become your favorite part of the day. I like to practice the first thing in the morning. Sri Dharma encourages practicing in the morning to make sure you get it in, calling it your “insurance policy.”

Then anything else you do after that is extra credit.

When we go silent, we can go within.

“Yoga is an internal practice,” Sri Pattabhi Jois said. “The rest is just a circus.”

At one point during my vipassana retreat I was looking out along a river while the leaves were changing and falling like feathers, squirrels were working frantically to gather their winter’s bounty, and I could almost hear the trees breathing on the mountainside.

I began to weep at the perfect beauty that we are all in together. This same feeling can come anywhere at anytime once you learn how to allow yourself to become silent. Sometimes I get it while riding the subway car to Manhattan in the morning, and everyone looks like flowers.

“When you are quiet,” Sri Dharma said, “you see everything with love.”

 

 

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

 

 

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!

10 Reasons to Go Upside Down

By Raquel Vamos

Group_Headstand

When I tell my students it’s time for inversions, I can sense panic in the room. To let go of our fears and embrace the world upside down, we must first begin to change our perspective. Here are 10 reasons why life upside down can be fun, healing, and can help your confidence!

1.  Facing Fear: Fear is what holds us back in life and keeps us from achieving our goals. When we face our fears on the yoga mat, we learn to bring this strength into the world around us. Most of the time we are more afraid of falling than we are of going upside down. In order to control our fear we must first identify it clearly. Facing your fear helps you live in the moment. It’s a practice of letting go and living in the now; an exercise to make your mind stronger.

2.  Refresh: Inversions bring the blood flow toward your head, which helps increase oxygen to your brain. Increased blood flow improves your mental functions like concentration, processing skills, and memory. Going upside down also helps calm your nervous system bringing about more balance and less anxiety caused by the external world.

Dharma_Mittra_Headstand

3.  Energize: Inversions are energizing. Most everything in our daily life, from work, family, electronics, and school drains our energy. Inversions are a tool that act like a shot of espresso. When I feel sleepy or tired, I go upside down and the blood flow to my head (see number 2) wakes me up. I feel alert and vibrant!

4.  Awareness: Going upside down develops awareness both physical and mental. First we are aware of the mechanics of getting up. Then, as we go deeper, we find a more subtle awareness of our physical and mental body working as one. Since you cannot see your feet or legs when you are upside down, you learn to feel where they are and move them with your mind. Without our vision to guide us, we feel insecure about being upside down. The sense of sight keeps us stuck in the external world, which can be so extravagant that we get stuck outside and forget the inside. Inversions help us rely less on sight and more on intuition to develop an inward awareness.

Dharma_Mittra_with_Pepper

5.  Strength and Balance: Inversions develop muscle strength and balance throughout your whole body. When you practice headstand you strengthen the stabilizer muscles in your neck, which helps you gain better control of your head. In forearm stands your shoulders gain strength and stability. In handstand your arms become lean and fit.  All inversions help develop core strength which is essential for asana and help you with better balance, stability, and endurance.  Most of all, inversions work the entire body so you don’t need to go to a gym and do ten different circuits to target individual muscles—inversions develop them all at once.

6. Concentration: When you are upside down you must focus entirely on what you are doing. It’s extremely hard to think about your personal life and problems when your feet are over your head. Your mind becomes one-pointed and you let go of all worries and doubts, bringing you into the present moment. In my opinion it’s a fast way to enjoy stillness.

7.  Breath Control: It is said in the yoga tradition that we are born with a certain amount of breaths to sustain us throughout life. Stress makes our breathing rapid and fast. When you go upside down the body forces you to inhale and exhale, otherwise it is too hard to hold the inversion. Synchronizing your breath in inversions help guide the movement.

Inversions

8. Get Happy: I have yet to meet anyone that is unhappy after going upside down. While inverting, you release endorphins and serotonin. These “feel-good” chemicals in your body relieve stressors in the mind which also help with depression and immediately improves your mood. 

9.  Playtime: Sri Dharma always says that we must act as children and have a light heart in life as well as on the yoga mat. Inversions bring out the inner child trapped inside the adult mind. This world can be so serious that we get lost in the adult mentality. We stop singing, we are afraid to dance, we have irrational fears of being judged, and the list goes on and on. The truth is we are all children wanting to play. Going upside down is a great way to ignite that long lost flame of innocent fun and play.

10.  Confidence: After a day of inversions you should notice a sense of confidence rising from deep within. You may feel empowered and charged with high esteem. Facing your fears and accomplishing the unthinkable helps you to see the power of mind over body. You realize you are capable of anything and raise the standards of your own potential.

(Pictures by Jeffrey Vock and Ana Cecilia Vargas)

Raquel_VamosRaquel Vamos has been teaching yoga for 3 years. She has a 150-Hour Hot Yoga Certification with Sayville Hot Yoga, RYT- 200 and is busy completing her Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Certification. Raquel has taught at Sayville Hot Yoga, Yoga for Life, Love Yoga Shala, Rocky Point Hot Yoga, Dharma Yoga NY Center, and Dharma Yoga Center LI.  She teaches privates, group classes, and workshops. Yoga is not just a job for Raquel she practices regularly with the Master Sri Dharma Mittra, taking meditation, Kirtan classes, and continued education classes.  Raquel is the owner of the Dharma Yoga Long Island studio, and hopes to spread the knowledge to those who wish to self-realize.

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.

 

    
      

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.

 

    

      

The Effects of Pranayama on Thoughts and Actions

By Jonathan Rosenthal 

©Jeffrey Vock
Pranayama (control of Prana through breath) is themain focal point for managing thoughts and actions, according to The Science of Pranayama by Swami Sivananada.
Even before I started practicing yoga, I foundthat inhaling deeply, holdingmy breath as long as is comfortable,and exhaling very slowly was themost effective technique to regulate my thoughts and actions in moments of indecision and doubt.

“Before he eats, before he drinks, before he resolves to do anything, Pranayama should be performed first and then the nature of his determination should be clearly enunciated and placedbefore the mind.  – Swami Sivananda.

Prana, however, is not solely breath. Breath contributes to prana, but not all prana is derived from breath.

Swami Sivanandasays, “The Prana may be defined as the finest vital force in everythingwhich becomes visible on the physicalplane as motionand action, and on the mentalplane as thought. The word Pranayama, therefore, means the restraint of vitalenergies.” Thisseems to suggestthat prana is fed by the needs of air, water and food and then directed towards the vayus, like thoughts and actions. Prana is hard to conceptualize, and therefore visualize and manipulate directly.

Perhaps the control of breath is a startingpoint to control prana. According to Swami Sivananda, “If you control the flywheel (the prana) you control the wheels (the other organs). Similarly, Sri Dharma Mittra says,the attention is a magnetfor prana. Perhaps combining control of breath with the guidance of attentionallows one to indirectly manipulate prana.

Breath is the most compulsory need for survival. Itis impossible to survive without breath for the amountof time one can survive withoutfood and water. This is why controllingthe breath is such an important tool, both in and out of yoga. Returning to this basic need shatters the illusion of all the other needs (e.g. fears, desires, doubts)” – almost like throwing a wrench at a triangular enclosure of mirrors that reflect and deceive you endlessly.

Fears and doubts are no match for Pranayama. By removing the focus from these ungrounded anticipations  and placing the focus on the most basic and essential need, Pranayama shatters the mirrored labyrinth of imaginary and illusory needs.

I imagine that allneeds”are really illusions. We are not really hungry, it is thebody that is hungry; we are not cold, it is the body that is cold. In fact, Swami Sivananda describes Pranayama techniques that eliminate needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep and these same techniques can even cool or warm the body – sitkari and sitali are cooling,suryabheda and ujjayi are warming, and bhastrika restores normal temperature. Further, sitkari and sitaliboth trump hunger, thirst, and sleep. All of theseseem to suggestthat pranayama is a practice mainly used to shatter the illusion of needs.

It is interestingthat Swami Sivananda advises specifically to avoid straining while doing Pranayama: “Some people twist the muscles of the face when they do Kumbhaka (breath retention). It shouldbe avoided. It is a symptom to indicate that they are going beyond theircapacity.

If practicing Pranayama becomesa need in and of itself,it has become an illusion extraordinaire. This is much like a drug given in excess quantitythat then becomesa poison. In pursuingPranayama as a need in and of itself,the practitioner has only replaced an unnecessary “need” with a new one.

Pranayama should be practiced each and every day, but it is not the end of the world to miss a day; Pranayama should be practiced not as a need in and of itself, but as a technique that, by focusing on the only real need, prana, shatters the illusion of the others.

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Jonathan Rosenthal took his DharmaYoga Life of a Yogi 200-Hour Teacher Training in June 2013. His motto is: “With everything I do, I try to remember we are yogis first and foremost and that we should view life as a task to be done, but with compassion, sincerity, angry determination, and a renunciation of the fruits of actions. I am grateful to the teachers who made this perspective possible and try to return the favor by teaching others.” He is in the internship phase of his LOAY teacher training.