Category Archives: calming

The Nectar of Dharma Yoga

By Jerome Burdi

 

Legs behind the head, stand on your forearms, head, and hands… backbend like the gods…practice with devotion…help others…reshape your body and mind…receive the bliss from the ancient psychic practices passed down by the sages to only those who are ready…then enjoy yogic sleep…30 minutes is like a full night’s rest.

We needed that because with 14-hour days like this, no one was sleeping for a full night. But still, I would get up excited for the next day, even before my 5 a.m. alarm went off.

Besides being physically and mentally challenging (as one would expect from Dharma Yoga,) the 800-hour Life of a Yogi teacher training was an amazing experience of the higher practices of yoga. The practices can change your life in this incarnation and the next. During the 500-hour teacher training, we students found ourselves eating a lot during the day and sleeping deeply when the day was done. There was a lot of asana during that training.

In the 800-hour, the trainees were pulsing with prana from so much yoga nidra and psychic development. We ate very little, and slept even less during the short nights and long days.

The room was charged at all times. Sri Dharma was giving us so much during his classes both public and private. One must be ready for these higher practices of yoga. A yogi on the first steps of the path gets a taste of how seasoned yogis can go without food or sleep, living off the energy of the universe.

“Go slow, but steady,” Sri Dharma said about developing one’s practice. This is how one becomes fully established and reaps the full benefits.

Before the training, I could not keep from slipping off into unconscious sleep during yoga nidra and I had no concentration for the esoteric practice of psychic development. But through the fire of the 14-hour days, practicing these techniques over and over again with the master’s guidance, I and others started to taste the nectar.

The asana is so alluring and such a delight to nail poses you thought you’d never get. But it is these higher practices that will reveal the deeper meanings of existence and how to be free from suffering. As Sri Dharma says, the asana is just a stepping stone. Enjoy it and work hard, but don’t stay there.

How fortunate we are to still have the ancient teachings available to us. May we all find our way to be liberated from pain and suffering in this very lifetime. May all the Dharma Yoga teachers preserve the integrity and power of the teachings handed down to us by our beloved and humble guru, Sri Dharma Mittra.

 

Jerome Blog

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.

 

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

 

 

The Magic of Mantra, Japa and Kirtan

by Martin Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

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.  

 

Mudras: When the Hands Mirror the Heart

by Jessica Monty Schreiber

©Jeffrey Vock
 
I arrived at the park one early Saturday morning and peace permeated the air — the peace best experienced in the early hours of the day before the other earth inhabitants rise from their warm beds.  The grassy spaces at the park were speckled with peaceful warriors slicing the air with their hands, making graceful shapes with their limbs, and using the energy that drives us, pushing and pulling with resistance and strength. Tai Chi, what a beautiful art form.  


Watching people use their hands and bodies to create shapes, I am only now becoming aware of the importance and significance of the mudras. A mudra is a gesture one specifically makes with one’s hands and arms. In India, these mudras aim to connect the yoga practice to divine and cosmic energy.

Apes use their hands to communicate, blind children clap their hands with excitement, and it is universal for one to cover one’s mouth in shock, horror or pain.  Moreover, it is an amazing power to be able to control our body in such a way to focus our consciousness and help manipulate our experience. The knowledge and experience of mudra techniques is so powerful.
The other day I hugged my friend who was overcome with grief and sadness. I imagined I was creating a cocoon, enveloping her with love — spiraling a web all over her branching from my arms.  There she wept, which I knew was difficult for her, as being vulnerable can be for many people. Still, I held her in my safe chrysalis, strongly creating a place of protection.  She felt that energy field; I know it with all my heart.  That is a mudra.
©Jeffrey Vock
 
As yoga asana practitioners, we breathe, balance, strengthen, and stretch our body all at once, simultaneously trying to connect with our higher Self. We strive to achieve a meditative state, ” a comfortable seat,” to commune with our divine nature. While I practice toppling tree pose, I perform kali mudra (interlocking your fingers, releasing the index fingers.) I concentrate on my erect index fingers touching and in turn, creating a one single pointed finger.  Sometimes I feel I could stay in this asana forever. That is a mudra.
 
Sometimes when I am frustrated with my son’s behavior, and when I am reprimanding or disciplining him, I notice my index finger wagging in his face.  Pointing at him as if he was the problem, only to know with my heart that the reflection of his behavior is my own. I don’t like this mudra. That is a mudra.
I hope this post inspires you to do your own research in the art of mudras. There are many informational references on how to you can specifically use mudras in your yoga practice, but only with your personal research and experience will you understand the importance and significance of a mudra.
 
©Jeffrey Vock
 
I will leave you with this beautiful obituary written by Laurie Anderson shortly after the death of Lou Reed:
To our neighbors:
What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.
Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people, this is our spiritual home.
Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!
Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.
 

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us. ~ Laurie Anderson, his loving wife and eternal friend.

Gratefully, Jessica Monty Schreiber has been practicing yoga daily since 2000. Jessica became certified to teach Bikram Yoga in 2003 and taught yoga in Miami Beach, FL and all over New York City.  Although she predominately taught Bikram yoga during that time, she took full advantage of the diverse yoga community by practicing the different yoga styles that New York City has to offer. In 2005 Jessica studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and became a certified Holistic Health Counselor. It brings her much pleasure to serve her community in the areas of health and wellness. Jessica participated in the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training in 2010.  She is currently in the internship phase of her training. Jessica takes great pride in her career as mother of two boys. Striving to find a balance in a domestic life is a daily yoga practice in itself. Jessica is passionate about yoga and wellness.  Her intention as a teacher is to inspire the practitioner to reveal their true beautiful and bright selves.  With hard work, positive effort and practice, we can all be healthy, happy, and free!

Lost and Found: Five things I learned from leaving my practice

by Jessica Gale

©Enid Johnstone
In the past three years, my life has changed more than the previous ten. Through this time of transition, I re-evaluated many aspects of my life: what I do, what I believe, and what I want. For a long time, yoga escaped my inner evaluations because I thought it was something forever firm in my life.

This spring I transitioned into becoming an urban farmer. Often my days were a flurry of activity and my nights of exhaustion. Physical tiredness became my excuse for putting my yoga practice on hold. As spring led to summer though, I could not seem to revive my daily practice. I continued teaching. I took a class here and there. I would take a few moments for some sun salutations and stretches. But of course, I did not receive the benefits yoga offered.

And so I gave up, knowing yoga and what it meant to me, needed re-interpretation and re-evaluation in my life. During that time, my temper grew shorter, my back tighter, and my sense of peace fleeting at best.

I live in a large city and I am not a city girl. I grew up in the country and on the ocean. A great deal of my sense of peace is derived from open, natural spaces. But for now, I must live in the city. The pace, the constant noise, the crowds all wear me down considerably during the day. During particularly bleak days I would wonder how in the world does it. How Sri Dharma does it? New York City has to be one of the busiest, most chaotic, and crowded places I have been. For me, his strength and gentleness are a testament to his devotion to yoga in a place as crazy as New York.

So, I spent my summer fleeing the city on weekends and fighting desperately to hold onto peace and let go of anger.

And I have failed, miserably some days.

This morning, thinking on all this, I knew I had to fail. I fell into yoga so quick and fervently when I started that I took no time to contemplate it. I needed to leave my yoga practice for perspective and to understand what it means to me now and why it still is essential. I could not be a content human being and certainly not a good teacher until I figured it out.

This is what I discovered:




·        If you live in a beautiful place and derive everyday peace and quiet from it, you are so lucky. But I realize now, as important as a sense of place and home are, things happen. Sometimes you have to move. Sometimes places change. However, your inner landscape can remain fixed and pristine.
·        I need yoga because I need silence, desperately. Silence in the face of the busy city and silence in the face of my racing mind. Yoga, in the end, is not about the asana, it is about being able to sit in stillness and settle the mind into silence. It is only in that silence that peace can be found. Silence in a place is fleeting. Silence found inside oneself everyday resonates and carries peace throughout the day.

·        I need silence through yoga because it is the path to surrender, or Isvara Pranidhana. In the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training manual Sri Dharma wrote, “Devotion to God is the total surrender of the ego. Once one has knowledge of the Self, one knows that everything is God. One is then able to surrender the ego in order to achieve enlightment. Surrender in order to obtain Divine help from within. Imagine having the hand tied behind the back: one needs help! If one surrenders to the Lord, one will be set free.

·        I need silence in order to surrender. I need surrender in order to find peace and contentment. I realized, for myself, yoga is my path towards these things.

·        This is the pattern of my life: to question and sometimes break my beliefs again and again. But each time, the right ones for me come back all the stronger.

I started my practice again today. My back is still tight, my mind too busy, and the worries of the world still intrude. But I feel better. It is a new beginning.
_____________________________________

Jessica Gale has practiced yoga for nine years and studied Ashtanga, Kripalu and Dharma Yoga during this time. She spent the last three years studying intensely at Dharma Yoga Syracuse, New York and completed her LOAY 200-Hour Teacher Training at the Dharma Yoga New York Center in May 2012. She is currently completing her internship hours and hopes to achieve full certification soon. 

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.

Five Ways To Detox Your Thoughts

by Sorsha Anderson

Most of us have an idea how to detox our bodies:  eating right, exercising and juicing or fasting.  But how do we detoxify our thoughts and thought process?  In much the same way: by choosing which thoughts to feast on and which to pass up.

Think of your mind as a giant store that is stocked with unlimited food.  Further realize that this store is stocked in part by the world outside which is filled with unhealthy influences.  No matter what our intentions, our store is not always the health food store we would like it to be.  The good news is that no matter what state our store is in, we can examine carefully each item that we take off of the shelf and choose whether or not to put it into our cart.

Try the steps below:


  • Understand that you are not your thoughts. 

Just as the food in your cart may belong to you, it is not you. The same is true with thought.  Thoughts are a product of the mind, the mind is a tool of the self, but it is not the self.  As Sri Dharma Mittra explains, “the mind is powerful, it loves its pleasure. It will throw you down! But you are not the mind.”   

He continues with this analogy:  the higher self resting in the body is akin to a driver in a car.  If you are driving the car and the brakes fail and you are having trouble with the electrical system, you are having trouble with the car, but you are not the car.  Next: 



©Jeffrey Vock

  • Observe your thoughts

This can be done very simply in a short period of time.  Pick a quiet time during the day, or even as you lay down before sleep at night.  Close your eyes and observe the thoughts that come into your mind.  Do not engage the thoughts, do not dialogue with the thought or practice arguments in your head…just watch the thoughts come up and then let them go.  Even five minutes at a time will help introduce you to your thought patterns and begin to give you the sense of the ‘observer,’ your higher self watching the thoughts.  It will give you an excellent idea of what shape your store is in.  Is it a health food store or a 7-eleven?

  • Don’t fear your thoughts.

Even if after some observation you notice negative patterns, keep calm.   Everyone experiences negative thoughts.  You cannot help the thoughts that float through your mind.  Remember, they are thoughts only and they are not you.  You can begin to control your thoughts by using your discrimination.  You do not have to validate every thought that comes into your mind any more than you have to buy unhealthy food every time you enter the store.  If a troublesome or unhelpful thought arises, ask first, “Is this thought compassionate? Is it compassionate to myself, to my friends, to the world?”  If it is, engage the thought and let it tell its story.  If not then let it go; leave it on the shelf.  Leave room in the mind for something worthy.  As Sri Dharma Mittra says, “Cultivate compassion, the rest will come.”

  • Strike a pose!

Try tree pose, with the eyes closed. No matter how observant and vigilant we become, all of us have trouble at times releasing negative thoughts. If the mind is stuck in a difficult place, give it something else to concentrate on.  Vrksasana, can be done almost anywhere, any corner of any room, even a bathroom stall at work.  Stand in tree, feel your standing foot on the ground and close your eyes.  Tell your mind, ‘Nothing changes here; I am simply lowering my eyelids.’  The mind may fight; it may panic as the eyes close and it loses the visual horizon; but remember, you are the driver.  Use the breath, feel yourself in space; imagine you are simply a tree in the dark.  The mind will start to understand that it does in fact know where it is in space without visual reassurance.  It will begin to settle. The worrisome detail the mind would not relinquish may suddenly dissolve in the moonlight!



©DovVargas

  • Count to ten – upside down.

In addition to the physical benefits of inverting the body, the mind greatly benefits as well.  One of the elements of inversions that hooked me early on was the instantaneous quieting of the mind.  If the mind won’t stop, if it becomes filled with obsessive thoughts and won’t let go, dump it out!  Turn your cart upside down, empty it out and start again.  The mind will begin to concentrate on not falling over and start to let go of everything else.  Something about going upside down is also reminiscent of being a kid again.  We physically recall a time when we felt fearless and invincible and our mood instantly elevates. 

You are not your thoughts, but thoughts are energy and the vibration of that energy affects our mood, our state of being and our physical body.  Next time you are revamping your diet because the body is calling out for a change, also take stock of the contents of the mind.  Choose to leave those uncompassionate, un-helpful thoughts on the shelf, and over time, your store may stop stocking them altogether.


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Sorsha lives and teaches in Vermont.  She has been practicing since 1991 and worked with very gentle and restorative yoga until her 30’s when she wandered into a hot and sweaty, but meditative vinyasa studio.  Neither a dancer nor gymnast as a child, and after having had two children, she surprised herself by balancing in crow for the first time at 36.  She never looked back.  Sorsha approaches each new pose with a sense of optimism and adventure and delights in encouraging others to try what only seems impossible at first glance.  She particularly enjoys teaching older women who are trying to find their way back to their bodies after a sometimes very long absence.  Sorsha is thankful to have found her way to the Dharma Yoga Center and makes the trip from Vermont as often as she can.  She offers gratitude for the beautiful physical and spiritual teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra.



Yoga’s Little Secret: Pranayama

by Melody Abella

 “…the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled.  This is pranayama.”  sutra 2.49

Pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Outside of the yoga world, no one talks about fully dedicating attention to your breath unless you’re hyperventilating or experience some other health issue like pneumonia or asthma.  Even then, in my limited experience, the medical world rarely knows what the power of conscious breathing has to offer.

To the general population of non-yogis, yoga is typically only associated with physical movements/poses (asana).  Don’t get me wrong.  Yoga asana offers a ton of benefits such as improving balance and coordination, increasing strength and flexibility and boosting confidence and concentration.  There are many, many reasons to do it.  And in most asana classes, breathing is usually mentioned and encouraged but it tends to be secondary in the minds of many students (at least those newer to asana).

Pranayama (breath control) is really the heart and soul of yoga, just as breathing (the exchange of oxygen and carbon-dioxide) is essential to keeping our hearts pumping and blood flowing.  The benefits of exploring pranayama can be as grand as easing high blood pressure and asthmatic symptoms to as simple as cleansing the body and calming the mind.

There are numerous pranayama techniques, each having their own specific function and benefit.  For instance:

·        Kapalabhati cleanses the lungs, warms the body and tones the abdominal muscles. 

·        Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) has a calming and balancing effect on the nervous system. 

·        Sound breathing improves concentration and can positively shift your energy (i.e. awakening the chakras). 

For details on some of these techniques, check out The Science of Pranayama.  If the techniques I’ve mentioned sound too esoteric (which I get!), Max Strom’s Learn to Breathe DVD might be your speed.

My current fav:  Calming Breath.  Why?  It’s easy.  Anyone can do it.  Plus, it can be done anywhere, anytime. 

Simple instructions:  

  • Work with a 4:2:4 breathing ratio for a few weeks (5-10 minutes a day). 
  • This means inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 4.  
  • As this gets easy, you can increase the ratio to 6:3:6, or 8:4:8.  
  • Don’t be too ambitious.  Remember it’s called calming breath so more doesn’t mean better.
Again in my mind, pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Trust me, this  blog post here really doesn’t do it justice!  Explore it for yourself.  Read up on it.  Find a yoga teacher who can guide you and answer your questions.  And just like asana, practice it daily.

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Passionate about sharing the power of yoga & its transformational benefits, Melody Abella founded a mobile yoga business (abellaYoga) in 2006. abellaYoga travels to corporate and private clients in Washington, D.C., Alexandria and Arlington, VA to teach yoga in homes, offices, hotels, and conference centers. Grateful for experiences gained in the telecom/tech corporate world, this ex-marketing yoga-chick is happy to share all she knows about yoga. Believing through discipline and devotion we have the power within to make positive changes in our bodies, lives and this world, Melody teaches her students “anything is possible”. Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says you must have “angry determination.” Melody received her 500-hour Dharma Yoga Teacher certification in May 2012. She continues to hop the train from DC to NYC monthly to practice with Sri Dharma Mittra at the Dharma Yoga New York Center.