Category Archives: community

Reflections on a “Life of a Yogi” 500-Hour Teacher Training

By Rachel Carr

First: if you have the chance to take a class with Sri Dharma Mittra then do. He’s a true yogi and taking class from him has transformed my life in so many ways.

Second: if you’ve ever wanted to push, pull and stretch yourself in amazing ways (big and small) then consider taking the 500-Hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training offered at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC. You may just be surprised by what you uncover about yourself and your practice.

Third: teacher trainings are intense. They are designed that way in order to shake you up and wake you up. The days I spent immersed in Dharma Yoga were amazing, but also the most challenging of my yoga practice to date. At the conclusion of day one, after we spent 12 hours practicing pranayama and asana and learning new sequences, I thought to myself, “How am I going to do this for the next seven days?” It all seemed so daunting and my mind flooded with so many doubts. “What am I doing here? I shouldn’t be here. I just want to go home and be comfortable.” But I kept pushing because, deep in my heart, I knew it was where I needed to be in order to evolve personally and professionally. Somehow, whether by willpower or fierce determination, I made it through the rest of the training relatively unscathed and those feelings of doubt slowly slipped away.

LOAY_Trainee_class

The First Module:

What came out of my first module of teacher training? There were many realizations, but here are a few.

Although I hate to admit, I realized that I had seriously neglected my personal practice. My practice has always been a place of rejuvenation for me and I had let that slip. How? Frankly, I’m doing too much, saying yes too many times and giving so much energy and care through my teaching to the well-being of others that I have completely neglected my own well-being. So, after the first module I decided to step back a bit and make time for my own practice so I can be a better teacher for my students.

Yoga, when done correctly and with experienced and qualified teachers, is incredibly healing and I needed this training to remind me! When I left for the training I had some digestive discomfort that I was working to tame. At some point during my asana and pranayama practice, it went away, and even though I got a head cold while I was there, my digestion was never better, my skin cleared up and random bouts of anxiety slipped away. Sri Dharma says, “With constant practice comes success.” It’s true. If you want to see the benefits, you have to do the practice.

Coming home there was lots of homework to follow, including daily pranayama, meditation and asana practice. At times I felt overwhelmed with getting the practice in as well as my other commitments, but Sri Dharma’s words keep ringing in my ears. “Do it because it needs to be done.” 

Namaskarasana

The second module:

The second immersion week of my teacher training was just as amazing, but far more challenging than the first.  Given the success of the first immersion and my dutiful attention to the inter-module homework, I felt ready for the second half of the training in December. Leaving my family right after the Thanksgiving holiday was hard, but I was ready for the endeavor. However, all that preparedness came to a screeching halt about 45 minutes in to asana practice on the first day when I was feeling so out of sorts that I left and started crying uncontrollably in the bathroom. My body was heavy and foreign to me as I moved through the practice. I felt like my world shifted and I didn’t know which way was up. After class was over, I spoke with a mentor and felt better knowing that I was not the only one feeling out of sorts that day. Maybe the holidays had a greater effect on me than I’d realized?

I kept telling myself that if I made it through the first four days, I would be okay. However, the first days of the training were some of the hardest of my yoga career! Physically I started to feel much better about things, but my ego was literally crawling out of my body and demanded we leave right then and there. I did not give in, although I thought about it a lot, because I know that when things get really tough, the good stuff starts happening, so I kept moving forward, doing the work that needed to be done and reflecting on what was coming up for me from practice. Was this some sort of ego detox, I wondered? I don’t have that answer, but I do know I felt defeated on so many levels that at some points I felt so paralyzed by it all that I could barely move on my mat.

Luckily, two very good friends came to visit mid-way through the week. It didn’t take much, but a hug and a friendly hello from two close outsiders of the training made my heart so happy I nearly burst. Also, the amazing mentors and teachers of the LOAY program kept pulling me forward. They were always open and ready to help me through anything, patiently listening and helping me observe the onslaught of internal messages I felt overwhelmed by at times.

Sri_Dharma_Mittra

Sri Dharma is always there to remind me of what I need to hear at just the right time. Every day I listened intently to his discourse and instructions. The more my ego calmed down, the easier it was to take in, and the more being there made sense. I truly felt that “everything was perfect.”

The last four days of the training were just as intense, however, less so emotionally for me. I still struggled with some asanas, but my body didn’t feel as heavy any longer. I didn’t realize this until the end of the week, but I had become so strong from the inter-module homework, that I rarely felt sore and injured. I even started moving my mat up front for practice. I think it’s best to sit close to Sri Dharma if possible. I was coming out of my shell…finally.

On the second to last day we participated in an inversion clinic. Inversions are not my strongest area, but I’m determined to work on them. In the beginning of the workshop I started to get really anxious. However, my partner was very supportive as we worked though the exercises together. In fact, all of my fellow trainees were so supportive that I started having fun again as we “played” with asana instead of “working” on them.

Maha_Sadhana

On the final day I got up the nerve and mentioned to a mentor just how nervous inversions make me and to my surprise, he helped me out through practice for so many inversions I am now confidently practicing on my own. It only took eight full days of training, but I had a breakthrough! Of course, there’s more work to be done, but I was happy I finally let go because when I do, amazing things always happen. In our final Satsang, I sang my heart out and felt so light and joyous. I was sad to leave, but at the same time I was ready to come home.

Thirty days home and I miss my Sangha dearly. It was hard jumping back in to practice and the holidays made it even more difficult, but, as always, I am striving to do my best. I continue to have many breakthroughs and worry less about how well I do some of asana as opposed to the journey they provide me. I’m stronger and feel more grounded now than ever before and continue to learn more and more about myself through this amazing practice and the teachings of dearest Sri Dharmaji.

(All pictures by Jeffrey Vock. This post first appeared on the blog Capricious Yogi.)

Rachel CarrRachel Carr E-RYT 200, RPYT is a DC based yoga teacher currently working on her 500-Hour LOAY certification with Sri Dharma Mittra. She completed an inter-disciplinary 200-Hour yoga Teacher Training in 2008 and has been teaching ever since. In 2011, she participated in the Off the Mat, Into the World Leadership Training and became a Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher (RPYT) in 2012. She chronicles her yoga journey on her blog, Capricious Yogi.

Selfless Service in a Frenetic World

By Barb Cooper
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi
There are a lot of different interpretations of what Karma Yoga (Selfless Service) is and how it fits into a budding yogi’s practice.  For me, Karma Yoga is where my entire practice comes together—all the limbs of yoga, the relinquishing of the ego, not being attached to the fruits of one’s labor, actions as offerings to the Divine—Karma Yoga is where my practice meets the real world.

 

I’m given to the concept of Karma Yoga naturally. As someone who has fought depression and anxiety for much of her life B.Y. (before yoga,) I learned that the best antidote for sadness is doing something for someone else –-to turn the focus outward.  Last year, in response to the almost crippling grief I felt after the mass murder of school children in Connecticut, I implemented a systematic campaign aimed at sowing little seeds of love in the world.
I started by buying the next person behind me a hot tea in the tea shop, or coffee at the deli.  A few times, I bought the next person behind me some soup at the local bakery. The effort seems to have blossomed from there, and has ended up genuinely changing my life over the past year.
Because what I’ve found is that the impulse to give people stuff is matched by the impulse to just…well, GIVE in general.  So I rush to hold the door open for people or I let people out in traffic. I help people carry their packages to their cars. I just try to adopt an attitude of service, offering whatever is needed in the moment to whomever I encounter.
The interesting thing about Karma Yoga is that it gives back to you exponentially. I really didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect these small acts of devotion to change the way I viewed the world, but that’s what happened. I find that the more I look for ways in which to give to others, the more I genuinely SEE the people around me. And when I’m genuinely noticing them and their struggles, it’s so easy to tap into a vast compassion for them. That compassion, in turn, begins to translate into everything I see around me—animals, insects, this planet.
This year, if you aren’t already doing it, try this: in the midst of all the holiday chaos and demands on your time, do one small kind thing.  Just one tiny thing—open the door for someone, or buy a cup of tea for someone who looks like he or she needs it.  Take some hot chocolate to the crosswalk guard you pass every day. Surprise your mail carrier with some hand warmers.  Just one small thing that shows someone that you’ve noticed him or her.  Sometimes, just being seen is enough to begin a ripple of kindness.
“Giving of any kind… taking an action… begins the process of change, and moves us to remember that we are part of a much greater universe. ” ~ Mbali Creazzo 
_________________________________________________

Barb Cooper, 48, is a mother, a well-socialized introvert, a Texas-to-New York-to-Texas transplant, and a writer by nature and training. She considers herself a grateful observer, a recovering perfectionist, and no longer shy. Barb graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in June 2013 and teaches yoga at Rasna Yoga in Austin, Texas. Read more of her musings at sothethingisblog.blogspot.com.

 

 

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. 

________________________________________________

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.

 

    

      

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. 

Six Ways to Get the Most Out of Your LOAY Teacher Training

By Jennifer Helgren

©Jeffrey Vock

First and foremost: GO



“Always do what you are afraid to do”   –Ralph Waldo Emerson



When the thought of attending the 500-Hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training first entered my mind, I almost automatically dismissed the idea.  I had so many reasons NOT to attend (mother of two young children, travelling husband, a plane ride away from NYC, no housing in the city, etc.)



What I learned was that when I committed to my dream, the obstacles fell away. It may take some time, and definitely some effort, but the result – well, is simply too great to put into mere words. Dive in, take a chance, and find a way to GO.

Second:  Open your mind and heart



“Be Receptive” —Sri Dharma Mittra



There will be moments in the training that will challenge you – physically, mentally, spiritually – and you must always remember that is why you are here. Open the whole of your mind, even the places that you are least aware of: the places that hold onto resistance.  Allow the words, people, experiences, and lessons to pour into those hidden places. Listen with an open heart and mind, and the information will be absorbed.  Weeks, months after you leave, you will hear these words and learn these lessons…they will reside in the mind and heart, and the space you created within. 



©Jeffrey Vock
Third: Put forth effort and use imagination



“Imagination is powerful. You go as far as you can imagine”– Sri Dharma Mittra



You are going to be tired at some point. You will physically and mentally hit the proverbial wall.  You will move past it. I promise you, a second wind comes along and you will be renewed.



I second-guessed myself initially, but that fell away after time. My mind let go of the attachments to thoughts and emotions that often distract us and inhibit us from fully committing to something.  We live in the real world, and the world does not like to be left behind. It will pull at you, distract you, and sometimes overwhelm you.  Give yourself time to allow these things to come up. They are natural and they will pass.



Apply disciplined effort to your practice. Let the physical practice act as a brush to scrub away at whatever negative tendencies you may have.  Let it invigorate you, regenerate you. Your physical practice will grow by leaps and bounds through dedication and practice, practice, practice.



Finally, use your imagination – Sri Dharma talks about this often and it truly resonated with me. Imagine yourself to be a better person, mother, father, daughter, son, friend, partner – a better yogi. Use your imagination as fuel to show yourself that what you pursue is attainable through effort, dedication, study, and time. 

Fourth: Be a Student



“In learning you will teach and in teaching, you will learn” Phil Collins



Lose all preconceptions. Take off the teacher hat and allow yourself to commit to being a student. Listen and learn: from Sri Dharma, the mentors, your fellow trainees. Watch your own mind and learn how to apply all that you receive to yourself, your life, your teaching.  Apply the lessons to every aspect of your life. You will be amazed at how the things you are exposed to relate to your roles in life – as a person, yogi, teacher, parent, child, friend, partner, spouse. This is truly the LIFE of a yogi training!



Listen as much as possible. You will want to take notes, but if you can, take time to just be still and listen. Let go and simply absorb the information and the words.  Listen to other people’s questions and answers and try not to be too eager to answer them for yourself, even in your own mind. Let other people share, and let their knowledge and experiences become part of your own.

©Jeffrey Vock


Fifth: Smile, live, learn, laugh…and do your homework!



“Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it” Lao Tzu



Enjoy the training! Every day, it becomes more of a part of you and integrates itself into your very being. 

Sri Dharma is always quick with a smile and a kind-hearted joke. He understands the power of laughter and the importance of joy.  The training will go faster than you think, so soak up every minute! When you leave between sessions or after the final interval, do your homework!  Remember that you are going to be able to do it and what’s more, you will enjoy it. After my internship ended, I found that much of the homework has become a part of my daily life.  After talking with many other trainees, this is the case with most of us.  Carry it forward. Apply it. LIVE it. 

Sixth and finally: Go back



“Well, sometimes home is a person” –B.Revis



I understand how hard to is to travel to New York City. Still, I would encourage you to go back as much as you can. Go home, and by home I mean return to Sri Dharma and be in his presence. 



However, if you are very far and it is not possible for you to physically go, keep in touch with people through the internet, the phone, however you can to maintain the connection. I have found myself using Facebook to keep in contact with other trainees and to touch base with the Center – daily! You can see pictures of Sri Dharma, the mentors, your friends. You can read quotes from Sri Dharma (and yes, you hear his voice!) You see familiar faces and smiles and all at once, you are home. 



In closing, ultimately this experience is a very personal one. I wish that everyone who is undecided about going could understand one thing – you will never regret going, but you may regret having never been. 


____________________________________________

Jennifer has a undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree with a specialty in Counseling.  She had a career as a counselor working with clients of all ages and backgrounds, in varying environments, with a wide range of needs and concerns.  After her time as a counselor, Jennifer began her life as a mother, the most rewarding and challenging career of all. She believes that her education, practice, and history as a counselor, and mother, play an important role in her yoga practice and her teaching. She believes strongly that a truly dedicated spiritual and physical yoga practice can transform, enhance, and expand the life of the practitioner. Jennifer had the honor to study with Sri Dharma Mittra for both the LOAY 200- and 500-Hour Teacher Trainings, and recently graduated from the 500-hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training. Jennifer studied with numerous other teachers, but continues to find her strength, inspiration, knowledge, direction, and guidance from Sri Dharma. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband and two children.  Jennifer teaches regular weekly classes in Virginia Beach and continues to travel to NYC at every available opportunity to study under Sri Dharma and the Senior Teachers at the NYC Center. 

For Yoga Teachers: Five Ways To Serve With Joy

By Jessica Gale

©Jeffrey Vock

Recently, upon borrowing mats from a yoga center for a workshop, I reflected on new connections and coincidences since moving to Toronto, Canada, and teaching yoga.

I thought about my growing social circle and sharing yoga with them; the yoga center I borrowed mats from; the workshop venue which was rented inexpensively to me by friends of friends (whom I had taught at home); and that all these new contacts kept me in the loop of any new jobs and opportunities and promoted my teaching.

All of this started with my eagerness to share yoga and my belief in karma yoga (selfless service). Acts of selfless service are free from the idea of receiving something in return and instead focus on the act of giving and surrender.

Selfless service will always be a part of my teaching.  The wonderful surprise is that for all I give, positive returns come back to me.  

Here are a few ways to include selfless service in your life:

·        Teach for free or barter

One of my students has chronic Lyme disease. I too had Lyme disease for several years and know firsthand that yoga helps. When I met his partner and heard of his situation, I immediately offered to teach them both. They were reluctant at first because they could not pay but they were willing and wanted to barter. In exchange, I receive muffins, preserves, and other small treats every week when I come to teach. But the real payoff and is seeing a friend recovering from a lengthy illness and there is no amount of money that can match this true reward.

For many of us, yoga is sometimes our sole profession and teaching classes for free is not feasible. However, a few karma yoga classes go a long way in helping people that cannot afford to attend but will reap the benefits of yoga.

Students, the elderly, even the unemployed with limited or no income, would greatly appreciate this and many are willing to pay in their own way by service or gifts in kind. Know the limits to what you can give and then give as much as you can.

©Jeffrey Vock

·        Teach what someone wants to be taught

As lovers of yoga, we sometimes forget that yoga can be overwhelming for some people. For example, my neighbor had difficulty with her breathing and I offered to teach her yoga. She was keen to learn breathing exercises but due to her age and inexperience, was not interested in the physical practice. While I knew that she would benefit from the physical exercises, I decided not to push it and I only taught her some simple pranayama exercises.  She found relief from the exercises and continued to talk about how beneficial it for months afterwards.

·        Share your time and your experiences

People are very curious about yoga teachers and I often find myself answering questions and sharing what I know. It can be overwhelming when you are in the midst of something or in a hurry!  So when I find myself becoming anxious or glancing at my watch during these situations, I try to remember to slow down and to share what I was so lucky to learn.

·        Volunteer

My first connection to potential students was made through volunteering. I helped out twice a week at an urban farm for some time and it was fantastic to help nurture plants and assist busy farmers. A number of wonderful connections developed from this time and it all began with selfless service.



©Enid Johnstone
·        Focus on small acts

Selfless service may sometimes seem like a tall order but really it’s not!

We don’t have to make huge sacrifices to include it in our day. Small opportunities occur around us all the time, but the first step is to slow down.

Do you need to be the first person on the grocery line? Can you hold the door for the people coming in? Would you pick up your partners clothes if it was left on the floor? 

I believe the key to Karma Yoga is to remember Ahimsa (compassion or non-violence) and to think, what are the loving acts I can do today?


_____________________________________

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 CNY Yoga (Dharma Yoga) in 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. Jessica lives in Toronto, Canada.

Dharma Yoga Across the US

Q & A with Dharma Yoga teachers in the US…

This week: 

Gopi Om (Nicole Sopko) in Chicago, Illinois 


Where do you live?

I live in Chicago with my partner Dan, and our rescued dogs. I have an affinity for rescued pit bull type dogs especially since they need loving homes. Though I am not a Chicago native and I grew up outside of Detroit, this city is definitely where my heart is.


Which LOAY trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?
I lived in Philadelphia when I first heard of Sri Dharma’s teachings from others. I dedicated a day to taking the train up for the noon Master Class and my heart instantly knew that Sri Dharma-ji was the teacher for me. Following many years of self doubt and a move to Chicago, I got on a plane for each of the four sessions of the 500-hour and the intensive 800-hour training. It was a test of dedication, not to Sri Dharma-ji to whom I already felt very dedicated, but to embracing my own worthiness.


The 500-hour training took place in the winter of 2009/2010 and I had several life events take place during that time that would be considered a little catastrophic. These events were the pieces of my life that were not me falling away to make room for the things that are more in line with my goals. Being in Sri Dharma-ji’s presence and the presence of so many other aspiring yogis, I felt at peace with the changes and natural in my surrender to the will of the Divine.


When I heard about the first ever 800-hour training I knew that I could not miss it. My personal life was more stable than it had been during the previous training and as a result my mind was freer to submerse myself in the deep teachings that Sri Dharma-ji was offering. The experience was like nothing else and I still struggle to explain what I’ve taken away, but it has been absolutely life-changing.



What would you say about the people who you met during your trainings? How have they inspired you?
The people I met during the trainings inspire me endlessly! Many people I see infrequently but still feel incredibly close to. I keep up with many of them on Facebook, which is an easy tool for that kind of transmission. 

I am constantly awe-struck by the magnitude of what my fellow Dharma Yoga teachers are accomplishing. Of course, I believe it is all a result of “giving up the fruits.”

What is one practice that you do every day?

I try to offer kindness to myself, to others and to the world. I make mistakes, but I constantly practice being kind. I also practice Psychic Development regularly.



What are you currently working on?
I currently make my living in a variety of ways! I am the Vice President of Upton’s Naturals, an exclusively-vegan natural foods company owned by my partner, Dan. Upton’s primarily makes seitan, a compassionate alternative to meat. We just moved into a new production facility in Chicago that we’ve constructed to house that business and which also incorporates a small vegan café called Upton’s Breakroom

Dan and I both live and work together to operate these businesses, to which we’ve dedicated much of our lives. The new space has been designed from the ground up limited only by our imaginations and more realistically, our budget. It is a beautiful space for our employees, guests, and students to enjoy and I hope it adds something beautiful and of value to the city that we’ve made our home.


I am also regularly teaching yoga. The top floor of the seitan factory has a small by-donation yoga center called Maha Dharma. I also recently became the caretaker/owner of a second yoga center, Yoga Trek Center, in nearby Oak Park, IL. 

Both spaces offer yoga classes as well as host community events. I aim for them to both be multi-use spaces, while still keeping our intention of creating a devotional space for studying the science of yoga.



Why are these projects a priority?
I think that the main purpose of my previous “profession” was to make enough money to afford the 500-hour training and once that was secured, that job fell away naturally. 

For the first time in my life, I feel competent at what I am doing, which I think is a result of my passion for this work. Now, I just want to keep moving forward; offering whatever I have towards making the world a more compassionate place – whether that is by making vegan options more available and maybe more palatable or by offering spiritual teachings. I try to meet every situation in the way that I am most needed.


How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY program affected your life outside of training?
The experience has helped me tremendously in developing my drive, as well as to eliminate my fears of success and of failure. As long as I am offering up the fruits of this work, I know that whatever I accomplish will not hold me back from the real reason that I am here, the realization of the Supreme Self.



Can you share a little about your current teaching schedule?
I currently teach at Yoga Trek and Maha Dharma each a few times a week, as well as retreats and workshops throughout the year wherever I am drawn.

What books are you currently reading or studying?

I am currently reading Yoga and Yogic Powers by Yogi Gupta and reading it very slowly and deliberately as I try to soak in as much as I can from this text. I also always re-read the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras and attempt to “check it out for myself,” as Dharma-ji advises.

When You Hear the Truth, You Have To Take Action…

By Barb Cooper


©Jeffrey Vock

Before I left for my LOAY Teacher Training in February 2013, I snapped a quick photo of myself and posted it on Facebook.  “I’m about to leave for my yoga teacher training adventure. I took a picture just in case I come back completely changed,” I joked.

Little did I know that the person coming home from the training would be changed in every imaginable way EXCEPT visibly. (Well, okay, I even changed a little outwardly if you count the three pounds I lost.)
It is oddly difficult to describe the experience. I find myself speaking in terms of what it wasn’t.  It wasn’t bootcamp for yogis.  It wasn’t a cult indoctrination. It wasn’t me and a bunch of Cirque de Soleil performers. My fellow trainees were as varied as our number, all of us there for different reasons.  All of us at different stages on our paths. And all of us, every one, there because we had glimpsed something in Sri Dharma Mittra that we hoped to find for ourselves.



©Jeffrey Vock


What I end up telling people who ask about the training is this: Imagine yourself in a completely positive environment for ten straight days.  How many of us get that chance?  How many of us are surrounded by nothing but unbroken love and nurture and kindness and the best wishes for our development for even ONE day out of our lives, let alone ten days from before dawn until bedtime?
It was amazing to be surrounded by like-minded people.  To be able to ask deeply spiritual questions and be completely understood. To be in the presence of someone whose understanding of true Yoga far surpassed any living being I’d ever met. To find my spiritual home.

Yes, it was hard—but not in the way I thought it would be.  Although my body was pushed to its limit (I had to skip an asana practice one day because my back was on the fringes,) it was my mind and my spirit that had the biggest workout.  I came home utterly cracked wide open—with a new connection to the Earth, to my fellow humans, to the spirit world.

©Jeffrey Vock

The biggest challenges for me involved NOT moving—finding a comfortable position to sit and meditate, or finding a comfortable position to lie down in for the deep relaxation sessions.  It’s amazing how much I wanted to shift and move as soon as I knew I shouldn’t. I came to recognize this as my mind and body distracting me from my true work.
Many years ago, a friend of mind—a wise-cracking, sarcastic, realist –abruptly converted to Catholicism.  I was, frankly, shocked, knowing what I knew of her.  I asked her about it and she struggled for words.  “It’s…It’s just the TRUTH,” she said.  “When I heard it, I had to take action.”

That’s how I feel about the Yoga that Sri Dharma Mittra teaches—all aspects of it.  I’m still a neophyte on the path.  But it’s just the Truth.  And when you hear the Truth, you have to take action.




_________________________________________________

Barb Cooper, 48, is a mother, a well-socialized introvert, a Texas-to-New York transplant, and a writer by nature and training. She considers herself a grateful observer, a recovering perfectionist, and no longer shy. Barb graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in June 2013. She is beginning to become the person her pets think she is. Barb@sothethingis.com

Dharma Yoga Across the US

Q & A with Dharma Yoga teachers in the US…

This week: Ishvara Pranidhana Om

– Jefferson City, Missouri


  By Nicole Sopko
Ishvara Pranidhana Om, simply called “Vara” by her students at Dharma Yoga Missouri, is a dedicated and reverent student of yoga. She has fully incorporated the practice of yoga in her life, running Dharma Yoga Missouri as well as the attached vegan café, Vitality (www.vitality-cafe.com).
Where do you live?

I live in Jefferson City, Missouri. It’s the capitol, in the heart of the state that’s in the heart of the Midwest. I lease a building that has Dharma Yoga Missouri along with Vitality, our vegan café, on the first floor. I live in the apartment upstairs with my two daughters and two cats. I like just walking downstairs and being at work.



Which LOAY trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?
I completed my LOAY 200-hour in June 2010 because I started subbing and needed to have formal training. Also, I took a weekend workshop with Dharma Yoga Teacher Rebecca Kovacs in San Diego, CA, that blew my mind and blew all of my perceptions about Yoga out of the water.

So I took a 24-hour trip to meet Sri Dharma Mittra for a Maha Sadhana the day before Valentine’s in 2010 to check out the facility and the teacher. I had watched his Maha Sadhana DVDs and his voice was something so old in my memory that when I met him in person I started to cry.  Sri Dharma asked me, “What’s wrong with you, did you break up with your boyfriend? Oh, you just have some Shakti rising up” as he gestured to his heart. I was stricken and all I wanted was to be with him. So I signed up for the LOAY 200-hour teacher training.

I took the LOAY 500-hour training because I was so happy about my first training and also so that I could teach all the levels at the center. When I heard that there was going to be a LOAY 800-hour I was like, “PUT ME ON THAT LIST!” At this point I have an overwhelming burning desire for liberation, it’s all I think about and I think that is certainly a result of such intensive immersion experiences. I think the LOAY 800-hour TT has been the one of the best experiences of my life so far.
How have the people you met in the training inspired you?

The people I met are a varied group of people, some whom I remain very close with to this day. There are people from every walk of life, all different ethnicities and from different parts of the world.  I am inspired by the fact that we can all be so different, yet are all reflections of each other in our love for Sri Dharmaji and our quest for Self-Realization.

What is one practice that you do every day?

I watch the activities of the mind and pray constantly. I devote every action to God, and try not to be concerned with the activities of the mind, but I am always trying to observe it. I am consumed with thoughts of liberation, so I ask for Divine Help all the time.

This is the easiest practice for me because I don’t always have time for asana and pranayama, or reading scriptures every day.

What are you currently working on?

I opened Dharma Yoga Missouri in 2010, and three other trainees have taken the LOAY 200-hour training since then. I’m letting them take over most of my classes for the summer so I can focus on the Vitality Café. I will return in September with emphasis on teaching the Deep Healing Relaxation Series.

I opened the Vitality cafe in my town because there is nothing like it for 150 miles in any direction! Vitality is named after the Vitality diet that I was required to follow during my LOAY 500-hour training. Vegan food is considered to be fairly radical here! Starting in September, our studio and cafe will be doing Fresh Start, a one month program on just raw food.  Every day there will be recipes, inspiration, and a Dharma Yoga Asana mini-class.  I am also doing some half-day intensives with raw vegan dinner afterward.  All info can be found on our website.

I admit that I am using customer’s senses to trick them into making a compassionate decisions about food. If I give someone chocolate cake and please their senses to the point that they might consider having vegetarian food next time they eat something, then that is better than me trying to feed them a bunch of sprouts which they will simply reject and classify as “health food.” So we offer food that is not sattvic, but we have to get them hooked on vegan food somehow…


How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY program affected your life outside of training?
The name of the program “Life of a Yogi” is exactly that and has turned me into an aspiring Yogi. I went from a drugged-out meat eater, deluded, with total lack of self-control to a person that my family and old friends have a hard time recognizing. I don’t think I will ever look back to this time and think, “Oh well, you know…I was young.” I can’t imagine going backwards from this point. The love and discipline and other qualities that Sri Dharma and my other teachers exemplify is so far-reaching that Self-Realization seems the only way out!


What books are you currently reading or studying?
Yogic Powers by Yogi Gupta (because it pertains to my 800-hour training and Psychic Development). Plus, I am always reading and re-reading the Gita.

Check out the Vitality Café on Facebook for beautifully styled and delicious vegan food.




________________________________________________
Nicole Sopko(Gopi Om) is a Dharma Yoga teacher living in Chicago, IL where she teaches Dharma Yoga and operates a nationwide vegan natural food company alongside her (life) partner. She takes great care to be always aware of the ways in which these two responsibilities intersect and spends her time promoting compassion in all forms. She is a dedicated and loving student of Sri Dharma’s and visits New York as frequently as possible to absorb the benefits of his holy teachings in person.Nicole Sopko(Gopi Om) is a Dharma Yoga teacher living in Chicago, IL 

Dharma Yoga Abroad

Q & A with Dharma Yoga Teachers around the World…

 This week: Gail Super in Cape Town, South Africa


By Nicole Sopko


Gail Super is a Dharma Yoga teacher and student who lives in beautiful South Africa. She says, “I am constantly amazed by how deep this practice of yoga is. I lead a really busy life and have many family responsibilities but my daily yoga practice allows me to cope with all of this. I am deeply grateful to Sri Dharma Mittra for his teachings and to the universe for leading me to his classes.”

Where do you live and teach?

I live in Cape Town with my 14 year old daughter, one dog, two kitties, and lots of baby geckos.

I am teaching Dharma I from my home in Vredehoek, Cape Town. I created a beautiful studio in a downstairs room and I teach on a Tuesday evening from 6-7 pm. I plan on adding more classes and also to teach some workshops.

The name of the studio is Dharma Yoga Cape Town. My cats love to join me in my practice in the studio!



Which Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?

I completed the LOAY 200-hour training. I used to live in NYC and fell in love with Sri Dharma after taking my first class with him on my 40th birthday. I started to attend his noon class every day. Unfortunately, a year later I had to return to South Africa. Doing the teacher training was a way for me to spend more time with Sri Dharma; steeping myself more deeply in the teachings and hopefully spreading his light.

Have the people you met during your training inspired you?

I met the most amazing people in the LOAY training. They have become lifelong friends and they have inspired me to read more of the scriptures and to spread the teachings.

What is one practice that you do every day?

Asana, pyschic development, pranayama and just sitting…every day.



How has your experience in the LOAY program affected your life outside of training?
I started to read more of the scriptures, started to develop a daily practice of psychic development and pranayama and I transitioned to a raw/live food way of life.




Do you have another job?

Yes. I am currently working on my postdoctoral research on punishment in South Africa at the University of Cape Town. My book “Governing through Crime in South Africa, the politics of race and class in neoliberalizing regimes” is about to be published!

What are you currently reading/studying?
I am reading the Yoga Vasisthasa as a well as Martin Amis’ latest book (a novel).

________________________________________________
Nicole Sopko(Gopi Om) is a Dharma Yoga teacher living in Chicago, IL where she teaches Dharma Yoga and operates a nationwide vegan natural food company alongside her (life) partner. She takes great care to be always aware of the ways in which these two responsibilities intersect and spends her time promoting compassion in all forms. She is a dedicated and loving student of Sri Dharma’s and visits New York as frequently as possible to absorb the benefits of his holy teachings in person.