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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. 


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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. 

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.




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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

When Yoga and Technology Meet

by Deanna Aliano

©Jeffrey Vock

As I sit here, checking my email on my computer, responding to a Facebook post on my phone and listening to music on my iPod, I am reminded of how much life has changed over the past decade. 

It wasn’t that long ago that most people didn’t have cell phones or iPods, and I can still remember when the Internet was the new big thing. Social networking hadn’t even occurred to anyone and we actually had to use a CD Rom of an encyclopedia for research.

Times change and the way we do things has to change, too. How does all this change and advancement affect our ancient practice of yoga? I guess it depends on your perspective.  

The internet, with all its social media sites and continuous distractions, has been touted by many as the evil downfall of society. It’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming sea of information and chatter. Marriages have ended, new ways of bullying have developed and many people have been coaxed online to do things they normally wouldn’t do in public, all while spending time on the Internet. 

But, with all its negatives, there have been many positives. Just as bad information is out there, so is good:

· You can go online at any time and find articles on yoga, both spiritual and physical.

· You can research religious ideas such as Hinduism or Buddhism, finding out why most practitioners choose not to eat meat or how they go about their meditation practices.

· You can research veganism and find a plethora of recipes and articles on the best ways to go about it.

· You can even find support on your spiritual or health-related paths, and friends to chat with and commiserate with when your journey goes through a difficult patch.

· There are movies to watch at the click of the button, showing you how others have managed on their paths.

· There are book reviews, podcasts and radio shows about every aspect of yoga imaginable.

· You can even find online online video practices with Sri Dharma Mittra himself!



For some, afraid to venture into a yoga classroom because they can’t yet touch their toes, this provides a safe way to start practicing. 
On Twitter and Facebook, there are multitudes of people spreading positive words and photos reminding you why yoga is so wonderful. Many people post photos of yoga poses, which leads to inspiration for many yogis, like me, to get to the mat.

Most yoga studios now have websites, Facebook, and Twitter accounts that you can follow to be reminded of upcoming classes, events and even just to spread the word of some wonderful things taking place in the studio. It builds a sense of community so you still feel like part of it, even when you can’t make it to class.  

It’s really not just the Internet that makes technology a positive development for yoga. Most yoga teachers use an iPod to play the background music for their classes; many often finding new music to introduce to students, furthering the artistic endeavors of their favorite performers and adding variety to their classes. Some teachers may keep class notes on their iPad so they can remember to share all the information in a lecture, or perhaps a reading they thought particularly useful to the class.

I’ve recently stumbled across a meditation app that has proved quite useful. The app has a timer that can be easily set to go off only at the end of your session or at intervals during your practice. I’ve used it on my own and in classes, instructing to practice pranayama until the first gong, followed by meditation after that.  
Of course, there are downfalls to technology. I have witnessed students bringing their phones into class, hoping to check their email in the middle of a vinyasa flow. It happens so often that I often wonder if there is a Phonecheckasana… It’s a distraction, which is something yoga is supposed to help us stay away from.

One positive thing about the technological distractions is that there is more of a need for people to find a physical place to connect… to belong. I believe this is why many yoga studios are enjoying increased class sizes and repeat business. People crave that place where they can feel comfortable in their own skin again, where they feel respected by themselves and others, free from judgment. 
All in all, yoga may benefit greatly from the changes in technology as long as the practitioners can find a way to keep it from becoming a constant distraction from their practice. With the help of all the yogis out there trying to spread the joys of yoga, I’m sure it will be a wonderful thing!

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Deanna has been exposed to many different styles of yoga and has recently taken the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training with Sri Dharma Mittra in New York City. Being a certified Pilates instructor, massage therapist, and fitness trainer, Deanna never thought she would find her higher self in a “fitness” class, but she did and has never looked back. She has developed Artasana workshops, exploring creativity through the art of yoga. She spends her time off the mat writing, illustrating yogis and enjoying her children at the New Jersey Shore.