Category Archives: guru

How to Develop a Dharma Yoga Style Meditation Practice

By Jeffrey Vock

 

About 18 years ago, I was helping Sri Dharma with his computer and I ambushed him with three questions:

1. How important was meditation in your spiritual development?

2. Why don’t we practice longer meditations in class?

3. Why don’t you take a more technical approach to teaching meditation?

 

He answered:

1. Not very important; selfless service and watching his Guru was key to his development.

2. He would lose students if he included silent, sitting meditations that are longer than five or ten minutes and they might never come back.

3. His last answer was silent: he assumed a meditation posture; his back straight, his eyes closed, one palm resting in the other and after an instant; he shrugged his shoulders, twirled his thumbs and expressed indifference with his face!

 

So there is nothing to meditation? Is that what he was hinting at? Maybe for him! However, over time, I’ve interpreted his demonstration differently and it has become the prime directive of my own deepening meditation practice.

Sri Dharma’s teaching has evolved since I’ve known him: he now speaks more of meditation. He has refined his approach to easing his students into meditative practices by adding frequent Kirtans, Yoga Nidra, Psychic Development and Spiritual Discourse classes (which he did not offer, back in the day.)

His students have also changed: many now seem familiar with meditation and I see them sitting enthusiastically before class starts. Are they ready for more?

So, how to meditate Dharma Yoga Style? Is there an approach to this practice that differs from all the established and distinct types of meditation teachings and practices that already exist?

Sri Dharma often mentions meditation and the importance of cultivating solitude, silence, stillness (metaphorically and literally as in NOT MOVING) and disconnecting from stimuli. But he also frequently says that other aspects of Yoga practice “are even better than meditation.”Once I heard him say that meditation is for lazy people and I think he was looking at me when he said it. Touche. He also mentions a range of practices from diet to following ethical rules and asanas that are “preparation for meditation,” and essential to a balanced practice that includes all eight limbs of Yoga.

The health benefits of meditation are scientifically validated. But that knowledge is usually not enough to motivate or facilitate a deeper practice. I enjoy my practice because it gives me an avenue of exploration that agrees better with my aging body than perfecting my asanas (which everyone knows are quite sloppy.) Meditation takes the edge off my introverted nature. It inoculates me against the demand to be constantly networked and interactive. It helps me fight depression and find contentment and joy. As a bonus; it helps me experience some of Sri Dharma’s more cosmic and far-out claims.

So, in between the “preparation for” and “the better than,” what is this meditation? What type is it? How do you do it? for how long? Where are the instructions? Should you do it lying down? Walking? Sitting? What counts as meditation? And how do you gauge success? What does it take to develop an effective and enjoyable meditation practice? And how to do it in a way that’s true to Sri Dharma and his brand of active urban mysticism?

Sri Dharma talks about the need to “allow the muddy water to settle,” by being motionless to “see” and “witness” clearly. He has replaced his former “High Definition” analogy with a new one about a “cell phone.” Can you realize yourself as the signal and not the device? What are the practical steps that can lead you to having this experience?

“You have to be interested.”

Dharma Yoga Style meditation is motivated by simple curiosity. You have a body, senses, thoughts and consciousness. WHAT’S UP WITH THAT? What is the nature and the mechanics of your consciousness? What is your true nature?

“Use your intelligence.”

This inquiry leads to Knowledge or Wisdom that can reveal itself with sudden insight or after deep, reflective analysis, but you have to gain confidence in this pursuit because you are on your own.

FORGET ABOUT CONCENTRATION: When you meditate with curiosity for the purpose of gaining self-knowledge you can bypass the oppressive concentration exercise that defines meditation for so many and creates so much self-defeating frustration. To meditate successfully you need just enough attentiveness to proceed. Concentration as we conventionally define it doesn’t have much to do with it.

“Everything depends on your attitude.”

This exploration of your true nature is motivated by curiosity, but driven by ATTITUDE. Your mental attitude is one of the few things in life you can actually control if you want to. An attitude is complex– think of a teenager.

So when Sri Dharma answered my question silently, assuming a meditation posture; his back straight, his eyes closed, one palm resting in the other and after an instant; he shrugged his shoulders, twirled his thumbs and made an indifferent expression with his face! He was demonstrating an attitude:

You sit; comfortably.

You observe; but not too hard.

You are a witness; because you don’t know what is going to happen.

You are curious even if there seems to be nothing there.

You don’t expect anything and you don’t care about results.

You wait: patiently… it is a long haul.

You reconcile with your Karma, because you are limited “according to your condition.”

And above all:

Your attitude should “Remain Unconcerned.”

Any reaction is counter-productive.

You observe and allow rising obstacles or impurities to burn themselves out under your non-judgmental gaze.

 

If you can stay still and engage the process for 20 minutes or more, you are on the right track.

And the brilliant thing is: The attitude you develop to sit comfortably still, overcoming any obstacles, for a long period of time IS the benefit of the endeavor. The quality of your effort enables your meditation and is the successful outcome of your practice. This style of meditation is just a re-set or a calibration of attitude to enhance your daily life. This to me is Dharma Yoga Style Meditation!

To succeed you have to sensitize yourself to the subtlety of WHAT you observe AND the subtlety of HOW you observe. And this is only to get started; this creates the right conditions for Dharma style SIGNAL REALIZATION, which is the natural, un-coerced by-product of the meditation process and is accelerated by the Yoga Nidra technique.

But even if you are motivated by curiosity and driven by the right attitude you will still encounter obstacles, both physical and psychological, that challenge your ability to sit peacefully for longer periods of time. To overcome these, you need to choose your initial mind sharpening technique such as the breath, a mantra or third eye, and develop a strategy keeps engaged on your own path.

Or better yet: “Do you know any tricks?”

 

042Jeffrey Vock is a free-lance photographer based in Jersey City where he lives with his wife and 2 older kids. He takes photos for DYC but he is a strictly amateur Yogi. In 1984 he spent 3 months in a Buddhist Monastery in Thailand studying Vipassana Meditation. In 1986 he picked up a New York City Yellow Pages looking for a Yoga studio. He dialed a number and Sri Dharma answered the phone. Jeff has been taking classes at Sri Dharma’s various centers for almost 30 years (with occasional lapses) and has never felt the need to find another teacher.

The Real Guru is Within You

By Jerome Burdi

Yiannis Andritsos attended every class Sri Dharma Mittra offered for nearly a decade. His connection to the teacher was great, beyond words, but then came one of the most difficult times in Yiannis’ life. His time to leave the side of his guru.

“The teacher is one of the deepest attachments,” Yiannis said, while visiting the Dharma YiannisYoga Center recently. “It was very difficult to leave, but I felt deep inside that I needed to take all that Dharma gave me, digest it, and share with others.”

He moved back to his native Greece in 2013 and began spreading the teachings of Sri Dharma throughout Europe. Yiannis now lives in Barcelona.

“The real master wants you to become a master,” he said. “Before I left, he said to me, ‘The real guru is within you. You have to find it within you.’”

Yiannis felt a calling to move to New York City in 2002. He knew nothing about yoga and didn’t speak English. He worked in restaurants and learned the language of his new home. About a year and a half later, he grew weary of the restaurant world and began to search for something to dedicate his life. One day, a friend brought him to a yoga class. He felt a connection to the practice.

About a month into it, he saw Sri Dharma’s Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures.

Yiannis’ friend told him Sri Dharma is in the city and they could go to his class.

“I took the class and I felt my spirit knew this person for many lifetimes,” Yiannis said. “For me, it was like meeting God. Just how Dharma expresses himself when meeting his guru. Many times when he talks, I have goosebumps. My spirit is recognizing something.”

Ever since Yiannis’ first class, he dedicated his life to the teachings and practicing with Sri Dharma.

“For me it was very important to spend time with a realized master.”

Sri Dharma is always transmitting knowledge psychically during class to those who are channeled to receive it.

“I spent many years observing him. Not just to learn the poses, but to open the heart,” 10440832_10152345954234690_5539064583894131425_nYiannis said. “I am very grateful to use this body and mind to the best of my abilities to transmit whatever he teaches.”

He said it is difficult being physically far from his guru, but when times are tough, he recalls Sri Dharma’s wise words. No matter how far, through the yoga practice, Yiannis communicates with the master:

“I always come back to his words. I took everything he told me in my heart. All of his kindness is within me; it’s in my blood. I remember he said to me, ‘See everything as a fancy dream.’ I always go back to that. It’s very difficult because everything looks so real.”

Whenever Yiannis crosses the ocean to see his master, it’s as if he never left.

“As soon I see him, it just opens my heart. Time stops. Everything stops in his eternal presence so it’s like I never left. It’s wonderful.”

The yogi’s path is long. One must be patient.

“Spiritual progress happens gradually,” Yiannis said. “You have to have discipline, faith and concentration…The journey never stops. The realization keeps growing and growing as the practice reveals what we need to know and what we need to learn.”

 

 

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 nutritionistJerome 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.

Karma Yoga

by Danielle Gray

As we have been told, karma yoga is the practice of selfless service – doing deeds with “no strings attached”, as Dharmaji would say. Karma yoga was a major part of Dharmaji’s path with Yogi Gupta, according to the LOAY teacher training manual. For me, the practice of karma yoga has begun to help me understand what “dharma” truly is, as well as to teach me how to interact with other people in the world in a better way.

Occasionally I find myself feeling unmotivated to do my sadhana for some period of days. Usually the cure for this lack of enthusiasm includes reading the section of the teacher training manual that talks about Dharmaji’s life when he was studying with Yogi Gupta. The fact that he was both paying for every class with the Master (meaning he had to work several paying jobs), as well as offering his services as a karma yogi is incredibly inspiring. Reading this  portion of Dharmaji’s story helps me realize that life is fairly simply if we allow it to be – just do what has to be done to move forward on your path, and forget the energetic charge that comes with complaining or creating stories about what it means to do the things you have to do! This is what it means to truly live your own dharma – to remove all resistance to what is happening or what must happen, and go forth with your best enthusiasm and your best efforts.

Keeping these things in mind helps me view each day differently. It helps me to remove the sense of self-entitlement that seems to permeate many of my peers’ lives. It helps me break the ego a little more, stay humble, and realize that no task is beneath me – no matter what I may have “accomplished” in this material plane.

When I am able to maintain this perspective with focus and clear intention, the world around me changes. Other people sense that I am receptive and deeply appreciate my openness and ability to listen. I accomplish every task that is given to me much more easily, and simultaneously, I create no attachment to any of this external feedback. Approaching everything in daily life as karma yoga simplifies my existence a great deal, and helps me reconnect with the act of giving constantly from a place of pure devotion. As Dharmaji says, “Devotion leads to the total surrender of ego,” and eventually to the goal: Self-Realization or God-Realization.

photo by Jeffrey Vock
photo by Jeffrey Vock

The practice of Dharma Yoga found Danielle in 2010, and after her very first class, she began to immerse herself in it, feeling a deep calling to share it with others. She participated in the 200-hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training program in June 2011 (completing her certification the following May), and she completed her 500-hour certification in May 2013. Additionally, she has over 18 years of experience studying dance & movement, which greatly informs her yoga instruction, especially in the aspects of anatomy and alignment. She is currently living in Sedona, AZ, teaching Dharma Yoga at several local studios.

Remarks on "The Shiva Samhita"

By Yama Om
 
The Shiva Samhita is a collection of verses of Shiva, which are in the form of a dialogue with Parvati.  The text contains the essence of Yoga as well as more esoteric teachings.  This post will briefly touch upon a few of the important themes of this text.
 
The Shiva Samhita claims to contain the “consummate” teaching of Yoga and therefore the aspirant need not concern him or herself with other sacred texts.[1]  The text succinctly teaches the laws of karma as, for example, in this verse: “Through the power of sin there is sorrow; through the power of good deeds, pleasure.  Therefore, one who desires pleasure must perform various types of good deeds” (7).  Heaven and hell are the results of good and evil deeds (6) but Heaven and hell are not forever because when the results of good and evil deeds are exhausted one is born again (7).
 
Karma is the cause of everything that appears and not just those things that appear pleasant or unpleasant, as stated in this verse: “Everything that is seen in the world results from karma.  A living being reaps rewards according to its karmas” (35).
 
It is through renunciation of both good and bad deeds, however, that the yogi begins to acquire the highest knowledge (8).  Says Shiva, “That which impels the workings of the mind into bad and good acts is me” (9).  The yogi understands him or herself to be the instrument of the higher Self or God.  As Sri Dharma teaches, “I am not the doer.”  Indeed, everything is God, as stated by Shiva, “nothing in this world is different from me” (9).
 
The highest knowledge of the nature of reality leads to liberation, as pointed out in the verse “suffering is destroyed through true knowledge, resulting in a happiness without beginning or end” (15).  The Self or God is this eternal knowledge which, when realized, destroys ignorance — the cause of the world — and the world itself.  Shiva says, “It is Maya [illusion] who is the mother of the universe.  She can be completely destroyed by one who knows the truth.  When she is destroyed, the universe no longer exists” (16).
 
Therefore, the importance of a guru to the aspirant on the path of Yoga cannot be stressed enough.  In the words of Shiva, “After finding a guru knowledgeable in Yoga and receiving instruction in Yoga, the yogi should carefully and resolutely practice in the way taught by the guru” (45).  Similarly, Sri Dharma teaches that “The role of Guru is of the highest importance, as is the sincerity, humility, and loyalty of the student” (The Importance of a Guru in Yoga Tradition).
 
There are precisely six marks of perfection in an aspirant which are enumerated in this text as follows: “The first mark of perfection is the conviction that one’s practice will bear fruit.  The second is having faith, the third is honoring one’s guru.  The fourth is equanimity, the fifth restraint of the sense organs, and the sixth curbing of the diet.  There is no seventh” (44).  Similarly, Sri Dharma teaches that “Diet is very important.”  Again, Shiva: “Until the practice is complete, the yogi should resort to a restricted diet.  Without doing so, the wise man is unable to carry out the practice in this life” (159).
 
Through the practice of meditation, the aspirant stills the mind of all activity and realizes wholeness, or absolute identity with the Self or God.  Shiva teaches that “Having made the mind free of fluctuations, the yogi automatically becomes complete” (155), and as a result, the yogi sees unity everywhere and is eventually liberated (156).


[1] The Shiva Samhita 5 (James Mallinson trans., YogaVidya.com 2007).  Please note that all parenthetical citations are to this edition.

Yama Om_Shiva SamhitaYama Om studied religion and philosophy for two decades at universities in the U.S. and in Europe.  He was blessed to have worked with some of the world’s great teachers, including the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom he served as a teaching assistant.  Yama began studying yoga in 2002, but it was not until 2008, the same year he completed his Ph.D. in Religion, that he met his Guru, Sri Dharma Mittra.  Over the next five years, Yama completed the 200, 500, and 800 hour “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training Programs.  As a public interest attorney, he works to prevent homelessness by providing free legal services to poor people facing eviction or foreclosure.

Are You My Guru?

by Reno Muenz

Since my daughter was born two years ago I have had the opportunity to revisit some of the classic children’s books I read as a child. One of them, Are You My Mother?, tells the story of a little bird who falls from the nest while his mother is away. He sets out on a quest to discover who his mother is. He meets many interesting characters along the journey but none of them turns out to be his mother. Finally, in the end, he returns to the nest to find his mother waiting for him. My experience on the path of yoga is quite similar to this children’s story.

I developed an interest in yoga as a teenager. Not an interest in the postures, but rather an interest in yogis, like the Buddha and the Sadhus of India. It was Bhagavan Das’ “It’s Here Now (Are You?)” that really turned me on to the world of yogis and spiritual practice. After high school I studied Religion in University, with a focus on Eastern Philosophy, and began practicing the asanas.

Many years have passed and I have dedicated my life to the study and practice of traditional yoga. I have had many teachers along the way and have studied a handful of disciplines. I am eternally grateful for each of these teachers who have inspired me and offered fuel to keep my flame burning bright, but I have known all along that I was not prepared to dedicate myself to any one practice. I had not found my “mother,” so to speak.

“If the guru comes I will know,” I have always told myself.

Reno Muenz with Sri Dharma

The teachings are very clear that if you desire to experience the higher states of consciousness, by means of yoga techniques, you will need a guru to guide you. Someone who has mastered the practice. I have been in the company of a few masters in my life, yet knew in my heart that they were not my guru. The difference between a teacher and a guru is that a teacher will offer guidance for certain parts of your life or practice. They will arrive when you need them. And you will probably have many in this lifetime. A guru, on the other hand, will pass the Light from their lamp to your wick, allowing you to see the Light that is within, or the Supreme Self. This is a lifelong relationship. It is as sacred as the relationship between a child and his or her parents. It is not to be taken lightly, as it is just a permanent as getting a tattoo. You have to know that you know that you are making the right decision and that the guru is honest and compassionate, without a doubt.

This is something that I have thought about for many years. “Will I ever have a guru?” “Is it really that important?” “Are you my guru?” All of these questions have danced through my mind.

About 3 years ago I saw this book called Asana at a yoga school I was teaching at. I was so moved by the photos in the book. I was really inspired. “Who is this amazing person?” I thought to myself.

I discovered his name was Sri Dharma Mittra and began looking into him. I discovered his Maha Sadhana DVDs and began to practice them at home. I devoured all the extras on the DVDs like a true yoga nerd and made this a regular part of my daily life. As a traditional yoga practitioner, I’ve never been much for practicing in front of a television screen, but Sri Dharma really spoke to me. I was practicing more Ashtanga and Jivamukti Yoga which took up a lot of my time, but I kept going back to the DVDs. “Someday, I would love to practice with this man.”

I read as much as I could from Sri Dharma online, which there is quite a bit (many thanks to the amazing staff at the Dharma Yoga New York Center). Then in the film Enlighten Up, I saw Sri Dharma again. Of all the amazing yogis in this film, it was Sri Dharma who grabbed me and spoke to my heart.

What I attracted me to Sri Dharma Mittra from afar was his depth. Not only was this man a master asana practitioner, he also had a deep knowledge of the scriptures, he chanted and played the harmonium, he emphasized pranayama, yama and niyama nearly every time he was interviewed (even on his DVDs), and most of all he appeared to be so humble.

My life, as it is for most experienced yoga teachers, was very busy and didn’t have a lot of space for travelling, unless it was work related. It had been a long time since I was able to sneak away for my own personal studies, not to mention it had also been a long time since I had felt inspired to do so. My life continued on with my inspiration from Sri Dharma coming from interviews and video clips via the internet, wondering when/if we would ever meet.

Reno Muenz 2Finally, at the encouragement of my mother and partner, I looked into what it would take for me to head to New York City, to find out if this humble master was my guru.

I wrote the entrance essay and sent it off with my deposit, not knowing if my attending would even be financially possible, or geographically possible, as I live on the West Coast of Canada. Some time passed and I spent a lot of time focusing my awareness on being in New York City with Sri Dharma. Manifesting.

I had a telephone interview set up and spoke with one of the great staff at the Dharma Yoga Center. “It just feels like I should be going.” I told my partner, who is always supportive and shared very little doubt as to whether or not we could make it happen. Even though we both knew it would be a stretch for me to be away from work and the family during the training.

I was very excited to receive my acceptance to come to New York and study with Sri Dharma Mittra. “This could be my guru!” I thought.

I was able to scrape the cash together to take part in the training and headed off to New York City.

Upon my arrival I spent a couple of days at the center practicing with Sri Dharma Mittra. I was absolutely amazed by him. His strength and flexibility, his devotion and dedication, his sweetness and sense of humor. “This is my guru.” I thought. I had never thought that before. I even became very emotional upon meeting him for the first time, which by the way is out of character for me.

The training was absolutely life changing. Dharma’s Senior teachers shared the same dedication that I have for the traditional practice of Yoga. It felt like coming home.

I remember a mentor of mine explaining the guru to me years ago. He said to me that if you are luck enough to meet your Sat Guru in this lifetime, you will know right away. I was always searching to see if I knew. And up until now I never have. But since meeting Sri Dharma Mittra, I know that I know.

I have since taken on a discipleship with the master and couldn’t be happier. I am dedicated to spreading the teachings of Yoga as described by Sri Dharma  Mittra and am grateful for my spiritual family of Dharma Yogis. As Dharma says in his prayer in the Asana Book. “Once we return home, may we never leave again.”

It feels good to be home. To have answered the question “Are You My Guru?”

 

Reno MuenzReno Muenz (Chaitanya Deva) is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and a certified Dharma Yoga instructor. His knowledge of traditional yoga science/philosophy, combined with a great sense of humor, and love for music make him a unique and inspiring teacher.  He is dedicated to a lifelong commitment of sharing the teachings of his guru, and the great masters of the past, in a way that is accessible and inspiring for students of all levels of experience.
You can find him in Vancouver BC Canada hanging with his daughter Marley Summer. Or teaching yoga classes at Semperviva Yoga and One Yoga. He is the founder of Sadhaka Yoga school which offer students an opportunity to deepen their understanding of traditional yoga techniques. Reno can also be found behind the turntables, sharing his love for music at many conscious events such as the Wanderlust Yoga festivals. You can connect with him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dharmayogavancouver or email oneloveyoga@gmail.com for more information on Sadhaka Yoga courses.

Time for Tapas: Make a Commitment for Guru Purnima

by Kali Om

title photo by Mia Park

“People become depressed when they neglect their spiritual practice.” –Sri Dharma Mittra

What are you putting off that would deepen your yoga practice?

Is it to clean up your diet? To devote 20 minutes a day to meditation? To stop bed-texting and devote time to reflecting upon the day’s events? To work on a certain pose on a regular basis?

Rather than putting it off indefinitely, consider committing to a new level of practice for a four-month period, starting on Guru Purnima, which this year falls on Saturday, July 12.

Guru Purnima is a special full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad in which yogis commit to deepening their practice in order to honor their spiritual preceptor and all spiritual preceptors dating back to the sage Vyasa, who edited the Vedas, Puranas, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Mahabharata.

Ganesh-21

The guru is considered to be a living example of yoga, a saintly person who shares the practices that can bring the dedicated disciple face-to-face with God. On Guru Purnima, devotees may get up early and spend the day fasting, praying, and singing their guru’s praises. Of course, the best way to honor the guru is to follow his or her teachings and achieve the goal of yoga–self-realization. Indeed, nothing pleases the guru more than seeing the disciple stand on his or her own two feet.

Whether you have a guru or not, Guru Purnima gives yogis a wonderful opportunity to recommit to their spiritual practice, knowing that others around the world are doing the same thing. This collective consciousness is a powerful aid.

On this day, yogis make a commitment called a sankalpa, or a sacred vow. This vow is traditionally kept for a chaturmas, or a four-month period.

A sankalpa made on Guru Purnima is not like a typical New Year’s resolution, where one makes a vague, lofty plan that is followed for a few days and is then jettisoned as old habits reappear. Instead, it is a specific goal with a detailed plan on how to attain it. It is written down, signed, and then given to a spiritual preceptor or teacher.

photo by Mia Park
photo by Mia Park

This practice is part of the yogic observance of tapas, or purifying austerities. Tapas falls into three categories: austerity, worship, and charity. It can include practices to be taken up or habits to be given up.

“That which purifies the impure mind is tapas,” said Swami Sivananda. “That which regenerates the lower animal nature and generates divine nature is tapas. That which cleanses the mind and destroys lust, anger, greed etc., is tapas. That which destroys tamas (dullness) and rajas (impurity) and increases satva (purity) is tapas.”

What you choose to do for Guru Purnima should be something that is reasonable given your particular circumstances. It should also be somewhat challenging. Usually, we have an idea floating around the back of our minds. If that is the case, write it down and visualize how it could be put into action. Remember, it should be appropriate for your particular stage of spiritual practice, and that yoga is, ultimately, about authentically wanting to clean up your act

Once you figure out what your commitment will be, write it down, sign it, and put it into practice–not just for the guru or teacher, but also for your own spiritual unfoldment.

Because ultimately, the real guru is right there, seated in your own heart as your inmost Self.

Choosing–and Keeping–Your Sankalpa

It is best to write down the vow that you wish to keep for Guru Purnima. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to follow through. Include the steps you will take to accomplish it. Sign it and give it to someone you believe in, or burn it. Then, keep quiet about it and do the work.

If you do not have any ideas, here are a few places to start:

  • Give up a bad habit that is not serving you, such as bed-texting, having a glass of wine before bed, eating junk food, gossiping, or spending time with people who bring out the worst in you.
  • Spend five minutes a day reading the Yoga Sutras or other scripture.
  • Keep a daily spiritual diary, and write down your practices and how well you kept (or didn’t keep) yama, yoga’s ethical foundation. For more ideas, read Swami Radha’s 1996 book, Time To Be Holy.
  • Repeat a certain number of rounds of mantra each day, using a mala (a 108-bead rosary used for meditation). “A rosary is a whip to goad the mind towards God,” said Swami Sivananda in his book Japa Yoga (available for free, at dlshq.org/teachings/ japayoga .htm ).
  • Develop a home practice. Resolve to do 20 minutes of asana, 12 rounds of pranayama, asana , and/or 20 minutes meditation each day. Or promise yourself that you’ll go to class a certain number of times each week.
  • Give up eating meat. If this seems too drastic, consider going vegetarian once a week (for more info, visit meatfreemondays.com or vrg.org).
  • If you are not yet ready to deepen your yoga practice, perhaps there is something in your life that needs to be resolved first. Consider diving into that project you’ve been avoiding, such as putting your finances or house in order, or clearing out a practice space in a bedroom or corner of the living room.
  • Consider volunteering once a week or month through selfless service or Karma yoga, which should be performed without attachment to results. For example, resist the urge to brag about it or put it on your résumé. For ideas, visit volunteermatch.org and read Ram Dass’s 1985 book, How Can I Help?
  • Take a weekly Internet and smartphone fast, or practice silence once a week. Or vow to eat a meal in silence–no TV, no talking, no texting or reading–once a day or once a week.
  • Give away one object you no longer use each day or week. Give the items to charity, or post them on freecycle.org.
  • If you have a tendency to run behind schedule (i.e., you are always late), vow to arrive five minutes early to each of your appointments.
  • Put the Yoga Sutras into practice. Read Yogi Cameron Alborzian’s new book The One Plan: A Week-by-Week Guide to Restoring Your Natural Health and Happiness. And do the exercises.

 

Cara Jepsen

Kali Om (Cara Jepsen) , E-RYT 500, is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and has been teaching yoga since 1998; she is the senior teacher of Dharma yoga in Chicago and has completed Sri Dharma Mittra’s LOAY 200-, 500-, and 800-hour trainings. She will lead yoga and meditation retreats November 1-2, 2014 at the beautiful Port for Prayer in Frankfort, IL and in Belize February 7-14, 2015. For more information, visit yogikaliom.com.

Sacred Space: Creating a Home Altar

by Ishvara Pranidana Om  

Altars are always present in Holy places.  Altars are by definition a place where sacrifices and offerings are made, but are also physical reminders of Divinity.  It is good to keep an altar in the home because it serves as a reminder to hold sacred space for the spiritual realm, which is increasingly difficult in our busy world.

There aren’t any particular rules about the appearance, location, or use of the altar, and they may range from elaborate to simple, large or a windowsill, inside or outside.  Here a few points to consider when you create your home altar:

  • Location, location, location:  Designate a spot that is out of the way, yet visible.  An altar in a busy location, like the counter right when you walk in the door, might be subject to clutter like house keys and mail.  Alternately, if the altar is not visible, the flowers may wilt and the area could become dusty and neglected.  Also, consider the height, as down low may not be a good option if you have children or small pets.

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  • Size: Small spaces may call for a windowsill or shelf;   however, a larger area may support the use of a lovely table or the top of a piece of furniture.  If you have an outdoor space, you can make one out of rocks or wood.

Altar

  • Purpose:  Decide what purpose the space is being held for.  Is it a temporary situation, like the celebration of an upcoming birth or prayer for a sick relative, or long-term general use?  Keep in mind, the use of the altar can change as life itself is constantly shifting and changing.  However, determining a purpose in advance will help to decide the following factors:
  • Content:  Pictures or photographs of a Guru or other holy people, inspirational texts, flowers or plants, crystals or stones, altar cloths, incense, symbols (such as the Pranava) statues or figures or candles are examples of a few. And simplicity is good if you are just starting out. Your altar is also an ideal location to keep your mala or meditation shawl safe.

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  • Upkeep: An altar free of clutter denotes respect, as does freshly watered flowers and plants.  Keep the area dust free and change the contents as necessary.

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Once you create your altar, it is preferable to use it regularly as burning incense and offerings of prayers and flowers done repeatedly increase the potency of vibration in that spot.  And creating or continuing a ritual at your altar is also an excellent form of daily discipline, or Tapas.  You may pray there or light incense or candles with intention.  Or, you can just pause there and express gratitude or mentally send love to someone.

(Pictures by Ishvara Pranidana Om)

Ishvara_Pranidana_OmIshvara has been a devoted student of Sri Dharma Mittra since 2009 and has completed the 200, 500 and 800-Hour Dharma Yoga Lif of a Yogi Teacher Trainings in New York City. She is also the mother of three children ages seven, six and 2 months.  She lives in Jefferson City, MO.

Internal Spring Cleaning: Time To Let Go of What’s Holding You Back

By Kali Om 

“Be kind to everyone; forgive everyone everything.” Sri Dharma Mittra

Flower_by_Cyndi_Lawler

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  —Mahatma Gandhi

On the season opener of Yogi Cameron: A Model Guru, ayurvedic therapist YC treats a 25-year-old with autism named Zach. Zach is angry, and YC wants to know why. Zach says other children at the synagogue he attended harassed him. “How old were you when that happened?” YC asked. “Seven or eight,” Zach replied. “That was a long time ago,” says YC. “When are you going to let it go?”

In modern American culture, we tend to hold on to ancient grievances and use them as an excuse to avoid dealing with the things we don’t like about our life: I’m not living up to my potential because my parents beat me / spoiled me / weren’t there for me / were too strict with me / gave me too much freedom or attention / ignored me / favored my siblings over me / [your excuse here]. In America, we like to play the blame game and say that our problems are someone else’s fault.

But in yoga we understand that the soul is eternal, and that our soul, or Atman, chooses the parents we will have, and the circumstances we find ourselves in. In yoga, we know that these birth families or circumstances give us the best possible opportunity to burn off our old karma and learn the lessons we need to know in this lifetime—that each unpleasant thing is happening for a reason, according to our deeds from the past.

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

I first heard about the laws of karma and reincarnation in the 1970s, when the film The Reincarnation of Peter Proud aired on TV. But I didn’t really believe in it until 30 years later, when I heard about it from the lips of my guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, and realized that everything we are going through now is a result of our past deeds. He shared his own experiences and backed them up with passages from the great yoga scripture the Bhagavad-Gita. When I thought about what he said, I realized that everything “bad” that happened to me in my life—and believe me, there was a lot of unpleasantness—led to something good. Every single time. I realized that these “bad” or unpleasant experiences taught me a lesson, fostered personal growth, or set my life in a new direction (such as when my mother died, and I started practicing yoga) and stopped taking them personally.

As Bhagavad-Gita says, “That which is like poison at first but like nectar in the end—that happiness, born of the clear knowledge of the Self, is said to be of the nature of sattva [peace and harmony].”  Sri Dharma often says he is thankful when something unpleasant happens to him, because it means he has burned off one more karma.

This is easy to understand on an intellectual level. Yet many of us still have doubts and see ourselves flogging the same old dead horse, over and over, stuck in our old ways of being, thinking, and acting. If we do this long enough, we could end up with a terrible illness. Because in yoga, it is believed that all disease begins in the mind (and then migrates straight to the colon).

So give it some thought: Is there something you haven’t let go of that is holding you back? Is there someone you need to forgive, or someone of whom you should ask forgiveness? Is there someone you need to thank?

Is there someone you need to confront, or to cut loose from because the relationship is no longer serving you?

Do you need to forgive yourself for something?

What is holding you back from doing what you want with your life?

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

It is never too late to ask these questions, and spring is a wonderful time of year to let go, an opportunity to begin anew. The most direct way is to do this internally, by practicing svadhyaya, or self-study. This can be done in meditation and through journaling, by asking and answering the questions posed above.

Svadhyaya can be helped by the physical act of letting things go and clearing out the clutter in your living space. Because if there’s clutter at home, there is clutter in the mind. Perhaps it is your stuff—mental, physical, spiritual—that is holding you back.

Often, when we make an external effort, what we need to do internally becomes abundantly clear. After all, cleaning and organizing is a type of meditation (and spring is the best time to do it). Still not convinced?  Read my comprehensive March 2010 Yoga Chicago article, “Paring Down Can Improve Your Yoga Practice and Help the Planet.Another wonderful resource for getting started is Karen Kingston’s book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Clutter Forever.

Once the physical debris is out of the way, it is much easier to work on internal letting go.

There are many ways to express forgiveness. It can be done in person, or on the phone, or in a letter (I do not recommend doing it via e-mail, voicemail, Facebook, or texting, which would smack of insincerity). It can also be done mentally, if the person is no longer around or still poses a threat to you. (There is no need to stir up trouble or reopen old wounds; in some cases it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, and offer forgiveness mentally. Sri Dharma always says, “Love the bad man, but keep the distance.”)

Sometimes, we come to realize that we have caused harm and need to ask forgiveness, which can be done in much the same way. Just keep it simple and straightforward, name exactly what you are sorry for, express your regret at causing harm, and do not make excuses for your behavior.

There are many types of forgiveness meditations. One of the most simple and direct is from former Buddhist monk and author Jack Kornfield. As with any meditation, begin sitting comfortably in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed (if the floor is not comfortable, sit in a chair with the head, neck, and spine in a straight line). Breathe deeply and comfortably, and contemplate how forgiveness can help you soften your heart.

Begin by asking forgiveness of others you have harmed. Visualize each situation where you have caused pain, and experience the emotions it elicits. Realize that you only caused them harm because of your own pain, fear, anger, or confusion. Then, say to each person, “I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.”

Orchids_by_Cynthia_Lawler

Next, focus on forgiving yourself for all of the times you have wittingly or unwittingly been the cause of your own pain. Visualize each instance and feel the emotions. Then, say to yourself, “For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain, and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.”

Finally, focus on forgiving those who have harmed you. Imagine each episode, and allow the emotions to come up. Then, repeat the following: “I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion, and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.”

Don’t be surprised if this practice is difficult at first. It can take a lot of time to master it. You may find it helpful to start with small things, and work towards bigger ones.

As Kornfield said, “Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and images work gradually in their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving kindness.”

You may find you prefer a different forgiveness meditation, such as this simple yet very specific one from the Buddha Dharma Education Association. Or you may create your own; it is important that the practice feel authentic to you. That way you’re more likely to actually do it, and your efforts will be unforced.

Just remember that any sincere effort to let go of physical and emotional clutter, no matter how small, will yield rewards. As if by its own accord, you may find your practice starts to deepen, roadblocks fall away, old injuries disappear, and wonderful new things start to appear in your life.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself and see.

(All pictures by Cindy Lawler)

 

Cara_JepsenKali Om (Cara Jepsen) , E-RYT 500, is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and has been teaching yoga since 1998; she is the senior teacher of Dharma yoga in Chicago and has completed Sri Dharma Mittra’s LOAY 200-, 500-, and 800-hour trainings. She also studied five times in India with Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. She will lead yoga and meditation retreats November 1-2, 2014 at the beautiful Port for Prayer in Frankfort, IL and in Belize February 7-14, 2015. For more information, visit yogikaliom.com.

Social Media Release: Yoga Master Sri Dharma Mittra Celebrates 75th Birthday

Dharma_Mittra_©Eleanor_KaufmanOur Year Long Celebration will be marked by a special weekend long immersion in NYC

New York, NY, April 2014: Sri Dharma Mittra turns 75 years old on May 14, 2014. Events will open with a special Master Class taught by Sri Dharma Mittra on Wednesday, May 14 from noon to 1.30 pm at the Dharma Yoga New York Center (61 West 23rd st, New York, NY). Vegan cake and treats will be served after class. All are welcome.  Following this, a weekend immersion will be held from May 16 – May 18. The immersion consists of classes on asanas (physical poses), pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, deep healing relaxation and partner yoga. The retreat-like immersion is unique in the sense that it will be held in the heart of bustling New York City. Sri Dharma Mittra and his senior teachers will lead the classes which will be held at the Dharma Yoga New York Center. The first class of the Immersion starts on Friday May 16 at 5 pm and the last class concludes on Sunday, May 18 at 3 pm. The final program is a by-donation event and includes satsang and chanting with the Dharma Kirtan Band followed by a vegan potluck extravanganza. Longtime students as well as new practitioners will attend the immersion and celebration.

Legendary Yogi Sri Dharma Mittra, teaching since 1967, founded the first independent school of yoga in New York City in 1975, and has taught tens of thousands the world over in the years since. He is known as the “Teachers Teacher” and “Asana Master”. He authored the “The Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures”, Yoga Course Chart, ASANAS: 608 Yoga Poses, and the “Maha Sadhana DVD set, Level I – A Shortcut to Immortality, Level II – Stairway to Bliss”. Students and teachers from around the world flock to his practices and renowned “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training Immersions for 100, 200, 500 & 800-hour certification programs. It is said that “Dharma Mittra is Yoga; he is the living embodiment of Yoga.”

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Krishna Das says “Sri Dharma Mittra is a true friend of the Dharma, and with love and tender strength help all those who meet him to be better human beings through the practice of Yoga.” Known for his humble nature, Sri Dharma has quietly devoted his life to the service of others through teaching classical yogic techniques. Adam Frei, the director of the Life of Yogi Teacher Training Programs says, “Studying with Sri Dharma is like one-stop shopping for all your yogic needs. Whether you want to learn asanas, meditation, kriyas, scripture, pranayama, or karma yoga – Sri Dharma has mastered all of these practices and is willing to share them with all earnest students.” Swami Kailashananda has called Sri Dharma the “greatest hatha Yogi in the West.” He is also referred to as the “Rock of Yoga” and the “Teacher’s Teacher.”

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Sri Dharma Mittra is well known for his famous Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures that hangs in studios worldwide. Created in 1984 the chart depicts Sri Dharma in 908 yoga poses, many of which are rarely seen today. Sri Dharma continues to teach classes for all levels in New York City and gives workshops around the world.  Contact information:  Eva Grubler, Dharma Yoga Center, 61 West 23rd Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY,  10010 eva@6a2.4af.myftpupload.com  Phone 212-889-8160 . Check our our Website or join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Sign up for the Dharma Yoga Spring Immersion: A Legendary Yoga Master Turns 75

 

The Four Core Concepts from the Bhagavad Gita

By Gary Mark



Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra, c. 1830 painting

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


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


Concept one:  Look to your Dharma


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


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


Concept two:  Do it full out


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


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



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

Concept three:  Let go of the fruits of your labor


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


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


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


Concept four:  Offer it all up to the divine


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


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

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



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