Category Archives: homeless

The Tool of the Divine

By Elle Swan 

Sitting behind a dumpster as a homeless woman is where I first experienced the self-less nature of Karma yoga. The LOAY Teacher Training with Sri Dharma Mittra gave a name to the moment that forever changed my life. 


Karma yoga is often defined as being a “tool of the Divine.” There was no hope in my life that day as I sat in that alley and the woman– who I have never seen again and who wanted nothing in return– assisted in shifting the course of my hopeless life. 

She was on her way to work when our paths crossed. She was getting gas and I was standing there begging for change. A few people tossed dimes and pennies my way, which ultimately led to a can of beer. More than a decade ago, it would be my last drink, thanks to a woman who allowed herself to be used by the force that holds this world in place.  


Instead of getting in her car and heading to the responsibilities of her day, she turned around and asked me if I needed help. She took me to safety and, as they say, the rest is history.

Today, as I speak to audiences around the world, I’m often asked her name.  I never got her name, but I will never forget her spirit. Her soul touched mine, and, as a yogi, I try on a daily basis to let my actions in some way demonstrate the self-less love I experienced that fateful day.

Thank you, Sri Dharma Mittra, for introducing me to the appropriate meaning of such a beautiful term: Karma Yoga.



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For years, Elle Swan wanted to die and couldn’t. Her darkest days left her addicted to drugs and alcohol, 67 pounds overweight, penniless and living on the streets of California. On May 29th 2000, during an overdose in an abandoned van, her misery merged with death and Elle suddenly crossed over. “But, when your soul knows you belong here,” she says, “it won’t let you go.” Her miraculous journey from deprivation and despair, to a life filled with inner peace is a miracle, and she truly believes she was given a second chance. Her dramatic personal transformation unfolded into quest for knowledge in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Yoga, Nutrition, and Hypnosis. The synthesis of these modalities combined with her near death experience shapes her uncanny ability to pin point lasting solutions to teach others how to make a comeback in their own lives. Today Elle Swan is a Life Coach and speaks all over the world. Her story and strategies have been featured on TV and in The Wall Street Journal. Elle attended the Dharma Yoga LOAY Teacher Training Program in 2011 and is in the process of becoming a certified Dharma Yoga Teacher.

Karma Yoga and the Art of Selfless Service: The Reggie Deas Story


By Freddy Pastore

“Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us.” Ram Dass
Often, the more we have in life the more disconnected we become from those who have very little. However, by “being receptive” to the needs of others, sometimes Karma Yoga finds you.
My Karma Yoga found me last July in Asbury Park on the New Jersey Shore. After practicing yoga on the boardwalk I stopped at the Twisted Tree Cafe for a fruit smoothie breakfast. As I waited to pay, something caught my eye on the “community board” next to the register. Though most of the board was over-loaded with business cards and advertisements, a picture of an acoustic guitar snapped in half caused me stop and pay attention.
Above it read, “Reggie Deas Needs Your Help – Call Steve.” On the back of the postcard was a story about Reggie Deas, a homeless musician who found his way to Ocean Grove and was living under the boardwalk. His guitar had been destroyed and Steve was organizing an effort to have it replaced. I called Steve and offered my help but since there was such an outpouring of support, Reggie not only had the new guitar but also a case. Steve said that Reggie was however still homeless and in need of help. I agreed to meet with Steve and Reggie in the park the next day.
It only took a few minutes of listening to Reggie play music to realize that he was a gifted musician. Though his playing was a little rough around the edges, his instrument was played with true knowledge and in his voice was love of music. Reggie, though currently homeless had attended Berkley College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts; a prestigious music school in which many of the greatest musicians in the world had passed through the halls. And seemingly here was one music great living under a boardwalk in a beach town. Reggie’s story immediately called to mind the movie “The Soloist,” based on a similar story of a Juilliard trained musician who was also homeless. Through Sri Dharma Mittra’s inspirational teachings on Karma Yoga (and the fact that I too am a musician), I knew I needed to help Reggie.
Sitting with Reggie in the park that day, with his new guitar and only a single duffle bag full of his possessions, a roof over his head was evidently his biggest need. The first and most obvious thought was a homeless shelter but Reggie refused. In his words “I rather live on the street.” The biggest problem with a shelter is “lock-down” at 7pm, the time when Reggie does best playing music on the boardwalk for money. Also, since Reggie was not suffering from any form of addiction he did not want to be around others whom are often in this unfortunate state.
I brainstormed with the fundraising group and after many hours of making phone calls and surfing the internet, I found a room in The Whitfield Hotel, a very large hostel-style hotel just one block from the beach. With the help of the nearly $1,000 left over from the guitar collection fund, by the end of that afternoon, Reggie had a roof over his head.
Over the next several weeks I continued to contribute to Reggie’s well being however I could. Tapping into my work in Finance, I created a “project plan” to organize efforts around Reggie’s needs. I outlined and prioritized various aspects that the fundraising group could do together to help Reggie establish himself in Ocean Grove. On the list: (1) find a part-time job (2) obtain a pre-paid cell phone (3) resolve an outstanding court fine (4) seek medical attention, and (5) play the music he so loved in local venues. Working together with the fundraising group we were able to accomplish everything on the list.
Reggie worked part-time mowing lawns for a local real estate company and slowly adjusted to his new life. But above all Reggie loved playing music and to see Reggie do what he loved to do and having played a small part in making that happen for him was special. Some of my best memories from the summer was rehearsing and performing with him several summer nights at the Barbaric Bean and Day’s Ice Cream Shop.
When summer passed into fall Reggie came to me because he wanted to move to San Diego, California where he had some friends. Although he had established some roots in Ocean Grove, he was concerned about playing music for money through the winter. It was late September and the New Jersey boardwalks were basically deserted. Although my first reaction was think of all the reasons why he shouldn’t go, I quickly realized that it was Reggie’s life to live and not mine. Reggie had his own Dharma and it was essential for him to go and pursue his dreams, wherever they make take him.

As Sri Dharma says, do it because it has to be done,” and I had been there for Reggie because it had to be done. By doing selfless service (seva) I found that I had also served myself. We can all make a difference, no matter what. So next time you come across someone in need remind yourself that yes,I can help. Yes, I will do this. Yes, change is possible.

Check out Reggie Deas
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Freddy was introduced to yoga by his wife, Amy Pastore (E-RYT 500 Hour yoga instructor). At first, practicing yoga was an excuse to be around Amy – even if it meant enduring 26 excruciating posture holds in 105 degree heat! Over the years, the practice of asana gave way to the deeper purpose of yoga. This resulted in physical, mental and spiritual transformation. Freddy has attended many yoga workshops with world renowned teachers and in 2012 he completed the Life Of A Yogi 200-Hour Teacher Training Program with Sri Dharma Mittra in New York City. Freddy also holds a certification in Basic Thai Massage from the Loi Kroh School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Together with his wife, Freddy is the co-founder of iflow Yoga, a modern, eclectic Vinyasa style yoga drawing from their diverse yoga experiences.  Freddy is also an accomplished bassist who has performed and recorded with many of New York City areas top jazz, rock and pop musicians.