Category Archives: homepractice

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.

From Istanbul to Dharmaland, with Love

By Gülnihal Özdener

I was walking home from Dharma Yoga Center on the third night of my 500-hour teacher training in September and mantras echoed in my head as I was gazed up into the sky, counting the stars. Then I saw 50 of them on a flag in front of a tall building. It hit me then — I had been in the United States for almost three months! In Manhattan for almost three months!

Why hadn’t I ever realized that before? Of course, I was not speaking Turkish or having Turkish food, but I felt like I was home the entire time, without realizing I was thousands of miles away from home. But it was still home.

Coming to New York to meet Sri Dharma Mittra, after the most troubling period of time in my life, has been a remedy. The wounds of a psychologically abusive relationship pushed me onto a path where I found Dharma Yoga. The legendary Mark Kan’s class forced my body gently to its physical limits in a way that felt so right. I said, “That’s it! This is what I want to do!”

There I was, on my mat, in Sri Dharma’s temple. Krishna Das music was on. The incense was wrapping me up kindly. Since my first day in the city, I was at Dharma Yoga Center every single day. I was lucky enough to practice twice-a-day with Dharmaji and the great teachers he taught. The energy is always so embracing, you can never feel like an outsider.

I looked around the temple; more than 100 people practicing, 70 of them were teacher trainees. I saw that each body is different. Each has a story that brought them into this very temple, practicing with Dharmaji. Hearts beating as one in each pose, all fuelled with so much enthusiasm. There was no judgment, only pure love. There was abundant help, encouragement, and unconditional support. The compassion that Sri Dharma always emphasizes turned us into a very large multinational family.

The self is one, as Sri Dharma teaches us, and those 100 plus people in the temple were moving all together as one. Even the beginners, who happened to find themselves in the middle of so many advanced asana practitioners, found the courage to try the seemingly impossible.

For me, many poses were hard to practice, either because of my mild scoliosis or out of stiffness. But when I saw my family moving and trying and falling and getting back up — even after some six to eight hours of asana practice in a day — I didn’t give up. I found myself in poses that would have been impossible elsewhere. I am not even mentioning the experiences I had during our morning pranayama and meditation sessions.

People in Turkey were, and are, asking me, “Oh you must have visited a lot of places! Three months is a long time!”

That makes sense, New York City (or Manhattan, to be more specific) is a crazy place with so many entertaining or touristy options, and I have been to some of them. But it never felt like I was touring Manhattan. I was at the center, in the temple almost every day! There were times when we had our breakfast, lunch, dinner at the center, or when we took naps.

Then I thought; well, yeah, I have been to many places. Especially within my mind, soul, and body. Those were wonderful places, and my guide was mostly Dharmaji, and other beloved Dharma teachers.

If you’re talking about the city, for me, Manhattan is Dharmaland.

 

Gulnihal OzdenerGülnihal Özdener met yoga when she was 19 and absolutely hated the first few months of practice. Later on, she realized her scoliosis-related pain started to fade and her grumpiness turned into calmness, so she applied for her first teacher training at the age of 23.  Two years later, she contacted the Dharma Yoga Center, applied for the 500-hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training. Now back in Istanbul, she spreads the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra via the classes she offers, humbly continuing the lineage of Yogi Gupta.
Find her at facebook.com/gulniyleyoga or yogawithgulni@gmail.com.

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.

Altar_Urban

  • 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.

Altar_Windowsill

  • 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.

Altar_Woodstove

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.

Self-Practice with B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga

By Jessica Dodd

Gale_Super_Dancerpose

My self-practice of yoga began in a small village made up of five families, tucked away in the historic Basque valley of Northern Spain. Using B.K.S. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga as a guide, I rolled out my mat each day and practiced yoga. The room I stayed in had a beautiful bareness, located in a mere corner space of an old adobe building, with gorgeous blue frame windows that let in the light. Before practice each day I swept the floor which collected dust quickly. It was in this room that I developed the confidence to practice on my own.

Studying Light on Yoga played an important role in my development as a yogi. The text begins simply with “What is Yoga?”  As a recent college graduate who spent four years earning a bachelor’s of fine art in sculpture, this was the perfect introduction for me.  I had decided to change hats from learning and expressing myself through three-dimensional art to using my skills as a maker and give back more significantly to the world. I turned to small-scale organic farming, a respectable way of life that brings nourishment to the people. This journey of giving back and serving others led me to work on many parts of my being.

I had been traveling and volunteering on small family farms for a year when I arrived in that tiny town of Spain. I read through Iyengar’s opening words in Light on Yoga multiple times. I appreciated his straightforward writing which clearly illustrates the techniques, history, and path of yoga.

If it were not for his book, it may have been some time before I attempted to study the sacred science of yoga. Iyengar’s descriptive photographs were helpful to a beginner without a guru to learn from in person. He provides a thorough text describing the philosophy and practice of yoga that gives his readers a clear understanding well beyond a beginner level. I immediately began applying the Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances) on and off the mat. These codes of conduct helped me to realize yoga was not just done on a mat or cushion, but rather the practice was with me always.

Light_On_Yoga_BKS_Iyengar

With the book as my guide and my inner being as my greatest teacher, I practiced confidently on my own. Abhaya (non-fear) was a constant in my mind. I released any fear towards the practice of yoga. Instead I embraced it with the entirety of my being and learned to stay in the moment. Doing so helped me to consider the effects of my difficult childhood as cause for some of my personal traits as an adult. Once I learned to dislike only the actions done by persons of my life, rather than the persons themselves, I became free of ill feelings and full of forgiveness.

Iyengar’s fourfold remedy to overcome common obstacles, which were drawn from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, were also at the forefront of my thoughts. Maitri (friendliness) taught me to connect more easily with new people I met when I traveled. Karuna (compassion) was the backbone of my decision to work only for room and board on each small family farm as most farmers have very little money. Mudita (delight) enveloped me as I admired each farmer for their talents and the beautiful bounties they produced for their communities. Upeksa (disregard) helped me through challenges with other persons, reminding me to first look within myself.

Light on Yoga is a sacred book in my collection. Though I do not practice a classical Iyengar style of yoga today, I believe this book helped me develop a strong foundation for my practice. Learning to manage fiery dedication, honoring the light within, and being light at heart takes courage. Today I have that courage and I look forward to sharing it with others within the Dharma Yoga community and beyond.

Jessica_DoddJessica Dodd is a craftswoman living in the mountains of Western North Carolina.  She founded and runs a sustainable textile business that focuses on organic linens naturally dyed with plants.  Her yoga practice is present in all threads of her life.  She enjoys living a simple homestead lifestyle, getting her hands dirty tending the soils, and preparing meals for others.  She participated in the Dharma Yoga LOAY Teacher Training in February 2014.

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.

Kriyas to Help Soothe Nasal Congestion

By  Liz Schindler 

 

Kriyas are ancient cleansing techniques designed to purify both the physical and spiritual bodies. The kriyas are effective processes that facilitate both physical and subtle purity. Purity, or Saucha, is one of the niyamas or yogic observances that yogis strive to achieve.
Some kriyas are morning practices, preceding pranayama and asana, and often facilitate clearing of the nasal passages, the digestive system and the psychic channels, as well as help ready the system for morning sadhana (practice). The kriyas shared here are especially helpful during allergy and flu/cold season to remove phlegm, clear the sinuses and airways and alleviate sinus pressure. For best results perform these kriyas daily.
Jala Neti
Jala neti is possibly the most widespread of the kriyas in the west. It consists of rinsing the nasal passageway with lukewarm saline solution or salt water, by using a small pot with a long spout to send the solution in one nostril and out the other. Neti pots are available in most drug stores, as are pre-mixed packets made for mixing with warm water and pre-measured for a net pot.
Jala neti clears the nasal passages, thins mucus and decreases the intensity of inflammation, making it very helpful in easing symptoms of allergies and sinus congestion and/or sinus pressure from a cold or flu. Jala neti also helps to flush the tear ducts, clearing mucus and debris from the eyes. Jala neti is associated with the ajna chakra or third eye and may help fine tune intuition, concentration and visualization.
Method:
 
1) Warm some purified water in a kettle and test the warmth on the inside of the wrist or forearm. The water should be a comfortable warm temperature and not too hot. Next fill the neti pot and mix in either one pre-mixed store-bought nasal rinse of your choice or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
 
2) To rinse the nasal passages, stand over a sink in front of a mirror and tilt your forehead forward. Begin by placing the spout in the right nostril, tilting the head slightly to the left and pouring the solution into the right nostril. You may feel pressure at first but the water will slowly start to come out of the left nostril, sweeping out debris in it’s path and clearing the nasal passageways. After pouring about one half the contents of the pot, switch nostrils and reverse the rinsing process.
 
3) When you’ve emptied the pot perform a few exhalations through the nostrils to remove any leftover solution. Restrain from holding the nostrils and blowing the nose as this may force water and pressure into the ears.
 
4) Next, fold forward and left the head hang as you perform a few more exhalations through the nostrils. All water should be drained from the nostrils to avoid infection.

 

Kapalabhati

Kapalabhati is both pranayama as well as a kriya, and an element of a daily practice for many yogis. Translated as “skull shining breath,” it is renowned for powerfully cleansing the entire respiratory system. Sri Dharma Mittra recommends practicing two rounds of kapalabhati daily for all those living in a large city because it is an excellent way to rid the airways and lungs of pollutants. In addition to cleansing the respiratory system, it offers the benefits of oxygenating the blood, clearing the mind, strengthening the abdominal muscles and diaphragm and is a simple warm up for any pranayama practice. Kapalabhati is the opposite of natural breathing as it consists of forceful exhalations and passive inhalations. Kapalabhati is a very powerful practice and is not recommended for those with heart disease, high blood pressure, a hernia or during an asthma attack.
Click here for a short demonstration: Kapalabhati 

Method:
 
1) Find a comfortable sitting position and a tall spine. Begin by passively inhaling or taking in just half of a normal breath through the nose. Exhale forcefully through both nostrils as you push the abdomen back vigorously (note: it may be helpful for beginners to place one hand on the abdomen to feel the correct sensation of the belly moving towards the spine during exhalation). Continue passively inhaling and forcefully exhaling, pumping the breath out in a rhythmic pattern. The exhalations should be faster than the inhalations and there should be one or two exhalations per second.
 
2) After completing a round of kapalabhati, breathe out completely. Then inhale deeply and hold the breath for as long as comfortable. Exhale slowly and begin the process again for the second round of kapalabhati.
* Beginners should perform kapalabhati for 10-15 seconds per round and can work up to two minutes per round as they become more advanced.
**If kapalabhati is inaccessible due to severe congestion, I sometimes employ bhramari pranyama (humming bee breath) as an alternative. The sound literally vibrates the sinus passages and facilitates drainage. To try brahmari pranayama make your hands into fists and point your index fingers, plugging the ears. Close the eyes and inhale and as you exhale make a high pitched humming noise with the mouth, as Sri Dharma says “like a female bee.” Chanting mantra and om has a similar effect of vibrating the nasal cavities. The humming exhale should be loud and long. Perform three rounds.
Kapal Randra Dhauti
Kapal Randra Dhauti is a very simple kriya that can facilitate drainage of the frontal sinuses. It is recommended to perform this kriya dailu upon waking, after meals and again at night.
Method:
While sitting upright, use the thumb of the right hand to rub the space between the eyebrows.

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

The Effects of Pranayama on Thoughts and Actions

By Jonathan Rosenthal 

©Jeffrey Vock
Pranayama (control of Prana through breath) is themain focal point for managing thoughts and actions, according to The Science of Pranayama by Swami Sivananada.
Even before I started practicing yoga, I foundthat inhaling deeply, holdingmy breath as long as is comfortable,and exhaling very slowly was themost effective technique to regulate my thoughts and actions in moments of indecision and doubt.

“Before he eats, before he drinks, before he resolves to do anything, Pranayama should be performed first and then the nature of his determination should be clearly enunciated and placedbefore the mind.  – Swami Sivananda.

Prana, however, is not solely breath. Breath contributes to prana, but not all prana is derived from breath.

Swami Sivanandasays, “The Prana may be defined as the finest vital force in everythingwhich becomes visible on the physicalplane as motionand action, and on the mentalplane as thought. The word Pranayama, therefore, means the restraint of vitalenergies.” Thisseems to suggestthat prana is fed by the needs of air, water and food and then directed towards the vayus, like thoughts and actions. Prana is hard to conceptualize, and therefore visualize and manipulate directly.

Perhaps the control of breath is a startingpoint to control prana. According to Swami Sivananda, “If you control the flywheel (the prana) you control the wheels (the other organs). Similarly, Sri Dharma Mittra says,the attention is a magnetfor prana. Perhaps combining control of breath with the guidance of attentionallows one to indirectly manipulate prana.

Breath is the most compulsory need for survival. Itis impossible to survive without breath for the amountof time one can survive withoutfood and water. This is why controllingthe breath is such an important tool, both in and out of yoga. Returning to this basic need shatters the illusion of all the other needs (e.g. fears, desires, doubts)” – almost like throwing a wrench at a triangular enclosure of mirrors that reflect and deceive you endlessly.

Fears and doubts are no match for Pranayama. By removing the focus from these ungrounded anticipations  and placing the focus on the most basic and essential need, Pranayama shatters the mirrored labyrinth of imaginary and illusory needs.

I imagine that allneeds”are really illusions. We are not really hungry, it is thebody that is hungry; we are not cold, it is the body that is cold. In fact, Swami Sivananda describes Pranayama techniques that eliminate needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep and these same techniques can even cool or warm the body – sitkari and sitali are cooling,suryabheda and ujjayi are warming, and bhastrika restores normal temperature. Further, sitkari and sitaliboth trump hunger, thirst, and sleep. All of theseseem to suggestthat pranayama is a practice mainly used to shatter the illusion of needs.

It is interestingthat Swami Sivananda advises specifically to avoid straining while doing Pranayama: “Some people twist the muscles of the face when they do Kumbhaka (breath retention). It shouldbe avoided. It is a symptom to indicate that they are going beyond theircapacity.

If practicing Pranayama becomesa need in and of itself,it has become an illusion extraordinaire. This is much like a drug given in excess quantitythat then becomesa poison. In pursuingPranayama as a need in and of itself,the practitioner has only replaced an unnecessary “need” with a new one.

Pranayama should be practiced each and every day, but it is not the end of the world to miss a day; Pranayama should be practiced not as a need in and of itself, but as a technique that, by focusing on the only real need, prana, shatters the illusion of the others.

_____________________________________


Jonathan Rosenthal took his DharmaYoga Life of a Yogi 200-Hour Teacher Training in June 2013. His motto is: “With everything I do, I try to remember we are yogis first and foremost and that we should view life as a task to be done, but with compassion, sincerity, angry determination, and a renunciation of the fruits of actions. I am grateful to the teachers who made this perspective possible and try to return the favor by teaching others.” He is in the internship phase of his LOAY teacher training.

Ten Tips for New Teachers…

by Jason Zagaro


As you grow as a yoga teacher, you realize there is a lot more happening during a “typical” class than you may have first realized.  



When I first began teaching, my main concerns were: (1) avoiding injuries and (2) timing – how in the world was I going to fill 75 minutes? 

Time is usually something that consumes the mind of a novice teacher  – we think too much and too fast, speak too fast, move too fast…  



Patience is a virtue as a teacher and it gets developed over time. You cannot please everyone in class. Stay true to yourself; be creative but don’t stray too far from your wheelhouse. Eventually your composure, personality, structure and experience will take over as a teacher.  



The following are ten teaching tips that I have discovered over the years of being a yoga instructor:

1. Keep it simple. 
Don’t try and be the best yoga teacher on the planet and remember everything they taught you in your training. If Sanskrit words come naturally and you feel comfortable using them, then do so. Otherwise, work on filling your time and watching the room so people don’t get injured. 



2. Decide what level of preparation is your preferred method. 
Some teachers have no idea what pose is coming next. Some teachers have the class scripted to the T. Some even sequence the entire class set to the music they play. Many teachers just teach on a whim, spontaneously reacting to who is in the room. A good teacher teaches to the level of the room.



 3. Bad music is more of a factor than good music.
If the music is “bad” or inappropriate for a yoga class, it can really dampen or ruin the class. Everybody remembers a teacher who plays awful music and it can even deter the students from going back to that class. My first teacher in college had one CD and for three years he played the same CD in every class. The CD was Krishna Das’ Pilgrim Heart, which was my first introduction to kirtan. I remember my first year training with him and I thought, “This music is awful!” After constantly hearing the same songs over and over, my frame of mind finally adjusted and I began to like the CD. If I hear Pilgrim Heart being played in a yoga studio now, I get flashbacks to that time in my life. Some lineages of yoga don’t have music at all; they want you to work on calming the mind, which means no distractions from your asana class.  



4. Be grateful to your students for coming to class.
I am always grateful to everyone who comes to take my class, even if some don’t follow the code of asana class perfectly. The fact that people would pay their hard earned money, drive to the studio, part from their families or home life for a period of time to listen to what I have to say and be guided by me as a teacher really makes me feel grateful.  



5. Set the guidelines for conduct in your classes.
As teachers, we are trained, and most of us practice, patience and understanding. We understand no one is perfect– including ourselves as yoga teachers! Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to set the code of conduct for the class. Some teachers will tell me about students not acting appropriately and I always ask them if they discussed the problem with the student. Sometimes students are not being disrespectful, it is that they just don’t know the parameters of the class.  It is our job as teachers to educate them.  




6. Encourage Your Students to Practice Away from Class.

As teachers, we have instincts that grow over time. We can usually tell who has a solid home practice.  



 7. Help you students overcome their fears.
If your students have a lot of fears, practicing asana is a great way to work on those fears. As teachers we love to help those who are fearful about poses to overcome that fear. It is a process where we build the courage to take the first step, and then proceed from there.



8. Celebrate when a student achieves a pose.
If someone has been working on a pose and he or she finally gets it in the class, the teacher is just as excited as the student. To work so hard at something and then finally achieve that goal is such a rewarding concept.



 9. Pay some, but not too much, attention to your numbers.
As yoga teachers we care about bringing people to our classes and pleasing the owner of the studio where we are teaching. Numbers are not important in the concept of yoga, but revenue is part of the reality of teaching yoga today.



10. Don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate it all.
In the end, you’ve created a peaceful environment for the students and introduced the beauty of yoga and watched it transform lives. When the class is moving as one, as one heartbeat, and the students are moving in sync, take a moment to stand back and experience the gratitude of being a part of the peaceful unity that is occurring during the class. 

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Jason Zagaro graduated from the 500-Hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in March 2013. He’s been studying Yoga tradition and philosophy for over eighteen years. Yoga has been the most wonderful experience that he has ever come across in his life. He started his training in 1995 with Ashtanga Yoga at the college that he attended, and later began to study and practice various forms of Hatha Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Integral Yoga and decided to become a certified Sivananda Yoga Teacher.