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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
1.The secrets to success in yoga are constant practice, lots of repetition and perfect obedience to the teacher and the teachings.
2.Do something occasionally to radically shift the mental state, i.e.: spiritual singing (Kirtan) with enthusiasm or try sneaking up on someone without a heart condition and scare them.
3.Come to recognize that Asana (posture practice – the 3rdlimb of yoga) is a great tool and help, is part of the overall process of purification that is yoga and leads to radiant health and wellness when done regularly, but on its own is not yoga.
4.Hold the breath a little each day, i.e.: do the main breathing (Alternate-nostril Pranayama) each day.
5.Meditate, but meditate in a way that’s productive. Going into a trance state where you don’t know who or where you are may leave you feeling some bliss, but will not help you to attain Self Knowledge. Study the yoga scriptures and bend the thoughts to always trying to discover the how and why of everything. Then you will indeed make rapid progress in yoga.
6.Remember G-d always and learn to recognize Him in everything. Be kind to everyone. By placing yourself in others, you develop compassion.
7.Recognize that making your best effort each day is more important than perfection in the practice.
8.Engage regularly in Karma Yoga. Taking action dedicated to others and with no expectation of any fruits from said action is a Sadhana or spiritual discipline that is available to all. Do it because it has to be done and expect nothing.
9. Study scripture / follow something outside yourself to ensure that you are on the path, and not being led astray by the ego.
10.Observe Yama and Niyama – the Ethical Rules and Yogic Observances – the first and second limbs of classical, Eight-limbed Yoga. If you don’t know what they are, find out and put them into practice. Without Yama, there is no yoga.
11.Clean up the “house” (the body) and the diet, or else you go no-where. Eating flesh or other animal products represents a lack of compassion. Work on your compassion every day through the choices you make concerning the manner in which you feed this body since this has a great effect upon the mind and your spiritual progress also.
12.Be receptive. Discover your tendencies and do lots of what helps you to make rapid progress, i.e.: the style of yoga and / or the teacher and techniques best suited to you. Once you find what works for you, do it every day without fail. Then you will surely achieve radiant success in yoga.
Legendary yoga teacher Sri Dharma Mittra first encountered yoga as a teenager before meeting his Guru in 1964 and beginning his training in earnest. Sri Dharma founded one of the early independent schools of yoga in New York City in 1975 and has taught hundreds of thousands the world over in the years since. Sri Dharma is the model and creator of the “Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures”, the author of ASANAS: 608 Yoga Poses, has released two DVD’s to date – “Maha Sadhana” Levels I and II, and the Yoga Journal book Yoga was based on his famous Master Chart. Sri Dharma continues to disseminate the complete traditional science of yoga through daily classes, workshops and his “Life of aYogi” Teacher Trainings at the Dharma Yoga New York Center and around the world. For more information on all things Dharma, please visit: https://www.dharmayogacenter.com.
Adam Frei was born in Stamford, Connecticut, grew up in the wilds of West Redding, and is now a New Yorker. After years of mostly solitary Sadhana practice, he found his way to Yogi Sri Dharma Mittra. His entire practice changed during that first Master class, and he must have done something extremely rare and good in a previous incarnation to have finally met the teacher in this lifetime. He is grateful to have taken part in the transformative Dharma Yoga 200 and 500-Hour “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training intensive immersions. They helped him understand that teaching is just one more component of practice as we all strive to copy the teacher in word, thought and deed. He has been teaching at the New York Center and beyond ever since his first teacher training and, after years of involvement with the Teacher Training programs on the staff side, is now blessed to be the director of these programs.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi
There are a lot of different interpretations of what Karma Yoga (Selfless Service) is and how it fits into a budding yogi’s practice. For me, Karma Yoga is where my entire practice comes together—all the limbs of yoga, the relinquishing of the ego, not being attached to the fruits of one’s labor, actions as offerings to the Divine—Karma Yoga is where my practice meets the real world.
I’m given to the concept of Karma Yoga naturally. As someone who has fought depression and anxiety for much of her life B.Y. (before yoga,) I learned that the best antidote for sadness is doing something for someone else –-to turn the focus outward. Last year, in response to the almost crippling grief I felt after the mass murder of school children in Connecticut, I implemented a systematic campaign aimed at sowing little seeds of love in the world.
I started by buying the next person behind me a hot tea in the tea shop, or coffee at the deli. A few times, I bought the next person behind me some soup at the local bakery. The effort seems to have blossomed from there, and has ended up genuinely changing my life over the past year.
Because what I’ve found is that the impulse to give people stuff is matched by the impulse to just…well, GIVE in general. So I rush to hold the door open for people or I let people out in traffic. I help people carry their packages to their cars. I just try to adopt an attitude of service, offering whatever is needed in the moment to whomever I encounter.
The interesting thing about Karma Yoga is that it gives back to you exponentially. I really didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect these small acts of devotion to change the way I viewed the world, but that’s what happened. I find that the more I look for ways in which to give to others, the more I genuinely SEE the people around me. And when I’m genuinely noticing them and their struggles, it’s so easy to tap into a vast compassion for them. That compassion, in turn, begins to translate into everything I see around me—animals, insects, this planet.
This year, if you aren’t already doing it, try this: in the midst of all the holiday chaos and demands on your time, do one small kind thing. Just one tiny thing—open the door for someone, or buy a cup of tea for someone who looks like he or she needs it. Take some hot chocolate to the crosswalk guard you pass every day. Surprise your mail carrier with some hand warmers. Just one small thing that shows someone that you’ve noticed him or her. Sometimes, just being seen is enough to begin a ripple of kindness.
“Giving of any kind… taking an action… begins the process of change, and moves us to remember that we are part of a much greater universe. ” ~ Mbali Creazzo
Barb Cooper, 48, is a mother, a well-socialized introvert, a Texas-to-New York-to-Texas transplant, and a writer by nature and training. She considers herself a grateful observer, a recovering perfectionist, and no longer shy. Barb graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in June 2013 and teaches yoga at Rasna Yoga in Austin, Texas. Read more of her musings at sothethingisblog.blogspot.com.
Recently, upon borrowing mats from a yoga center for a workshop, I reflected on new connections and coincidences since moving to Toronto, Canada, and teaching yoga.
I thought about my growing social circle and sharing yoga with them; the yoga center I borrowed mats from; the workshop venue which was rented inexpensively to me by friends of friends (whom I had taught at home); and that all these new contacts kept me in the loop of any new jobs and opportunities and promoted my teaching.
All of this started with my eagerness to share yoga and my belief in karma yoga (selfless service). Acts of selfless service are free from the idea of receiving something in return and instead focus on the act of giving and surrender.
Selfless service will always be a part of my teaching. The wonderful surprise is that for all I give, positive returns come back to me.
Here are a few ways to include selfless service in your life:
·Teach for free or barter
One of my students has chronic Lyme disease. I too had Lyme disease for several years and know firsthand that yoga helps. When I met his partner and heard of his situation, I immediately offered to teach them both. They were reluctant at first because they could not pay but they were willing and wanted to barter. In exchange, I receive muffins, preserves, and other small treats every week when I come to teach. But the real payoff and is seeing a friend recovering from a lengthy illness and there is no amount of money that can match this true reward.
For many of us, yoga is sometimes our sole profession and teaching classes for free is not feasible. However, a few karma yoga classes go a long way in helping people that cannot afford to attend but will reap the benefits of yoga.
Students, the elderly, even the unemployed with limited or no income, would greatly appreciate this and many are willing to pay in their own way by service or gifts in kind. Know the limits to what you can give and then give as much as you can.
As lovers of yoga, we sometimes forget that yoga can be overwhelming for some people. For example, my neighbor had difficulty with her breathing and I offered to teach her yoga. She was keen to learn breathing exercises but due to her age and inexperience, was not interested in the physical practice. While I knew that she would benefit from the physical exercises, I decided not to push it and I only taught her some simple pranayama exercises. She found relief from the exercises and continued to talk about how beneficial it for months afterwards.
·Share your time and your experiences
People are very curious about yoga teachers and I often find myself answering questions and sharing what I know. It can be overwhelming when you are in the midst of something or in a hurry! So when I find myself becoming anxious or glancing at my watch during these situations, I try to remember to slow down and to share what I was so lucky to learn.
My first connection to potential students was made through volunteering. I helped out twice a week at an urban farm for some time and it was fantastic to help nurture plants and assist busy farmers. A number of wonderful connections developed from this time and it all began with selfless service.
Selfless service may sometimes seem like a tall order but really it’s not!
We don’t have to make huge sacrifices to include it in our day. Small opportunities occur around us all the time, but the first step is to slow down.
Do you need to be the first person on the grocery line? Can you hold the door for the people coming in? Would you pick up your partners clothes if it was left on the floor? I believe the key to Karma Yoga is to remember Ahimsa (compassion or non-violence) and to think, what are the loving acts I can do today?
Jessica Gale has practiced yoga for nine years and studied Ashtanga, Kripalu and Dharma Yoga during this time. She spent the last three years studying intensely at CNY Yoga (Dharma Yoga) in Syracuse, New York and completed her LOAY 200-Hour Teacher Training at the Dharma Yoga New York Center in May 2012. She is currently completing her internship hours and hopes to achieve full certification soon. Jessica lives in Toronto, Canada.
To make progress you must learn to do three things: Fast, keep silent and wait…
Breathe as slowly as possible for an hour and watch your cravings disappear.
See yourself in the practice you are not able to access right now.Imagine yourself in it.
Do the work.Not because you expect results, but because it’s work that needs to be done.
In the beginning, do the poses any way you can.
You can become king of the gods by watching…
Cultivate compassion–the rest will come.
Expect nothing.Do it because it has to be done.
Avoiding discipline is a trick of the mind.It enjoys its pleasures.The mind will throw you down.It is powerful.
There is no ‘mine’.Where there is ‘mine’, there is bondage.
Be kind to all beings.Everyone passes through the same obstacles.
You can reach higher states with drugs, but there is a blackness behind it.You despair because you know you cannot get there without the help.When you achieve higher states with meditation, you feel bliss because you realize no one can take it from you.
Yoga is…perfect obedience to the teacher.
Drop the elbows. Don’t think!Forearm stand!
After enlightenment, there are plenty of exciting jobs for you to do!
Sorsha Anderson is a certified Dharma Yoga Teacher who lives and teaches in Vermont. She has been practicing since 1991 and worked with very gentle and restorative yoga until her 30’s when she wandered into a hot and sweaty, but meditative vinyasa studio. Neither a dancer nor gymnast as a child, and after having had two children, she surprised herself by balancing in crow for the first time at 36. She never looked back. Sorsha approaches each new pose with a sense of optimism and adventure and delights in encouraging others to try what only seems impossible at first glance. She particularly enjoys teaching older women who are trying to find their way back to their bodies after a sometimes very long absence. Sorsha is thankful to have found her way to the Dharma Yoga Center and makes the trip from Vermont as often as she can. She offers gratitude for the beautiful physical and spiritual teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra.
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.
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.
As part of the 2012 Arts Festival Day at an elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia, my friend & fellow Dharma Yoga teacher, Brittanie DeChino, and I volunteered to do a few yoga demonstrations to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders.
At the end of each 20-minute presentation, we opened it up for a few questions from the kids. In the last group, which was about 75 fifth-graders, one girl asked: “Are you realyoga teachers?” Of course, we said with a smile. “We are real yoga teachers.” Though now I’m thinking, what is a realyoga teacher?
From an educational standpoint in the United States, the Yoga Alliance defines the educational requirements to be considered a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) with their organization. Is being an RYT enough to be considered a real yoga teacher? I say no. In fact, you can become a RYT and not ever teach an actual yoga class. Or you can become a RYT and teach yoga classes every day – though I don’t think whether you teach yoga classes or not makes you a real yoga teacher either.
To me what makes a real yoga teacher is someone who shows up in life doing their best in every moment. Someone who shows up in life for other people – helping others, giving to others, and not expecting anything in return (AKA Karma Yoga). Someone who inspires others naturally through their actions.
To me a real yoga teacher honors the universal vows of yama (sutra 2.30) and niyama (sutra 2.32). And if a “teacher” only follows the first yama of ahimsa(nonviolence in thought, word and action), to me they are a realyoga teacher.
To quote my teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra: “Without ahimsa, there is no yoga.” He’s right. How we treat others is way more important than whether we can put our legs behind our head…
A real yoga teacher takes time to pause daily –whether it’s to move (asana), meditate, or just simply open a yoga text, like The Yoga Sutrasor The Bhagavad Gita, and reflect.
A real yoga teacher is a truth seeker – someone who is following their heart and sharing from the heart. As Sri Dharma always says, the goal of yoga is self-realization.
So how is yoga related to art (a question posed by one bright fourth-grader later that day)? Brittanie explained to her that practicing yoga calms you, which creates space within you, opening you up to endless amounts of creativity. And as I type this, I realize that teaching yoga is an art, just as living yoga is an artistic journey. Both take constant practice, dedication and an open heart to whatever and whoever shows up in the moment. Isn’t this all art?
Passionate about sharing the power of yoga & its transformational benefits, Melody Abella founded a mobile yoga business (abellaYoga) in 2006. abellaYoga travels to corporate and private clients in Washington, D.C., Alexandria and Arlington, VA to teach yoga in homes, offices, hotels, and conference centers.Grateful for experiences gained in the telecom/tech corporate world, this ex-marketing yoga-chick is happy to share all she knows about yoga. Believing through discipline and devotion we have the power within to make positive changes in our bodies, lives and this world, Melody teaches her students “anything is possible”. Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says you must have “angry determination.”Melody received her 500-hour Dharma Yoga Teacher certification in May 2012. She continues to hop the train from DC to NYC monthly to practice with Sri Dharma Mittra at the Dharma Yoga New York Center.
Chikako teachesDharma II on Tuesday & Thursday mornings, 10:30 – 11:45 AM.
1.Where were you born?
2.What do you do when you don’t teach yoga?
CM: Practice yoga off the mat. I believe yoga is a living science and it comes fully alive when we integrate the teachings into our everyday life.
3.What are three things that are always in your fridge?
CM: My photographer friend said my fridge is a farmer’s market; she was amused and took pictures.
4.What is your favorite vegetarian restaurant in the area?
CM: It was Kajitsu until recently, but now I have to find my new favorite.
5.What is one practice you must do every single day?
CM: Connect and give gratitude to our divine mother, Gaia. We are all stewards of the Earth.
Chikako met Sri Dharma Mittra in 2007, and according to her, he inspired her commitment to the overall practice and lifestyle of yoga. She never really thought she would teach, being quite shy typically, but for her the process has unfolded quite naturally. As a student in her class, one would never guess that she ever had any hesitations about teaching.
She is greatly inspired by healing, as well as the transformations she has witnessed in students – especially those who begin to incorporate meditation, pranayama, and Yoga Nidra into their lives consistently. While the goal of yoga may be Self-Realization, she also recognizes that the path helps us examine our tendencies and unfold our individual dharma (meaning our highest purpose, or most authentic life path).
For Chikako, the practices of yoga are like a roadmap that helps us find our true selves. In her words, they are “like the most high-tech GPS you can imagine – like a celestial GPS; instead of going through the satellite, it goes right to the source”. This is the main thing she hopes to give her students – a deeper sense of connection to their Supreme Self.
I recently re-read the Bhagavad Gita. It is the fourth re-read in 15 years but this time with a different translation. This go around, I found myself reeling from the depth of wisdom, scope of matter, and sheer force of the book. My conclusion is that with every new read, further insight will be presented to the reader and one will come to understand the text more and more.
The Bhagavad Gitais one of mankind’s greatest philosophical achievements. And although we are in a different era than it was written, the message and lessons continue to be relevant in this day and age. I wondered while reading it, “does human nature really evolve?” Perhaps for those who read with an open mind and pure devotional heart and absorb the teachings of the Gita and other sacred Hindu texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Vedas and Upanishads.
The Gitain particular takes the reader deep into his/her very humanness and provides tools for ethical living and eventual evolution. Just as we, as thoughtful human beings, confront our dilemmas and choices, Arjuna hesitated and questioned his role before launching into a battle that led to devastation and destruction. With Krishna’s guidance Arjuna comes to terms with his own nature and most importantly his dharma, or individual responsibility. Arjuna, as a member of the Kshatriya or warrior caste, and as an instrument of the divine, must follow the law of his inner being which has been determined by the actions of all past lives.
The 18 chapters of the Gita, placed in the middle of the much longer epic, Mahabharata, introduce the reader to the main tenets of yoga in action: what it means to practice yoga on all levels. The yogi attempts to “yoke” his/her individual body, mind and spirit self with the divine or greater Self (Atman), which is part of the Universal Self (Brahman, or Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute).The Gita provides important tools for this purpose! So while we practice asana and pranayama (Hatha yoga) to prepare for Raja yoga, and learn the yoga teachings (Jnana yoga), we are engaging in a form of Karma yoga, all of which are in turn Bhakti yoga, in that the true practitioner is acting in a devotional manner. All yoga can lead to Samadhi (total bliss) resulting from utter concentration and detachment from sense objects.
In Samadhi we may realize one of the Gita’s most important revelations: that we all are One. All actions, all thoughts, all beings are connected; all are minute pieces of the much greater whole. Brahman is withinus! The godhead is an ocean which refuses no river. Interestingly enough, this idea echoes throughout history: from the sacred text of Buddhism (the Diamond and Lotus Sutras), the writings of innumerable philosophers (Plato to San Augustine to Hegel), to psychiatry (Jung’sconcept of “synchronicity” hinges on belief in the ultimate “Oneness” of the universe), and science. For example, in modern physics, the four dimensional space-time concept of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also exhibits Oneness, which in Stephen Hawking’s words is: “Space and time not only affect, but also are affected by, everything that happens in the universe.”
In our daily and mostly unexamined lives we mostly live in darkness, maya, brought about by Prakriti, or base nature. We are unable or unwilling to lift the veil of ignorance (avidya) and recognize the true state of things. There is a right path of action (dharma) which creates equilibrium when discovered and embraced. We are all the product of the actions in past lives and these determine our balance of gunas.
Recognizing how the three gunas (rajas, sattva and tamas) combine to influence the way we live is an important step in creating balance. If rajasic, one may be driven by lust and passions that lead to attachment and anger and can poison the chance for liberation and happiness.If tamasic, one may welcome delusion and may be too lazy to work towards ones best interest. Only in a sattvic state can we be truly peaceful and balanced. The three gunas are reflected in the way we think and act, including what we eat and how we speak. To break the cycle of death and rebirth on the wheel of Samsara, our actions (Karma) must be conscious, but not predicated on the results.
There is a universe of potent ideas, significance and meaning in the Gita, most of which I am sure I have not even fully grasped! For example, in Chapter 11 when Krishna reveals to Arjuna his true form through temporary divine sight, I too am overwhelmed by what I begin to see in the Gita. Unlike Arjuna, I am not terrified. The Gita is a tremendous guide for a peaceful, healthy and liberated life and most certainly a life-long study.
Arin Farrington will graduate from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 200-hour teaching training in May and hopes to continue with the LOAY 500-hour training this fall. She currently lives in Mexico City, where she is a university professor and freelance writer. Fifteen years ago, a doctor advised yoga for back pain (from poor alignment), and she never looked back—or suffered back pain again. Over the years, she has practiced varied styles and studied with different teachers, all of which have led to Sri Dharma Mittra.
At age 45, Sri Dharma Mittra photographed himself in 1,350 postures as an act of devotion to his Guru, Yogi Gupta. 908 of these photos were used to create the Master Yoga Chart and 608 were published in his book: Asanas.