Category Archives: meditation

The Magic of Mantra, Japa and Kirtan

by Martin Scott

I didn’t know it at the time, but Sri Dharma was present at the beginnings of my practice.

I was very musical as a child, forming an extremely tight bond with music at a very young age.  My first piano lesson was the same day as my first day of first grade and I played my last recital my senior year of high school.  I joined the school band in fourth grade playing the tenor saxophone, then went through a bunch of different instruments – French horn, trumpet, flute, oboe, tuba, baritone – until I quit band my junior year in high school.

I would save my allowance and ask my dad to drive me to the store so I could spend hours perusing records before I finally made the decision as to which one of the many-coveted vinyl discs would end up living with the other beloveds I had so carefully chosen.  I would spend hours in my room memorizing every word to every song and commit to memory every melody.  This passion for all kinds of music grew with me all the way through adulthood.

With this deep-rooted love for music I’ve always loved chanting in yoga classes.  I was first introduced to this part of the practice by my teacher, Stephanie Snyder, and it quickly became my favorite part of the class.  She always began and ended her classes with different a chant every time.  At first I just loved the melodies, the smile that these lovely tunes always put on my face and the overwhelming sense of happiness that stayed with me with once they were done.  I listened very carefully to learn the words so that I could sing along, enunciating each word and working hard to be right on key, which was made a little easier since she plays the harmonium.  When I got home from class I would look up these chants online to learn the words and their meanings.  I was certain that knowing the translations would make me understand them even more.

One of my favorite chants that I learned, and the most mysterious of all, was the Purification Mantra.  Stephanie told us that she had learned it from her teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra.  She told us how this powerful mantra would purify anything that the sound touched, including the mind, the practice, everything.  I found myself chanting the Purification Mantra when I was washing dishes, when I was riding my scooter, out for a walk, settling in for my practice – all the time!  I asked Stephanie what it meant and she told me that she didn’t know and that I didn’t need to know and that it is more powerful when you don’t know the meaning.  This piqued my interest.

I started to realize that the effects of the mantras were what was making me feel so clear and grounded, not the happy tune or the words.  The repetition of the words were calming my mind, clearing things out and giving me that feeling of peace and calm.

“Many students of meditation and spiritual life complain of a noisy mind, out of control senses, and emotional challenges. One of the most significant, single suggestions of the ancient sages is the use of mantra japa, or sacred word to focus the mind. No amount of intellectualizing will convince you of this. It must be practiced for the benefits to be experienced.  Regardless of what mantra you use, one of the most important principles is the practice of constant remembrance. By cultivating such a steady awareness many benefits come.”(www.swamij.com)

When I sit with my mala and chant my mantra 108 times, I almost forget the words that I am saying.  The japa of the mantra calms the vrittis to the point that my own voice becomes a separate entity.  The cadence, rhythm, and repetition of the mantra are the simplest way to “nirodhah the vrittis.” Now I don’t try to figure out the words or what they mean when I learn a new mantra.  I just get into the groove of it and let the mantra work its magic.  These are some of my favorite times with Sri Dharma – comfortably sitting, chanting, responding incessantly what he calls out and feeling the amazing sense of clarity and calm that comes without really knowing what I’m saying.

 

Martin.Scott.HeadshotInspired and passionate, Martin Scott brings a light and humorous energy to every class he teaches; whether in Union Yoga, his own studio, or as messenger of yoga to other communities. Employing a distinct expression of devotion, tradition and levity, Martin teaches in a way that holistically inspires his students. Martin is committed to honoring his teachers, all of which who have led him to a life devoted to the study of yoga, as well as to teaching yoga to others. Most of all, Martin honors his guru, Sri Dharma Mittra

Mindfulness with the Foot on the Pedal

by Lisa Markuson

Mindfulness. It’s a hot topic on social media outlets and the news.  But what is mindfulness?

Well, have you ever seen a cyclists whizzing around on the road, texting while biking? You don’t have to be a yogi perusing the Dharma Yoga blog to know that bike-texting is not being mindful of the task at hand and foot.

But I’m not here to berate masochistic compulsive communicators, I swear. In fact, the opposite is true. I want to talk about how cycling isn’t just the ecologically, physically, and socially healthful mode of transit, but is also a means to improve your mental and emotional health, strength and equanimity – much like a regular yoga practice. When riding a bike, every pedal is a new opportunity to be grateful for your legs, your feet, your trusty steed, the home you are leaving, the destination you are approaching, the air filling your lungs, society that paves the roads…you get the idea. I’ve always had a sense of this fact, but my recent experience of the Life of a Yogi yoga teacher training program at Dharma Yoga Center this February really catalyzed these ideas.

Bike_NY_©Enid_Johnstone

Mindfulness isn’t about being a Jedi who can fine tune proprioception to the point that you could take apart and reassemble a bike while blindfolded in a sandstorm. It is also very closely linked to the crucial tenets of compassion and loving-kindness, which can also be embodied while you are on a bike. What could be kinder and more compassionate then being a safe, engaged, calm cyclist, sharing the road, being present, and appreciating the people around you? If nothing else, it may keep you from yelling threats at tourists riding tandem in your way.

So here are five ways to make your bike ride more mindful and compassionate:

  1. When you’re getting ready to ride, take time to do a few simple stretches to wake your body up, get your blood pumping and stimulate your brain. A few sun salutations are a great start. Side stretches, loosening up the spine, hamstring stretches, and hip opening movements will improve your cycling, and an inversion like a headstand or a forward fold will bring oxygenated blood to the brain and wake you up better than coffee.
  2. Before you push off for your first pedal take 20 seconds to pause and visualize a safe, pleasant ride, and smile. Seriously, actually smile – it tells your body to produce all sorts of calming, pleasing chemicals.
  3. While riding, be aware of the mechanical processes and symbiosis of your body and your bike. Allow the body awareness that you’ve developed through your asana practice to translate to your ride and acknowledge the muscles of your legs and feet that are working in harmony to propel the pedals of your bike, the graceful simplicity of the machine amplifying your movements.
  4. Notice your breath and you may be surprised to realize how shallow it usually is, and how often we hold our breath because we’re focused elsewhere. Gently remind yourself to take full, slow, luxurious breaths while you ride, especially in heavy traffic or challenging terrain and you will be calmer, happier and will ride better overall.
  5. Develop new thought habits. Sri Dharma Mittra always encourages us to use each movement or action as an offering to God and you can do the same thing while on your bike. As a cyclist, it is easy to feel like you’re getting pushed around by cars, thwarted by pedestrians and on the defensive. However, if you give yourself permission to feel compassion and empathy for the other people with whom you share the road and the world, you’ll be amazed at how much happier and safe you feel. If a car cuts you off, wish them a safe and stress-free day. If another cyclist blows through a light, don’t curse at them but send a positive thought their way. It isn’t easy at first, but once you get started it quickly becomes second nature and it is worth it.

wheel_Lisa_Markuson

See if you can give some or all of these a try on your next ride and notice if it makes a difference in how you feel on your bike and off. If even one person who reads this finds that they have a better ride or a better day overall I’ll be thrilled so let me know how it works and how you feel. So let’s go ride! And of course, be receptive.

 

Lisa_Markuson

Lisa helps run an indie bike adventure company in Brooklyn, NY, and has completed Dharma Yoga Teacher training, splitting her time between NYC and our nation’s capital, Washington DC. Lisa is a Buddhist, queer, nomadic, New Age nonconformist, and likes to listen to jazz and funk and ambient sounds while collecting ideas on her blog, Disco Granola. She is only mostly vegan and gluten-free. Inspirations and role-models include but are not limited to: Gertrude Stein, Bill Murray, Mark Twain, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elena Brower, Haruki Murakami, and her father. Find her on twitter/instagram @lisamarkuson or tumblr at http://discogranola.tumblr.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.

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

By Kali Om 

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

Flower_by_Cyndi_Lawler

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

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

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

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

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

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

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

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

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

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

Do you need to forgive yourself for something?

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

Cali_Om_by_Cynthia_Lawler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orchids_by_Cynthia_Lawler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(All pictures by Cindy Lawler)

 

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

Yoga Nidra: Exploring the Deepest Relaxation Practice

by Marija Kundakovic

 “Yoga Nidra: Extremely deep relaxation with psychic instructions.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra 
 
©Natasha Phillips
             
I fell in love with yoga because of savasana. This may sound strange (or lazy…?) to many people who practice yoga to improve physical strength and flexibility, because savasana involves simply lying on the mat for 10-15 minutes and relaxing. But it was exactly there, in my first savasana, that I started feeling that yoga was truly “working” for me. I could feel my busy mind finally getting less noisy, and I started being receptive tothe present moment.
 
The majority of us are very busy and distracted by our daily duties, worries and little desires, without having the chance and time to stop and try to understand our true nature and what really lies within us. We identify with our ever-changing bodies and minds and with our egoistic constructs of ourselves that make us feel efficient and safe in the environment that we live in. We are constantly projecting ourselves in the future or getting caught up within the past. But how do we go beyond that? How do we reach our essence and improve our understanding of our surroundings and of our purpose in life?
 
For me, the answer lies in the practice of Yoga.  The Asana practice is only an introduction to what yoga can offer in terms of self-knowledge and self-development. Slowly, with my constant practice, I started being able to lose my body sensations and quiet my mind during relaxation and meditation, and to go beyond the regular frame of body and mind. This gave me a completely new perception of myself, with more subtle levels of existence and the awareness that there is certainly much more beyond my ego and its little wishes and concerns. Within my six-year yoga practice, I think that my first class of Yoga Nidra with Sri Dharma Mittra was one of the biggest milestones. 
   
©Natasha Phillips
 
Sri Dharma Mittra likes to say that, “relaxation is the best antidote for all impurities”. Once after savasana in his regular asana class, he suggested we come to Yoga Nidra, in which you lie down in savasana and relax for an hour. As a long-time savasana lover, I thought, “Oh, that would be really nice,” and I decided to check out this class, expecting it to be, literally, a long, one-hour savasana. I went to class.  We were instructed to lie down in savasana, not to move or fall asleep, and to stay attentive throughout the practice while listening to the instructions.
 
It turned out that Yoga Nidra is an active meditation. Sri Dharma first guided us to bring the awareness to each part of the body, slowly starting from the left hand thumb and then moving through all the limbs, ending with the individual facial features and back of the head. This was followed by the stage in which we were asked to evoke the experiences of opposite sensations and feelings, such as sensations of extreme hot and cold, and very busy and quiet environments, briefly, one after another. We were then asked to visualize some images and landscapes and were led through an enjoyable imaginary journey.
 
I don’t remember when exactly, but I can clearly evoke an amazing moment when I lost all my body sensations while being aware of everything that was happening. And then I felt like I was floating… And then I heard Sri Dharma say “you are everywhere” and I felt … I was … indeed … everywhere…
 
©Natasha Phillips
The practice of Yoga Nidra ended with a resolution, “my will power is rapidly improving,” repeated three times and we were then slowly brought to the regular waking state. I came out of the class transformed. I felt lighter, elevated, and refreshed. (Someone met me just after the class and asked me if I had a facial — no kidding, inside and out!)
 
I wondered what exactly happened in that hour of Yoga Nidra (a.k.a. Psychic Sleep) which Sri Dharma said could substitute for several hours of ordinary sleep. As a scientist (that’s my profession), I started reading articles and books to better understand with my mind what happened beyond my body, and beyond my “regular” mind in that class. 
 
Briefly, this is what literature says: Yoga Nidra is a method of inducing deep physical, mental, and emotional relaxation in which the body is in a sleep-like state somewhere between being awake and being asleep. Unlike regular sleep, the consciousness is maintained in Yoga Nidra. And, unlike the fully awakened state in which only the intellectual mind is operating, when you are able to completely relax in Yoga Nidra, the subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind open, allowing the penetration into the depths of the mind that are not normally available. For instance, rotation of consciousness through different body parts induces physical relaxation while evoking the opposite, intense feelings in Yoga Nidra enables emotional relaxation. 
 
©Natasha Phillips
 
The visualization stage of Yoga Nidra, which usually involves images that have universal significance and powerful associations, brings the hidden contents of the deep unconscious into the conscious mind. The practice of visualization develops self-awareness and induces deep mental relaxation.  This practice also sets the mind into a peaceful and calm state that makes the unconscious mind very receptive to positive thoughts and suggestions, and this is why the practice ends with the resolve to increase will power (or any other resolution that the practitioner would like to achieve through practice). Please do not mistake this for hypnosis because the resolve in Yoga Nidra is made by practitioner, who is aware of it, and the teacher is there only to guide the practice.
 
During practice of Yoga Nidra, one’s consciousness travels from one layer to another, according to its current state and capacity. In some cases, the practice will bring only some sort of relaxation, sleep, or pleasant experience. Sometimes it may go very deep and bring fantastic experiences. The ultimate outcome of Yoga Nidra, similar to meditation, is total harmony and integration between all levels of consciousness and merging with the universal consciousness or achieving the highest level of consciousness, known as samadhi. 
 
______________________________________________
 
 
Marija Kundakovichas a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is currently a Research Scientist and Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University in NYC. She is an epigeneticist studying how life experiences leave an imprint on our genes shaping the brain and behavior throughout life. In addition to her scientific quest, her yogic path has been essential for her self-inquiry and search for understanding of life. She is thankful to all yoga teachers that have left the imprints on her yoga practice, including the teachers from Chicago Yoga Center, Mandiram Yoga Barcelona, and Jivamukti Yoga NYC. She is particularly thankful to Sri Dharma Mittra and the teachers at Dharma Yoga New York Center. Marija completed the Dharma Yoga “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training under the guidance of Sri Dharma Mittra in June 2013. She is currently in the last stages of her internship and looks forward to sharing her knowledge of yoga with others.  

 

12 Recommendations to Assure Radiant Success in Yoga in 2014 and Beyond

By Sri Dharma Mittra, edited by Adam Frei

 
 
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. 

Om: Everything You Wanted To Know But Were Too Afraid To Ask

By Kali Om (Cara Jepsen)
 
“Brahman is Om, this whole world is Om.” ~ Taittirya Upanishad
“Om is the bow; atman is the arrow; Brahman is said to be the mark. It is to be struck by an undistracted mind. Then atman becomes one with Brahman, as an arrow with the target.” ~ Mandukya Upanishad

 

Mispronounced, misunderstood, and misconstrued, the sacred Om, or Aum, is the root of all mantras and contains all the sounds in the world. Yogis believe the Aum is one and the same as Brahman, or the ultimate reality underlying the phenomenal world.
But sometimes the meaning – and pronunciation – can get lost. A couple of years ago, I was waiting for a large class to end so I could teach a workshop. The class finally finished with three loud, wall-shaking “Ums.” Not the “Aum” that rhymes with “home,” but “Um,” which rhymes with “thumb.”
The Aum and all the mantras that spring from it are like asanas for the mouth and should be pronounced with care and concentration as well as with proper motivation, faith, devotion, and understanding. In the scriptures, the Om or Aum is also referred to as the Pranava, Omkara , and Udgita .
According to yogis, the sound and form of Aum is the same as God. The Rig Veda says, “In the beginning was Brahman, with whom was the Word, and the Word was truly the supreme Brahman.” The Bible says something similar: “In the beginning was the Word” and “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Most mantras begin and end with Aum; it is the highest of all mantras or divine words, as well as Brahman itself. In the Bhagavad Gita , Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, “I am the father of this universe, the mother, the support and the grandsire. I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable Om. I am also the Rig, the Sama and the Yajur Vedas.”
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali also state that the Aum is Isvara , or God: “The sacred word designating this creative source is the sound OM, called Pranava. This sound is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents. From that remembering comes the realization of the individual Self and the removal of obstacles.”
Because the Aum is considered to be one and the same as God by many yogis and Hindus, it should be treated with respect. Having it tattooed on the foot or ankle or printed on a pant leg or across the buttocks or on shoes or a meditation cushion or a yoga mat (where the feet step on it), or placing the Om symbol on the floor are considered highly disrespectful by many Hindus and yogis. Knowingly offending others in this way is a violation of ahimsa, or non-harming.
The Aum has four parts:
  • The first is the “A,” which sounds like the “a” in father and is pronounced in the throat, with the mouth wide open. It is usually fairly short.
  •   The second is the long, loud “U,” which rhymes with shoe and is pronounced with the mouth actively shaped like an “O”–not with a slack mouth. The sound rolls over the tongue.
  • Then the mouth slowly closes and the sound becomes the “M,” which is pronounced mmmm with the lips together, creating a pleasant vibration.
  • The fourth is the silence that follows. My guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, says that during the silence one should focus on the vibration behind the forehead and repeat Om mentally.

The three parts of the Aum represent the three states in the manifest world:
  • the A is the waking state (represented by the bottom curve of the Aum symbol);
  • the U is the dreaming state (the middle curve);
  • and the M is the state of deep, dreamless sleep (the top curve).
  • The silence that follows represents the fourth state or turiya –pure consciousness, the goal of yoga. It is represented by the bindu , or dot, at the top, while the curve separating it from the rest of the Om symbolizes maya , or illusion.

The Aum also relates to the three bodies:
  • the A is the gross body;
  •  the U is the subtle body;
  • and the M represents the causal body.

It also contains the three gunas , or qualities of the phenomenal world that are constantly shifting: A is rajas (action), U is sattva (harmony), and M is tamas (inertia). Finally, Aum represents the Hindu trinity: the A is creation or Brahma, the U is preservation or Vishnu, and M is dissolution, or Lord Shiva.
Yogis believe that what you are thinking of when you die is where you will go next. So if you only learn one mantra in this lifetime, let it be the Aum, which represents the supreme goal. If Aum is always on your lips when you are alive, it will be in your mind when you pass.
As the Bhagavad Gita says, “He who closes all the doors to the senses, confines the mind within the heart, draws the prana into the head, and engages in the practice of yoga, uttering Om, the single syllable denoting Brahman, and meditates on Me – he who so departs, leaving the body, attains the Supreme Goal.”
Aum Meditation – learned directly from Sri Dharma Mittra
There are many Aum meditations. This one is suitable for all levels.
Face east or north. Sit tall on the floor or a chair, with the back of the neck in line with the spine. Inhale, and exhale, create a long, loud, resonant Aum. The mouth is wide open during the A, in the shape of an “O” during the U, with the lips coming together for the M (the M should last for at least one third of the Aum). Then remain silent and do an internal mental Aum, while focusing on the vibration between the eyebrows, behind the forehead. Then repeat – a verbal Aum, followed by a mental Aum. Keep repeating for ten minutes. This practice stimulates the pituitary gland, activates the sixth sense, and is an antidote to depression.
Kali Om (Cara Jepsen), E-RYT 500, lives in Chicago, where she has been teaching yoga since 1998. She first studied with Sri Dharma Mittra, in 1999, and has completed his 200, 500 and 800-hour teacher trainings. She also studied five times in India with Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and has completed trainings in Hormone Yoga Therapy, therapeutics, senior yoga and ashtanga vinyasa yoga.  She also specializes in yoga for back care, yoga for depression, and yoga for menopause. She will lead a yoga and meditation retreat in Belize February 9-16 in near Chicago April 12-13.  For more information, visit www.yogikaliom.com or e-mail kaliom108@yahoo.com.
    

   

The Four Building Blocks of Meditation

By Alan C. Haras

 “After mastering the art of concentration, one proceeds to meditate.  The constant practice of meditation leads to realization of self.” Yogi Gupta

©Dharma Yoga Center

The Catholic theologian Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. referred to Meditation, or dhyana, as it is referred to in the Yoga Sutras, as the means through which we connect to the “portion of God dwelling in the center of our chest” – in the spiritual heart.

The various practices of yoga are designed to empower us with the ability to sit still long enough in order for the “mind to settle into silence”, revealing the changeless, eternal Self.


Let’s explore the various components of meditation, using the framework of Father Burghardt’s definition, and the substance of the yogic teachings as passed on by Sri Dharma Mittra.


·        Long


According to SwamiSivananda, concentration, or dharana, is defined as twelve seconds of unbroken focus on one point.  Meditation, or dhyana, is said to be about 2.5 minutes, while samadhi is about thirty minutes.
 

Sri Dharma Mittra emphasizes that the purpose of asana is intended to prepare one to sit in meditation long enough to perceive the Self.  Traditionally, it is said that one should build up to being able to sit for three hours without distraction.  


Of course, progress is made in stages.  Patanjali Maharishi says that, “The practice of yoga will be firmly rooted when it is maintained consistently and with dedication over a long period of time.”  The Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi TeacherTraining Manual reminds us that, “the more one practices, the faster progress is made.” 


·        Loving


In order to persevere in the practice of meditation, one must be motivated by a burning desire for liberation, or mumukshutvaWithout a passion for God or the Self, progress is virtually impossible.  One may be motivated to practice for a time out of fear, or a desire for some benefits, but it is really love which leads us onward, beyond ourselves. 

Patanjali says that samadhi comes from complete surrender to the Almighty One.   Surrender takes place when we love something more than we love our own illusions.  Of the nine different forms of yoga, bhakti yoga is the path of union with the Self through love.  Whether one is devoted to a particular form of God, one’s Guru or the Truth, the spiritual aspirant is spurred on by a love which consumes the small self and draws them into a transforming union with Ultimate Reality.

·        Look


There is a beautiful word in Sanskrit – darshan– which refers both to how one sees things, as well as to actually “to have sight of” something or someone.  When one goes to a temple or to see a Guru, one is going to have darshan.  This kind of “look” is not a stare or a glare, but a gaze, by which one sees beyond the appearance of things into the things into their essence.


This kind of vision is depicted in yogic literature and art as the “third eye” – a vision that sees beyond the apparent duality to the unity we all share.  The yogi is one who lives in two worlds at once – simultaneously aware of multiplicity, while remaining absorbed in the Supreme Self beyond names and forms.  One “sees”, not merely with physical eyes, but with the divine eye, or divya chakshu.


·        Real


When asked what is really Real, the great sage Sri Ramana Maharshi answered, “That which does not change.”  The question we must then ask is, “What does not change?”  We live in a world of constant change.  Change appears to be the only thing we can count on.  However, the yogis assure us that there is a changeless reality, but it is to be found only within.  It is known as the atman – the portion of God residing within our own heart.  This atman, the changeless reality within us, is said to be identical with Brahman– the changeless reality that pervades the entire cosmos.  This Supreme Self is like the movie screen upon which the play of names and forms unfolds, while remaining unstained by any of the moving pictures. 


The practice of meditation establishes us in the role of the eternal witness, observing the movements of the body, mind and emotions, without getting caught in them.  One is able to “do what needs to be done” without being identified with the “doer”, thus allowing the mind to remain absorbed in the Infinite.

1. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Alistair Shearer
2. Fourteen Lessons in Raja Yoga by Swami Sivananda
3. Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training Manual
4. Bhagavad Gita by Swami Nikhilananda.



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Alan Haras (Bhaktadas Om) is the owner of Hamsa Yoga in Lake Orion, Michigan.  He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Michigan State University, is finishing up a two-year training in Spiritual Direction from the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House, and is pursuing his Masters in Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy.  He has been blessed to spend three years studying Advaita Vedanta with Dr. John Grimes, ten years studying the Jivamukti Yoga method, as well as having spent time in India with the late kirtan-wala and bhakti yogi Shyamdas.  In 2012-13, Alan completed the 200, 500 and 800-hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Trainings with Sri Dharma Mittra, made a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  As a teacher, he is deeply grateful for the opportunity to offer “the greatest charity of all” – sharing and promoting spiritual knowledge.