Category Archives: soul

What I learned from reading the Bhagavad Gita


By Arin Farrington

 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 within us! 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.
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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.

Dharma Yoga Abroad

Q & A with Dharma Yoga teachers around the world…
We’re starting a new blog series to catch up with countrywide and global Dharma Yoga teachers. Find out what they’re up to – teaching in exotic locations, inspiring students all over the globe, and living the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra every day!
This week:
Gerson Frau (Brazil and Mexico)
By Nicole Sopko
Gerson Frauis an inspiring Dharma Yoga teacher who shares his time between Brazil and Mexico. Gerson’s presence (and his accent!) is, in many ways, very much like Sri Dharma Mittra’s. He’s a wonderful teacher who inspires his students, and his attitude is perfectly summed up in his statement: “I just keep learning every day and seeking Reality.”
What books are you currently reading or studying?
GF: The Bhagavad Gita (Swami Nikhilananda), Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Swami Satchidananda – I love him!) and Self Knowledge by Swami Nikhilananda.
What is the one practice you do every day?
GF: Pranayama and meditation, at least 5 times a week.
Which teacher trainings have you completed?
GF: The Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 200- and 500-hour trainings.
What would you say about the people who you met during your trainings? How have they inspired you?
GF: There are so many amazing people are under Sri Dharma Mittra’s umbrella. We all inspire one another, support one another and shared an amazing experience during our training.
What are you currently working on?
GF: Regular Dharma Yoga classes and workshops in Brazil and also several workshops in Mexico, as well as Maha Sadhanas all over both countries. We’re doing a Dharma Yoga event in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, and this year’s will be the sixth time! 40 students attended last year. (Dharma Yoga in Puerto Escondido at the Santa Fe Hotel, June 27 -30, 2013)
 
Why are these projects a priority?
GF: I am following my dharma by practicing and sharing the teachings of Yoga.  It is my commitment for this lifetime.
How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY teacher training program affected your life outside of training?
GF: Finding Sri Dharma Mittra (or Sri Dharma having found me…) shifted my life completely. The LOAY teacher training program is an immersion to Self Realization. It’s hard to explain in words, but it’s hard to keep living the way you used to after the training.
Any final thoughts to share with us?
GF: Since I first started studying with Sri Dharma Mittra, I teach every day. It doesn’t matter how many students attend class. Students from Mexico have been inspired and many have gone to New York to take the LOAY Teacher Training themselves. Yoga is not so popular in Brazil but I feel students spontaneously start going beyond the physical practice even if they came to class only for a physical yoga practice. They end up going beyond or feeling the curiosity of getting to experience more than the physical.
Gerson will be one of the DYLOAY mentors for the upcoming June 2013 200-Hour Teacher Training Program in New York City. To learn more about Gerson, visit his website: www.yogifrau.com.
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Nicole Sopko (Gopi Om)is a Dharma Yoga teacher living in Chicago, IL where she teachesDharma Yoga and operates a nationwide vegan natural food company alongside her (life) partner. She takes great care to be always aware of the ways in which these two responsibilities intersect and spends her time promoting compassion in all forms. She is a dedicated and loving student of Sri Dharma’s and visits New York as frequently as possible to absorb the benefits of his holy teachings in person.

Six things one Dharma Yoga Teacher wants you to know….

By Fay Inger

·        I don’t judge you, your body or your practice.

Life is interesting because people come in all shapes and sizes, with personalities as diverse as snowflakes. I’m no better than my students because I teach yoga. As Sri Dharma teaches, we are not our bodies and we are not our minds. You have a body and you have a mind, but you are so much more than the sum of your parts. Your body is perfect, you are perfect and your practice is exactly where it should be at this time.

·        My practice isn’t perfect either.

I’ve been practicing yoga for ten years, and while that may seem like a long time, it actually isn’t relevant to poses that I’ve “mastered.” I am naturally flexible with a very bendy back, but I lack raw strength. It’s easy for me to do king pigeon but my forearm balance and handstands are nonexistent. That doesn’t mean I can’t teach poses I cannot do – in fact it makes me a great teacher because I understand you have your own strengths and weaknesses. We are all a work in progress, I just happen to be the one guiding the class.

·        I take your limitations and baggage seriously.

Your range of motion and limitations are a factor in your yoga practice. Because of that I would never force a student to go into a pose they couldn’t get into on their own, or force someone into a pose they didn’t feel ready to do. I was always terrified of doing headstands despite the gentle encouragement of my teacher. Once, a well meaning substitute teacher took me into headstand and failed to provide adequate support. It resulted in me falling over and reinforced my fears.  Ultimately it wasn’t encouragement or support that helped me move past my fears, it was time. We all have our issues to work through and sometimes they manifest on the mat.


·        You need to be pushed.

Not physically pushed as in pushed down a flight of stairs, but pushed to what you think your limit is so that you can surpass it. I know this because in my Life of a Yogi 500-Hour teacher training I was pushed to my limit multiple times and my practice evolved and excelled because of it.

The second day of our second month of training I was absolutely convinced that I could not do one more humble warrior; convinced my quads were too sore and my hips too tight to cooperate. I asked to sit out one asana practice so my achy muscles could rest. At the time I was annoyed when my request was denied.  I didn’t understand I was told “no” for my benefit and for me to grow.  But being told “no” did just that.  It forced me to push on, past the tired, sore and achy muscles.  It pushed me to realize that I am stronger than I thought I was.  I was pushed to understand that although my body may not have wanted to, my mind is stronger than my body.  I was pushed to ultimately realize I am so much more than just my physical body.

Real change begins when your back is against the wall.  You can rise to the challenge and surprise yourself with your strength and determination, or you can cower into the wall and refuse to grow.  I am your cheerleader and always want you to grow.

·        I didn’t become a yoga teacher because I wasn’t qualified to do anything else.

In fact, let me follow that statement with: I chose to forsake other, potentially lucrative professions because I love yoga. I love it so much that I want to devote my life not only to practicing it but teaching it; so much so that I love spending my days being my student’s cheerleaders, enriching their lives and helping them grow stronger in their practice every day!

·        Sometimes I worry.

Did you enjoy my class? Will you come back? Yoga teachers have feelings too, and sometimes we feel insecure. It helps to remember that the class is for my students benefit and not my own. It also helps if you liked the class to say so!

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Fay Inger is a 500-Hour Certified Dharma Yoga instructor for levels I to IV and completed the 800-Hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in August 2012. Fay took up yoga 10 years ago to help with her bad posture.  The bad posture is gone, but Fay’s love of yoga has stuck around! Currently living in Los Angeles, California, Fay primarily works as a private instructor. As she always says, “Yoga is a gift,” and it is her favorite gift to share! 

10 Things I wish I had known AFTER completing the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training…


By Jessica Gale

1) There must be Tapas (again)…
One of the most difficult aspects to maintain post-training is maintaining a regular yoga practice. I moved to a new city with no Dharma Yoga studio after living in a city with a very devoted studio (where I attended class almost every day). Being in a new place and having to practice on my own presented a difficult transition. Despite this, I know that in order to be a good teacher I need to cultivate Tapas. Part of this transition includes a realization that I can’t rely on attending yoga classes every day and I need to be disciplined and take my practice into my own hands.
Unless you intend to fully devote yourself to yoga and forsake a householder’s life, you will have to adjust back to “real life” after the intensity of LOAY Teacher Training. You will be changed and your practice may be changed. You will need Tapas – but in new ways.
2) Take time to reflect… and then get started!
After completing the LOAY Teacher Training I took some necessary time off to let everything that I learned and experienced sink in. Revelations are not habituated over night and it may take some time (perhaps even a lifetime) to make sense of it and become part of your routine. That being said, I know how hard it can be to restart again. Let your mind rest but keep the enthusiasm going.
3) People are curious…
Something I still find interesting is that people are genuinely curious about my LOAY experience. Since yoga has been a huge part of my life for the last few years, I forget that Neti pots seem strange and people cannot imagine sitting quietly in meditation. Yes, people may think you’re a bit odd, but I have found that people admire the dedication and hard work that goes in to attending an intensive program like LOAY Teacher Training.
This situation presents the perfect opportunity to share your experience, offer to teach a free class and answer questions (but try not to overwhelm with your abundance of knowledge and enthusiasm). Just by being open and passionate you may lead people to discovering their own yoga practice!
4) Yoga is not a punishment…
Teaching yoga to your family and friends is not a punishment of some kind but a gift for youand a new experience for your loved ones to be taught by you! However, after first returning home from the LOAY Teacher Training, I did not want to impose yoga on my family and friends and didn’t ask about teaching anyone. I figured if they were interested, they would ask.
But then I realized there is nothing wrong with asking if anyone would like to attend one of my classes. Remember, your family and friends may not want to impose on you. They may be curious and want to try, but may think you are too busy or need to be paid. At the worst you may hear “no thank you,” but the best case is a dedicated new student!
5) Network, network, network…
Navigating the world as a new yoga teacher can be tough, particularly if you are in a new location without the support of an existing Dharma Yoga studio. The key point to remember when starting out is that yoga is non-threatening and people who practice yoga are generally pretty kind and understanding folks. So don’t be afraid to email, call or drop by a studio at which you are interested in teaching. And don’t be shy or embarrassed to reach out to other yogis, Dharma Yoga-taught or not. They are a part of your spiritual family, and family members try to help one another out.
6) You may teach in attics and other unconventional places…
I would hazard a guess that most teachers-in-training imagine teaching in a beautiful, bright studio with hardwood floors, a view and maybe even some birds singing outside. It is wonderful and inspiring to teach classes in a beautiful environment like this, however, it is non-essential. Sometimes, opportunities will arise and place you in strange spaces.
Take for example a class I currently teach in a friend’s small attic. There is large furniture in the room so we have to lay out our mats in an “L” formation. The ceiling is low and most of us are tall. The cats come in to visit and sometimes will even lie on the student’s legs, purring away in savasana. But none of this matters. It’s a quiet space that we all can fit in, and after each class, we exit feeling more peaceful than when we entered. So take opportunities as they come, even if they do not match your ideal vision.
7) “Copy the teacher…”
By now, if you have attended a LOAY Teacher Training, you know that this is one of Sri Dharma Mittra’s common phrases. Post-training, Sri Dharma may not be teaching you regularly anymore but that doesn’t mean you stop imitating the teacher.
Sometimes when I have had difficulty phrasing something in class I take a moment to think of what Sri Dharma may have said or done. And since I have only taken classes from Sri Dharma during the LOAY Teacher Training, I think about what the other teachers at my previous studio, who trained extensively under Sri Dharma, would have said or done. It works every time.
8) Teaching is not as scary as it first seems
After teaching my first class, my husband said to me “The first class will be the worst you teach… The second the second worst… and so forth.” He learned this from a professor when he was a graduate student and first started teaching. And yes, it’s true. Your teaching abilities will improve with time and experience.
Teaching yoga is not, nor should it be, a nerve-racking experience. The best thing you can do for the class and yourself is to come in with a peaceful state of mind. I discovered that a bit of pranayamaand a few asanas before class allows me to teach a good class. Better yet, I sometimes include a simple pranayama exercise at the beginning of the class. The students are coming to class from their own crazy lives, so if people appear flustered and stressed, bring them to a more peaceful state of mind before you begin.
9) Hit the books (again)…
I completed the LOAY Teacher Training eight months ago and I am continually surprised that I find myself mentally searching for knowledge I could have recited without blinking during the course. Just the other day I was asked something I once knew but could not remember. I then realized the importance of continuing my studying and hitting the books a little each week. And while teaching regularly helps maintain some of what you learned, the breadth and depth of Sri Dharma’s teaching will be lost without a constant renewal and study.
10) Be patient…
Upon my return home from the LOAY Teacher Training, I declared to my fiancé that I planned to complete my internship hours in three months. Well, needless to say, as I write this (for my Karma Yoga!) it is six months later and I am not yet even half done.
This is not to say that you cannot complete everything in a month or two, but to be patient if you do not. Work hard. Continue to study. Accept that sometimes opportunities take time to fully manifest. Ahimsa (again!) is the most important guiding principle you can live by during this time (and always!).
Enjoy this time of learning, new experiences, and have patience and love for yourself during the journey.
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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 CNY Yoga (Dharma Yoga) in Syracuse, NY 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 with her husband and is pursuing a career in environmental work along with flower farming, garden design, and, of course, yoga.

Meeting People… Where They Are

By Danielle Gray

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health attracts all kinds of different people. It’s sort of a magical place in that way.
Over President’s Day Weekend, Sri Dharma Mittra held a retreat in this beautiful place – one of many programs that were offered that weekend (the place was bustling when I arrived). Personally, it was my first time staying at Kripalu, although I had heard a lot about it from acquaintances (mostly about the food being “SO GOOD!” – which it was, as I discovered at dinner the first night).
Sri Dharma offered six sessions over a period of four days (Friday evening discourse, a morning and afternoon session each on both Saturday and Sunday, and a slightly shorter session Monday morning), all of which left me buzzing. Although I have been taking classes with Sri Dharma regularly and have done two of his three available teacher trainings, there is always more to learn, more wisdom to open yourself to receiving from the master.
The Saturday, Sunday, and Monday sessions were all vitalizing combinations of pranayama, meditation, and asana practices; by the end of the weekend, it felt like Sri Dharma had given us everything we needed – a well-rounded overall picture of the path of yoga, and also great depth about each subject covered (astounding for such a short period of actual time!).
The program reminded me a little bit of the teacher trainings, actually, in that we were all blessed to be spending a great amount of time with Sri Dharma Mittra in a very condensed period. However, the main difference between the teacher trainings and the program at Kripalu was the sense of time. At Kripalu, there is time for everything! Time to sit and be silent and just watch the thoughts. Time to write and reflect further on the teachings, if that’s your thing.
Time to sit in the sauna, or to explore the grounds (which is more fun in the winter time than you might think, actually – especially if you hit the sauna afterwards…). There’s even time to get an Ayurvedic massage if you really want to be luxurious (although that costs extra; but I heard they were well worth it!).
There is especially time to talk with other people about where they are on their path, and share experiences. For me, interacting with so many different people and observing their tendencies and receptivity encouraged me to reflect a little more deeply about myself throughout the weekend.
Many seemingly magical things happened throughout the weekend, but this is perhaps the most amazing (it’s a slightly long tangent, but bear with me – it’s worth it): Saturday afternoon, after our session concluded, I decided to browse in the gift shop and get a trinket or two for some friends. As I was checking out, I noticed a little dancing Shiva statue sitting at the register; I asked the cashier how much it was, but I couldn’t really justify buying it for myself – “Even though,” I told the cashier, “that’s a really great price, and I’ve been searching for a dancing Shiva for so long!”
I stopped by my room to put away the gifts I had bought, and as I left to go for a walk, I found a note on my door which read: “Attention guest Danielle Gray in room 305, please report to the front desk. Another guest has left a package for you.” I went down to the front desk, and I gave the note to the man sitting there. He handed me a bag, inside of which was the dancing Shiva statue.
I could hardly believe it. I asked him, “Who left this here? What did the person look like???” He told me it was a woman – “small, young, and very striking, with hair…” and he made a hand gesture, which I guessed indicated curly hair. I thought I knew for sure who it was, so I went and found the person to thank her, but she had no idea what I was talking about. Later on, I ran into the cashier who had rung me up in the gift shop.
“YOU!” I said excitedly. “WHO bought the dancing Shiva statue!?” He told me that at the time, he had thought to himself that it was a funny coincidence – she bought it right after I had left. He said she was “tall” and “a bit older”… Exactly the opposite of what the person at the front desk had said when I inquired.
At that point I was struck with two thoughts: First, it is amazing how each of us can perceive the same exact person (or anything) in a completely different way. Second, I remembered something that Sri Dharma said during my last teacher training: “The best gift is the one with no strings attached.” In other words, completely anonymous.
So, I decided to leave it at that. Whoever gave me that dancing Shiva also gave me the greatest gift of all by remaining anonymous, so now every time I see it, all I feel is joy, rather than any sense of obligation to “pay back” the favor. If, in fact, the person who gave me this wonderful gift is reading this article, please know that I am so grateful, and the statue sits on my altar right beside Sri Dharma’s picture; I am inspired every morning when I see it.
In the end, each little experience and everyone I met helped me in some way – to develop a deeper and more confident sense of my own beliefs, as well as my approach to the practice of yoga in my own life. These interactions helped me to dispel some of my own doubts and fear, which can be some of the greatest obstacles on this path.

To me, this mini-immersion was an incredible opportunity, and the amount of growth that occurred in just one weekend of mindful and receptive practice (lead by a true Guru) was astounding. I would highly recommend the experience to anyone who is interested in going further into the system of yoga… And maybe experiencing a little bit of grace along the way.

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Danielle Gray, a native of New Jersey, was blessed to find Dharma Yoga in 2010, and after her very first class, she knew she had to immerse herself in the practice to eventually share it with others. She graduated from the 200-hour Life of a Yogi program in May 2012, participated in the 500-hour program in September and November of 2012, and is in the process of completing her certification in Dharma II and III. Additionally, she has over 15 years of experience studying dance and movement, which greatly informs her yoga instruction, especially in the aspects of anatomy and alignment. Danielle has experienced incredible growth and healing in all areas of her life as a result of studying with Sri Dharma Mittra, and hopes to share this transformative path with all her students. In addition to teaching, she is currently employed at the Dharma Yoga New York Center.

~Teacher Profile of the Month~


Amber Abramson

Amberteaches Dharma II on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:30 – 6:30 PM.
1.    Describe yourself in three words.
AA: Curious, inquisitive, imaginative.
2.  If you were a fruit, what would you be, and why?
AA: Well my father and brother always tell me I’m a prickly pear, because I can seem really serious with this intense look on my face when I’m doing something… But I’m really a big, mushy, sweet piece of fruit once you get beyond my appearance. I love to laugh and have fun; I’m not as serious as I look.
3.  What is your favorite story you heard from Sri Dharma?
AA: Dharma once told the story about how when he was younger and first started to learn with his Guru, he loved Lord Shiva. He loved what Shiva stood for and he loved His image. One day, Dharma said he was really sad because he realized that there was no Shiva. The true Shiva was within. And so that is what Sri Dharma teaches – that the real Guru, the real divinity, is within all of us.
4.  Three things you always have in your fridge?
AA: Chia seeds, coconut milk, and oranges of all kinds.
5.  What is one practice you must do every single day?
AA: I have to connect to my breath and be quiet every single day. It keeps me grounded and centered amidst all of the beautiful chaos life has to offer.


You might say Amber was born to be a yoga teacher – her first experience with yoga was at the tender age of three! Her father is a yoga teacher, so the practice has been an influential part of her life for a long time. She loved assisting her father’s classes, and as she began to teach classes of her own, she realized that she discovered even more about the practices in the process of sharing them with others.
She loves Dharma Yoga because of its completeness & authenticity. Of course, she says, every form of yoga is about going inside and uniting the mind, body, and spirit; but she loves that Sri Dharma Mittra’s classes are about so much more than asana – you go beyond the poses and learn to be a “well-rounded yogi” through practices in all eight limbs. From her perspective, the goal is to realize that everything is already within each of us (as Sri Dharma frequently reminds us).
For her, practicing yoga is a means to reintegrate & expand the whole Self; to become aware of discomfort & congestion in the physical & subtle bodies; and to make space & breathe into any feelings that arise. She hopes to help guide her students further within, to allow them the chance to truly be themselves in the present moment.  
Amber will also be teaching a program at Kripaluthis coming July (“Boot Camp for Goddesses”)!

Author/interviewer: Danielle Gray, Online Media Manager at DYNYC

Spiritual Study (Svadhyaya): A Journey Within

By Danielle Sheather
 

Of all the Niyamas, Svadhyaya has left a lasting impression on me.  One particular image is ingrained in my mind when I think of self-study: the notion of a journey.   I daydream about an expedition or a grand voyage.
Svadhyaya is a spiritual study, a tour of one’s deepest thoughts, ideas, and fundamental nature. It is the study to know oneself in an effort to understand why we are the way we are and catch a glimpse of our Divine Self.  It is independent of the thoughts and ideas to the world around us, when one can study the self with a mind free from the disturbances of outside forces. Spiritual study then can help unlock our understanding of who we are as well as our relationship to the outside world.
As Iyengar describes in Light on Life, “You will not reach knowledge of the Divine Self without passing through Self-knowledge. Your practice is your laboratory, and your methods must become ever more penetrating and sophisticated. Whether you are in asana or doing pranayama, the awareness of the body extends outwards, but the senses of perception, mind and intelligence should be drawn inward.”
Patanjali describes Svadhyaya as “study that concerns the true Self, not merely analyzing the emotions and mind as psychologists and psychiatrists do. Anything that will elevate your mind and remind you of your true Self should be studied: The Bhagavad Gita, Bible, Koran, these Yoga Sutras, or any uplifting scripture. Study does not mean just passing over the pages. It means trying to understand every word – studying with the heart.”
A vital part of Svadhyaya is the fact that we are not alone in our journey to the Self. Others have gone before us and succeeded! There is no doubt that history and literature show us that Svadhyaya occurs from generation to generation: From Jesus to Buddha, Siddhartha to Arjuna, all of these figures embarked on a journey. While some were geographical, all were metaphysical and in an effort to truly study the self.
Iyengar also said “spiritual realization is the aim that exists in each one of us to seek our divine core. That core, though never absent from anyone, remains latent within us. It is not an outward quest for a Holy Grail that lies beyond, but an inward journey to allow the inner core to reveal itself.” Here, Iyengar describes Svadhyaya as being a journey to the self, a journey inward so as to truly find our divine core.
Thus the study of scripture becomes vastly important to Svadhyaya. The aforementioned scriptures and characters have paved the way to their Divine Self.  Patanjali reminds us that “we don’t exhaust the Bible even after reading it hundreds of times. Each time we read it we see it in a new light. This is the greatness of the Holy Scriptures… Each time we read these works we elevate ourselves to see a little more.”
In BKS Iyengar’s, Light on Life, we are taught that “to know one self is to know one’s body, mind and soul.” There is no better way to understand the Self than by first taking a glimpse at those who have passed before us and studying with our hearts, then delving deep into our thoughts, ideas, and emotions without judgment or fear; but with an open mind and an open heart.
In that vein, part of my attraction to this particular Niyama came about from my father’s inspiration.  At 40 years old, with two children approaching university years, a mortgage and a wife, he chose to open his own business. It was through self-study that he realized he was tired of doing things other people’s way. Now, 19 years later, he is peacefully removed when he speaks of his spiritual study, as though it was merely a necessary step in becoming the man he always envisioned himself to be. His spiritual study throughout that time in his life and the many prior years, led him to take a gigantic leap off of a cliff, a leap in which he did not know if there was water or land below. He simply leapt and fell into an abundant pool. While he admits that Svadhyaya was arduous, he cannot imagine it being any other way. He studied every day in order to manifest what he wanted in his life.      
So why is it that so many people (myself included) are afraid of going inward to discover what is on the inside? Funny enough, the answer to that question lies in going deeper into self-study and allowing discoveries to occur independent of whether it is good or bad.

For example, last summer I took a Chakra workshop in which I was asked to dive deep into the self to discover how I dealt with milestones from my early childhood to present day. Many emotions, from anger to elation, frustration, and guilt came to the surface. But how was it possible that all of these emotions lay dormant in me? It was as if they were camping in my back yard and I had no idea they were even there! Perhaps then I would have no control when any one of these emotions would come out.  I was furious.
This was my first real attempt at Svadhyaya and because of it, my inner core is no longer latent and has begun to reveal itself to me.  With the help of further spiritual study I feel that the universe and its predecessors have been supporting me in opening up in further Svadhyaya. It is true what Sri Dharma Mittra says: “Be receptive and all is coming.” Especially in Svadhyaya!
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Danielle Lydia Sheather first found yoga through dance, and thanks her primary dance teachers and several others for introducing her to yoga without ever really knowing what they were doing. She has been to every continent dancing on cruise ships and on tours. Danielle has since been in NYC for 3 years, the longest she’s been anywhere since high school. A self-proclaimed nomad, she loves to travel but decided to lay down some roots for a while. Danielle graduated from Sonic Yoga’s 200-hour teacher training in 2009 and from the DYLOAY 500 Hour program in 2012. She has taught in Bed Stuy at St John’s Bread of Life, Yoga on the Rooftop, Sonic Yoga, The Giving Tree Yoga Studio, New York Yoga and the Dharma Yoga Center. She is also the ballet mistress and choreographs for Dance Dimensions in New Milford New Jersey and continues to perform here in NYC. She believes that it is a teacher’s responsibility to continue to practice in order to grow, understand, and honor their commitment to enlightenment thus being a student of life! PS: She is also fluent in French Canadian.

10 Things I wish I knew before taking the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training…

by Jessica Gale

1) It’s OK to attend the LOAY Teacher Training program even if you don’t plan on being a super yogi…

I will admit it: the week before attending the program I panicked. Was I ready? Would I ever be ready? I had been practicing yoga for several years, desired to teach, and wanted to attend an intensive like the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training. However, doubts still remained – even the night before the training began…

Within a few days of starting the program I came to understand the diversity of students the LOAY TT attracted. Everyone practiced at different levels and intensity, and their reasons for attending were just as diverse. We learned the spectrum of what yoga encompassed, but there was always an understanding and acceptance that everyone was at different physical and spiritual levels.

2) There will be Tapas…

You will be sore and the program will push you to your physical limits. It is helpful to view the program more like a marathon than a sprint. Since there are 10 days of asana practice it may be hard to participate when you throw your back out on the first day. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try new things or push yourself (see #3 below), but it is important to pace yourself.

To fully engage and enjoy the program, get some sleep, bring energizing snacks, take the breaks when they are offered, and it wouldn’t hurt bringing some Arnica or Tiger Balm along too.

3) Trust and try…

Yes, it’s intense. Yes, you have 10 days of asana. And yes, it’s the perfect time to embrace new and difficult poses and techniques. The training offers the rare opportunity to learn from a yoga master and several very accomplished senior teachers. When they ask you to try something new, give it a go. Be like a child and have faith.

4) Meet Sri Dharma Mittra, the comedian…

Since I’d heard Sri Dharma speak before attending the training, I knew he had a sense of humor. What I did not expect was to spend so much of a yoga intensive laughing! I have attended several types of yoga classes through my years of practice and I have never found another type that is so light, happy, and humorous! It is one of the things I love most about Dharma yoga – the sense of joy it emanates.

5) You will be homesick…

Throughout the program, everyone at some point felt a little bit blue. It is natural to miss your family and friends, especially since there isn’t a lot of time to communicate with people. The key is to remember that it is only 10 days and the benefits you will gain from the program will last you a lifetime. In addition, one of the things I loved best was coming home and sharing what I learned from Sri Dharma with my loved ones.

6) Listen first and ask, if you still need to, after… 

During the training, there was plenty of time for questions and discussion and the teachers assisting Sri Dharma were also available for additional queries. However, one of the things recommended (and I found to be true) is that if you listen, your questions will often be answered without you even asking. I found that if I was intensely thinking about some question, the answer would come up that same day.

7) If possible, stay close to the home base…

The LOAY TT has long days. I stayed with a friend in Queens to save on lodging during the training and my commute was an hour each way. In my situation, I couldn’t afford to stay in Manhattan, but if it was financially possible, I’d recommend it. The long commute added to my fatigue and made me feel rushed at times. I wish I could have transcended the lack of sleep and the noisy commute, but alas, I have not yet reached that point.

 8) Lose the “yoga ego”…

Be prepared to have your mind blown by attending the master classes taught by Sri Dharma. It was absolutely incredible being taught by a master and be surrounded by yogis with amazing asana practices. It is easy to start comparing yourself to the person on the next mat over but DON’T. The LOAY TT is the perfect time to lose whatever “yoga ego” or “yoga envy” you may have.

In the first master class I found myself entirely overwhelmed!  Soon after I found myself in utter wonder and inspired by the dedication of people around me.  There was inspiration not only with the advanced students, but the student who could not yet do a headstand but sit unmoving and for long periods of meditation with a blissful smile on their faces.

One way I found to tame my yoga ego was to focus on my weaknesses and not my perceived strengths. I took special care during pranayama, held the poses that were most uncomfortable the longest and tried my best to surrender in meditation.

9) The name of the game is Ahimsa…

There will be times during the program when you will be frustrated with yourself because you can’t achieve a pose no matter how many times practiced, or your mind will relentlessly wander during meditation. Take your time to cultivate Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the greatest of the Yamas and Niyamas and all of the others come from this main tenant. Surrounded by happy, loving yogis, it is easy to be kind to others.However, there will be times when you will struggle to be kind to yourself. Before attending the LOAY TT, try to make it your main goal to live by Ahimsa.

10) You will leave changed…

I cannot believe a single person leaves the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training program without feeling changed. Immersed in yoga and all of Sri Dharma’s teachings, you will come away changed in your body, mind, and spirit. You may even find yourself coming to surprising conclusions you never expected. Be open to the changes and take the experience with you. Share what you have learned as an act of thanks-giving.

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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 the CNY Yoga Center (Dharma Yoga) in Syracuse, NY 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 with her husband and is pursuing a career in environmental work along with flower farming, garden design, and, of course, yoga.

How I Found My Teacher

by Dina Lang

I first came to know of legendary Sri Dharma Mittra several years ago when investigating Yoga Journal’s annual conference in San Francisco. Each year I would read through all the bios of the featured instructors, research them online and plan out whose classes I’d take, should I ever actually attend. Sri Dharma always stood out as that instructor I felt I should take a class from before I die. In January of 2012 I finally got my chance in San Francisco.
My typical M.O. in a yoga class is move straight to the back of the room and hide myself in the corner. Uncharacteristically that day, I deliberately arrived early enough to set my mat in its usual place, but instead set up in the second row. (I’m still working on that front row thing!) The moment Sri Dharma walked in, took his place seated on his chair on the stage, closed his eyes and began to chant Om, I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be. The two-hour practice was physically challenging, but completely accessible. He wove his message of ahimsa and the ethical rules throughout our every breath and posture. He guided us with as few words as possible, but we knew exactly where he wanted us to go. Simple clarity was his style… and I loved it!
As he taught, he would occasionally pop up into a headstand, handstand or forearm stand variation, talking all the while with humility and humor. His light-hearted manner created a warm, inviting environment, and yet we never lost sight of the sense that we were in the presence of a deeply respected teacher whom we should follow. He spoke about vegetarianism; he spoke about compassion; and he challenged us to examine ourselves with honesty and to compassionately embrace a commitment to our own betterment as human beings.
I knew then what was missing from my practice… a true teacher! It was like coming home on my mat for the first time in fifteen years. It left me hungry for more. I picked up his information after the class about teacher trainings. Having already completed my 500-hour certification, I was interested in his 800 hour Life of a Yogi training. I spoke with one of his representatives and they told me the prerequisite for his 800-hour training was his 500-hour and my previous work would not be acceptable. Disappointed, I left with the information in hand… chalking it up to a wonderful glimpse of something out of my reach.
The next six months crept along as I searched locally for a teacher to guide me in my practice with that same sense of spirituality I had experienced with Sri Dharma. Feeling dejected, one day I went online and researched again more closely what it would take to study with Dharma in New York City. I researched flights, hotel stays, the training itself and of course, my financial resources. I realized it was time to either commit and leap or walk away with no regrets. I decided that if I continued to allow my personal practice to wane and didn’t do something to restore my enthusiasm for yoga, I didn’t deserve to teach others. As yoga teachers I believe we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than our students… faking it just isn’t good enough.
So I made the leap. I signed up for the Dharma Yoga 500-hour Life of a Yogi teacher training and began my journey with Sri Dharma Mittra – committing myself to another500 hour teacher training so I could learn what it is to truly be a yogi…
Of all my trainings to date, this has been the most demanding of my time, physical energy, self-discipline, and unyielding commitment. And I have not been happier in many years.
For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m exactly where I am supposed to be – studying, practicing, meditating, living the yamas and niyamas and practicing karma yoga (selfless service)…being a dedicated student of yoga, and I am filled with gratitude. Sri Dharma’s practices are a lifetime labor of love, created by the ‘real deal’, and I feel so honored to be a conduit for his wonderful practice and message. For me, yoga is an opportunity to create the very best version of myself, to practice that which is difficult, find grace through the process, and walk in the world with my best intention leading the way. With Sri Dharma’s voice in my head, his message in my heart and his commitment to yoga as my inspiration…I believe I am finding my way at last.
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Dina Lang, RYT and co-owner of Santosha Yoga in Bethany Village (Portland, OR), discovered yoga many years ago and found that the practice brought a deeper awareness of all life’s gifts to her senses. She is the mother of two grown children. She turned her nurturing energy toward building a yoga community in Bethany Villagein 2010 and, when teaching, consciously holds a space for others to discover for themselves the transformative power of yoga. “Like many yogis, it was during one of life’s lowest points that the power of this great practice began to take center stage in my life. I embarked on the teacher training path with hopes of simply deepening my own practice, never considering actually teaching yoga. After my personal practice really took hold and my perspective grew clear, I suddenly felt eager to help others by sharing what I learned.”

Transitions


Gina Lee

My journey towards vegetarianism is not the one that you would normally hear of in a Dharma Yoga class. In fact, for years I attended classes and other teacher trainings in which they espoused the virtues of the yogic diet and I would politely nod my head knowing that as soon as I left I would be headed towards a meal with meat as its centerpiece. Even when I heard Sri Dharma give his classic comparison of our refrigerators to morgues and our stomachs to graveyards I went back to eating meat albeit with some food for thought (particularly thoughts that equated parts of my home and body to death). 
As a yoga teacher I was perplexed to hear from teachers that I had great respect for, that I was not living ahimsa by eating animals and I did my best to consume less by getting educated about where my meat was coming from and by choosing to eat only organically raised free range meat. This helped reduce the amount I was eating but I still felt the urge to eat it. Something was missing and I wasn’t really sure what. What would it take to give me the conviction that I needed? 
I was curious about how to possibly begin to incorporate more vegetarian options into my diet but it wasn’t until I met Sri Dharma that I felt a deeper pull to give vegetarianism a hard look. In my first immersion weekend with him he made his point clear: beyond the moral implications of eating animals, we could never realize the full potential of our meditation or yoga practice or feel the subtlety of the energetic impact of what we eat until we gave up meat and increased the amount of live foods that we consumed so we could see the difference for ourselves.
The idea of giving up meat cold-turkey (pun intended) scared me. But if there is one thing I’ve learned on my yogic path, it is that if something scares me I am headed in the right direction and that further investigation is necessary before drawing any conclusions or making a decision. 
As I started to root out my fears bit by bit, the first area that surfaced for inspection was my emotional connection to meat through my family of origin. Meat was a part of my psyche and identity as an Italian American. For us, meat was not only a primary source of protein but also one of pride and love. My mother’s meatballs are the stuff of legend; my Grandmother’s meat sauce has been passed down for generations, a rite of passage to be in the kitchen alongside her learning how to make it. To renounce meat would be to renounce them, to look upon my family’s rich tradition as barbaric and outdated.  
I also realized that my love for food and for cooking was heavily rooted in recipes for meat. For us, vegetables were always an afterthought or something meant to be choked down, certainly not enjoyed as a main course.  
As I peeled through the layers of awareness around my food habits I began to uncover hidden truths buried about myself within them. One that surfaced quickly was my emotionally reactive and addictive relationship with food that went far beyond meat. This particular fact was what led me to be 50 pounds heavier than I am today.   
My meals consisted mostly of highly processed foods, contained some fried element and had a super high fat content. My emotions and connection to food went something like this: 
Happiness=celebrate with food
Sadness=comfort yourself with food
Excitement=celebrate with more food than usual
Holiday=Plan entire day around preparing food then gorge yourself on food
Grief or depression=numb yourself with food
I knew I had a problem when I could remember more good meals than the names of acquaintances. I simply did not want to live in a world where pork fat was not a part of my diet. I derived more pleasure from eating bacon than any human should. Eating salad depressed me… you get the picture.
Through the careful practice and study of yoga I finally came to witness the feelings of emptiness and disconnection to my spirit that was driving me to eat the way that I was. I also realized how much my familial conditioning was holding me back from thriving as a healthy adult, and I wanted to be a better model for healthy eating habits for my children. Perhaps I could do the hard work of eating less meat and influence the ones I loved in a positive way.
I knew that I was ready to take the next steps on my path when I had successfully begun to add more and more vegetarian items to my cooking repertoire that didn’t depress me and were actually quite delicious (a shock even to myself) and more days passed before I had a meal with meat.  I was preparing myself for the next stage, my Dharma Yoga LOAY 500 Hour Teacher Training.
When it was time for me to seek out a 500-hour training, it was with careful thought and consideration that I chose Sri Dharma’s program. I knew that it would require a commitment to being a vegetarian for the duration of the training and I was inspired by the depth of devotion that Sri Dharma clearly had to his commitment to being not only vegetarian but mostly vegan. I was also genuinely curious about the energetic implications to what it would mean for me to have no meat for that great a length of time, the longest I would ever go without meat in my life thus far. 
At first, finding alternate replacements for protein was difficult; there was only so many sprouted almonds I could reasonably consume in a day. Once I got into my flow of morning smoothies and making tasty salads with tahini and avocado as suggested in Sri Dharma’s Ahimsa diet, I began to experience what they said about feeling lighter in my body and less disturbed in my mind. I also felt the digestive impact right away. The fresh green juices left me feeling energized and mentally sharper. I found I needed less sleep and that my emotions were more balanced. I was finally feeling something other than overwhelmed by what I initially felt was a restrictive lifestyle.
My family was largely unsupportive, which wound up being the more challenging thing for me to face.  My husband actually felt directly threatened by it, even though I still continued to cook meat dishes for him and our children. My mother and siblings outright taunted me at family gatherings. I stood firm but saw how challenging it would be to holding the diet for the rest of my life if I were to choose to do so once the training and all of my requirements were completed.
After all of my required months of steady diet journals and training, I felt my body (and perhaps mind) asking for meat so I allowed myself the ability to choose and see for myself what would happen to my energy and digestion again. I immediately found that my energy dropped and my digestion was impacted when I ate beef or pork. Chicken and fish seemed to do nothing so long as I watched the quantity and frequency. My decision was clear – beef and pork were officially off my plate (a major victory for cows and pigs everywhere, given how much I used to consume) and I would be greatly limiting the amount of chicken and fish I ate allowing it only when my body really gave me a message for it which is happening less and less frequently.  
I’m also happy to note that my family has backed off their incessant teasing to a certain degree; they are respecting my choices more and more and are even enjoying my creative interpretations to Italian classics such as mushroom “burgers”. They do still get mildly insulted when I turn down the food that they made with love and pride, but they are at least taking it a little less personally which is another victory to say the least.  
The lesson I learned through all of this is that even old habits and ways of being can change – even the strongest ones that you thought were an inextricable part of your being (if you give it enough time and self-reflection). I am gentle enough with myself to know that I will probably be in transition towards total vegetarianism for a while, but I know enough to not speak in absolutes or to attach too strongly to rigid timelines or expectations. Sri Dharma gave me the tools & strength to try, and I feel stronger in my convictions because of it. Life, like yoga, can be a work in progress.
Need some help with your transition? Join us on New Year’s Day for a special asana practice with Sri Dharma Mittra, followed by a FREE film screening of Forks Over Knives (Still have doubts about plant-based eating? This is the film for you.) Plus, free vegan snacks throughout the day, provided by the unbelievably delicious Cinnamon Snail food truck.
Make sure to pre-register for the festivities! 
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Gina Lee has been practicing yoga for ten years, teaching for five, and is the owner of Bearfoot Yoga & Wellness Center in Bay Shore, NY, which opened in May 2012. She is a certified Dharma Yoga Teacher (levels II and III) and a 200-hour level Integral Yoga instructor, as well as a certified Prenatal Yoga teacher. She has two beautiful, energetic sons and enjoys living her yoga in many ways, making her whole life a sadhana (spiritual practice). She enjoys making regular pilgrimages to the Dharma Yoga New York Center with her students in tow, spreading the light of Sri Dharma’s particular brand of yoga far and wide.