The Fan Behind the Flame of Dharma Yoga

By Jerome Burdi   Sri Dharma Mittra isn’t looking for fame and fortune. He teaches out of goodwill and compassion. “If you have a little spiritual knowledge, you should share it,” Sri Dharma often says. “This is the greatest form of charity.” For 50 years, he has done just that. Though Sri Dharma is the flame of knowledge, he needs those around him to spread it. Otherwise, it could be quite easy in today’s oversaturated yoga world for the jewel of Dharma Yoga to be lost. The work of Sri Dharma’s wife and longtime disciple, Eva Grubler, aka Ismrittee Devi Om, is to fan the flame Dharmaji has ignited in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of students throughout the years. “The popularity of yoga hasn’t affected him, but it has affected his classes because there are so many other places to go,” she said. “He lights up when there’s a full house.” EvadancerEva, the daughter of holocaust survivors, grew up in Queens. Before discovering yoga she was a modern dancer, training at Alvin Ailey’s school while he was still alive. She danced with several companies, was a principal dancer in the film Fame, and choreographed her own work in New York City. Eventually she grew weary of the competitive dance world. “I was ready not to be yelled at, and compared to others.” In the 1980s, Eva was in a health food store on the corner of 13th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan where Sri Dharma’s Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures hung on the wall. “I was asking about the person in the poster and the clerk said, ‘That person is the yogi around the corner at 100 West 14th street. He comes in all the time; I can introduce you.’” Eva found her way up the tall stairs into Sri Dharma’s Yoga Asana Center and fell deep into the practice ever since her first class. “It was amazing,” she said. “He had a beautiful red soft plush carpet. There were no yoga mats at the time. You needed to bring a towel, or a shawl in my case, to spread over your spot. It felt like you were in a loving womb in the lush temple space he created.” Yoga was not popular and certainly not as physically challenging as it is today. Most of Sri Dharma’s students were middle-aged people and dancers who came to practice daily with him. Sri Dharma charged as little as $2 a class. Teachers from other yoga schools came daily to study with him and many of his students went on to teach and open their own schools. “He was known as the only one who gave the advanced postures,” Eva said. “The sensibility is still similar to how he teaches today but it was even kinder and gentler. Everything felt like you were just contained in yourself.” Sri Dharma was quiet and humble, as he is today, but had yet to share the sense of humor his current students also love him for. As yoga grew in popularity in the late 90s and 2000s, many of Sri Dharma’s students rose to fame but Dharmaji wasn’t getting recognition for his hard work, Eva said. Mainly because he is so humble and would never think of going after it. When yoga teacher trainings became popular, students who studied with him for years asked him to run a program to certify them. So, Eva worked to establish a teacher training program for Sri Dharma so his students did EVA WHEEL copynot have to go elsewhere. In 1999, the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Certification program was finally established. “Krishna Das used to chant at the center often and said, ‘I’ll be at Dharma’s.’” Eva said. “So I said it’s time to have the Dharma name on it. I was amazed when Dharma agreed.” “Whatever notoriety Sri Dharma has, we worked hard to make sure he’s out there. He’s ashamed to even charge today’s prices for class. I said, ‘But how can you be any less than what new teachers are charging?’ That’s why he always makes the class longer.” Eva recalled visiting Sri Dharma’s guru, Swami Kailashananda, for meditation classes and lectures and sometimes bringing her and Sri Dharma’s two children. “It was always wonderful to sit under the vibrant rays of the guru,” she said. “Sri Dharma is the energizer battery that continues the work of his guru, day in and day out, for a half century now. “You can still sit in his classes today and hear a man filled with wisdom trying to inspire each person in the room to become better human beings and understand Ahimsa – non-cruelty, especially to all animals, through becoming a vegan.” Eva would like to see the lineage continue. “Our trained teachers sprouting out of the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Certification become a conduit for their teacher, Dharma Mittra, and will pass on his work and legacy to generations of people in times to come.”     Jerome Burdi is a Brooklyn native who discovered yoga during a shamanic retreat in Brazil in 2010. Since then, he’s been enveloped by the path of the yogi. He left his job as a newspaper journalist to go to Rishikesh, India, and become a yoga teacher. Upon returning to NYC, he discovered Dharma Yoga and has been hooked. Though Jerome grew up in NY, he had to go to India to come back and see Sri Dharma with clear eyes and to hear the truth that is Dharma Yoga. Jerome is also a Middle Eastern style percussionist and holistic nutritionist

Jerome Burdi is a Brooklyn native who discovered yoga during a shamanic retreat in Brazil in 2010. Since then, he’s been enveloped by the path of the yogi. He left his job as a newspaper journalist to go to Rishikesh, India, and become a yoga teacher. Upon returning to NYC, he discovered Dharma Yoga and has been hooked. Though Jerome grew up in NY, he had to go to India to come back and see Sri Dharma with clear eyes and to hear the truth that is Dharma Yoga.
Jerome is also a Middle Eastern style percussionist and holistic nutritionist