Friday, March 29, 2013

~Teacher Profile of the Month~

Chikako Mizokami

Chikako teaches Dharma II on Tuesday & Thursday mornings, 10:30 – 11:45 AM.

1.    Where were you born?
CM: Japan!

2.  What do you do when you don’t teach yoga?
CM: Practice yoga off the mat. I believe yoga is a living science and it comes fully alive when we integrate the teachings into our everyday life.

3.  What are three things that are always in your fridge?
CM: My photographer friend said my fridge is a farmer's market; she was amused and took pictures.

4.  What is your favorite vegetarian restaurant in the area?
CM: It was Kajitsu until recently, but now I have to find my new favorite.

5.  What is one practice you must do every single day?
CM: Connect and give gratitude to our divine mother, Gaia. We are all stewards of the Earth.

Chikako met Sri Dharma Mittra in 2007, and according to her, he inspired her commitment to the overall practice and lifestyle of yoga. She never really thought she would teach, being quite shy typically, but for her the process has unfolded quite naturally. As a student in her class, one would never guess that she ever had any hesitations about teaching.

She is greatly inspired by healing, as well as the transformations she has witnessed in students – especially those who begin to incorporate meditation, pranayama, and Yoga Nidra into their lives consistently. While the goal of yoga may be Self-Realization, she also recognizes that the path helps us examine our tendencies and unfold our individual dharma (meaning our highest purpose, or most authentic life path).

For Chikako, the practices of yoga are like a roadmap that helps us find our true selves. In her words, they are “like the most high-tech GPS you can imagine – like a celestial GPS; instead of going through the satellite, it goes right to the source”. This is the main thing she hopes to give her students – a deeper sense of connection to their Supreme Self.

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

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 Gita is 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 Gita in 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's concept of “synchronicity” hinges on belief in the ultimate "Oneness" of the universe), and science. For example, in modern physics, the four dimensional space-time concept of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also exhibits Oneness, which in Stephen Hawking’s words is: “Space and time not only affect, but also are affected by, everything that happens in the universe.”

In our daily and mostly unexamined lives we mostly live in darkness, maya, brought about by Prakriti, or base nature. We are unable or unwilling to lift the veil of ignorance (avidya) and recognize the true state of things. There is a right path of action (dharma) which creates equilibrium when discovered and embraced. We are all the product of the actions in past lives and these determine our balance of gunas.

Recognizing how the three gunas (rajas, sattva and tamas) combine to influence the way we live is an important step in creating balance. If rajasic, one may be driven by lust and passions that lead to attachment and anger and can poison the chance for liberation and happiness.  If tamasic, one may welcome delusion and may be too lazy to work towards ones best interest. Only in a sattvic state can we be truly peaceful and balanced. The three gunas are reflected in the way we think and act, including what we eat and how we speak. To break the cycle of death and rebirth on the wheel of Samsara, our actions (Karma) must be conscious, but not predicated on the results.

There is a universe of potent ideas, significance and meaning in the Gita, most of which I am sure I have not even fully grasped! For example, in Chapter 11 when Krishna reveals to Arjuna his true form through temporary divine sight, I too am overwhelmed by what I begin to see in the Gita. Unlike Arjuna, I am not terrified. The Gita is a tremendous guide for a peaceful, healthy and liberated life and most certainly a life-long study.

Arin Farrington will graduate from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 200-hour teaching training in May and hopes to continue with the LOAY 500-hour training this fall. She currently lives in Mexico City, where she is a university professor and freelance writer. Fifteen years ago, a doctor advised yoga for back pain (from poor alignment), and she never looked back—or suffered back pain again. Over the years, she has practiced varied styles and studied with different teachers, all of which have led to Sri Dharma Mittra.

Friday, March 15, 2013

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 Frau is 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:

Nicole Sopko (Gopi Om) is a Dharma Yoga teacher living in Chicago, IL where she teaches Dharma 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.

Friday, March 8, 2013

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!

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! 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

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 you and 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 pranayama and 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.

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.