Friday, May 31, 2013

Dharma Yoga Across The US

Q & A with Dharma Yoga teachers in the US...

This week: Monica Breen
– Detroit, Michigan  

By Nicole Sopko

Monica Breen is a lovely Dharma Yoga teacher who is also an artist in the Detroit-area. Her yoga studio is called BE NICE Yoga which was named in tribute to Sri Dharma Mittra’s emphasis on the first ethical rule of yoga, Ahimsa, instructing students to “just be nice.”

Where do you live?
I live in Hamtramck, Michigan, which is a little city of only two square miles, surrounded by the city of Detroit. It is probably the most culturally diverse community in Michigan, strongly represented by Polish, Arab, Indian, Yugoslav, Bangladeshi, and African American people. I'm grateful for my community! I live in an old Baptist Church (the former First Baptist Church of Hamtramck) with my husband and two rescued cats.

Which LOAY trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?
I completed the LOAY 200-hour training in 2005. I was inspired by my immediate connection to Sri Dharma's teachings, which I felt after I dropped into one of his classes at the old studio on East 23rd Street. I returned to Michigan and continued to think about our meeting and I realized that the LOAY training had the potential to be a unique experience. I was correct!

I really responded to Dharma’s strong emphasis on the spiritual aspects of practice and its intersection with the sciences. In addition, Sri Dharma shares so many great and funny stories and it’s coupled with practical advice! His emphasizes on compassion, especially for animals is important as we enter into the seat of a teacher in our community.

How have the people you met in the training inspired you?
Our group was quite diverse with individuals from many different cities, countries, and backgrounds. I was impressed with the strong yoga asana! I made great strides with my postures by being immersed in the group, and at the same time I was completely humbled.

What is one practice that you do every day?
Seated meditation.

What are you currently working on?
I operate a little yoga studio in Detroit by the name of BE NICE Yoga. As a subsidiary of the studio we launched Project Social which is a program of events and activities which are developed by and for the community. The idea is to allow a space for the community to share and "test" knowledge and life practices which have been discovered or enhanced through the practice of yoga.

I think of Project Social as a lab where the studio community can bring their healthy and unique interests into a larger, social context. An example of a Project Social event is our upcoming Silent Nature Walk which we hope will serve to help us better appreciate nature and to investigate the intersection of ecology and yoga – all while forming stronger social bonds in our community.

Project Social aspires to many outcomes: to create interconnection between our practice and community, to be a platform for political and social exchange, to open a forum for sharing information that relates to health and well-being, and to deepen friendships within and beyond our yoga community. So far the response has been great!

How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY teacher training program affected your life outside of training?
From the program I learned that a strong and fulfilling lifestyle develops from the rigors and discipline of continued practice. With consistency and determination the division between practice and life all but disappears. Dharma helped me establish a holistic practice that includes a healthy spirituality, which is no less real or important as a healthy body or a healthy mind.

Can you share a little about your current teaching schedule?
I instruct 13 classes a week, mostly asana but include pranayama and meditation in many of my classes. My overriding philosophy is that we must meet our practice with a balance of determination and compassion. We must also be consistent. Practice evolves on a schedule that is very different than anything else we experience in our life and its timeline is much longer than I believe we really understand. I am always surprised along the way at how much I have learned and how little I actually know.

What books are you currently reading or studying?
I was just gifted the book How Yoga Works by Christie McNally and Michael Roach and I'm very excited to read it. And as always, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali...

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, May 24, 2013

Ten Tips for New Teachers…

by Jason Zagaro

As you grow as a yoga teacher, you realize there is a lot more happening during a “typical” class than you may have first realized.  

When I first began teaching, my main concerns were: (1) avoiding injuries and (2) timing - how in the world was I going to fill 75 minutes? 

Time is usually something that consumes the mind of a novice teacher  - we think too much and too fast, speak too fast, move too fast...  

Patience is a virtue as a teacher and it gets developed over time. You cannot please everyone in class. Stay true to yourself; be creative but don’t stray too far from your wheelhouse. Eventually your composure, personality, structure and experience will take over as a teacher.  

The following are ten teaching tips that I have discovered over the years of being a yoga instructor:

1. Keep it simple. 
Don’t try and be the best yoga teacher on the planet and remember everything they taught you in your training. If Sanskrit words come naturally and you feel comfortable using them, then do so. Otherwise, work on filling your time and watching the room so people don’t get injured. 

2. Decide what level of preparation is your preferred method. 
Some teachers have no idea what pose is coming next. Some teachers have the class scripted to the T. Some even sequence the entire class set to the music they play. Many teachers just teach on a whim, spontaneously reacting to who is in the room. A good teacher teaches to the level of the room.

 3. Bad music is more of a factor than good music.
If the music is “bad” or inappropriate for a yoga class, it can really dampen or ruin the class. Everybody remembers a teacher who plays awful music and it can even deter the students from going back to that class. My first teacher in college had one CD and for three years he played the same CD in every class. The CD was Krishna Das' Pilgrim Heart, which was my first introduction to kirtan. I remember my first year training with him and I thought, “This music is awful!” After constantly hearing the same songs over and over, my frame of mind finally adjusted and I began to like the CD. If I hear Pilgrim Heart being played in a yoga studio now, I get flashbacks to that time in my life. Some lineages of yoga don’t have music at all; they want you to work on calming the mind, which means no distractions from your asana class.  

4. Be grateful to your students for coming to class.
I am always grateful to everyone who comes to take my class, even if some don’t follow the code of asana class perfectly. The fact that people would pay their hard earned money, drive to the studio, part from their families or home life for a period of time to listen to what I have to say and be guided by me as a teacher really makes me feel grateful.  

5. Set the guidelines for conduct in your classes.
As teachers, we are trained, and most of us practice, patience and understanding. We understand no one is perfect-- including ourselves as yoga teachers! Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to set the code of conduct for the class. Some teachers will tell me about students not acting appropriately and I always ask them if they discussed the problem with the student. Sometimes students are not being disrespectful, it is that they just don’t know the parameters of the class.  It is our job as teachers to educate them.  

6. Encourage Your Students to Practice Away from Class.
As teachers, we have instincts that grow over time. We can usually tell who has a solid home practice.  

 7. Help you students overcome their fears.
If your students have a lot of fears, practicing asana is a great way to work on those fears. As teachers we love to help those who are fearful about poses to overcome that fear. It is a process where we build the courage to take the first step, and then proceed from there.

8. Celebrate when a student achieves a pose.
If someone has been working on a pose and he or she finally gets it in the class, the teacher is just as excited as the student. To work so hard at something and then finally achieve that goal is such a rewarding concept.

 9. Pay some, but not too much, attention to your numbers.
As yoga teachers we care about bringing people to our classes and pleasing the owner of the studio where we are teaching. Numbers are not important in the concept of yoga, but revenue is part of the reality of teaching yoga today.

10. Don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate it all.
In the end, you’ve created a peaceful environment for the students and introduced the beauty of yoga and watched it transform lives. When the class is moving as one, as one heartbeat, and the students are moving in sync, take a moment to stand back and experience the gratitude of being a part of the peaceful unity that is occurring during the class. 


Jason Zagaro graduated from the 500-Hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in March 2013. He's been studying Yoga tradition and philosophy for over eighteen years. Yoga has been the most wonderful experience that he has ever come across in his life. He started his training in 1995 with Ashtanga Yoga at the college that he attended, and later began to study and practice various forms of Hatha Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Integral Yoga and decided to become a certified Sivananda Yoga Teacher. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Yoga’s Little Secret: Pranayama

by Melody Abella

 “…the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled.  This is pranayama.”  sutra 2.49
Pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Outside of the yoga world, no one talks about fully dedicating attention to your breath unless you’re hyperventilating or experience some other health issue like pneumonia or asthma.  Even then, in my limited experience, the medical world rarely knows what the power of conscious breathing has to offer.

To the general population of non-yogis, yoga is typically only associated with physical movements/poses (asana).  Don’t get me wrong.  Yoga asana offers a ton of benefits such as improving balance and coordination, increasing strength and flexibility and boosting confidence and concentration.  There are many, many reasons to do it.  And in most asana classes, breathing is usually mentioned and encouraged but it tends to be secondary in the minds of many students (at least those newer to asana).

Pranayama (breath control) is really the heart and soul of yoga, just as breathing (the exchange of oxygen and carbon-dioxide) is essential to keeping our hearts pumping and blood flowing.  The benefits of exploring pranayama can be as grand as easing high blood pressure and asthmatic symptoms to as simple as cleansing the body and calming the mind.

There are numerous pranayama techniques, each having their own specific function and benefit.  For instance:
·        Kapalabhati cleanses the lungs, warms the body and tones the abdominal muscles. 
·        Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) has a calming and balancing effect on the nervous system. 
·        Sound breathing improves concentration and can positively shift your energy (i.e. awakening the chakras). 

For details on some of these techniques, check out The Science of Pranayama.  If the techniques I’ve mentioned sound too esoteric (which I get!), Max Strom’s Learn to Breathe DVD might be your speed.

My current fav:  Calming Breath.  Why?  It’s easy.  Anyone can do it.  Plus, it can be done anywhere, anytime. 

Simple instructions:  
  • Work with a 4:2:4 breathing ratio for a few weeks (5-10 minutes a day). 
  • This means inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 4.  
  • As this gets easy, you can increase the ratio to 6:3:6, or 8:4:8.  
  • Don’t be too ambitious.  Remember it’s called calming breath so more doesn’t mean better.
Again in my mind, pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Trust me, this  blog post here really doesn’t do it justice!  Explore it for yourself.  Read up on it.  Find a yoga teacher who can guide you and answer your questions.  And just like asana, practice it daily.


Passionate about sharing the power of yoga & its transformational benefits, Melody Abella founded a mobile yoga business (abellaYoga) in 2006. abellaYoga travels to corporate and private clients in Washington, D.C., Alexandria and Arlington, VA to teach yoga in homes, offices, hotels, and conference centers. Grateful for experiences gained in the telecom/tech corporate world, this ex-marketing yoga-chick is happy to share all she knows about yoga. Believing through discipline and devotion we have the power within to make positive changes in our bodies, lives and this world, Melody teaches her students “anything is possible”. Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says you must have “angry determination.” Melody received her 500-hour Dharma Yoga Teacher certification in May 2012. She continues to hop the train from DC to NYC monthly to practice with Sri Dharma Mittra at the Dharma Yoga New York Center.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ten Ways to Establish a Home Practice

By Jessica Gale

Moving to a new city and being short on cash, I realized it was time to establish my home practice. I was spoiled for the last 3 years with CNY Yoga Center (Dharma Yoga) in Syracuse, New York, literally down the street from me. However, last May after finishing my Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training, I knew it was now or never.

After almost a year, I find myself at a happy medium. I enjoy my solitary practice and it’s become a habit in my life. I’m still far from the ideal practice I have envisioned in my mind, but I’m satisfied with the direction it’s going in. 

Here is what I learned:  

1.     Have clear goals

Why do you want to establish your own self practice? What sets it apart from your classes? What do you want to learn? Having defined reasons and goals before setting out helps you keep yourself focused and motivated.

2.    Practice even if you don’t have the ideal space

I like to practice in quiet, but sometimes my partner comes home earlier than expected. Sometimes the kids in the downstairs apartment are screaming. Sometimes it’s extremely hot in my apartment in the summer. These are not excuses. They are challenges.  Don’t make your practice so sacred there is no room for regular life to come in. Strive for a quiet, peaceful, and comfortable space to practice in, but take what comes in stride.

3.     Hold poses for three counts longer

Because you’re not in class, waiting for the teacher to make adjustments before the next pose, it is easy to speed through your practice. Slow down, breathe, and take at least three extra counts.

4.    Change up your routine

Although repetition can be an important part of yoga, boredom is a quick way to make quitting a new goal all the easier. There are literally hundreds of yoga poses and their variations, dozens of breathing techniques, and several mantras & meditations Dharma Yoga offers. All of these offer different benefits. Depending on your abilities you may be limited to certain poses, but there are still ways to change things up to offset tedium.

5.     Don’t forget pranayama and meditation

When time is short and you’re trying to fit in your practice, don’t skip breathing exercises and meditation! With yoga, we sometimes get so caught up in all the poses that we forget the incredible benefits of the other limbs. I like to remind myself what the ultimate goal of yoga is—stillness and union. Pranayama and meditation are essential to that final goal.

6.    Keep your mat by your side

I try to always bring my yoga mat with me when I travel. Sometimes it’s hard to find time and a space. Sometimes you’re surrounded by people. However, I look at this as an opportunity to share yoga with others by including family and friends in my practice, even just for sun salutations. They are likely curious what you’re up to—this is a great chance and a way to fit in your practice.

7.     Add yoga practice to your exercise routine

I took up running recently and find that yoga and running complement each other very well. They particularly fit together in my exercise routine.  Consider how you can include your asana into your other exercise. I find that a post run yoga practice is perfect for me.

8.    Do something, not nothing

If you have an hour—practice. Thirty minutes—practice. Fifteen—practice. Five—practice. Even a few sun salutations, a breathing exercise, and sitting quiet for a moment can be beneficial.

9.    It’s okay if you miss one day—just don’t let it become habit

Sometimes my day passes so swiftly, I realize I forgot to practice yoga. Sometimes things will be really crazy and I’ll miss two or three days. The important thing is I try not to let that become a habit. The more days pass between your last and your next self practice—the harder it will be to pick it up again.

10.                         Remember ahimsa, have compassion for yourself

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you run out of time or are simply too exhausted. Start the next day afresh and enjoy the time you do have to practice yoga.

Jessica Gale has practiced yoga for nine years and studied Ashtanga, Kripalu and Dharma Yoga during this time. She spent the last three years studying intensely at CNY Yoga (Dharma Yoga) in Syracuse, New York and completed her LOAY 200-hour teacher training at the Dharma Yoga New York Center in May 2012. She is currently completing her internship hours and hopes to achieve full certification soon. Jessica lives in Toronto with her husband and is pursuing a career in environmental work along with flower farming, garden design, and, of course, yoga.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Healing Powers of Yoga

By Barb Cooper

I tell everyone who asks that yoga has been a healing miracle for me.

In 2007, I had reconstructive foot surgery. Something – no one knows quite what – went wrong during the surgery and I was left in increasingly excruciating, chronic pain, eventually unable to leave the couch, for more than three years. It was awful. I'm on the other side of that pain now and it's hard to describe exactly how terrible it was. Let me just say that I was so desperate for relief that I looked into elective amputation, among other things. (It turns out that we don't do elective amputation in this country. I'm pretty glad of that now, but at the time I was distraught.)

It's not that my doctors weren't trying to find something to give me relief. I had so many steroid shots that I developed a bleeding hole in my retina. "I'm afraid this may just be as a good as it gets," said my podiatrist as he handed me a form to submit for a handicapped parking permit. On it, he had checked the box for "permanent disability."

And then, I'm still not sure why, I got off the couch and made my way to a Dharma I class taught at the martial arts studio where my daughter took taekwondo. It seems an unlikely setting for a miracle, but that's exactly what it was. It wasn't just that the physical asana practice allowed me to regain the suppleness in my foot that was necessary in order to walk without pain.  It was also that, for the first time in my life, I had found something that allowed me to live in my body, in my brain, and in my spirit all at the same time.

Some changes in my life were immediate. As soon as I began to have stretches of time without pain, I began to notice and eliminate anything that took the edge off of my joy.  So I stopped drinking alcohol and weaned off of the lobotomizing anti-depressants I was taking. I grew stronger. I lost weight. Eventually, I needed harder and more yoga classes than I could find at the martial arts studio, so my teacher took me to HIS local yoga teacher, who was also trained by Sri Dharma Mittra. (This one act epitomizes the generosity and love I have found pervasive in the yogis I have met who are associated with Sri Dharma Mittra.) At the new studio, I found my current practice. I stopped eating meat and then became a vegan, and eventually went through the Life of a Yogi 200-Hour teacher training at the Dharma Yoga Center in New York City. I'm now finishing up my requirements to be certified as a teacher, because I'm pretty sure that when you are given a miracle, you're supposed to share it.
Yoga has transformed my life in ways I never thought possible. It has not only healed me physically, but it has given me a new way of being in the world.

I'm not the only one. Recently, the International Journal of Yoga published a paper compiling research on the therapeutic benefits of yoga on various conditions, both mental and physical.

"Therapeutic yoga is defined as the application of yoga postures and practice to the treatment of health conditions and involves instruction in yogic practices and teachings to prevent, reduce, or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional and spiritual pain, suffering or limitations. Results from this study show that yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life."

In another article published in Yoga Journal, medical editor Timothy McCall, MD, compiled 38 ways that yoga can positively affect one's health, concluding:

"This is one of the great lessons of yoga: Everything is connected—your hipbone to your anklebone, you to your community, your community to the world. This interconnection is vital to understanding yoga. This holistic system simultaneously taps into many mechanisms that have additive and even multiplicative effects. This synergy may be the most important way of all that yoga heals."

Studies providing scientific evidence of the healing power of yoga have been around for decades, but our Western culture has been slow to embrace them. 

"There's a common perception in the minds of conventional scientists: Yoga is either trivialized as something for cosmetic purposes to slim your butt, or it's perceived as a goofy, New Agey, 'out there' kind of practice," says Sat Bir Khalsa, assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. "If you can find a pill that fixes something, that's golden. Everybody wants that. What's not sexy is the stuff that makes the most sense—lifestyle research. And yoga is really all about changing your lifestyle." Although progress is being made, he says, it is slow. Of the 46,000 large projects currently funded by the National Institutes of Health, fewer than 10 involve yoga.

While Western science isn't rushing to prove the healing benefits of yoga, yoga practitioners are reaching out for the information on their own. A significant number of the attendees at the recent Life of a Yogi 200-Hour teacher training weren't there in order to become teachers - many were already certified in other styles and had been teaching for years - but instead, had enrolled in the program to deepen their own practices and to understand the lifestyle and yogic rituals of Sri Dharma Mittra. Sri Dharma is a very humble, gentle man with an essence of something much larger, of a purpose bigger than he is. Inner peace is his default way of being in the world. People gravitate to that naturally as an antidote to their current frenetic lifestyles.

I see it in the Dharma I classes that I am teaching, too.  People are finding their way to yoga almost instinctively, a number of them hoping that they will find healing for their physical issues, and an even greater number seeking respite from the increasingly chaotic and stressful world in which we live. The lack of inner turmoil and ego, and the connectedness to a deeply spiritual practice, are things that attract seekers of a different way of life to the traditions of Dharma Yoga. 

As for me, yoga healed my body and continues to heal my spirit.  Which, in the end, may be the true miracle in my life.

Barb Cooper is a 48-year-old mother of two girls, a Texas-to-New York transplant, and a writer by nature and training. She completed the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi  Teacher Training program with Sri Dharma Mittra in February 2013, and is currently working on fulfilling the requirements for certification. She is healthier, and happier, than at any other time in her life.