Friday, June 28, 2013

Dharma Yoga Abroad

Q & A with Dharma Yoga Teachers around the World…

 This week: Gail Super in Cape Town, South Africa

By Nicole Sopko

Gail Super is a Dharma Yoga teacher and student who lives in beautiful South Africa. She says, “I am constantly amazed by how deep this practice of yoga is. I lead a really busy life and have many family responsibilities but my daily yoga practice allows me to cope with all of this. I am deeply grateful to Sri Dharma Mittra for his teachings and to the universe for leading me to his classes.”

Where do you live and teach?
I live in Cape Town with my 14 year old daughter, one dog, two kitties, and lots of baby geckos.

I am teaching Dharma I from my home in Vredehoek, Cape Town. I created a beautiful studio in a downstairs room and I teach on a Tuesday evening from 6-7 pm. I plan on adding more classes and also to teach some workshops.

The name of the studio is Dharma Yoga Cape Town. My cats love to join me in my practice in the studio!

Which Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?
I completed the LOAY 200-hour training. I used to live in NYC and fell in love with Sri Dharma after taking my first class with him on my 40th birthday. I started to attend his noon class every day. Unfortunately, a year later I had to return to South Africa. Doing the teacher training was a way for me to spend more time with Sri Dharma; steeping myself more deeply in the teachings and hopefully spreading his light.

Have the people you met during your training inspired you?
I met the most amazing people in the LOAY training. They have become lifelong friends and they have inspired me to read more of the scriptures and to spread the teachings.

What is one practice that you do every day?
Asana, pyschic development, pranayama and just sitting...every day.

How has your experience in the LOAY program affected your life outside of training?
I started to read more of the scriptures, started to develop a daily practice of psychic development and pranayama and I transitioned to a raw/live food way of life.

Do you have another job?
Yes. I am currently working on my postdoctoral research on punishment in South Africa at the University of Cape Town. My book “Governing through Crime in South Africa, the politics of race and class in neoliberalizing regimes” is about to be published!

What are you currently reading/studying?
I am reading the Yoga Vasisthasa as a well as Martin Amis' latest book (a novel).

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, June 21, 2013

When Yoga and Technology Meet

by Deanna Aliano

©Jeffrey Vock

As I sit here, checking my email on my computer, responding to a Facebook post on my phone and listening to music on my iPod, I am reminded of how much life has changed over the past decade. 

It wasn’t that long ago that most people didn’t have cell phones or iPods, and I can still remember when the Internet was the new big thing. Social networking hadn’t even occurred to anyone and we actually had to use a CD Rom of an encyclopedia for research.

Times change and the way we do things has to change, too. How does all this change and advancement affect our ancient practice of yoga? I guess it depends on your perspective.  

The internet, with all its social media sites and continuous distractions, has been touted by many as the evil downfall of society. It’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming sea of information and chatter. Marriages have ended, new ways of bullying have developed and many people have been coaxed online to do things they normally wouldn’t do in public, all while spending time on the Internet. 

But, with all its negatives, there have been many positives. Just as bad information is out there, so is good:

· You can go online at any time and find articles on yoga, both spiritual and physical.

· You can research religious ideas such as Hinduism or Buddhism, finding out why most practitioners choose not to eat meat or how they go about their meditation practices.

· You can research veganism and find a plethora of recipes and articles on the best ways to go about it.

· You can even find support on your spiritual or health-related paths, and friends to chat with and commiserate with when your journey goes through a difficult patch.

· There are movies to watch at the click of the button, showing you how others have managed on their paths.

· There are book reviews, podcasts and radio shows about every aspect of yoga imaginable.

· You can even find online online video practices with Sri Dharma Mittra himself!

For some, afraid to venture into a yoga classroom because they can’t yet touch their toes, this provides a safe way to start practicing. 

On Twitter and Facebook, there are multitudes of people spreading positive words and photos reminding you why yoga is so wonderful. Many people post photos of yoga poses, which leads to inspiration for many yogis, like me, to get to the mat.

Most yoga studios now have websites, Facebook, and Twitter accounts that you can follow to be reminded of upcoming classes, events and even just to spread the word of some wonderful things taking place in the studio. It builds a sense of community so you still feel like part of it, even when you can’t make it to class.  

It’s really not just the Internet that makes technology a positive development for yoga. Most yoga teachers use an iPod to play the background music for their classes; many often finding new music to introduce to students, furthering the artistic endeavors of their favorite performers and adding variety to their classes. Some teachers may keep class notes on their iPad so they can remember to share all the information in a lecture, or perhaps a reading they thought particularly useful to the class.

I’ve recently stumbled across a meditation app that has proved quite useful. The app has a timer that can be easily set to go off only at the end of your session or at intervals during your practice. I’ve used it on my own and in classes, instructing to practice pranayama until the first gong, followed by meditation after that.  

Of course, there are downfalls to technology. I have witnessed students bringing their phones into class, hoping to check their email in the middle of a vinyasa flow. It happens so often that I often wonder if there is a Phonecheckasana… It’s a distraction, which is something yoga is supposed to help us stay away from.

One positive thing about the technological distractions is that there is more of a need for people to find a physical place to connect... to belong. I believe this is why many yoga studios are enjoying increased class sizes and repeat business. People crave that place where they can feel comfortable in their own skin again, where they feel respected by themselves and others, free from judgment. 

All in all, yoga may benefit greatly from the changes in technology as long as the practitioners can find a way to keep it from becoming a constant distraction from their practice. With the help of all the yogis out there trying to spread the joys of yoga, I’m sure it will be a wonderful thing!

Deanna has been exposed to many different styles of yoga and has recently taken the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training with Sri Dharma Mittra in New York City. Being a certified Pilates instructor, massage therapist, and fitness trainer, Deanna never thought she would find her higher self in a "fitness" class, but she did and has never looked back. She has developed Artasana workshops, exploring creativity through the art of yoga. She spends her time off the mat writing, illustrating yogis and enjoying her children at the New Jersey Shore.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Five Ways To Detox Your Thoughts

by Sorsha Anderson

Most of us have an idea how to detox our bodies:  eating right, exercising and juicing or fasting.  But how do we detoxify our thoughts and thought process?  In much the same way: by choosing which thoughts to feast on and which to pass up.

Think of your mind as a giant store that is stocked with unlimited food.  Further realize that this store is stocked in part by the world outside which is filled with unhealthy influences.  No matter what our intentions, our store is not always the health food store we would like it to be.  The good news is that no matter what state our store is in, we can examine carefully each item that we take off of the shelf and choose whether or not to put it into our cart.

Try the steps below:

  • Understand that you are not your thoughts. 
Just as the food in your cart may belong to you, it is not you. The same is true with thought.  Thoughts are a product of the mind, the mind is a tool of the self, but it is not the self.  As Sri Dharma Mittra explains, “the mind is powerful, it loves its pleasure. It will throw you down! But you are not the mind.”   

He continues with this analogy:  the higher self resting in the body is akin to a driver in a car.  If you are driving the car and the brakes fail and you are having trouble with the electrical system, you are having trouble with the car, but you are not the car.  Next: 

©Jeffrey Vock

  • Observe your thoughts
This can be done very simply in a short period of time.  Pick a quiet time during the day, or even as you lay down before sleep at night.  Close your eyes and observe the thoughts that come into your mind.  Do not engage the thoughts, do not dialogue with the thought or practice arguments in your head…just watch the thoughts come up and then let them go.  Even five minutes at a time will help introduce you to your thought patterns and begin to give you the sense of the ‘observer,’ your higher self watching the thoughts.  It will give you an excellent idea of what shape your store is in.  Is it a health food store or a 7-eleven?
  • Don’t fear your thoughts.
Even if after some observation you notice negative patterns, keep calm.   Everyone experiences negative thoughts.  You cannot help the thoughts that float through your mind.  Remember, they are thoughts only and they are not you.  You can begin to control your thoughts by using your discrimination.  You do not have to validate every thought that comes into your mind any more than you have to buy unhealthy food every time you enter the store.  If a troublesome or unhelpful thought arises, ask first, “Is this thought compassionate? Is it compassionate to myself, to my friends, to the world?”  If it is, engage the thought and let it tell its story.  If not then let it go; leave it on the shelf.  Leave room in the mind for something worthy.  As Sri Dharma Mittra says, “Cultivate compassion, the rest will come.”
  • Strike a pose!
Try tree pose, with the eyes closed. No matter how observant and vigilant we become, all of us have trouble at times releasing negative thoughts. If the mind is stuck in a difficult place, give it something else to concentrate on.  Vrksasana, can be done almost anywhere, any corner of any room, even a bathroom stall at work.  Stand in tree, feel your standing foot on the ground and close your eyes.  Tell your mind, ‘Nothing changes here; I am simply lowering my eyelids.’  The mind may fight; it may panic as the eyes close and it loses the visual horizon; but remember, you are the driver.  Use the breath, feel yourself in space; imagine you are simply a tree in the dark.  The mind will start to understand that it does in fact know where it is in space without visual reassurance.  It will begin to settle. The worrisome detail the mind would not relinquish may suddenly dissolve in the moonlight!


  • Count to ten – upside down.
In addition to the physical benefits of inverting the body, the mind greatly benefits as well.  One of the elements of inversions that hooked me early on was the instantaneous quieting of the mind.  If the mind won’t stop, if it becomes filled with obsessive thoughts and won’t let go, dump it out!  Turn your cart upside down, empty it out and start again.  The mind will begin to concentrate on not falling over and start to let go of everything else.  Something about going upside down is also reminiscent of being a kid again.  We physically recall a time when we felt fearless and invincible and our mood instantly elevates. 

You are not your thoughts, but thoughts are energy and the vibration of that energy affects our mood, our state of being and our physical body.  Next time you are revamping your diet because the body is calling out for a change, also take stock of the contents of the mind.  Choose to leave those uncompassionate, un-helpful thoughts on the shelf, and over time, your store may stop stocking them altogether.


Sorsha lives and teaches in Vermont.  She has been practicing since 1991 and worked with very gentle and restorative yoga until her 30's when she wandered into a hot and sweaty, but meditative vinyasa studio.  Neither a dancer nor gymnast as a child, and after having had two children, she surprised herself by balancing in crow for the first time at 36.  She never looked back.  Sorsha approaches each new pose with a sense of optimism and adventure and delights in encouraging others to try what only seems impossible at first glance.  She particularly enjoys teaching older women who are trying to find their way back to their bodies after a sometimes very long absence.  Sorsha is thankful to have found her way to the Dharma Yoga Center and makes the trip from Vermont as often as she can.  She offers gratitude for the beautiful physical and spiritual teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Coming Home

By Barb Cooper

“Welcome home,” I thought as I walked through the door of the Dharma Yoga Center (DYC) to attend the graduation ceremony for the Life of a Yogi teacher training program. “Welcome home.”

©Natasha Phillips

Although I live on Long Island, I hadn’t been back to the DYC since my training ended in early March.  Life as a householder seemed to perpetually intervene as I struggled to complete all of the requirements for graduation while maintaining my own daily practice.  But as soon as I walked through the doors, I felt like a weary traveler coming home after a long time away. The atmosphere of the DYC was exactly as I remembered it - serene and quietly spiritual.  Just being there unties all of the knots I have inside.

Sri Dharma Mittra taught a Master Sadhana at noon, and seemed pleased by the number of graduates who had invited their families to class.  He seemed to delight especially in the children, pausing briefly once or twice to bend a seemingly boneless child into an advanced posture - and then grinning at the rest of us as he acknowledged how effortless it was for her. 

I watched him and reflected on the joy he brings to each encounter.  As a newly minted yoga instructor, I paid close attention to the way he taught, trying to learn from the master.  I saw him do something I have seen him do before and marveled at each time. It is difficult to describe, but it seems to me that he, without any fanfare or fuss, takes in the collective energy of the room  - the various physical ability levels and varying levels of spiritual knowledge - and then he lifts everyone up beyond their own best level. It is astonishing, but goes largely unremarked upon.  People just know that something special is happening in each class taught by Sri Dharma, even if they don’t know quite what it is.

That same spirit was evident as the graduation ceremony began.  First an hour of Satsang and Kirtan, and then Sri Dharma bestowed the certificates on the graduates.

©Natasha Phillips

Afterwards, he spoke with his customary wisdom and humor about the yoga teacher training.  “The teacher training is like a course in self realization because all of the spiritual knowledge - the highest spiritual knowledge - is imparted to you.  And then automatically, even in ten days, everybody will change completely. “  I know this to be true from my own experience.  When I came back from my training, I was surprised people even recognized me - I felt utterly transformed.

©Natasha Phillips

Sri Dharma went on to remind us that the point of the yoga teacher training is to help us help others.  “It is very good to see thousands of new teachers, so that with our thoughts, we can gradually change the world - send peace to the world.  That’s the best contribution to world peace - first the students should find their peace, and then they share with the other students.”

That’s really sums up everything I’ve learned from the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra, the Life of a Yogi teacher training, and my own yoga practice.  We learn from Sri Dharma, who is much further down the path to enlightenment than we are, and in turn, we pass the knowledge we gain to those coming along behind us.  In the process, we change the world even as we change ourselves.

©Natasha Phillips


Barb Cooper, 48, is a mother, a well-socialized introvert, a Texas-to-New York transplant, and a writer by nature and training. She considers herself a grateful observer, a recovering perfectionist, and no longer shy. Barb graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in June 2013. She is beginning to become the person her pets think she is.