Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dharma Yoga Across the US

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

This week: Ishvara Pranidhana Om
– Jefferson City, Missouri

  By Nicole Sopko

Ishvara Pranidhana Om, simply called “Vara” by her students at Dharma Yoga Missouri, is a dedicated and reverent student of yoga. She has fully incorporated the practice of yoga in her life, running Dharma Yoga Missouri as well as the attached vegan café, Vitality (

Where do you live?
I live in Jefferson City, Missouri. It’s the capitol, in the heart of the state that’s in the heart of the Midwest. I lease a building that has Dharma Yoga Missouri along with Vitality, our vegan café, on the first floor. I live in the apartment upstairs with my two daughters and two cats. I like just walking downstairs and being at work.

Which LOAY trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?
I completed my LOAY 200-hour in June 2010 because I started subbing and needed to have formal training. Also, I took a weekend workshop with Dharma Yoga Teacher Rebecca Kovacs in San Diego, CA, that blew my mind and blew all of my perceptions about Yoga out of the water.

So I took a 24-hour trip to meet Sri Dharma Mittra for a Maha Sadhana the day before Valentine's in 2010 to check out the facility and the teacher. I had watched his Maha Sadhana DVDs and his voice was something so old in my memory that when I met him in person I started to cry.  Sri Dharma asked me, "What's wrong with you, did you break up with your boyfriend? Oh, you just have some Shakti rising up" as he gestured to his heart. I was stricken and all I wanted was to be with him. So I signed up for the LOAY 200-hour teacher training.

I took the LOAY 500-hour training because I was so happy about my first training and also so that I could teach all the levels at the center. When I heard that there was going to be a LOAY 800-hour I was like, "PUT ME ON THAT LIST!" At this point I have an overwhelming burning desire for liberation, it's all I think about and I think that is certainly a result of such intensive immersion experiences. I think the LOAY 800-hour TT has been the one of the best experiences of my life so far.

How have the people you met in the training inspired you?
The people I met are a varied group of people, some whom I remain very close with to this day. There are people from every walk of life, all different ethnicities and from different parts of the world.  I am inspired by the fact that we can all be so different, yet are all reflections of each other in our love for Sri Dharmaji and our quest for Self-Realization.

What is one practice that you do every day?
I watch the activities of the mind and pray constantly. I devote every action to God, and try not to be concerned with the activities of the mind, but I am always trying to observe it. I am consumed with thoughts of liberation, so I ask for Divine Help all the time.

This is the easiest practice for me because I don't always have time for asana and pranayama, or reading scriptures every day.

What are you currently working on?
I opened Dharma Yoga Missouri in 2010, and three other trainees have taken the LOAY 200-hour training since then. I’m letting them take over most of my classes for the summer so I can focus on the Vitality Café. I will return in September with emphasis on teaching the Deep Healing Relaxation Series.

I opened the Vitality cafe in my town because there is nothing like it for 150 miles in any direction! Vitality is named after the Vitality diet that I was required to follow during my LOAY 500-hour training. Vegan food is considered to be fairly radical here! Starting in September, our studio and cafe will be doing Fresh Start, a one month program on just raw food.  Every day there will be recipes, inspiration, and a Dharma Yoga Asana mini-class.  I am also doing some half-day intensives with raw vegan dinner afterward.  All info can be found on our website.

I admit that I am using customer’s senses to trick them into making a compassionate decisions about food. If I give someone chocolate cake and please their senses to the point that they might consider having vegetarian food next time they eat something, then that is better than me trying to feed them a bunch of sprouts which they will simply reject and classify as "health food." So we offer food that is not sattvic, but we have to get them hooked on vegan food somehow…

How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY program affected your life outside of training?
The name of the program "Life of a Yogi" is exactly that and has turned me into an aspiring Yogi. I went from a drugged-out meat eater, deluded, with total lack of self-control to a person that my family and old friends have a hard time recognizing. I don't think I will ever look back to this time and think, "Oh well, you know...I was young." I can't imagine going backwards from this point. The love and discipline and other qualities that Sri Dharma and my other teachers exemplify is so far-reaching that Self-Realization seems the only way out!

What books are you currently reading or studying?
Yogic Powers by Yogi Gupta (because it pertains to my 800-hour training and Psychic Development). Plus, I am always reading and re-reading the Gita.

Check out the Vitality Café on Facebook for beautifully styled and delicious vegan food.

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

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