Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lost and Found: Five things I learned from leaving my practice

by Jessica Gale

©Enid Johnstone

In the past three years, my life has changed more than the previous ten. Through this time of transition, I re-evaluated many aspects of my life: what I do, what I believe, and what I want. For a long time, yoga escaped my inner evaluations because I thought it was something forever firm in my life.

This spring I transitioned into becoming an urban farmer. Often my days were a flurry of activity and my nights of exhaustion. Physical tiredness became my excuse for putting my yoga practice on hold. As spring led to summer though, I could not seem to revive my daily practice. I continued teaching. I took a class here and there. I would take a few moments for some sun salutations and stretches. But of course, I did not receive the benefits yoga offered.

And so I gave up, knowing yoga and what it meant to me, needed re-interpretation and re-evaluation in my life. During that time, my temper grew shorter, my back tighter, and my sense of peace fleeting at best.

I live in a large city and I am not a city girl. I grew up in the country and on the ocean. A great deal of my sense of peace is derived from open, natural spaces. But for now, I must live in the city. The pace, the constant noise, the crowds all wear me down considerably during the day. During particularly bleak days I would wonder how in the world does it. How Sri Dharma does it? New York City has to be one of the busiest, most chaotic, and crowded places I have been. For me, his strength and gentleness are a testament to his devotion to yoga in a place as crazy as New York.

So, I spent my summer fleeing the city on weekends and fighting desperately to hold onto peace and let go of anger.

And I have failed, miserably some days.

This morning, thinking on all this, I knew I had to fail. I fell into yoga so quick and fervently when I started that I took no time to contemplate it. I needed to leave my yoga practice for perspective and to understand what it means to me now and why it still is essential. I could not be a content human being and certainly not a good teacher until I figured it out.

This is what I discovered:

·        If you live in a beautiful place and derive everyday peace and quiet from it, you are so lucky. But I realize now, as important as a sense of place and home are, things happen. Sometimes you have to move. Sometimes places change. However, your inner landscape can remain fixed and pristine.

·        I need yoga because I need silence, desperately. Silence in the face of the busy city and silence in the face of my racing mind. Yoga, in the end, is not about the asana, it is about being able to sit in stillness and settle the mind into silence. It is only in that silence that peace can be found. Silence in a place is fleeting. Silence found inside oneself everyday resonates and carries peace throughout the day.

·        I need silence through yoga because it is the path to surrender, or Isvara Pranidhana. In the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training manual Sri Dharma wrote, “Devotion to God is the total surrender of the ego. Once one has knowledge of the Self, one knows that everything is God. One is then able to surrender the ego in order to achieve enlightment. Surrender in order to obtain Divine help from within. Imagine having the hand tied behind the back: one needs help! If one surrenders to the Lord, one will be set free.

·        I need silence in order to surrender. I need surrender in order to find peace and contentment. I realized, for myself, yoga is my path towards these things.

·        This is the pattern of my life: to question and sometimes break my beliefs again and again. But each time, the right ones for me come back all the stronger.

I started my practice again today. My back is still tight, my mind too busy, and the worries of the world still intrude. But I feel better. It is a new beginning.
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 Dharma Yoga 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. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Yogi Favorites (2) ~ Sprouting Almonds & Making a Dharma Sun Salute Blend

"I think it's the best food." ~ Sri Dharma Mittra on sprouted almonds

Five facts about Almonds:
  • Almond oil is excellent for the skin and almonds build muscle, reduces cravings, fight obesity and can prevent heart disease;
  • Almonds make for a good flip side to dairy and is officially the healthiest of all nuts;
  • If you plant an almond tree it will be covered in lovely light pink flowers in the late winter or early spring;
  • In Greek mythology the almond tree is represented by the beautiful princess Phyllis. Left at the altar on her wedding day, Phyllis waited for years before finally perishing of a broken heart. In sympathy, the gods transformed her into an almond tree, as a symbol of hope. When Phyllis' fiancée returned to find her as a leafless, flowerless tree, he embraced it and the tree burst into bloom - a demonstration of love not conquered by death;
  • Almonds are a Yogi staple and Dharma Yogis are great consumers of Almonds.

Sprouting Facts:

Most raw seeds, nuts and beans should be sprouted to reap their maximum potential.  Sprouting changes the entire chemistry of the seed, nut or bean, flooding it with the Prana (vital life-force), thus turning it into a mature, healthy plant that is easy to digest.

A sprout is a complete food and can supply the physical body with vital nutrients in promoting life and radiant health.  Once seeds and beans are sprouted, they can be placed in direct sunlight for 30-60 minutes.  The sprouts then become a green vegetable, a wondrously complete Superfood.

Sprouting instructions:

Soak the almond for 12 hours and then rinse every three to four hours for a period of 18 hours.  Sprouted almonds should be covered in water and placed in the refrigerator.  The water should just cover one half inch over the top of the almonds.  Peel the skin off before eating, as it becomes toxic during germination. Enjoy!

Using sprouted almonds:

Dharma Sun Salute Blend


Add the following ingredients to a blender and blend until creamy:

2 large bananas or 1 avocado
1 cup of sprouted almonds (peeled)
1 to 2 cups of the fresh juice of your choice or rice/soy/almond milk
Agave nectar to taste (the bananas are naturally sweet if ripe so you may find you do not need an additional sweetener)

While making your blend, chant the Mantra for Purification at least three times.

“I said to the almond tree, 'Friend, speak to me of God,' and the almond tree blossomed.”  ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

Post written by: Enid Johnstone Pictures: Lorenza Pintar
Recipe Source and Sprouting Instructions: The Dharma Yoga LOAY Teacher Training Manual

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Four Building Blocks of Meditation

By Alan C. Haras

 “After mastering the art of concentration, one proceeds to meditate.  The constant practice of meditation leads to realization of self.” Yogi Gupta

©Dharma Yoga Center

The Catholic theologian Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. referred to Meditation, or dhyana, as it is referred to in the Yoga Sutras, as the means through which we connect to the “portion of God dwelling in the center of our chest” – in the spiritual heart.

The various practices of yoga are designed to empower us with the ability to sit still long enough in order for the “mind to settle into silence”, revealing the changeless, eternal Self.

Let’s explore the various components of meditation, using the framework of Father Burghardt’s definition, and the substance of the yogic teachings as passed on by Sri Dharma Mittra.

·        Long

According to SwamiSivananda, concentration, or dharana, is defined as twelve seconds of unbroken focus on one point.  Meditation, or dhyana, is said to be about 2.5 minutes, while samadhi is about thirty minutes.
Sri Dharma Mittra emphasizes that the purpose of asana is intended to prepare one to sit in meditation long enough to perceive the Self.  Traditionally, it is said that one should build up to being able to sit for three hours without distraction.  

Of course, progress is made in stages.  Patanjali Maharishi says that, “The practice of yoga will be firmly rooted when it is maintained consistently and with dedication over a long period of time.”  The Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training Manual reminds us that, “the more one practices, the faster progress is made.” 

·        Loving

In order to persevere in the practice of meditation, one must be motivated by a burning desire for liberation, or mumukshutvaWithout a passion for God or the Self, progress is virtually impossible.  One may be motivated to practice for a time out of fear, or a desire for some benefits, but it is really love which leads us onward, beyond ourselves. 

Patanjali says that samadhi comes from complete surrender to the Almighty One.   Surrender takes place when we love something more than we love our own illusions.  Of the nine different forms of yoga, bhakti yoga is the path of union with the Self through love.  Whether one is devoted to a particular form of God, one’s Guru or the Truth, the spiritual aspirant is spurred on by a love which consumes the small self and draws them into a transforming union with Ultimate Reality.

·        Look

There is a beautiful word in Sanskrit – darshan – which refers both to how one sees things, as well as to actually “to have sight of” something or someone.  When one goes to a temple or to see a Guru, one is going to have darshan.  This kind of “look” is not a stare or a glare, but a gaze, by which one sees beyond the appearance of things into the things into their essence.

This kind of vision is depicted in yogic literature and art as the “third eye” – a vision that sees beyond the apparent duality to the unity we all share.  The yogi is one who lives in two worlds at once – simultaneously aware of multiplicity, while remaining absorbed in the Supreme Self beyond names and forms.  One “sees”, not merely with physical eyes, but with the divine eye, or divya chakshu.

·        Real

When asked what is really Real, the great sage Sri Ramana Maharshi answered, “That which does not change.”  The question we must then ask is, “What does not change?”  We live in a world of constant change.  Change appears to be the only thing we can count on.  However, the yogis assure us that there is a changeless reality, but it is to be found only within.  It is known as the atman – the portion of God residing within our own heart.  This atman, the changeless reality within us, is said to be identical with Brahman – the changeless reality that pervades the entire cosmos.  This Supreme Self is like the movie screen upon which the play of names and forms unfolds, while remaining unstained by any of the moving pictures. 

The practice of meditation establishes us in the role of the eternal witness, observing the movements of the body, mind and emotions, without getting caught in them.  One is able to “do what needs to be done” without being identified with the “doer”, thus allowing the mind to remain absorbed in the Infinite.

1. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Alistair Shearer
2. Fourteen Lessons in Raja Yoga by Swami Sivananda
3. Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training Manual
4. Bhagavad Gita by Swami Nikhilananda.


Alan Haras (Bhaktadas Om) is the owner of Hamsa Yoga in Lake Orion, Michigan.  He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Michigan State University, is finishing up a two-year training in Spiritual Direction from the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House, and is pursuing his Masters in Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy.  He has been blessed to spend three years studying Advaita Vedanta with Dr. John Grimes, ten years studying the Jivamukti Yoga method, as well as having spent time in India with the late kirtan-wala and bhakti yogi Shyamdas.  In 2012-13, Alan completed the 200, 500 and 800-hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Trainings with Sri Dharma Mittra, made a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  As a teacher, he is deeply grateful for the opportunity to offer "the greatest charity of all" - sharing and promoting spiritual knowledge.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Effects of Pranayama on Thoughts and Actions

By Jonathan Rosenthal 

©Jeffrey Vock

Pranayama (control of Prana through breath) is the main focal point for managing thoughts and actions, according to The Science of Pranayama by Swami Sivananada.

Even before I started practicing yoga, I found that inhaling deeply, holding my breath as long as is comfortable, and exhaling very slowly was the most effective technique to regulate my thoughts and actions in moments of indecision and doubt.

“Before he eats, before he drinks, before he resolves to do anything, Pranayama should be performed first and then the nature of his determination should be clearly enunciated and placed before the mind.  - Swami Sivananda.

Prana, however, is not solely breath. Breath contributes to prana, but not all prana is derived from breath.

Swami Sivananda says, “The Prana may be defined as the finest vital force in everything which becomes visible on the physical plane as motion and action, and on the mental plane as thought. The word Pranayama, therefore, means the restraint of vital energies.” This seems to suggest that prana is fed by the needs of air, water and food and then directed towards the vayus, like thoughts and actions. Prana is hard to conceptualize, and therefore visualize and manipulate directly.

Perhaps the control of breath is a starting point to control prana. According to Swami Sivananda, “If you control the flywheel (the prana) you control the wheels (the other organs). Similarly, Sri Dharma Mittra says,the attention is a magnet for prana. Perhaps combining control of breath with the guidance of attention allows one to indirectly manipulate prana.

Breath is the most compulsory need for survival. It is impossible to survive without breath for the amount of time one can survive without food and water. This is why controlling the breath is such an important tool, both in and out of yoga. Returning to this basic need shatters the illusion of all the other needs (e.g. fears, desires, doubts)” - almost like throwing a wrench at a triangular enclosure of mirrors that reflect and deceive you endlessly.

Fears and doubts are no match for Pranayama. By removing the focus from these ungrounded anticipations  and placing the focus on the most basic and essential need, Pranayama shatters the mirrored labyrinth of imaginary and illusory needs.

I imagine that allneeds” are really illusions. We are not really hungry, it is the body that is hungry; we are not cold, it is the body that is cold. In fact, Swami Sivananda describes Pranayama techniques that eliminate needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep and these same techniques can even cool or warm the body - sitkari and sitali are cooling, suryabheda and ujjayi are warming, and bhastrika restores normal temperature. Further, sitkari and sitali both trump hunger, thirst, and sleep. All of these seem to suggest that pranayama is a practice mainly used to shatter the illusion of needs.

It is interesting that Swami Sivananda advises specifically to avoid straining while doing Pranayama: “Some people twist the muscles of the face when they do Kumbhaka (breath retention). It should be avoided. It is a symptom to indicate that they are going beyond their capacity.

If practicing Pranayama becomes a need in and of itself, it has become an illusion extraordinaire. This is much like a drug given in excess quantity that then becomes a poison. In pursuing Pranayama as a need in and of itself, the practitioner has only replaced an unnecessary “need” with a new one.

Pranayama should be practiced each and every day, but it is not the end of the world to miss a day; Pranayama should be practiced not as a need in and of itself, but as a technique that, by focusing on the only real need, prana, shatters the illusion of the others.


Jonathan Rosenthal took his DharmaYoga Life of a Yogi 200-Hour Teacher Training in June 2013. His motto is: "With everything I do, I try to remember we are yogis first and foremost and that we should view life as a task to be done, but with compassion, sincerity, angry determination, and a renunciation of the fruits of actions. I am grateful to the teachers who made this perspective possible and try to return the favor by teaching others." He is in the internship phase of his LOAY teacher training.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Remembering Bernadette Duthu

by Adam Frei

My first summer at the Dharma Yoga Center which was then located on Third Avenue was one where Sri Dharma Mittra already had a rather heavy travel schedule and was gone for most of it. I had already changed my work schedule so I could take class at least twice a week at noon most weeks and decided to keep to that schedule and get a chance to take class with some of Sri Dharma's senior students. That was how I really first came to know Bernadette Duthu as I think she subbed more of those noon classes in those years than anyone else. 

Bernadette was very similar to Sri Dharma in that you didn't always notice when she entered the room, but suddenly she was there and the class was starting. As a teacher, Bernadette was strict, but always still caring and extremely encouraging. In her classes, we seemed to hold poses longer than at any other time and meditation at the end of class always seemed to last twice as long as in any other class. When I asked her about this once, she told me that most people don't give enough attention to their meditation so she always made sure they would when they were taking class with her.

Bernadette was a certified Dharma Yoga instructor, and also a certified Bikram instructor. Over a number of years that she was a regular fixture in most every noon class Sri Dharma taught, her warm up was to take a Bikram class first and often teach one, as well. Bernadette also worked both through the French Institute and independently as a French tutor. She was extremely well-read when it came to yoga, Buddhism and related topics, but, like Sri Dharma, she often claimed that she knew and understood only a little beyond the basic subject matter. This touches perhaps on one of her greatest qualities: humility. 

I was fortunate to take part in the "Life of a Yogi" 200-hour teacher training program as a student in February of 2007. Bernadette was one of the people who made that experience extraordinary for me. She was a constant source of support and knowledge, and her discipline in terms of the practice was truly an inspiration.

I think that being involved as a regular teacher and as faculty for the "Life of a Yogi" teacher training program over a number of years was an important part of her life as a whole. She respected, admired and was devoted to Sri Dharma, to the school and to the students in way that many only wish they could be. She had a sweet, even disposition and a deep love of classical music. She also had endless curiosity about the world around her that allowed one to feel that she was much younger than she actually was.

Her enormous strength and determination allowed her to return to France for a year to tend to her then ailing Mother and Father. She rose at 4 a.m. every day there as she had back in New York, did her practice, then devoted her day to serving others. As she once expressed to me personally: "My sisters have their families and their careers -- I am lucky now to have neither and to do this is not so big a deal for me." 

It was during this time that she had her first go around with Cancer. Unfortunately, that became a big part of the final few years of her life. That she lived her life as she did almost to the end was truly remarkable to those few who really knew what she was going through.

Her loss is a great one to the entire Dharma Yoga community. She was a teacher and friend to so many, and her memory will live on as the teachings she helped transmit live on. Bernadette, we love you and we miss you, but we are glad you are now at peace. Thank you for all you gave to all of us.


Adam Frei was born in Stamford, Connecticut, grew up in the wilds of West Redding, and is now a New Yorker. After years of mostly solitary Sadhana practice, he found his way to Yogi Sri Dharma Mittra. His entire practice changed during that first Master class, and he must have done something extremely rare and good in a previous incarnation to have finally met the teacher in this lifetime. He is grateful to have taken part in the transformative Dharma Yoga 200 and 500-Hour “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training intensive immersions. They helped him understand that teaching is just one more component of practice as we all strive to copy the teacher in word, thought and deed. He has been teaching at the New York Center and beyond ever since his first teacher training and, after years of involvement with the Teacher Training programs on the staff side, is now blessed to be the director of these programs.