Friday, February 22, 2013

~Teacher Profile of the Month~

Amber Abramson

Amber teaches Dharma II on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:30 – 6:30 PM.

1.    Describe yourself in three words.
AA: Curious, inquisitive, imaginative.

2.  If you were a fruit, what would you be, and why?
AA: Well my father and brother always tell me I’m a prickly pear, because I can seem really serious with this intense look on my face when I’m doing something… But I’m really a big, mushy, sweet piece of fruit once you get beyond my appearance. I love to laugh and have fun; I’m not as serious as I look.

3.  What is your favorite story you heard from Sri Dharma?
AA: Dharma once told the story about how when he was younger and first started to learn with his Guru, he loved Lord Shiva. He loved what Shiva stood for and he loved His image. One day, Dharma said he was really sad because he realized that there was no Shiva. The true Shiva was within. And so that is what Sri Dharma teaches – that the real Guru, the real divinity, is within all of us.

4.  Three things you always have in your fridge?
AA: Chia seeds, coconut milk, and oranges of all kinds.

5.  What is one practice you must do every single day?
AA: I have to connect to my breath and be quiet every single day. It keeps me grounded and centered amidst all of the beautiful chaos life has to offer.

You might say Amber was born to be a yoga teacher – her first experience with yoga was at the tender age of three! Her father is a yoga teacher, so the practice has been an influential part of her life for a long time. She loved assisting her father’s classes, and as she began to teach classes of her own, she realized that she discovered even more about the practices in the process of sharing them with others.

She loves Dharma Yoga because of its completeness & authenticity. Of course, she says, every form of yoga is about going inside and uniting the mind, body, and spirit; but she loves that Sri Dharma Mittra’s classes are about so much more than asana – you go beyond the poses and learn to be a “well-rounded yogi” through practices in all eight limbs. From her perspective, the goal is to realize that everything is already within each of us (as Sri Dharma frequently reminds us).

For her, practicing yoga is a means to reintegrate & expand the whole Self; to become aware of discomfort & congestion in the physical & subtle bodies; and to make space & breathe into any feelings that arise. She hopes to help guide her students further within, to allow them the chance to truly be themselves in the present moment.  

Amber will also be teaching a program at Kripalu this coming July (“Boot Camp for Goddesses”)!

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Spiritual Study (Svadhyaya): A Journey Within

By Danielle Sheather
Of all the Niyamas, Svadhyaya has left a lasting impression on me.  One particular image is ingrained in my mind when I think of self-study: the notion of a journey.   I daydream about an expedition or a grand voyage.

Svadhyaya is a spiritual study, a tour of one’s deepest thoughts, ideas, and fundamental nature. It is the study to know oneself in an effort to understand why we are the way we are and catch a glimpse of our Divine Self.  It is independent of the thoughts and ideas to the world around us, when one can study the self with a mind free from the disturbances of outside forces. Spiritual study then can help unlock our understanding of who we are as well as our relationship to the outside world.

As Iyengar describes in Light on Life, “You will not reach knowledge of the Divine Self without passing through Self-knowledge. Your practice is your laboratory, and your methods must become ever more penetrating and sophisticated. Whether you are in asana or doing pranayama, the awareness of the body extends outwards, but the senses of perception, mind and intelligence should be drawn inward.”

Patanjali describes Svadhyaya as “study that concerns the true Self, not merely analyzing the emotions and mind as psychologists and psychiatrists do. Anything that will elevate your mind and remind you of your true Self should be studied: The Bhagavad Gita, Bible, Koran, these Yoga Sutras, or any uplifting scripture. Study does not mean just passing over the pages. It means trying to understand every word - studying with the heart.”

A vital part of Svadhyaya is the fact that we are not alone in our journey to the Self. Others have gone before us and succeeded! There is no doubt that history and literature show us that Svadhyaya occurs from generation to generation: From Jesus to Buddha, Siddhartha to Arjuna, all of these figures embarked on a journey. While some were geographical, all were metaphysical and in an effort to truly study the self.

Iyengar also said “spiritual realization is the aim that exists in each one of us to seek our divine core. That core, though never absent from anyone, remains latent within us. It is not an outward quest for a Holy Grail that lies beyond, but an inward journey to allow the inner core to reveal itself.” Here, Iyengar describes Svadhyaya as being a journey to the self, a journey inward so as to truly find our divine core.

Thus the study of scripture becomes vastly important to Svadhyaya. The aforementioned scriptures and characters have paved the way to their Divine Self.  Patanjali reminds us that “we don’t exhaust the Bible even after reading it hundreds of times. Each time we read it we see it in a new light. This is the greatness of the Holy Scriptures… Each time we read these works we elevate ourselves to see a little more.”

In BKS Iyengar’s, Light on Life, we are taught that “to know one self is to know one’s body, mind and soul.” There is no better way to understand the Self than by first taking a glimpse at those who have passed before us and studying with our hearts, then delving deep into our thoughts, ideas, and emotions without judgment or fear; but with an open mind and an open heart.

In that vein, part of my attraction to this particular Niyama came about from my father’s inspiration.  At 40 years old, with two children approaching university years, a mortgage and a wife, he chose to open his own business. It was through self-study that he realized he was tired of doing things other people’s way. Now, 19 years later, he is peacefully removed when he speaks of his spiritual study, as though it was merely a necessary step in becoming the man he always envisioned himself to be. His spiritual study throughout that time in his life and the many prior years, led him to take a gigantic leap off of a cliff, a leap in which he did not know if there was water or land below. He simply leapt and fell into an abundant pool. While he admits that Svadhyaya was arduous, he cannot imagine it being any other way. He studied every day in order to manifest what he wanted in his life.      

So why is it that so many people (myself included) are afraid of going inward to discover what is on the inside? Funny enough, the answer to that question lies in going deeper into self-study and allowing discoveries to occur independent of whether it is good or bad.

For example, last summer I took a Chakra workshop in which I was asked to dive deep into the self to discover how I dealt with milestones from my early childhood to present day. Many emotions, from anger to elation, frustration, and guilt came to the surface. But how was it possible that all of these emotions lay dormant in me? It was as if they were camping in my back yard and I had no idea they were even there! Perhaps then I would have no control when any one of these emotions would come out.  I was furious.

This was my first real attempt at Svadhyaya and because of it, my inner core is no longer latent and has begun to reveal itself to me.  With the help of further spiritual study I feel that the universe and its predecessors have been supporting me in opening up in further Svadhyaya. It is true what Sri Dharma Mittra says: “Be receptive and all is coming.” Especially in Svadhyaya!

Danielle Lydia Sheather first found yoga through dance, and thanks her primary dance teachers and several others for introducing her to yoga without ever really knowing what they were doing. She has been to every continent dancing on cruise ships and on tours. Danielle has since been in NYC for 3 years, the longest she's been anywhere since high school. A self-proclaimed nomad, she loves to travel but decided to lay down some roots for a while. Danielle graduated from Sonic Yoga’s 200-hour teacher training in 2009 and from the DYLOAY 500 Hour program in 2012. She has taught in Bed Stuy at St John's Bread of Life, Yoga on the Rooftop, Sonic Yoga, The Giving Tree Yoga Studio, New York Yoga and the Dharma Yoga Center. She is also the ballet mistress and choreographs for Dance Dimensions in New Milford New Jersey and continues to perform here in NYC. She believes that it is a teacher’s responsibility to continue to practice in order to grow, understand, and honor their commitment to enlightenment thus being a student of life! PS: She is also fluent in French Canadian.

Friday, February 8, 2013

10 Things I wish I knew before taking the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training…

by Jessica Gale

1) It’s OK to attend the LOAY Teacher Training program even if you don’t plan on being a super yogi…

I will admit it: the week before attending the program I panicked. Was I ready? Would I ever be ready? I had been practicing yoga for several years, desired to teach, and wanted to attend an intensive like the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training. However, doubts still remained - even the night before the training began…

Within a few days of starting the program I came to understand the diversity of students the LOAY TT attracted. Everyone practiced at different levels and intensity, and their reasons for attending were just as diverse. We learned the spectrum of what yoga encompassed, but there was always an understanding and acceptance that everyone was at different physical and spiritual levels.

2) There will be Tapas…

You will be sore and the program will push you to your physical limits. It is helpful to view the program more like a marathon than a sprint. Since there are 10 days of asana practice it may be hard to participate when you throw your back out on the first day. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try new things or push yourself (see #3 below), but it is important to pace yourself.

To fully engage and enjoy the program, get some sleep, bring energizing snacks, take the breaks when they are offered, and it wouldn’t hurt bringing some Arnica or Tiger Balm along too.

3) Trust and try…

Yes, it’s intense. Yes, you have 10 days of asana. And yes, it’s the perfect time to embrace new and difficult poses and techniques. The training offers the rare opportunity to learn from a yoga master and several very accomplished senior teachers. When they ask you to try something new, give it a go. Be like a child and have faith.

4) Meet Sri Dharma Mittra, the comedian…

Since I’d heard Sri Dharma speak before attending the training, I knew he had a sense of humor. What I did not expect was to spend so much of a yoga intensive laughing! I have attended several types of yoga classes through my years of practice and I have never found another type that is so light, happy, and humorous! It is one of the things I love most about Dharma yoga - the sense of joy it emanates.

5) You will be homesick…

Throughout the program, everyone at some point felt a little bit blue. It is natural to miss your family and friends, especially since there isn’t a lot of time to communicate with people. The key is to remember that it is only 10 days and the benefits you will gain from the program will last you a lifetime. In addition, one of the things I loved best was coming home and sharing what I learned from Sri Dharma with my loved ones.

6) Listen first and ask, if you still need to, after… 

During the training, there was plenty of time for questions and discussion and the teachers assisting Sri Dharma were also available for additional queries. However, one of the things recommended (and I found to be true) is that if you listen, your questions will often be answered without you even asking. I found that if I was intensely thinking about some question, the answer would come up that same day.

7) If possible, stay close to the home base…

The LOAY TT has long days. I stayed with a friend in Queens to save on lodging during the training and my commute was an hour each way. In my situation, I couldn’t afford to stay in Manhattan, but if it was financially possible, I’d recommend it. The long commute added to my fatigue and made me feel rushed at times. I wish I could have transcended the lack of sleep and the noisy commute, but alas, I have not yet reached that point.

 8) Lose the “yoga ego”…

Be prepared to have your mind blown by attending the master classes taught by Sri Dharma. It was absolutely incredible being taught by a master and be surrounded by yogis with amazing asana practices. It is easy to start comparing yourself to the person on the next mat over but DON’T. The LOAY TT is the perfect time to lose whatever “yoga ego” or “yoga envy” you may have.

In the first master class I found myself entirely overwhelmed!  Soon after I found myself in utter wonder and inspired by the dedication of people around me.  There was inspiration not only with the advanced students, but the student who could not yet do a headstand but sit unmoving and for long periods of meditation with a blissful smile on their faces.

One way I found to tame my yoga ego was to focus on my weaknesses and not my perceived strengths. I took special care during pranayama, held the poses that were most uncomfortable the longest and tried my best to surrender in meditation.

9) The name of the game is Ahimsa…

There will be times during the program when you will be frustrated with yourself because you can’t achieve a pose no matter how many times practiced, or your mind will relentlessly wander during meditation. Take your time to cultivate Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the greatest of the Yamas and Niyamas and all of the others come from this main tenant. Surrounded by happy, loving yogis, it is easy to be kind to others. However, there will be times when you will struggle to be kind to yourself. Before attending the LOAY TT, try to make it your main goal to live by Ahimsa.

10) You will leave changed…

I cannot believe a single person leaves the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training program without feeling changed. Immersed in yoga and all of Sri Dharma’s teachings, you will come away changed in your body, mind, and spirit. You may even find yourself coming to surprising conclusions you never expected. Be open to the changes and take the experience with you. Share what you have learned as an act of thanks-giving.

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 the CNY Yoga Center (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.

Friday, February 1, 2013

"Must Read" Book Review ~ Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses by Sri Dharma Mittra

Review by Leslie Holden 

Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses was lovingly made in devotion by Sri Dharma Mittra. Written in a divinely inspired state, Asanas imparts on the reader a sacred science from an experienced teacher. This small yet powerful book depicts a lifetime of knowledge through photos of asana, and can be put into the hands of any aspirant.  In fact, many of those that have found their way to Sri Dharma Mittra state that it was this book that inspired them to find him. Without over-complication, the entire text forms the foundation of yoga and it will move and inspire in the deepest of ways.

The Dedication page at the beginning of the book displays profound examples of Dharma Mittra the Karma Yogi and perfected teacher. It is shown through his virtue of leading by example rather than through lecture and further displayed through his devotion, practicing non-attachment and the offering of each action to the Almighty one.

As Sri Dharma says, “Rest your mind on Him alone,” and indeed, each time I read the opening prayer I am sent into feelings of Bhakti and reverence. If one never made it past this point in the book one may still have a clear understanding of the goal of Yoga: knowledge of the true Self.

The chapter “guidelines for practice” is concise and appropriate for the modern Yogi. Anyone who has read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika will have experienced the need for an update to the lifestyle of a Yogi in the West and this chapter allows all aspirants to implement the simple ideas into their home practice with maximum results. And above all, we are asked to keep in mind “to be nice to all.”

Sri Dharma’s introduction is a clear and experiential account of the path of a sincere Yogi told in a loving way.  We are reminded that asana, the physical poses, are only one part of an eight-stage process in the search for enlightenment. The principle of meditation is incorporated in this section, thus offering a gentle invitation to follow the thread and find the ultimate goal. Additionally, the ethical rules are simply and clearly explained.  

Sri Dharma Mittra comments on the need for a Guru because it is “someone who has gone the route,” but even the student with no access to a teacher will find the tools in this book to evolve his/her practice. Then, as Sri Dharmaji says, “mysteriously things all fall into place!”

This book truly is an amazing offering and an amazing feat! To even attempt to comprehend the state that these photos were taken in will lead to a feeling of Bliss! 

Sri Dharma Mittra adds a sprinkling of information about each pose along the way, reminding us in the same quiet way that he teaches that it is up to the student to copy the teacher. With the absence of ego, Dharma offers this perfected collection of information and asana variations that are absolutely humbling to look at and majestic to take in.  

To see more of the beautiful asanas featured in this book, check out DYNYC's online library

Leslie (Surya Om) Holden has completed the Dharma Yoga "Life of a Yogi" 200 Hour Teacher Training and is in the Internship phase of her 500 Hour Teacher Training. Raised in British Columbia, Leslie began yoga as a centering and strengthening practice to help her as a professional equestrian. She had her first encounter with Sri Dharma Mittra while living in Hawaii in 2006. Immediately knowing she had found her teacher, she began to dedicate herself to the practice while living in British Columbia studying Holistic Nutrition and attending college for Chartered Herbalism. She finished school and relocated with her husband, a native New Yorker, to New York to continue full time studies under Sri Dharma Mittra. She now teaches Dharma Yoga on Long Island. "Sri Dharma has guided me to realize my fullest potential, I have been transformed by this practice. My highest joy is to share this practice with others."