Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fierce Devotion: Hanumanasana

by Sara Schwartz

“Inhabit the consciousness of the pose,” Sri Dharma Mittra instructs. With fun names like Eagle Pose, and Lizard pose you feel like you’re five years old again.

So what’s the deal with the splits? Hanumanasa, front to back splits, is a posture to remind you that you are not five years old anymore! This pose is possible though - you just have to inhabite the consciousness of its patron: Hanuman, the most loyal of the Gods. 

Hanuman is the son of a monkey and the wind --part earthly, part divine and the king of the monkeys in Hindu mythology. Hanuman loved Rama from the moment he saw him, and pledged his loyalty to him. When Rama's wife Sita was kidnapped by an evil demon, Hanuman came to the rescue. He took a great giant leap from India's south-east coast to Sri Lanka to save her.  Hanuman’s fierce devotion helped him to do the impossible. 

The lesson of Hanuman: Skill arises from devotion.

How to practice Hanumanasana:
Before attempting the splits, do a few rounds of Dharma Yoga style Sun Salutations to warm up.

·        from forward fold, step your right foot back;
·        Bring your right knee to the floor and walk your hands by your hips;
·        Flex your left toes towards your face, heel is on the mat;
·        Make sure your right knee is underneath your right ankle, right toes tucked under;
·        Begin to lean forward over your left leg. You don’t want the back of your left leg to feel like a guitar string about to break;
·        Here is where the fidelity comes in. No matter what your pose looks like - hold the pose and send your breath or intention to the tight and tender places;

If you start to feel more relaxed, and the stretch goes away, begin to slide your heel forward. If your pelvis touches the floor, or you feel stable, begin to sweep your arms overhead into a prayer position and gaze up at your hands. Your hands send the message from your heart to the heavens.

·        To exit the pose, push yourself up off the floor with your hands.
·        If you can come into the low lunge, equestrian pose.
·        Step back into plank pose, lower knees, chest, and chin to the mat.
·        Come up for cobra, press back downward facing dog.
·        Jump your feet to your hands, and then step back with your left foot to repeat Hanumanasa. 

The amount of sensation in your legs is a reminder of how the faithful Hanuman felt in the name of the King that he honored and served.

Sara Schwartz lives in Queens, New York with her husband Yancy. She currently teaches at Yoga to the People, where she received her 200-hour certification in 2010. She recently graduated from the Dharma Yoga Center Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training. "Offer up the fruits of your practice" is her favorite advice from Sri Dharma Mittra. She is very grateful for the guidance of Sri Dharma and all of his teachers.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Yogi Favorites ~ (1) Dharma Green Cleanse Juice

Many people know that juicing is good for you and yet not that many people include it in their everyday routine. This is why you should try to:

Celery, cucumber, and lemons are all very effective for balancing acidic pH levels in the body. The body does have its own system for regulating and maintaining homeostasis to keep this balance, but only so long as we do our part. 

Celery and cucumbers contain 95-96% percent of their weight in water that is naturally distilled, making them superior to ordinary filtered water. As its physical shape suggests, celery helps increase bone mass with high levels of Vitamin K  that promote bone tissue activity. The leaves are rich in Vitamin A, while the stems pack vitamin C and various other essential vitamins and minerals. 

The silica content in cucumbers also helps form healthier connective tissue, meaning stronger bones, tendons, cartilage, ligaments, and muscles. The skin is an excellent source of vitamins C, A, fiber and folic acid. 

Lemons are high in Vitamin C, which cannot be produced or stored by the human body, meaning it is essential to acquire in our daily diet through nutrition. They are nature's tonic, making them the perfect addition to the Dharma Green Cleanse Juice. 

Here’s how to do it:

Get the celery, cucumber and lemons ready. Wash the celery stalk by stalk in salted or ‘veggie wash’ water. Rinse well. 

Peel the cucumber if it’s not organic, otherwise it is a matter of taste. Cucumber peels are generally bitter and may not be that good to consume.

For this amount of juice at least 2-3 lemons are needed. Celery is a hard vegetable for juicers, so use the high setting.

If you love lemons and the lemons are organic you can juice the peel as well. Otherwise use only the juice. 

Add the lemon juice at the end. One whole large celery bunch and one large cucumber yields about 36 oz of juice. 

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

Drink immediately while the enzymes are still living. Enjoy!

Post written by: Lana J. Lee & Amy Stinchcombe Pictures: Amy Stinchcombe
Recipe Source: The Dharma Yoga LOAY Teacher Training Manual

Monday, September 16, 2013

Six Ways to Get the Most Out of Your LOAY Teacher Training

By Jennifer Helgren

©Jeffrey Vock

First and foremost: GO

“Always do what you are afraid to do”   --Ralph Waldo Emerson

When the thought of attending the 500-Hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training first entered my mind, I almost automatically dismissed the idea.  I had so many reasons NOT to attend (mother of two young children, travelling husband, a plane ride away from NYC, no housing in the city, etc.)

What I learned was that when I committed to my dream, the obstacles fell away. It may take some time, and definitely some effort, but the result – well, is simply too great to put into mere words. Dive in, take a chance, and find a way to GO.

Second:  Open your mind and heart

“Be Receptive” --Sri Dharma Mittra

There will be moments in the training that will challenge you - physically, mentally, spiritually - and you must always remember that is why you are here. Open the whole of your mind, even the places that you are least aware of: the places that hold onto resistance.  Allow the words, people, experiences, and lessons to pour into those hidden places. Listen with an open heart and mind, and the information will be absorbed.  Weeks, months after you leave, you will hear these words and learn these lessons…they will reside in the mind and heart, and the space you created within. 

©Jeffrey Vock

Third: Put forth effort and use imagination

“Imagination is powerful. You go as far as you can imagine”-- Sri Dharma Mittra

You are going to be tired at some point. You will physically and mentally hit the proverbial wall.  You will move past it. I promise you, a second wind comes along and you will be renewed.

I second-guessed myself initially, but that fell away after time. My mind let go of the attachments to thoughts and emotions that often distract us and inhibit us from fully committing to something.  We live in the real world, and the world does not like to be left behind. It will pull at you, distract you, and sometimes overwhelm you.  Give yourself time to allow these things to come up. They are natural and they will pass.

Apply disciplined effort to your practice. Let the physical practice act as a brush to scrub away at whatever negative tendencies you may have.  Let it invigorate you, regenerate you. Your physical practice will grow by leaps and bounds through dedication and practice, practice, practice.

Finally, use your imagination – Sri Dharma talks about this often and it truly resonated with me. Imagine yourself to be a better person, mother, father, daughter, son, friend, partner – a better yogi. Use your imagination as fuel to show yourself that what you pursue is attainable through effort, dedication, study, and time. 

Fourth: Be a Student

“In learning you will teach and in teaching, you will learn” Phil Collins

Lose all preconceptions. Take off the teacher hat and allow yourself to commit to being a student. Listen and learn: from Sri Dharma, the mentors, your fellow trainees. Watch your own mind and learn how to apply all that you receive to yourself, your life, your teaching.  Apply the lessons to every aspect of your life. You will be amazed at how the things you are exposed to relate to your roles in life – as a person, yogi, teacher, parent, child, friend, partner, spouse. This is truly the LIFE of a yogi training!

Listen as much as possible. You will want to take notes, but if you can, take time to just be still and listen. Let go and simply absorb the information and the words.  Listen to other people’s questions and answers and try not to be too eager to answer them for yourself, even in your own mind. Let other people share, and let their knowledge and experiences become part of your own.

©Jeffrey Vock

Fifth: Smile, live, learn, laugh…and do your homework!

“Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it” Lao Tzu

Enjoy the training! Every day, it becomes more of a part of you and integrates itself into your very being. 

Sri Dharma is always quick with a smile and a kind-hearted joke. He understands the power of laughter and the importance of joy.  The training will go faster than you think, so soak up every minute! When you leave between sessions or after the final interval, do your homework!  Remember that you are going to be able to do it and what’s more, you will enjoy it. After my internship ended, I found that much of the homework has become a part of my daily life.  After talking with many other trainees, this is the case with most of us.  Carry it forward. Apply it. LIVE it. 

Sixth and finally: Go back

“Well, sometimes home is a person” --B.Revis

I understand how hard to is to travel to New York City. Still, I would encourage you to go back as much as you can. Go home, and by home I mean return to Sri Dharma and be in his presence. 

However, if you are very far and it is not possible for you to physically go, keep in touch with people through the internet, the phone, however you can to maintain the connection. I have found myself using Facebook to keep in contact with other trainees and to touch base with the Center – daily! You can see pictures of Sri Dharma, the mentors, your friends. You can read quotes from Sri Dharma (and yes, you hear his voice!) You see familiar faces and smiles and all at once, you are home. 

In closing, ultimately this experience is a very personal one. I wish that everyone who is undecided about going could understand one thing – you will never regret going, but you may regret having never been. 

Jennifer has a undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree with a specialty in Counseling.  She had a career as a counselor working with clients of all ages and backgrounds, in varying environments, with a wide range of needs and concerns.  After her time as a counselor, Jennifer began her life as a mother, the most rewarding and challenging career of all. She believes that her education, practice, and history as a counselor, and mother, play an important role in her yoga practice and her teaching. She believes strongly that a truly dedicated spiritual and physical yoga practice can transform, enhance, and expand the life of the practitioner. Jennifer had the honor to study with Sri Dharma Mittra for both the LOAY 200- and 500-Hour Teacher Trainings, and recently graduated from the 500-hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training. Jennifer studied with numerous other teachers, but continues to find her strength, inspiration, knowledge, direction, and guidance from Sri Dharma. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband and two children.  Jennifer teaches regular weekly classes in Virginia Beach and continues to travel to NYC at every available opportunity to study under Sri Dharma and the Senior Teachers at the NYC Center. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

For Yoga Teachers: Five Ways To Serve With Joy

By Jessica Gale

©Jeffrey Vock

Recently, upon borrowing mats from a yoga center for a workshop, I reflected on new connections and coincidences since moving to Toronto, Canada, and teaching yoga.

I thought about my growing social circle and sharing yoga with them; the yoga center I borrowed mats from; the workshop venue which was rented inexpensively to me by friends of friends (whom I had taught at home); and that all these new contacts kept me in the loop of any new jobs and opportunities and promoted my teaching.

All of this started with my eagerness to share yoga and my belief in karma yoga (selfless service). Acts of selfless service are free from the idea of receiving something in return and instead focus on the act of giving and surrender.

Selfless service will always be a part of my teaching.  The wonderful surprise is that for all I give, positive returns come back to me.  

Here are a few ways to include selfless service in your life:

·        Teach for free or barter

One of my students has chronic Lyme disease. I too had Lyme disease for several years and know firsthand that yoga helps. When I met his partner and heard of his situation, I immediately offered to teach them both. They were reluctant at first because they could not pay but they were willing and wanted to barter. In exchange, I receive muffins, preserves, and other small treats every week when I come to teach. But the real payoff and is seeing a friend recovering from a lengthy illness and there is no amount of money that can match this true reward.

For many of us, yoga is sometimes our sole profession and teaching classes for free is not feasible. However, a few karma yoga classes go a long way in helping people that cannot afford to attend but will reap the benefits of yoga.

Students, the elderly, even the unemployed with limited or no income, would greatly appreciate this and many are willing to pay in their own way by service or gifts in kind. Know the limits to what you can give and then give as much as you can.

©Jeffrey Vock

·        Teach what someone wants to be taught

As lovers of yoga, we sometimes forget that yoga can be overwhelming for some people. For example, my neighbor had difficulty with her breathing and I offered to teach her yoga. She was keen to learn breathing exercises but due to her age and inexperience, was not interested in the physical practice. While I knew that she would benefit from the physical exercises, I decided not to push it and I only taught her some simple pranayama exercises.  She found relief from the exercises and continued to talk about how beneficial it for months afterwards.

·        Share your time and your experiences

People are very curious about yoga teachers and I often find myself answering questions and sharing what I know. It can be overwhelming when you are in the midst of something or in a hurry!  So when I find myself becoming anxious or glancing at my watch during these situations, I try to remember to slow down and to share what I was so lucky to learn.

·        Volunteer

My first connection to potential students was made through volunteering. I helped out twice a week at an urban farm for some time and it was fantastic to help nurture plants and assist busy farmers. A number of wonderful connections developed from this time and it all began with selfless service.

©Enid Johnstone

·        Focus on small acts

Selfless service may sometimes seem like a tall order but really it’s not!

We don’t have to make huge sacrifices to include it in our day. Small opportunities occur around us all the time, but the first step is to slow down.

Do you need to be the first person on the grocery line? Can you hold the door for the people coming in? Would you pick up your partners clothes if it was left on the floor? 

I believe the key to Karma Yoga is to remember Ahimsa (compassion or non-violence) and to think, what are the loving acts I can do today?

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, Canada.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Five Ways To Conquer Cravings

By Sara Schwartz

I used yoga to quit smoking. I did so after I noticed that after my Power Vinyasa class I was less eager to grab a cigarette. It also turned out that I liked the taste of fresh air, so when I decided to give up smoking, I just figured I would do a ton of yoga and it would be easy.

Turns out that quitting smoking was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The craving struck and sat like a piece of lead on my throat and tongue. Sometimes, it settled around the center of my chest. The craving created a real physical ache as well as annoying mental repetitions. “If I only had... I would feel better...”

To break a habit you have to use the force of willpower and willpower is essentially the movement of the spirit. You need willpower to move through a craving. Logically, cravings just cause us mental pain, and this mental pain is the feeling of an old habit breaking. To pass through cravings is to be in touch with the divine force of will. In a craving you can sense the movement of your spirit, strengthening your connection to your spiritual anatomy.

The second time I came face to face with intense cravings was during my Dharma Yoga Life of aYogi 500-Hour Teacher Training when we were instructed to follow a fairly strict vegan diet.

“Food is a very emotional experience,” LOAY Director Adam Frei told us. I thought to myself: I don’t have any emotional issues with food - I’ll eat anything!  But then, I realized I couldn’t have my Chai Tea Latte and I cried! Chocolate cake, even though I never ate it, became my newest obsession. But I stuck with the diet; I ate my salads and drank my juices. At first my body didn’t feel very good. I was tired and hungry all the time. I realized I was detoxing. Then I adjusted and began to feel calmer, cleaner, and my yoga practice felt solid.

Overcoming my cravings meant I had to stake out uncomfortable territory. I had to re-visit what I had done when I quit smoking. 

Here are five ways to get rid of cravings and live a healthier life:

    • Make a list of why you want to give something up and allow that to become your mantra. Why would I want to follow a yogic diet? Because “healthy body, healthy mind”. So when I craved chocolate cake I asked myself “does this cake cultivate a healthy body better than a banana?” Of course the banana wins this round!
    • Take one day, one moment, and one breath at a time. This is what they say in Alcoholics Anonymous and I used it to quit smoking. Each morning I would think, “today I am not going to smoke.” If during the day the craving was bad I would think: “right now, I am choosing not to smoke.” If I was in front of a store ready to jump in and buy a pack of cigarettes, I would think “now I am inhaling; now I am exhaling” as I breathed.
    • Read spiritual literature. Sri Dharma Mittra recommends this all the time! When you are feeling uninspired and uncertain, the Bhagavad Gita can point you in a good direction. Arjuna also didn’t know why he was supposed to fight, and Krishna gives him a ton of reasons why he should. Sometimes you might not be sure why you’re fighting your cravings, so you too can apply Krishna’s counsel.
    • Practice Pranayama. It can be as simple as a square breath: Inhaling for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four. If the craving is strong you might try a stronger, more complicated Pranayama: like Nadi Shodana with Kumbakha (alternate nostril breathing with breath retentions). As Swami Sivananda said “the veil is removed by the practice of Pranayama. After the veil is removed the real nature of the soul is realized.”
    • Remove the tempters. Clean your kitchen of those culprit foods. When you shop at the grocery store first go to the fruit and vegetable section. When I tried to quit smoking I stopped going to the smoker’s corner on my lunch break and I went to the park instead.
These are just techniques to test out in the laboratory of your own experience. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a cigarette or a piece of chocolate cake. After I had decided to quit smoking I slipped up for a good year before I was actually able to buckle down and commit to a daily yoga practice. During the LOAY Teacher Training Diet one day I walked into a Starbucks and had a cup of tea and a scone and enjoyed every moment of the sugary and caffeinated goodness. But the next day I woke up and was back on track.

Over the long run the cravings get less and less. And now, three years later, if I smell a cigarette it makes me feel sick. Now, most sweets are too sweet for me since I spent half a year not eating sugar.

You can create the life you imagine! It just takes time, awareness, and as Sri Dharma says, a little bit of ‘angry determination’ to get back up again after you fall.


Sara Schwartz lives in Queens, New York with her husband Yancy. She currently teaches at Yoga to the People, where she received her 200-hour certification in 2010. She recently graduated from the Dharma Yoga Center Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training. "Offer up the fruits of your practice" is her favorite advice from Sri Dharma Mittra. She is very grateful for the guidance of Sri Dharma and all of his teachers.