Thursday, December 26, 2013

Selfless Service in a Frenetic World

By Barb Cooper

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi

There are a lot of different interpretations of what Karma Yoga (Selfless Service) is and how it fits into a budding yogi’s practice.  For me, Karma Yoga is where my entire practice comes together—all the limbs of yoga, the relinquishing of the ego, not being attached to the fruits of one’s labor, actions as offerings to the Divine—Karma Yoga is where my practice meets the real world.

I’m given to the concept of Karma Yoga naturally. As someone who has fought depression and anxiety for much of her life B.Y. (before yoga,) I learned that the best antidote for sadness is doing something for someone else –-to turn the focus outward.  Last year, in response to the almost crippling grief I felt after the mass murder of school children in Connecticut, I implemented a systematic campaign aimed at sowing little seeds of love in the world.

I started by buying the next person behind me a hot tea in the tea shop, or coffee at the deli.  A few times, I bought the next person behind me some soup at the local bakery. The effort seems to have blossomed from there, and has ended up genuinely changing my life over the past year.

Because what I’ve found is that the impulse to give people stuff is matched by the impulse to just...well, GIVE in general.  So I rush to hold the door open for people or I let people out in traffic. I help people carry their packages to their cars. I just try to adopt an attitude of service, offering whatever is needed in the moment to whomever I encounter.

The interesting thing about Karma Yoga is that it gives back to you exponentially. I really didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect these small acts of devotion to change the way I viewed the world, but that’s what happened. I find that the more I look for ways in which to give to others, the more I genuinely SEE the people around me. And when I’m genuinely noticing them and their struggles, it’s so easy to tap into a vast compassion for them. That compassion, in turn, begins to translate into everything I see around me—animals, insects, this planet.

This year, if you aren’t already doing it, try this: in the midst of all the holiday chaos and demands on your time, do one small kind thing.  Just one tiny thing—open the door for someone, or buy a cup of tea for someone who looks like he or she needs it.  Take some hot chocolate to the crosswalk guard you pass every day. Surprise your mail carrier with some hand warmers.  Just one small thing that shows someone that you’ve noticed him or her.  Sometimes, just being seen is enough to begin a ripple of kindness.

"Giving of any kind... taking an action... begins the process of change, and moves us to remember that we are part of a much greater universe. ” ~ Mbali Creazzo 

Barb Cooper, 48, is a mother, a well-socialized introvert, a Texas-to-New York-to-Texas 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 and teaches yoga at Rasna Yoga in Austin, Texas. Read more of her musings at

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Yogi Favorites (4) Dharma Salad

Avocados and tomatoes are both superfood fruits in their own right, but together they make a true power couple! 

The Dharma Salad is a great example of how good food combining can provide even more nutritional benefits. 

Tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene, which is better absorbed by the body when consumed with fatty foods like avocados. Lycopene is a pigment-rich nutrient from the carotenoid family that gives tomatoes, among other fruits and vegetables, their red hue. Studies have shown this powerful antioxidant's potential to reduce risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

For the purest benefits, try to purchase organic and locally grown tomatoes. 

Here's how to do it:

Cut one avocado into cubes.

Slice two large tomatoes.

Mix a splash of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil with a splash of Bragg's liquid aminos or sea salt. Add the sprouts (any kind). Stir all ingredients together and enjoy!  (Serves 1-2)

Text: Lana J. Lee Pictures: Cayla Carapella & Enid Johnstone
Recipe Source and Sprouting Instructions: The Dharma Yoga LOAY Teacher Training Manual

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mudras: When the Hands Mirror the Heart

by Jessica Monty Schreiber

©Jeffrey Vock

I arrived at the park one early Saturday morning and peace permeated the air -- the peace best experienced in the early hours of the day before the other earth inhabitants rise from their warm beds.  The grassy spaces at the park were speckled with peaceful warriors slicing the air with their hands, making graceful shapes with their limbs, and using the energy that drives us, pushing and pulling with resistance and strength. Tai Chi, what a beautiful art form.  

Watching people use their hands and bodies to create shapes, I am only now becoming aware of the importance and significance of the mudras. A mudra is a gesture one specifically makes with one’s hands and arms. In India, these mudras aim to connect the yoga practice to divine and cosmic energy.

Apes use their hands to communicate, blind children clap their hands with excitement, and it is universal for one to cover one’s mouth in shock, horror or pain.  Moreover, it is an amazing power to be able to control our body in such a way to focus our consciousness and help manipulate our experience. The knowledge and experience of mudra techniques is so powerful.

The other day I hugged my friend who was overcome with grief and sadness. I imagined I was creating a cocoon, enveloping her with love -- spiraling a web all over her branching from my arms.  There she wept, which I knew was difficult for her, as being vulnerable can be for many people. Still, I held her in my safe chrysalis, strongly creating a place of protection.  She felt that energy field; I know it with all my heart.  That is a mudra.

©Jeffrey Vock

As yoga asana practitioners, we breathe, balance, strengthen, and stretch our body all at once, simultaneously trying to connect with our higher Self. We strive to achieve a meditative state, " a comfortable seat," to commune with our divine nature. While I practice toppling tree pose, I perform kali mudra (interlocking your fingers, releasing the index fingers.) I concentrate on my erect index fingers touching and in turn, creating a one single pointed finger.  Sometimes I feel I could stay in this asana forever. That is a mudra.

Sometimes when I am frustrated with my son's behavior, and when I am reprimanding or disciplining him, I notice my index finger wagging in his face.  Pointing at him as if he was the problem, only to know with my heart that the reflection of his behavior is my own. I don't like this mudra. That is a mudra.

I hope this post inspires you to do your own research in the art of mudras. There are many informational references on how to you can specifically use mudras in your yoga practice, but only with your personal research and experience will you understand the importance and significance of a mudra.

©Jeffrey Vock

I will leave you with this beautiful obituary written by Laurie Anderson shortly after the death of Lou Reed:

To our neighbors:

What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.

Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people, this is our spiritual home.

Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!

Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us. ~ Laurie Anderson, his loving wife and eternal friend.

Gratefully, Jessica Monty Schreiber has been practicing yoga daily since 2000. Jessica became certified to teach Bikram Yoga in 2003 and taught yoga in Miami Beach, FL and all over New York City.  Although she predominately taught Bikram yoga during that time, she took full advantage of the diverse yoga community by practicing the different yoga styles that New York City has to offer. In 2005 Jessica studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and became a certified Holistic Health Counselor. It brings her much pleasure to serve her community in the areas of health and wellness. Jessica participated in the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training in 2010.  She is currently in the internship phase of her training. Jessica takes great pride in her career as mother of two boys. Striving to find a balance in a domestic life is a daily yoga practice in itself. Jessica is passionate about yoga and wellness.  Her intention as a teacher is to inspire the practitioner to reveal their true beautiful and bright selves.  With hard work, positive effort and practice, we can all be healthy, happy, and free!

Om: Everything You Wanted To Know But Were Too Afraid To Ask

By Kali Om (Cara Jepsen)

"Brahman is Om, this whole world is Om." ~ Taittirya Upanishad

"Om is the bow; atman is the arrow; Brahman is said to be the mark. It is to be struck by an undistracted mind. Then atman becomes one with Brahman, as an arrow with the target." ~ Mandukya Upanishad

Mispronounced, misunderstood, and misconstrued, the sacred Om, or Aum, is the root of all mantras and contains all the sounds in the world. Yogis believe the Aum is one and the same as Brahman, or the ultimate reality underlying the phenomenal world.

But sometimes the meaning - and pronunciation - can get lost. A couple of years ago, I was waiting for a large class to end so I could teach a workshop. The class finally finished with three loud, wall-shaking "Ums." Not the "Aum" that rhymes with "home," but "Um," which rhymes with "thumb."

The Aum and all the mantras that spring from it are like asanas for the mouth and should be pronounced with care and concentration as well as with proper motivation, faith, devotion, and understanding. In the scriptures, the Om or Aum is also referred to as the Pranava, Omkara , and Udgita .

According to yogis, the sound and form of Aum is the same as God. The Rig Veda says, "In the beginning was Brahman, with whom was the Word, and the Word was truly the supreme Brahman." The Bible says something similar: "In the beginning was the Word" and "The Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Most mantras begin and end with Aum; it is the highest of all mantras or divine words, as well as Brahman itself. In the Bhagavad Gita , Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, "I am the father of this universe, the mother, the support and the grandsire. I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable Om. I am also the Rig, the Sama and the Yajur Vedas."

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali also state that the Aum is Isvara , or God: "The sacred word designating this creative source is the sound OM, called Pranava. This sound is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents. From that remembering comes the realization of the individual Self and the removal of obstacles."

Because the Aum is considered to be one and the same as God by many yogis and Hindus, it should be treated with respect. Having it tattooed on the foot or ankle or printed on a pant leg or across the buttocks or on shoes or a meditation cushion or a yoga mat (where the feet step on it), or placing the Om symbol on the floor are considered highly disrespectful by many Hindus and yogis. Knowingly offending others in this way is a violation of ahimsa, or non-harming.

The Aum has four parts:

n  The first is the "A," which sounds like the "a" in father and is pronounced in the throat, with the mouth wide open. It is usually fairly short.
n  The second is the long, loud "U," which rhymes with shoe and is pronounced with the mouth actively shaped like an "O"--not with a slack mouth. The sound rolls over the tongue.
n  Then the mouth slowly closes and the sound becomes the "M," which is pronounced mmmm with the lips together, creating a pleasant vibration.
n  The fourth is the silence that follows. My guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, says that during the silence one should focus on the vibration behind the forehead and repeat Om mentally.

The three parts of the Aum represent the three states in the manifest world:

n  the A is the waking state (represented by the bottom curve of the Aum symbol);
n  the U is the dreaming state (the middle curve);
n  and the M is the state of deep, dreamless sleep (the top curve).
n   The silence that follows represents the fourth state or turiya --pure consciousness, the goal of yoga. It is represented by the bindu , or dot, at the top, while the curve separating it from the rest of the Om symbolizes maya , or illusion.

The Aum also relates to the three bodies:

n  the A is the gross body;
n  the U is the subtle body;
n  and the M represents the causal body.

It also contains the three gunas , or qualities of the phenomenal world that are constantly shifting: A is rajas (action), U is sattva (harmony), and M is tamas (inertia). Finally, Aum represents the Hindu trinity: the A is creation or Brahma, the U is preservation or Vishnu, and M is dissolution, or Lord Shiva.

Yogis believe that what you are thinking of when you die is where you will go next. So if you only learn one mantra in this lifetime, let it be the Aum, which represents the supreme goal. If Aum is always on your lips when you are alive, it will be in your mind when you pass.

As the Bhagavad Gita says, "He who closes all the doors to the senses, confines the mind within the heart, draws the prana into the head, and engages in the practice of yoga, uttering Om, the single syllable denoting Brahman, and meditates on Me - he who so departs, leaving the body, attains the Supreme Goal."

Aum Meditation - learned directly from Sri Dharma Mittra

There are many Aum meditations. This one is suitable for all levels.

Face east or north. Sit tall on the floor or a chair, with the back of the neck in line with the spine. Inhale, and exhale, create a long, loud, resonant Aum. The mouth is wide open during the A, in the shape of an "O" during the U, with the lips coming together for the M (the M should last for at least one third of the Aum). Then remain silent and do an internal mental Aum, while focusing on the vibration between the eyebrows, behind the forehead. Then repeat - a verbal Aum, followed by a mental Aum. Keep repeating for ten minutes. This practice stimulates the pituitary gland, activates the sixth sense, and is an antidote to depression.

Kali Om (Cara Jepsen), E-RYT 500, lives in Chicago, where she has been teaching yoga since 1998. She first studied with Sri Dharma Mittra, in 1999, and has completed his 200, 500 and 800-hour teacher trainings. She also studied five times in India with Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and has completed trainings in Hormone Yoga Therapy, therapeutics, senior yoga and ashtanga vinyasa yoga.  She also specializes in yoga for back care, yoga for depression, and yoga for menopause. She will lead a yoga and meditation retreat in Belize February 9-16 in near Chicago April 12-13.  For more information, visit or e-mail

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Where Most of Us Get Stuck: Understanding the Throat Chakra

By Sara Schwartz 

©Enid Johnstone

I once heard someone quote Sri Dharma Mittra and said that ‘most of us are stuck in our throat chakra.’ I’ve always wondered what that meant. With a little bit of research here’s what I came up with:

The chakra system is a description of our subtle anatomy and a part of the map of our spirit.

The seven chakras form at the intersections of our Ida and Pingala Nadis. These two main Nadis also intersect seven times along the Shashumna Nadi, the central energy channel which runs down our spines. Nadis, subtle energy channels, carry concentrated prana, or vital energy through our systems.

The idea is that our Divine Cosmic Energy, also known as Kundalini energy, lays dormant at the base of our spine. This is why our awareness of divine self is also dormant. As we practice, we raise our Kundalini energy from the base of our spines and we experience physical, spiritual, and emotional evolutions. The final destination is for Kundalini to unlock our seventh crown chakra, allowing us to experience enlightenment.

Each chakra has physical and spiritual manifestations based on whether it is closed, or if it is open. As the Kundalini rises and your chakras open, you evolve into each of the seven stages. By the time you get to your fifth chakra, your throat chakra, you are fairly evolved.

For example, the root chakra at the bottom of our spines deals with our base desires: Our need for food, sleep, and shelter. A person who is stuck at this level of evolution might hurt themselves or others to advance materialistically. A person with an open root chakra does not worry about where the food and money will come from but simply devotes his life to service, knowing the universe will provide.

The throat chakra is located somewhere around the base of the throat. A physical manifestation of an open throat chakra is a beautiful, clear, and resonant voice. You might have a good sense of hearing. Your shoulder and neck muscles are relaxed if your throat chakra is open. Physical manifestations of a tight throat chakra would be chronic head colds, thyroid imbalances, a tense neck and shoulders.

The Sanskrit name of the throat chakra is Vishuddha, which means purification. Emotionally, the throat chakra governs expression, so an open and healthy throat chakra means that we are comfortable telling the truth. With an open throat chakra we make sure that our actions serve the greater good and we embody a pure way of living.

The good news is that the Life of a Yogi Teaching Training Manual says, “Once one’s consciousness arrives at the Fifth Chakra, it never descends again.” The amount of knowledge it takes to progress up to your fifth chakra prevents you from descending back into ignorance.

When your consciousness is in your fifth chakra, your personality is marked by an interest in spiritual seeking. You try to cultivate, “self-denial, self-control, austerity, steadfastness, uprightness, renunciation, dedication, truthfulness and tranquility.” The throat chakra is a good place to be: spiritually aware and seeking, telling the truth, living a pure life.

But there is more on the spiritual path beyond the fifth chakra. Once in the sixth chakra, located at the space between your eyebrows, you can glimpse the spirit world in this lifetime.

So how can we evolve our consciousness past the throat chakra? Sri Dharma says, “After long and painful spiritual practices such as self-purification, the mind, heart, and intellect are purified and the consciousness is expanded to the level of Divine Perception.”

You can start this process of self-purification by watching what you say, and watching what you eat. Sri Dharma often says “If you control what you put into and what comes out of your mouth, you have controlled much of your mind already.” With that in mind, try following a vegan diet for a while, and thinking about what you say before you say it, and perhaps not saying most of what you intend to say.

Anodea Judith recommends you take a Vow of Silence to help heal the throat chakra. In her book Wheels of Life, she writes, “By avoiding verbal communication, one can open up other avenues of communication. Namely, communication with higher consciousness.”

Mouna, or spiritual silence, is a great way to deepen your connection to the divine. Think of the second yoga sutra of Patanjali: “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.” So to be verbally quiet is a good start to being mentally quiet.

To be in the throat chakra evolution-wise is a good sign. And it would make sense that most of us are stuck in the throat chakra because we are sincerely practicing, but maybe not predicting the future quite yet.

Om Namo Shivaya! 


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 graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training in 2013. "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.