Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ॐ Happy 75th Birthday Sri Dharma Mittra ॐ

Happy 75th Birthday Sri Dharma Mittra

I am filled with gratitude for this teacher.  When I lived in NYC, away from home, I found a home for my mind, body and spirit on my yoga mat in the Dharma Yoga Center.  When it was Dharma Yoga East, and I was recovering from an injured ankle amidst a sea of the most inspirational advanced yoga practitioners, Sri Dharma came over and gently adjusted me into full pigeon, and it felt amazing.  He was quick to remind me and the group, we can do more than we think.  Another memory was when a fellow yogi invited me to attend class, and we did Vasisthasana (Side Plank) into Chakrasana (wheel pose), and then back to Vasisthasana, again into Chakrasana (wheel pose), flip over and over and over and over and over and over again, It was bliss.  I stopped at one point, looked at Andrew with an expression "is this for real?", Sri Dharma charmingly reminded the entire group that he never said to stop.  Dharma encourages students to make the asana an offering, so the yoga classes leave your body drenched in blissful sweat, and your mind and heart grateful for the chance to explore closing meditations.  

I personally have a tendency to practice in the back of class, but Sri Dharma sees everything. 
One time in practice at Dharma Yoga West, the room was packed, I had my eyes closed, and on the "second time is the best" as he calls it for Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), I looked up and saw Sri Dharma Mittra, he somehow jumped off the platform, and like a yoga ninja made his way over to me.  He guided me to place one hand on the ground, change the position of my other arm, and he gently put his hands on me like a potter does to clay, adjusting me into full bow pose.  I LOVED IT!  I never realized I could do that pose, and never bothered to try.  Then he read my mind (something I am convinced he does), and joyfully said "I bet you are wondering how to get out of the pose".  My brain freeze and inability to conjure a poker face was evident, I laughed and nodded, while ironically still in the pose, and he simply told me to let go one hand at a time.  Classes with Sri Dharma feed the soul, and that is why I have encouraged my students all over the world to take his class.  When I was in NY, on many occasions I would go with my friends and students to participate in the classes.  Many people feel intimidated to take class, because they feel they are not at a certain level, but once we lose the judgement, expectation, comparison, and just surrender to our breath, it becomes an awesome experience.

There was a time I was leading my 200Hr Riya Yoga Teacher Training Course (which was then called Zoga Yoga) and while I had some unexpected personal financial stress, at the time I was also recently in a car accident.  I knew my heart and body needed some Dharma time, but I knew I would not be able to do everything.  I got over my ego and went anyways.  The platform or stage was on the right side of the Dharma Yoga West room, and the temple was full, so I placed my mat on the wall at the furthest end.  I was basically in my own row.  My neck and upper back was in extreme pain, but I surrendered to my breath, modified where needed, and let my practice be an offering.  The sun salutations, the breathing, the collective consciousness of the room made me lose awareness of any pain in my neck.  We came to headstand time, and I knew I could not do it.  I decided to go into childs pose and shed a few silent tears.  While I figured I was invisible in a sea of headstanding yogis who were all facing me in my childs pose.  Sri Dharma again like a yoga ninja, jumped off the stage and came right to me and said "you hurt your neck".....I thought how does he always know this stuff?  he then asked what happened and suggested I do shoulder stand, at least I will be inverted, I did and it actually helped the healing process in profound ways. 

Dharma Yoga Center is a place where yogis gather to transform their hearts with the power of yoga asana, and the wisdom of a brilliant teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra.  For me it was the only place in New York that allowed me to deepen my physical practice and spiritual practice as one experience.  This teacher embodies his practice in so many ways.  He joyfully challenges you to pursue your practice with "angry determination" and ignites excitement when approaching Surya Namaskar "Follow me now, and don't get late!", he reminds you to "be receptive" to the grace of God that dwells within your heart, he encourages you to improve your health “If you eat dead, toasted, fried or frozen food, you will feel dead, toasted, fried and frozen” and guides yogis to honor the Yamas and Niyamas “With the Ethical Rules and a little concentration, anything is possible”.  He is the teacher who guides us on our path of self-realization with encouragement "Develop a strong desire for liberation" and wisdom, "when you are quiet, you see everything with love".  My favorite quote from Sri Dharma Mittra is "Second time is the best, third time is the best....etc"  after we complete holding a physically challenging asana for what seems like an eternity of breaths.  While living in NYC, I made a point to offer my Karma Yoga at the Missionaries of Charity in the Bronx for years, and if you are in NYC, I encourage you to reach out and help the sisters as they provide meals to the homeless.  When I realized I was leaving NYC, I made a point to do some Karma Yoga at Dharma Yoga Centre, and I feel blessed for the experience to give back to the person who inspired my yoga practice in so many ways.

There is so much this amazing teacher has done for the yoga community.   I am inspired by his humble dedication to yoga, I am grateful that he has been my teacher, I am grateful for every life changing class I have taken, I am honored to learn from him.  Thank you Dharma ji for an incredible 75years of life, and for shinning light to yogis everywhere.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Chakras with Yogi Vishvketu

While I was in India I was exploring the possibility to spend time in Rishikesh.  One of the Yoga Ashrams that caught my attention was run by Yogi Vishvketu.  Unfortunately, I became sick and was unable to add Rishikesh to my list of adventures.  Fortunately, Yogi Vishvketu teaches half the year in Rishikesh at his centre and the other half in Canada with his beautiful family, so I was able to participate in his Chakra Workshop this weekend at the lovely Jaya Yoga Centre.  While I have taught chakra workshops many times, I also love to be a student and take class, and kundalini based exercises is something I do not always do, so I wanted to take myself out of the comfort zone.  The workshop is part of a beautiful series, and this particular afternoon we focused on the Swadhistana (Sacral) and Manipurna (Navel) chakras.  Swadhistana affects our desires, passion and creativity with lunar energy, while our manipurna chakra or city of jewels is linked to the energy of confidence, determination and self worth with a lot of solar energy.  Much of the class included kundalini kriya work, postures, mantras, pranayama, bija (seed) sounds, visualization inspired meditation, and more.

“Men of great knowledge actually found out about the chakras – their workings, their petals, their sounds, their infinity, their co-relationship, their powers.  They found that the life of a human is totally based on these chakras.  They developed into a whole science.  This total science gave birth to Kundalini Yoga.  That is how Kundalini Yoga was born.” – Yogi Bhajan

While I was filling out information forms in the entrance of the studio, Yogi Vishvketu walked in with a big smile and joyful greeting to everyone.  Upon entering the class there was lovely mantra based music playing from art of living.  I sat in meditation for 30 minutes, enjoying this beautiful music.  Once we began class the collective consciousness of 20 participants was flowing, and it felt wonderful.  Between oscillating movements, dynamic and integrative pranayama techniques, Kundalini exercises can be very intense, bringing up emotions, and target energy flow within the chakras.  Our teacher was joyful and guided us to bring the same happiness to our inhalations and exhalations.  Since it is spring, many of us needed tissues to clear our nasal passage while we explored the dynamic pranayama exercises.  The experience was meant to guide everyone through transformation.  Yogi Vishvketu has a vast knowledge of vedas, and subtle body science, so when questions were asked at the end of class he provided very accurate and indepth responses to further everyone's interest in the subject of chakras.  At the end of class when I asked Yogi Vishvketu to take a photograph, he was happy to oblige.  The lovely yogini Savitri who snapped the photo initially cut out both our heads, and Yogi Vishvketu was witty and quick to point out the camera lens was focusing on the chakras we worked on today, to which we all shared in a laugh.  I am very grateful to have met this wonderful teacher, Yogi Vishvketu, and a few other friendly yogis this weekend at Jaya Yoga Centre.  Hari Om.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Art of Adjustments in Yoga Class

On Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you), I was inspired to write a post about adjustments in Yoga Class.  While I have studied Hatha Yoga (Sivananda), Ashtanga (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois), Iyengar (B.K.S Iyengar), and Vinyasa (Sri Dharma Mittra...), I am grateful for having wonderful adjustments in class.  I have also enjoyed taking new classes, experimenting with various styles of yoga including Anusara, Hot Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Acro Yoga, all in efforts to keep a positive and open mind, taking myself outside of my comfort zone.  Like everyone, I have a preference of style and teacher that I tend to gravitate to.  While I do like to keep an open mind and support new teachers, I also know my body, and if I feel an adjustment is not what my body needs in that moment, I have gestured or whispered to the teacher while in class. 

Ultimately, we are wanting to quiet the monkey mind, so if a teacher can take me to a place where my physical body blissfully swirls in fluid movements that are devoid of distractions, I am grateful.  As a teacher, it is important to understand the body, especially when adjusting.  I have heard horror stories of people getting injured in classes, and teachers giving painful adjustments, which result in injuries.  This should not be a reality.  Since it is an inward practice, I always prefer to say that our injuries are our biggest teachers, when we study the chakra system we understand the injury is a physical manifestation of unresolved mental fluctuations.  It is easy to blame yoga, blame the teacher, blame the snow that we had to shovel, but what happens when we look inward is liberation, which is the purpose of yoga. 

As a teacher when I train new yoga teachers we spend a good amount of time on adjustments.  The reality is, as nervous as some students are to be touched or adjusted by the teacher, some new teachers are equally nervous to adjust the student.  Much like the yoga practice is a practice, it is also a practice period for new teachers to get used to adjust different people into different poses.  The main reasons we adjust students is to ensure safety & alignment in poses, to bring people deeper into the pose, and to provide support when a student may not be able to maintain balance.  It is important to note that every body is unique, with their own history of injuries, physical limitations, fears etc, therefore every adjustment should be unique to the individual.  The goal should never be to get the pose exactly like the teacher/photograph, but to be able to breathe deeply in the pose to the full extent of that individual practitioner.

Here are some helpful hints to approach the art of adjusting.
  1. Lose the nervous energy, when you are calm the student will feel that.
  2. Ground yourself so you can provide adequate support for the student.
  3. Notice their breath, Cue their breath, and move them with the breath. 
  4. Notice their face and toes for tension, adjustments should be done when face is relaxed.
  5. Notice their foundation, once they are secure....gently place your hands and adjust
  6. Stay with the student during the adjustment, and support them out (it's not a game of tag).
  7. Be gentle with your hands, (no need to make it a wrestling match)
  8. If you adjust on one side, be kind and adjust the other side too. 
  9. Keep your hands away from bathing suit regions.

The reality is, every pose has their own proper adjustment methods.  There are books and classes revolved around the concept of adjustments.  In a private class setting there is more freedom for adjustments, whereas in a group class the teacher needs to maintain the collective consciousness of the group, and still be ready to provide hands on adjustments when verbal cues are not enough.  Often times a gentle hand, accompanied with a clear verbal cue is enough to guide a student to safely get deeper or aligned into a pose.

This inspiration came from a recent post on Facebook where a video of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was posted in the early days, that depicted some very intense hands on adjustments.  There were different opinions of the adjustments based off the footage, and everyone is entitled to their own view.  While I would say Ashtanga Yoga is one of the most intense approach to asana practice out there, I feel like it has evolved and grown like many forms of yoga.  I have not had the honor to practice with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, but I have practiced with incredible teachers who learned from him, and respect the fact that he was one of the yoga masters who brought yoga to the western world, and inspired what we popularly refer to as Vinyasa yoga, Flow Classes, Power Yoga etc..  While some teachers get certified, open studios and have the honor to guide people to the practice of yoga, it is important to respect the Gurus of India who started a worldwide movement that is truly a spiritual practice.  When we get to that place of undisturbed mind stuff, we embody the eight limbs of yoga, we see all things with beauty, understanding and gratitude which as teachers, should be our ultimate goal. While I practice ashtanga and vinyasa, I do it because my body enjoys the challenge, yet I do not recommend it for everyone.  I enjoy taking Iyengar classes, because an entire class that focuses on my trochanter forces me to quiet the monkey mind like nothing else.  Stay positive and grateful with every breath.