My first memory with Dharma-ji was at Wanderlust Tahoe. I was literally spinning in life and especially during that weekend. Practicing yoga once or twice everyday, I was charging so much that it was spiraling many other parts of my life. You could say I was an overcharged and kind of a mess. When I first stepped in to take his class by myself, I instantly felt calm and at peace, even though I had been angry, frustrated, maybe slightly jealous, overwhelmed, and slightly hungover before I came in.
The look in his eye, where he was almost reading me and calming me, was one I’ll never forget. After that class I felt so peaceful and relaxed that nothing phased me for hours even though I was in the same situation. I knew that he was someone special and that I needed to spend more time with him. I struggle sometimes with saying I found my “teacher” because we all have many teachers in life but I do feel he is my teacher as long as I allow him to be. He is my guru until the true guru is fully realized.
I feel as if Sri Dharma is always changing based on the students around him. Every teacher training has brought new spins, but still the same Sri Dharma. When I visited him in New York after Wanderlust, I was very much focused on an advanced asana practice and the New York Center seemed aligned with this. There were tons of physically strong students, so his class was very advanced and power driven, because I think that’s what was needed. I think it was the Dharma IV level, with even stronger headstand, scorpion and fold variations.
Slowly his classes evolved into the Charging Practice, which seems to focus more on the main poses and holding them for a long time. It’s more attainable for everyone and still can be challenging if need be. And funny enough, I don’t really desire the really advanced poses anymore. Also, I don’t remember him using the sound bowl in Nidra before, but now he uses it almost every time. Once I saw it sitting there, and he started playing it for my girlfriend and me after class – it was so powerful! I actually bought bowls after that, but still have them sitting there waiting to be turned on 😂 I only use them in Nidra or in Deep Relaxation.
I think I have changed the way I practice and teach because what we experience changes based on our condition, and since we are gaining more knowledge, it’s impossible to stay the same. I used to really focus on asana asana asana in my own practice, but now I spend much more time on Psychic Development and pranayama-meditation, because these tools also help to change my life for the better and I require these tools to stay open and calm. I also love doing short yoga Nidra to recharge mid-day, because my body needs more restorative charging to keep up the intensity I’m living.
I think Dharma yoga is different from other forms of yoga because the foundation of each practice covers all of the eight limbs of yoga and has a strong focus on the ethical rules and spirituality, along with teaching the asana practice. In most of the other studios I have attended, I find that you may get one quick positive quote or short poem after class, and maybe if you’re lucky you can get a mantra, but it’s almost as if there is a fear of teaching spirituality – like spirituality will decrease the number of students attending class. If you want to learn ethical lessons, you may get them in trainings as part of an exclusive yoga community, but in a Dharma yoga class, you can feel something connecting you to a higher force every time.
I also feel like living the yogic path isn’t present in other studios. I have heard many teachers say “I’ll teach you the poses and you’ll have a great time, but I’m not teaching that spiritual stuff. Go somewhere else for that.” They may have packed classes, but the meaning is missing from the foundation. The events that are held at some studios also represent what’s going on in the larger yoga community in the West, like the emphasis of doing yoga with beer or cocktails, laser lights, playing music with emotional or even sexual undertones, and violent lyrics is common. Eating meat in studios is normal. While these are all things I have done before, they separate the spiritually of the yogic practice and just become a great workout or experience.
The Dharma practice is supposed to be Sattvic, meaning neutral, so the attention of the student isn’t taken all over the place and more focus can be on the self. Dharma-ji has taught us that all paths lead to God, no matter which one you choose, so I feel that Sri Dharma teachers teach from a greater non-discriminatory belief system, that embraces all cultural religious beliefs, but still try to lead the students to become more understanding and more connected. Some examples are: dedicating or offering up the poses; the emphasis of practicing non-violence with a vegetarian or vegan diet; stimulating the third eye with visualization, like focusing our attention on the red rose or a white light beating to the rhythm of our heart in the space between our eyebrows; the bastrica breathing in table top or boat pose; the pranayama and meditation after shavasana. Every Dharma class has these things in them. All of the Dharma practices are just beautiful and so thought out. I also love how physically, almost the entire practice is done to open the chest- the heart chakra, which I interpret as allowing us to be more loving beings.
The entire practice goes back to my observation of Dharma-ji himself, he is extremely open and intuitive and so full of love and compassion.
Human are all constantly evolving and our own awareness changes based on our own condition. Being around Dharma-ji has allowed my condition to be that of more compassion and awareness. I think I’m more aware of larger movements for self realization, because that’s what I’m seeking. I also see larger movements for veganism. I think there is still judgement in our yoga world because true realization hasn’t been met: the need to for people to say they are practicing a “better yoga” or “real yoga,” because dualism still exists. But I think back to Dharma-ji talking about the different forms of yoga out there and I remember him saying that they are all good because they are planting a seed for an interest to gain more self knowledge, so it is perfect! We all start somewhere!
I think the biggest lessons I have learned are to be compassionate, to be the witness, to say and truly mean “I’m sorry,” to be childlike, and to emphasize that we are all a portion of God. Before every class I have a “little lecture” like Sri Dharma does. I try my best to share stories that Dharma Mittra has shared that stood out to me, so maybe lessons will click for the students in front of me, as well. I try to repeat lessons like the comparison of Gold and God, where ultimately no matter what you dilute the gold with, a portion of gold still remains – just like us and other beings, there is still a tiny piece of God in each and every one of us. I also use the photo in the Bhagavad Gita that he talks about, where every being has a little Krishna sign over their hearts representing all beings, even the insects, have a portion of God in the center of their chest to the right side of their hearts.
I also speak about Ahimsa every class and tell stories that Dharma shares, like how he too gets angry and maybe wants to flick off the crazy driver next to him, but immediately says “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” and moves on. This makes the lessons seem more practical and humanizes them. We are all on this path trying our best every day! I think the greatest thing about Dharma Mittra is his true ability to love and serve us all. He completely removes the ego and is never afraid to share true stories of times where he has faulted and is constantly apologizing for the tiniest things, because he really wants to cause no suffering to anyone. He also is constantly doing the work even when he is sick or injured – he’s out there teaching without an inch of ego present. This way of living inspires me to keep going and to keep being a better person.
I’m forever grateful for Dharma-ji’s untiring devotion to help us all receive Self Realization. He’s still constantly traveling to share the knowledge, holding so many teacher trainings, and publishing books to be of service. I feel blessed to have learned and to still learn from him. He has helped me change my life and will help change anyone’s if they are receptive!
This post was written by Sarah Dharamraj-Stein.
Dharma Yoga LOAY 500 hour certified, 800 hour in progress | Glendale, AZ