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Unravelling the Science of Yoga – The Power of Breath

August 14, 2018

by Silvia Lopez Herrero

There are pivotal moments in life when we most need perspective. The space to connect to our intuition and gain clarity on our direction through this life.

And so it was that I found myself spending last Christmas in India on a 15 day silent meditation retreat. I was apprehensive but as they explained: “The silence allows one to sink into a deeply peaceful state of mind.”

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The focus of the retreat was to study the last three limbs of Yoga- Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Approximately 2,000 years ago, Patanjali outlined a path intended to help us awaken understanding and insight while also growing inner strength and resolve.

One of the most transformative things I learnt was the power of breath and it’s importance in our yoga practice – meaning the 8 limbed science and not just the asana. I had travelled to India to find peace, only to discover that it can be found in every breath – it just takes some practice…

We are used to observing the breath as a point of focus in class or to connect the body and mind. However, when we observe the breath with the wisdom eye (the inner awareness), the behaviour of the air particles change in a way that purifies them and by extension our body.  The scientific basis of this phenomenon comes from Quantum Physics and the revolutionary discovery that particles have the capacity to display different types of behaviours at the same time.

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A simple analogy will help to illustrate this point…

Imagine a school class full of children; when the teacher is there, the children are well-behaved and when the teacher is not there, the children behave chaotically.

Observing the breath has the same impact on the air particles’ behavior as the teacher has on the children. When we observe our breath, the air particles behave in an ordered or “well-behaved” manner; and when we do not observe it, the particles behave in a random or chaotic fashion.

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This fundamental difference in the air inhaled while observing our breath also impacts our body at a cellular level. When this purified air reaches the 720 trillions of cells of our body they respond by dumping all the physiological and emotional rubbish that gets stored in them over time.

The purification of the body and mind that follows this meditation technique paves the way to achieve further stages to Samadhi. If you want to explore this further, Patanjali’s Yoga Dharsana and the Buddha’s Abhidhamma are all about the science of internal observation.

IMG_1799This knowledge has shifted the way I understand and practice yoga. Now, meditation is the central component of my yoga practice and observation of the breath has gained a new meaning in my asana work.

I hope sharing this learning also shifts your understanding of this important component of yoga. If you have any questions about this article, either you like it or you would like to read more about the science of internal observation, let me know! silvialoher@gmail.com

 

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Why meditate?

June 27, 2018

by Alexandra Taylor
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I doubt that there are many people who have escaped the hype around “mindfulness”, “meditation” and “mental wellbeing” the past year. But unlike other momentary buzzwords and questionable detoxes, these ideas are not just passing fashionable trends. In fact, they are based upon practices which are thousands of years old.

The benefits of meditation are no secret and can positively affect every part of your being: mind, body and soul. A regular practice can have real, physical impact such as changing brain composition, reducing inflammation and relieving bodily pain. Studies have also shown that meditation can significantly help with emotional regulation, reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression and sleep problems. On a deeper, more spiritual level, the practice of meditation encourages us to cultivate a kind and compassionate attitude towards our thoughts and body, allowing us to show ourselves to the world exactly as we are. It connects us to our inner divine wisdom and purpose.

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Today the word meditation has many different meanings and connotations and as such the idea has become rather nebulous and confusing. But fundamentally, the essence of meditation is awareness. In its simplest form this is done by observing our breath, but it may be our body, an object, or a sound. When we are in this state of awareness, we are able to detach from for our thoughts and problems allowing us leading healthier and happier lives. The truth is, there is no correct way to meditate and so it is important to find the approach that works best for you. It is a personal practice which will continually evolve and challenge you on your journey through life. 

StockSnap_IJ5FMCOR7OWhen I first began my meditation practice, I used to get so frustrated by the fact that I could not seem to empty my mind of thoughts and achieve this peaceful state of ‘Zen’  I so badly desired. But meditation is not about stopping thoughts or clearing the mind. It is about learning to let go of attachment and judgement by simply observing what we experience, moment by moment. Your mind will naturally wander, so when it does just notice that it has drifted, and bring it back your point of awareness. Acknowledge whatever thoughts or emotions arise and allow it to be. The first few times you practice you may feel like you are constantly being pulled by your thoughts, but by showing up and committing to your practice you will notice that the gap between each thought lengthens and begin to really feel those moments of pure stillness.

But most of all enjoy your practice. And don’t be discouraged by what you perceive as a negative experience. Our minds are like a muscle which needs training. So be gentle with yourself and stick with it even when it feels like a challenge because trust me, the benefits are totally worth it!


 5 minute meditation

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If you’ve never tried meditation before, here is a really lovely and simple practice to follow. I’d recommend setting a timer for 3-5 minutes if this is your first time, but feel free to adjust this accordingly:

  • Set yourself up in a peaceful and comfortable environment
    Create a space that feels like bliss where you know you won’t be disturbed for your practice. This offers you the peace of mind to fully surrender into your meditations without a fear of being interrupted. If you don’t have a whole room to dedicate to this then find a nice corner of a room. Keep the room tidy with only a few serenity inviting items like a pillow, rug and lamp. Use candles, incense or a diffuser and add a touch of nature to infuse balance and harmony. Let this place be your safe sanctuary whereby just walking past soothes your mind.
  • Find a comfortable position
    You may want to sit on a cushion, bolster or block or you may prefer to be seated on a chair with your arms and legs uncrossed. Either way, engage your stomach muscles and keep your back upright, but not too tight. Allow your shoulders to slide down your back and feel the crown of your head reaching to the sky. Be comfortable in your position.
  • Relax your body
    Bring gentle awareness to how your body feels in this moment. Noticing any areas of tension, aches, pains or discomfort. Release and let go of any areas of tightness and tension. Continue to relax your body as you feel the sensations of warmth and heaviness spread across your body. Relax.
  • Tune into your breath
    Bring your awareness to the natural flow of your breath. The breath in, and out. There’s no need to do anything or change anything, simply observe your own rhythm of breath. Notice where into your body you are breathing. Is it your chest? Or abdomen? Is your breath slow or fast? Deep or short? Do you hold onto your breath at any moment? Bring your awareness to all the sensations of your breath. Feel your breath in and out through your nose. Follow the air in through your nose, down the nasal passage and back of the throat. Can you notice the moment the air first touches your lungs. Become aware of the rise and fall of your chest of belly. Sense where one breath ends, and another begins. The inhale. The exhale. The pauses. The breath as a whole. Be really curious about your breathing.
  • Be kind and compassionate
    It is only natural for your mind to wander. It may drift to things you have to do, or might have done. Or it may begin to judge your current experience. Wherever you find your mind going, simply acknowledge it, and bring it back to your breath. Remain the passive observer of your thoughts and emotions, watching them come and go like clouds in the sky.
  • Continue for your set amount of time
    Keep your attention on your breath, bringing your awareness back to the breath each time you notice that your mind has wandered.
  • Reawaken the body
    Once your time is up, bring your awareness back to your body. Slowly and mindfully reawaken the body by wriggling some fingers and toes. Move your head from side to side and take a deep body stretch. Expand your awareness to the room around you and gently open your eyes.
  • Show gratitude towards yourself
    Pause for a few moments taking in the experience of the practice and what may have come up for you. Take the time to smile and offer yourself some gratitude for showing up to practice and nurture your mind, body and soul.

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Alexandra teaches Meditation every Wednesday from 20:30-21:30 at PYC. 

Coming Back to Yoga after a Break

June 1, 2018

When you take a break from yoga, coming back can be a challenge. In many cases, students don’t stop practicing because they wanted to stop, but because practice got sidelined by something else.

Perhaps you went on holiday, got ill, had a big deadline at work or had a baby. Perhaps you feel too busy or too stressed to make it to class.

For many of our wonderful students, our studio at The Power Yoga Company is a sanctuary. It is the place where we come to focus inwards, away from hectic London life. As a yogi, if you feel too stressed to come to yoga, yoga is probably what you need.

That first class back can be tough and will take courage. Your body could feel stiffer, or weaker. You might not be able to get into poses you could before. Your mind could be unsettled. Perhaps you even feel a bit self-conscious.

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Our teachers know that feeling; they can support you through this period. Talk to your teacher at the start of the class: they will be able to guide you through variations of poses to suit your needs. When coming back to yoga after a break, you might like to come along to a Level 1 class (we run 3 to 4 of them every day). It will be a more gentle flow, with lots of postural refinements. It is a non-judgemental and supportive space to re-familiarise yourself with the practice.

If you’re stressed or anxious, you might find that your body feels stiff. That is natural: stress activates your primal “fight or flight” reaction and your muscles contract. You can’t expect the tension to release from your muscles immediately but you can start the process by calming the mind and stretching into your stiffness.

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It is important to accept that the benefits of yoga come with regular practice. There’s no fast-track back into it, neither is it possible that you might have “lost it”. In the timeless words of K. Pattabhi Jois, “practice and all is coming”.

Let go of the excuses, the self-consciousness and the mind chatter. Turn up on the mat, close your eyes and breathe. We look forward to seeing you back in class.

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With love from, The Power Yoga Company Team

Dharma Yoga to complement your Power Yoga Practice

May 2, 2018

At PYC, we’re introducing a new class to complement your Power Yoga practice: Dharma Yoga with Alix Inness.

Where Power Yoga focuses on strengthening and grounding, Dharma Yoga focuses on opening and elevating. Where Power Yoga flows dynamically, Dharma spends more time with a single pose. They are perfect partners: coming to a Dharma class will open more space in your body to go deeper in your Power Yoga practice.

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Dharma Yoga is named after Sri Dharma Mittra, born in 1939. Before he became a teacher, Dharma spent 10 years studying with his Guru, Sri Swami Kailashananda a.k.a. Yogi Gupta. To learn, Dharma would copy the Guru physically, mentally and spiritually. Subsequently, Dharma classes are a quiet space and teachers will encourage students to find their own way into the poses by watching and copying, rather than give detailed instruction

Dharma Yoga is explorative and the poses are very much all about finding areas of internal compression and opening them. There are a great deal of variations of a single pose, allowing you to identify areas of resistance and go deeper. 

Dharma’s focus on heart-opening is amazing for improving your backbends! The great number of inversions also gives you the opportunity to refine your poses in preparation for our faster-moving Power Yoga classes.

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Sri Dharma Mittra

Now we love Power Yoga; we’re never going to move away from Power Yoga. We’re introducing a Dharma class because of the way it can elevate and enhance your Power Yoga practice. One of the things we love the most about it is its vigour and dynamic variety. However, we sometimes find that we want to spend more time exploring a single pose. We want to play with variations and spend time finding our own way through it. PYC’s new Dharma class opens up that opportunity in our week.

We think Dharma Yoga is the perfect complement to regular Power Yoga classes. It’s like oiling your body, making it more supple and open in your practice.

To celebrate the introduction of our new Dharma Yoga class, we’re offering the first class free to our students. 

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For more on the origins of Dharma Yoga, read PYC teacher Alix’s blog post here.

With love from,

The Power Yoga Company Team

Meet Fredrik Underhaug

March 28, 2018

 

Born and raised in Bergan, Norway, Fredrik has always been passionate about health and well-being. He is a trained firefighter and personal trainer, and completed our 200hr teacher training this year.

Fredrik recognised through yoga that change starts from the inside and out. With a strong focus on the breath and a love of inversions, you’ll leave his class feeling grounded and more confident on and off the mat. We caught up with him at the studio.

How did you get into yoga?

Two or three years ago a good friend of mine dragged me into his yoga class to show me that it wasn’t just all wishy washy. In an instant I fell in love with it and started to come to every class I could.

I started doing 30 days for £30 at every studio that offered it near to where I lived and it set me up with a daily practice for months.

I quickly started to see huge improvements both in my physical and mental health. The revelations kept on coming – I realised that I’d prioritised others over myself and not listened to my needs in a very long time…  I saw a lot of changes in my life in general.

 

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What made you want to become a yoga teacher?

I’d been working as a personal trainer for some time and loved seeing my clients progress and make positive changes in their lives, I believed becoming a yoga teacher would enable me to help more people.

As I said, I totally fell in love with Yoga. I was also fortunate to be part of a very nice community at Collaborative Yoga, which was a charity project. They asked me to become part of their teacher team and started letting me assist and shadow their classes.

How did teacher training change you?

Teacher training definitely made me more flexible, in mind and body! It also opened my eyes to how yoga can be accessible to any person, no matter age or physical limitations. I began to consider how my yoga practice would change as I grow older.  We all want to be practicing when we are 110 and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.

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What do you think makes a good teacher?

An inquisitive mind and a compassionate nature. Someone who does a lot of self practice and gets experience through their own practice. What I’ve learned from going to a lot of different classes and teachers is that you have to teach what rings true to you. Use your own experiences on and off the mat and find your own way.

Of all the benefits Yoga has to offer, which of them has had the greatest impact on your life?

I find in this busy London life Yoga really has a tremendous effect on my mental health. My practice calms me down, making me more focused and clear.

What’s your favourite pose and why?

Pincha Mayurasana! I love the feeling of strength and stability that I get in this posture, it’s my favourite way to enjoy the benefits of being upside down.

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When you’re not teaching, where are we most likely to find you?

At a climbing wall or a taco place!

Favourite track to practice to?

Tash Sultana – Notion. Anything by Tash Sultana!

Any advice for those interested in the teacher training?

My number one tip for anyone embarking on teacher training: don’t be afraid to fail and mess up. That’s the place you can do it and should do it, so you get over the fear of teaching others. Fail, fail, fail and then in the end you’ll be teaching something you know and have experienced.

You can check out Fredrik’s weekly classes here.

My Yoga Teacher Training Experience – A yoga teacher in the making!

March 22, 2018

By Silvia Lopez Herrero

Why Yoga?

Eight years ago, long hours of studying for a PhD was causing me mental and physical stress. I started looking for a way of dealing with this and took my first yoga class. Immediately something lit up inside me. I had been practicing karate for 20 years, now not having to strain myself or fight someone to ‘workout’ was a revelation.  The yoga teacher’s words: “practice from compassion”, “cultivate love to yourself” and “stay within your limits” really meant something new and special.

Both Martial Arts and yoga work with drishti and connection to the mind, and that’s what drew me to these practices – the cultivation of concentration, precision and strength. At the time I wasn’t even aware of the spiritual goal and benefits of yoga which today are so important to me!

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The next step…

After years on the mat I had more and more questions that I needed guidance with.  I craved more information on all aspects of the discipline: the body-mind connection, health benefits, the spiritual path…you name it.

I decided to undertake the Teacher Training when I needed a break from my work and hoped to have a transformative experience that would give me an insight on the next steps in my life.

PYC is my local studio. I’ve practiced here for years and it feels like home to me – I feel safe and cared for. But London has so much to offer, I owed it to myself to research other yoga teaching training. I tried several introductory weekends, but nothing else offered the standard I expected for such an investment of time and money. The PYC training offered the right balance of teachers’ quality & experience, curriculum and time frame. My decision was made!

Like many others on the course, my primary intention was to deepen my practice, not to become a teacher. But now, not even two months later, I am running my first seven-week yoga course. Yoga helps you find your own path, your dharma.

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What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.

The training gave me so much more than I had expected. Days were long and intense, but from Day 1 we were applying what we learnt. That was invaluable in helping us build confidence and integrate theory and practice. The schedule was a good balance of subjects and practice, and the teachers were an incredible source of knowledge.

For me the most important qualities a teacher can have are: passion, compassion, discipline, an open heart and an open mind, devotion, inspiration and support. Every teacher had these in abundance.

The part I enjoyed most was supporting my fellow students as they evolved their practice. Now supporting others entering the yoga journey is what moves me to keep teaching and is behind my first collaborative yoga-teaching project.

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Am I a yoga teacher?

I’m definitely on the way! Marie-Laure, one of the PYC founders and coordinator of the teacher training course, guided me towards a transformative insight after the course. I know now that my goal is not to teach yoga but to learn from teaching and keep sharing what I have learnt. For me, learning is where my soul belongs. Thanks again to my angels, Marie-Laure and Amelie!

This is just the beginning…

I am a busy bee flying after knowledge – the pollen of life –  to produce the honey of life: personal growth! So many things resonate within me to achieve this: science, yoga, clowning, painting, writing, traveling and, most delightfully, being a mum!

So if you see me around, come and say hello or drop me an email with your personal views at silvialoher@gmail.com

 

 

 

Ignacio Ruiz – Meditation for everyone

March 21, 2018

Ignacio Ruiz teaches our new Meditation class every Saturday 1:45pm-2.30pm at PYC. He talks to us about his journey from student to teacher and offers some helpful tips for beginners.

 

What first brought you to yoga?

In 2005 I had been practicing on and off for years when I came across yoga teacher Martin McDougall. I was immediately hooked by his very physical style but, as time passed, I came to realize that the physical side of yoga is only part of something much bigger, deeper and more powerful.

 

Why did you start practicing meditation?

A good friend explained the basics steps. That first night, at bedtime, I sat on a couple of yoga blocks and meditated for three minutes. I repeated the sequence the next day… and the next. After only a few days I could feel my mind changing, generating a subtle and profound sense of focus and calm. I was fascinated and wanted to explore further.

 

Why should we meditate?

As well as teaching, I work as a freelance consultant. A few months after I started meditating I was given an assignment with the Canadian government. Their explanatory letter told me about the work I was to do and assured me that the letter would grant me entry into Canada. When I showed the letter to the border official he screamed that I couldn’t get into Canada “just like that”!

If this had happened a few months before, I would have become very anxious and possibly confrontational. To my surprise,  I said to myself “if this man feels he needs to bark at me… let him be, nothing I can do. Worst case scenario is I fly back to London, sort out a visa and I will be back here in a couple of weeks”. I was telling this to myself with a tranquility and calmness that surprised me.

I was soon let in and on my way to Toronto marvelling at the powerful shift in my thinking. Meditation had completely changed the way I reacted to a stressful situation. It wasn’t that I was telling myself how to act and think, this balance was coming from within me. Outstanding.

 

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What does it feel like to meditate?

There are two aspects to consider; how we feel in a meditation practice and how it affects our everyday life.

In a meditation session, you develop a deep sense of peace. The world expands inside you and a new part of you, your inner being, develops. Like anything else in life, some days this is easy, other days less so. But the trick is to go through the process every day.

The effects on daily life are even better. Almost without noticing, you develop an internal sense of balance, which has a massive impact on all aspects of your life. You can manage challenging situations, like the man barking at me at the border, your health improves, and you develop your capacity to help, and accept help from others in your personal and professional life. As you deepen your meditation practice, the centre that you develop becomes present all the time, giving you the sensation of an expanded mind. You start to understand everything around you and you develop a deep sense of inner freedom. It raises your quality of life to another level.

 

Why did you decide to become a meditation teacher?

Discovering meditation is one of the best things that has happened to me. I decided to teach because I want to share my experience and help others. I like to think of it as my little contribution to a better world, as far as my ability permits.

Over time I hope to build a community to share our meditation experience and develop conversations and exercises to bring an element of fun to meditation. These things are important for a sustained practice.

 

Why do you think that meditation is important in the world we live in today?

That’s a massive question. Our digital, hyper-stimulating lifestyle influences all of us by depriving us of time to process our experiences. We may not fully realize this, because the change appears to be slow, but the impact is huge.

Meditation has been part of the human experience for several thousand years, but it may be now that it is most needed. It is central to improving our quality of life; it makes us aware of who we are, where we are and what we want from our lives, at a time when the speed of everyday life pushes us to act like a hamster in a wheel – constantly marching onwards without knowing why. The rewiring of our brain that meditation brings gives us the clarity and perspective we need to feel settled within ourselves.

 

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How do I begin meditating? 

The most difficult part of a meditation practice is starting it! We all find ways to jeopardize our own happiness, ‘reasons’ to postpone things even though we know they are good for us. It’s just part of human nature.

Really, as Iyengar explained in his texts, you can learn all you need to know in five minutes. The basics are surprisingly simple and there are many good resources out there: classes, books, websites and apps. But meditation is a skill that requires commitment and practice, just like any other. It’s all about practice – you never stop learning. You need to practice every day, but not for long: the good news is that five minutes a day is enough to achieve wonders…… and who can’t spare five minutes a day to become a happier individual?

 

How do you know if you are actually meditating or just sitting quietly?

Ha ha! That’s a good one. Meditation requires a focused and concentrated effort, but you emerge from it with more energy than you started with. ‘Sitting quietly’ doesn’t achieve that.

Yoga philosophy tells us that in meditation you generate and channel prana (life energy). Other esoteric approaches say that meditation helps align or energise your chakras, or receive energy from the universe. The western scientific belief is that when we meditate we are ‘rewiring’ the electrical paths of our nervous system and optimising our biochemistry.

 

I know you have a scientific background, is it at odds with the yogic tradition of meditation?

I find it fascinating that meditation has been around for 4-5,000 years, and science is only now discovering what yogis and meditators have known for a very long time. Last year I attended the International Symposium for Contemplative Research, a gathering of around 400 amazing scientists, teachers and social workers. All of them use or study some form of meditation.

We now know about the neuroplasticity of the brain, that the electrical pathways that exist in our brains change in response to stimuli. We can train them in the same way we would work a muscle at the gym. In meditation, we stimulate those regions of the brain that make us calmer, more focused, happier.

Research also shows that meditation alters our cells at a molecular layer. This translates into, among other benefits, lower cortisol levels, better inflammatory responses, lower blood pressure, an enhanced immune system. This research is in its infancy: who knows what we will have learnt in a hundred years from now?

 

What are the most read / loved books on your bookshelf?

I recommend two meditation books: Wherever you go, there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer of bringing meditative practices to the west. His book is beautiful. Also, The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a meditation master who explains very complex ideas in amazingly simple and beautiful ways. Both books are full of soul and joy.

 

What is the most important part of mediation that you would like to convey through your teaching?

How good it is for everyone, how it can help us all have happy fulfilling lives, and how easy and simple it can be.

 

Iggy completed his 200-hour yoga teacher training with Stewart Gilchrist in 2015.

What is Dharma Yoga?

May 2, 2018

By Alix Inness

“A devotional practice that emphasises good health, a clear mind and a kind heart.” ~ DYCNYC

Dharma Yoga is named after Sri Dharma Mittra, a classical Hatha-Raja Yoga Master, born in 1939, who devoted fifty years of his life to the direct experience and dissemination of Yoga as a holy science. Dharma Mittra learnt from Sri Swami Kailashananda i.e Yogi Gupta, who was one of the great sages of modern India and a complete master of all nine forms of yoga: Hatha, Raja, Kriya, Jnana, Japa, Yantra, Laya, Kundalini and Bhakti Yoga.

Sri Dharma Mittra spent over a decade studying with his Guru. Sri Dharma often recounts the day when he confessed to his Guru that he was constantly trying to copy him physically, mentally and spiritually. Yogi Gupta looked at him and pointing his finger, said: “That’s it, my son – that’s the trick!” When you practise with Dharma you will often hear him say “look at me”, “copy me”, rather than hear him give detailed cues or instructions.

When he received his Guru’s blessings to leave in 1975, Sri Dharma Mittra founded the Dharma Yoga Centre in New-York (DYCNYC). The DYCNYC is a temple for the body, mind and soul. I strongly recommend any yogis visiting New-York, whatever style of yoga they are practising, to visit the Centre and have a direct experience of practising and learning from Sri Dharma Mittra and the team of teachers there.

“You have to get serious about your practice!” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra

“Don’t teach too many postures; just the main ones, and hold them for a long time.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra

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Dharma Yoga has roots in all nine forms of yoga mentioned above but in essence is a system of classical Hatha-Raja Yoga. It focuses on the Eight Limbs of Yoga of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga system and emphasises the Yamas and Niyamas.

“Without Yama and Niyama, there is no Yoga.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra

“All living beings fear violence.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra

Dharma yoga is based on Ahimsa – non-violence or love: love towards ourselves and others, which includes all living beings – not just humans. Sri Dharma Mittra is an engaged ambassador of veganism. However, he never imposes any ideas or views. He defines Ahimsa as not disturbing the comfort of anyone. Respecting everyone. Everyone advances on the path at their own pace.

It is only when we are strongly established in Ahimsa that we develop what Sri Dharma Mittra considers as the most important attribute: compassion. The highest form of compassion is to see ourselves in others. This is a sign of the beginning of Self-realisation. And the goal of Yoga is Self-realisation: realising that we are not the body, we are not the mind, but a portion of God or the Supreme Self, lying at the right side of the heart, which is the same in every heart. Dharma Yoga weaves together many teachings in order to bring all students closer to the goal of Self-realisation.

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Dharma Yoga as an asana practice is a graceful and challenging practice. Most poses are held for a longer period of time than in vinyasa practices, which adds a level of difficulty. It can, however, still be a dynamic practice. Practitioners are encouraged to move in and out of the postures gracefully, like a dancer. Unified movement is important: moving together to create a common mind or unified consciousness. In this way students support each other psychically.

It is a complete practice which focusses on the main Yoga poses, one of the most important of which, for Sri Dharma Mittra, is the king of the poses, Sirsasana- headstand. Dharma Yoga includes many variations of the pose and each class often includes several of them. Sri Dharma Mittra is famously known for standing on his head unsupported by his hands at all – Niralamba Sirsasana!

Teachers are encouraged to give only essential cues for each pose and let the students find their own practice, leaving space and silence in the room, to allow the students to go deeper into their practice. Another interesting point is that we always lead with the left side of the body, except in twists, for which we start on the right side.

Finally and very importantly, Dharma Yoga is a devotional practice. Sri Dharma Mittra constantly reminds us of the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, that the highest form of spiritual practice is not meditation but renouncing the fruit of our action. This applies to the asana practice too. Sadhakas (spiritual aspirants) are encouraged to offer up every pose to the Supreme Self, moving beyond expectation of results. The asana practice therefore becomes Karma Yoga. This is also in line with the last Niyama, Isvara Pranidhana, surrendering to the Divine. This surrender allows us to experience a release into each posture that can give us a taste of meditation in the asana practice.

According to Sri Dharma Mittra, the asana practice is to bring “radiant health”, physical power and to become free from all diseases. It stimulates the glands and can allow us to access the astral body by concentrating on specific points in the body. They purify the body and help to settle the mind. But the asanas are just a preparation for meditation, they are not an end in themselves. If time allows, Dharma Yoga classes include pranayama or breathing exercises. And every class finishes with a short meditation.

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When asked what Yoga means to him, Sri Dharma Mittra replied the following:

“Yoga means: after the settling of the mind into silence through the practice of yogic techniques such as keeping yama and niyama, being always extremely compassionate to all, through total surrender of the ego, being endowed with Self-knowledge, engaging in lots of reflection and finally resting the mind on Brahman, the Almighty One, for a long time, the individual soul becomes one with the Universal Soul. This Divine Union is yoga. All the techniques are just preparations.”

Training with Sri Dharma Mittra was an amazing experience. When in contact with him, it becomes evident that he is a true Yoga master. His kindness, his knowledge and the way he transmits it are a blessing for the sadhakas. The sangha i.e the Dharma Yoga community, is a wonderful community, loving and supportive. I am honoured to be part of it and to be able to share Sri Dharma Mittra’s teachings. You will be challenged in your practice, but always in a playful way, and you will feel the bliss at the end of class.

Come practice!

Alix teaches Dharma Yoga every Sunday from 16:00-17:00 at PYC. The first class on the 13th May is free!

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