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, three years of which were spent as his Guru’s personal assistant. 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, who had been teaching since 1967, founded the Dharma Yoga Centre in New-York (DYCNYC). The DYCNYC is now located on 23rd and 6th avenue and 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.
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, towards others, which include all living beings and extends beyond our pets! 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.
“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
Dharma Yoga as an asana practice is a graceful and challenging practice. It is challenging as it encourages to work towards the full poses “with angry determination”. 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 sometimes, 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.
“Those poses have nothing to do with meditation and enlightenment.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra
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, another tool to prepare for meditation. And every class finishes with a short meditation.
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 at More Yoga. You will be challenged in your practice, but always in a playful way, and you will feel the bliss at the end of class.
A beautiful definition of Dharma Yoga I have come across is taken from the website of the Dharma Yoga Center. Dharma Yoga is “a devotional practice that emphasises good health, a clear mind and a kind heart.”