“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.”
Sri Dharma Mittra
What is Dharma yoga?
Dharma Yoga has roots in all nine forms of yoga 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. It is the lineage of Sri Dharma Mittra, a great living Yogi, who is still teaching in NYC.
Dharma Yoga is based on Ahimsa – non-violence or love: love towards ourselves, towards others, which include all living beings. Sri Dharma Mittra 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 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.
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.
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.
Dharma Yoga weaves together many teachings in order to bring all students closer to the goal of Self-realisation. Dharma Yoga is “a devotional practice that emphasises good health, a clear mind and a kind heart.”