All images by Tony Felgueiras Courtesy of Yoga Journal Live
At 75 years young, legendary yoga master Sri Dharma Mittra has seen many changes over his 50-plus years of teaching. In the midst of rapid technological advances of today’s world, Sri Dharma – affectionately known as “The Rock of Yoga” – has rooted himself as a true master: he stays firm in ancient techniques while adjusting to the present day, disseminating yogic wisdom to the hundreds of thousands of students that walk through his door.
The Dharma Yoga Center has thrived as a steady pulse in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, New York City since 1975. So needless to say, the creator of The Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures knows a thing or two about finding clarity amidst commotion. For part three of our Yoga Journal Live series, we sat with Sri Dharma for his thoughts on achieving success in yoga in today’s fast-paced, tech-driven world.
What defines success in yoga?
The secret is constant practice. In order to keep up the practice, you have to be obedient to your teacher and to believe in the words of the yoga scriptures. In order to have this quality, you have to follow the first step of yoga: to be extremely compassionate, obedient and respectful to all beings. In other words, you have to improve your ethical qualities.
If you see yourself in others, then how can you hurt anyone? With these qualities, it’s amazing how you get serious about spiritual things and automatically you will be able to have obedience to your teacher. From obedience, you will be able to keep up with the instructions, then you will succeed in some of the techniques. The techniques give us some amazing benefits including good health in a short time, some mental powers, self-control and inner bliss. That will make us more enthusiastic toward the success in yoga.
Do you think that a student can find success without a Guru?
This is very rare; it is only for older souls. We are already born with good qualities – compassion, discipline and respect for all beings. These qualities come from the past, as we already have a teacher from our past [lives]. Now in this life, you may rely on the supreme teacher within yourself. The supreme self – the essence of yoga within us – is the real guru. Very rare indeed can you rely on that. Only few souls – older souls – will be able to succeed. But you can if you are ready.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that yoga students are facing today?
Technology. It is more difficult to be here in the West than it is to be in India. In India around many villages and places, it’s easier because you don’t have temptations like junk food, iPhones, iPods, internet or comfort. All of these things are distractions.
On the other side, we are blessed indeed to have technology. We have yoga centers everywhere, yoga teachers everywhere to fit everyone, vegan food everywhere. Through the internet, you can find all the scriptures you like. You can even find a “guru” through the internet. It’s amazing; we have so much comfort here. If you are really serious about yoga, you may achieve your goal easily here. The only obstacles are the temptations.
San Francisco is such a tech-driven city where we rely on the ease of apps and technology to do everything. With the availability of classes and information online, do you think it’s possible to benefit from online yoga?
You can learn online but you must be careful to find the right teacher. I have seen sometimes when I go online, many people give instructions that are not the way they should be. If you find instructions through the internet, like from Swami Sivananda, the Satchidananda organization and the Yoga Journal, which is very good and precise with good teachers, you can learn all of these techniques. Remember, the final essence of yoga can only be imparted psychically through your guru.
If you don’t have a guru, then you have to go inside to the inner-most self, and that is very rare. When yogis succeed, he or she gets good health, mental powers and maybe will go into samadhi. The last touch is to tune your mind with your guru. Only that spiritual knowledge can be imparted psychically. But all of the other benefits of yoga can be done online. You can do your asanas, your breathing and you can get healthy with good food. You can improve your ethical rules by acquiring the scriptures and having faith and following them. But for the last part, you have to tune your mind with a higher mind. The internet has “Swami Googleananda” who cannot do that.
What type of adjustments have you had to make with your teachings over the years?
I’ve had to adjust to the present times and adjust to the technology that keeps improving more and more. We find everything easier today, and I have to make some adjustments. In order for me to teach yoga according to the lifestyle of the West, I have to adjust the poses. We have to adjust the breathing according to this system. I cannot run a yoga class here in the traditional way because very few people here would be able to follow it. Even the way I teach every year, I have some little adjustments according ot the times. Everything needs updates.
These days, young people are always on the go. What are your recommendations for young professionals who are interested in yoga, but may not have much time?
The first step of yoga is to cultivate and to be respectful to all beings including animals, and to automatically become vegetarian; then, you become healthy and your mind becomes clear. Then you can perform better in your career. Remember, you may have everything – you may be beautiful, live in a beautiful place and have a beautiful family with pets, but if you are eating bacon, scrambled eggs, burgers or chicken, it is a disaster. You cannot enjoy life like that. You cannot see yourself in others, so you’re suffering. So be careful. Change the way you eat. Be kind to the animals and good to your guests.
And if you don’t have time to do yoga, you have to spend five minutes – Monday through Friday – in solitude doing meditation. Quiet the mind by sitting quietly. Do your spiritual obligation. All of this is yoga for those who cannot practice too much.
When the teacher is not there, you have to see yourself in others. That is the first step to Self-realization. If you can really see yourself in others, you have achieved yoga.