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Interview With Yoga Master Sri Dharma Mittra

Legendary yoga teacher Sri Dharma Mittra first encountered yoga as a teenager before meeting his Guru in 1964 and beginning his training in earnest. Sri Dharma founded one of the early independent schools of yoga in New York City in 1975 and has taught hundreds of thousands the world over in the years since. Sri Dharma is the model and creator of the "Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures", the author of ASANAS: 608 Yoga Poses, has released two DVD’s to date – "Maha Sadhana" Levels I and II, and the Yoga Journal book, Yoga, was based on his famous Master Chart.

Sri Dharma continues to disseminate the complete traditional science of yoga through daily classes, workshops and his "Life of a Yogi" Teacher Trainings at the Dharma Yoga New York Center and around the world. For more information on all things Dharma, please visit: www.dharmayogacenter.com. Sri Dharma Mittra will be appearing at the Mind Body Spirit Expo on November 23rd at the Valley Forge Convention Center in suburban Philadelphia. For more information, visit www.mindbodyspirit expo.com or call 215-627-0102.

Wisdom: Was there a moment or a particular realization you had that you wanted to pursue yoga during the time when you were first discovering it?

Sri Dharma Mittra: I read a book sometime before I met my Guru and its discussion of the yoga powers – the psychic powers really impressed me. That you could use these mental powers in order to realize something about the Spirit or G-d – that was incredible to me. Soon after, I got really serious about practice. I said: "That’s it!" From the first, I appreciated the enhanced mental powers (concentration) I achieved and my overall state of health rapidly improved.

Wisdom: Is Self-realization possible without a teacher?

Sri Dharma Mittra: It is if the student in a previous life already had a teacher. At some stage, everybody needs a teacher. All the saints that you hear or read about today – even Jesus, they all have teachers from the past. There are very rare cases where someone may get the guidance they need through inner intuition. This is possible, but I never heard of anyone yet who did it exclusively in that way.

Wisdom: Selflessness and service are two very important components to Self-realization. Could you talk about this?

Sri Dharma Mittra: Selflessness is part of the ethical qualities of yoga (Yama). It is already a step of Self-realization to see our selves in others. We have to do things without expectation. It purifies the heart to act in this way. It removes all selfishness, and then the mind gets set to understand or perceive subtle things and can comprehend spiritual knowledge.

Wisdom: If someone were interested in yoga, but didn’t know where to begin, what would you suggest as the starting point?

Sri Dharma Mittra: Good health is the first goal and practicing the yoga poses can help with that. In acquiring good health and some mental powers, the students will gradually become self-controlled. Depending on the student, I may suggest to them that the true goal of yoga is Self- or G-d-realization, but I will also encourage the student to get healthy, to become vegetarian, to keep the first step of yoga (Yama – to become more ethical) and to improve their compassion.

Wisdom: We tend to think of humanity as progressing towards enlightenment. While we see progress in certain spheres, we also see violence and hatred. Sometimes, this violence and hatred seems to be increasing rather than lessening. How does one deal with this?

Sri Dharma Mittra: We have to get stronger by doing more and being steadier in the practice of meditation and by keeping our diet properly. Then we’ll be able to cope with any situation that may arise. Of course, everything of this nature can be a distraction, but the Yogis who have realization about the Laws of Karma, they understand why people out there are suffering. Emotionally, it doesn’t disturb the Yogi, but he will do his best to help to improve any situation and help others. So, we must be strong and help, because all these situations – it never stops. When it stops here on this planet, on another planet, it’s still going on. It never ends: it is an eternal cycle.

Wisdom: Is it possible to be politically active in the world and still maintain personal peace and tranquility?

Sri Dharma Mittra: Of course it is! If you have realized some spiritual knowledge, this builds up a permanent inner peace. With inner peace and good health, you can really succeed in the political realm – become a better politician or a better president, no problem.

Wisdom: As one ages, certain seemingly inevitable changes take over the body, and even the spirit and the mind. Is it possible to counteract these negatives and how does one do so?

Sri Dharma Mittra: First of all, we have to take care about our diet: become vegetarian and not process the vegetables too much. Nowadays, vegan food is available everywhere, but most of it is junk food. We must be free from alcohol and from drugs and be moderate in eating, sleeping, recreation and sex. After 6 p.m., only eat light foods (if at all). All of this is from The Bhagavad-Gita. Of course, people may drink a glass of wine occasionally, but not as a habit, you understand: everything in moderation. And then you live forever, or at least until 100. In most cases if your diet is moderate, up to 100 years of age, the mind stays sharp. After 100 years, the mind naturally starts losing its abilities.Most important for aging gracefully is to keep the Ethical Rules. We need to be respectful, reverent and compassionate to all beings. That automatically brings inner peace and more harmony with others. Also, it mysteriously makes us feel more spiritual and leads to a strong desire for liberation.

Wisdom: Down through the years, there have been various claims made about yoga. These include psychic and other supra-normal experiences such as astral projection. What is your position on these benefits that some have claimed for advanced practitioners? Have you had any similar experiences?

Sri Dharma Mittra: When I first learned about yoga, reading this book describing Samadhi, I was extremely impressed about the Siddhis – the psychic powers that are a result of steady practice. Then I had some bad experiences raising these forces without being ready for it. I passed through some difficulties, but that was just in the beginning. For the past 50 years or so, I do just the opposite. I’m closed to all these psychic forces. If they come: all right, but I don’t in any way look for them. The only psychic ability that really counts anyway is for the mind to get sharp enough to realize or to succeed in some meditation so that we are able to use some of the astral senses of perception to perceive subtle or mental things. I never had any psychic abilities, I just believe that I have some inner intuition. I trust this a little bit and, for some reason, I am always satisfied with the results. I compare what I receive from within with the scriptures and sometimes it matches.

Wisdom: You live in a city that is known for its rapid movement, noise and abrasiveness. Do you have to prepare yourself in any way when you go outside on the street?

Sri Dharma Mittra: The wise man, even after he realizes some of the knowledge, in order to face the world of today, he has to do some relaxation, some postures and eat correctly. Before going outside, he can calm the mind a little bit with mantras and breathing. With some of the realization that we have, we can recognize that we are not the body or the mind. If the mind and body get disturbed by the situation outside, the Yogi with Self-realization is not affected. For him, this is just a challenge. He remains supreme under any condition. To be able to stand supreme like this, you have to realize that we are not the body and not the mind, and that everything that is happening has a perfect reason for it to be happening. The Yogi stands supreme under any condition. Still, we have to calm the mind with some Pranayama (breathing exercises) and do some meditation, not with the purpose to find G-d, just to calm the mind, to face the situation ahead of us.

Wisdom: What has yoga given to you in your lifetime?

Sri Dharma Mittra: It has given me the opportunity to realize that we are not the body and not the mind – that we are part of this Almighty Intelligence: the Almighty One, or sometimes we call It G-d. We are eternal. But, belief is not enough. You have to reflect upon this for a long time until you are 99.999% convinced that we are eternal. We are not body and mind. That knowledge brings permanent peace inside.

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