Yoga master Sri Dharma Mittra has been teaching since 1967 and is director of the Dharma Yoga Center in New York City. He created the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures. In an interview with Yogamatters that has been transcribed and edited by Adam Frei, Sri Dharma Mittra shares about how things have changed since his previous Yogamatters interview in 2018 – Wise Words on Ahimsa from Sri Dharma Mittra – and his upcoming trip to London. From Friday 22 February 2019, Sri Dharma Mittra will be presenting A Celebration of Yoga, Teaching and Liberation, a weekend of classes at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, hosted by Indaba – you can find out more here.
Do you still feel the same way about Ahimsa? Has your thinking about non-violence and compassion changed at all since the last time you were interviewed by Yogamatters? Or do you still feel the same way: that Ahimsa, the compassion, is the most important thing?
Sri Dharma Mittra: After all these years, my compassion has improved a little bit because when you see yourself in others, how can you treat them with anything less than full compassion? Let’s say that between 10 years ago and today, I see myself almost the same. I think my approach to compassion and non-violence has changed very little. The only real difference is due to improvements as we grow. As we evolve spiritually a little more, we become more sensitive to even small ways in which we might break the rules. We become more cautious over breaking or even bending the rules because maybe before, I was breaking the rules, not observing the compassion 100% properly, but today, I am very cautious always, using my intelligence to make sure I’m not hurting any beings physically or mentally in terms of whatever I am using in my life even casually. For example, I can go to the movies and they might be using horses that they sacrifice or hurt for the purpose of entertainment. I usually avoid those kind of things at all costs. About the shoes, the car that I buy, I make sure there isn’t any leather. I try not to be involved in anything that removes or interferes with the happiness of others and/or that involves pain and suffering for them. Ten years ago, maybe some of my actions were maybe not really participating in anything that involves violence, but maybe I wasn’t as careful as I could have been. Some even slightly incorrect actions, you can and should avoid. Another example, every minute, thousands, millions of cells die in our body trying to digest our food. That I cannot avoid, but still I pray for them.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about the workshops you are going to be offering in London and how does it feel to be returning to London to offer more workshops?
Sri Dharma Mittra: The mind and the senses have their own tendencies. When something is nice, tasty, pleasant, good, the tendency is to want to repeat. Especially in London, the group of people is really nice, reverent, obedient and respectful to the teacher. We can see they are really thirsty and open to spiritual things — for things that bring happiness not only for them, but for others. So, it is really nice for me too, because I like to see groups like that. And then I’ll be able to share whatever is available to me.
I’ll be emphasising veganism because by being vegan, it is already a great step for the world peace: to be nice to our brothers and sisters, our inferior brothers and sisters: the animals. And with that, we can handle better the spiritual part of life and yoga. For me, it is really a pleasure to be there, to repeat, because it is a good experience for me also if it is good for them.
Do you feel, when you go to a place like London, that the community of of students there is different from the community that you teach in the United States?
Sri Dharma Mittra: Yeah, I notice especially the people: yoga students who come to the workshops, they are more obedient during class and they follow all the instructions. They show some respect and reverence to the teacher. They really have good qualities — they are much better than here. When I have new students here in New York City, 80% are suspicious and not too obedient. They want their money’s worth for the class at any cost. But of course, there are good souls here also. Maybe many of those good souls are from London, I don’t know.
There are differences every place you go. Every country, there are great differences. If you go let’s say to Japan, people there are already naturally respectful, obedient and loyal to the teacher. It is great — it’s a nice group in London.
Do you have any advice for people who live in the UK?
Sri Dharma Mittra: Well, we have to be really mindful about the diet first: eating correctly. Don’t forget to do some breathing to keep the mind under control. Also, involve yourself in a little bit of meditation on compassion. You don’t have to close your eyes, but you have to be alert all the time. Sit a few minutes in the morning and radiate love to all beings. Take five or 10 minutes for breathing and mainly, as I said, you have to eat properly. At least stretch for 10 minutes each day — do the Sun Salutations. If you don’t like the yoga classes, you have to go to the gym or swim. You have to be in good shape physically. But remember, the diet is very important and 5 minutes — a few minutes of meditation. And, practice always compassion. Then I am sure you will be able to cope with the lifestyle in London, or really anywhere.
In a recent article when you were interviewed about the New Year, you said that a new year is a good time to put positive actions into practice, to actually put your intentions into practice and make them actions, because there are infinite numbers of people who also are trying to stick to their resolutions. But, for those who have arrived in February and couldn’t keep their resolutions, what would you say to them?
Sri Dharma Mittra: Make sure whatever you are planning to change is not too much. Very little, but keep it. Usually at New Years, there are millions of people on this planet who are making new decisions and resolutions. Of course, many of them are not able to keep them, but the main thing is to try to keep them. If you don’t make the plan too big, you’ll be able to keep it. If you fail, you can always find some excuse: “All right, I’ll start on the second day of the year.” The failures are part of the process. You just stand up and start again. The next step will be to start on your birthday. So, you are always starting.
Keep making your promises. If you wish to make that almost sure, remember someone that you believe in — that you really trust. I remember once I believed in Jesus. I made a promise to Jesus once: “I’m going to stop for one year smoking cigarettes.” I signed a paper: “I promise Jesus…” I burned it, so then I cannot break the promise. I kept it. So, you can make a promise to someone that you really believe in, but you have to write the promise on paper, and then burn it because then you cannot break it.
You’ve been practising yoga for over 55 years. What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out with yoga?
Sri Dharma Mittra: I remember once I asked my guru this question. He suggested for me to do very little, so I kept asking for more. Do at least 10 minutes of practice each day — don’t forget or miss it. Drink at least one or two glasses of green juices each day in terms of the diet. And also, it’s very important to do at least 10 minutes of the yoga postures, five minutes of breathing exercises and five minutes of meditation, but don’t miss it no matter what. Monday through Friday, no matter what, you do it. Also, read the scriptures. Take five minutes before bedtime to read one page of The Bhagavad Gita at least. Or, if you wish, copy it out by hand. In this part of meditation: let’s say you are suffering and you can’t sleep. Sit and copy out one page of the scriptures. By the second page, you are already asleep.
So, if you can’t meditate, copy the scriptures, i.e.: one page of The Bhagavad Gita. Spiritual practice can be made up of very little acts, but Monday through Friday, do not miss it. Something steady every week, but no matter what happens: “My mother died,” or this or that — a blackout. “I have to do this, no matter what.” Saturday, Sunday, you have all day free for you. Steady practice, and you will succeed. Do it even once a week, but don’t break or neglect it. That will get you willpower. If you have a teacher, be obedient to her or him. If you are really reverent and obedient, you follow his or her instructions. This will surely lead to success in yoga.
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