Meet Your Next Yoga Mentor: Sri Dharma Mittra

We asked him to share his views on the evolution of yoga, and why, as the once-master of contorted asana, he now places so much emphasis on yoga nidra.
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We asked him to share his views on the evolution of yoga, and why, as the once-master of contorted asana, he now places so much emphasis on yoga nidra.
Sri Dharma Mittra

You've studied yoga at your local studio. And sweated through classes at workshops and festivals. But if you want to take your practice or teaching to the next level, and have ever wondered about studying with the world’s best teachers, Yoga Journal’s new Master Class program can help.

We’ve assembled nine world-renowned senior teachers, including Seane Corn, Sri Dharma Mittra, Aadil Palkhivala, and Shiva Rea, and we’re giving you exclusive access to study with each of them for six weeks. From Aadil Palkhivala’s exploration of Purna Yoga to Shiva Rea’s workshop on the intricacies of Sun Salutations, you’ll have the opportunity to study a unique variety of essential yoga topics that you wouldn’t get in a single teacher training or workshop.

Over the course of this year-long membership, each Master Class teacher will offer his or her expertise and wisdom in the form of weekly yoga practices, dharma talks, guided self-study assignments, support, and inspiration.

Plus, you’ll get live webinars with all nine Master Class teachers, access to a private Facebook community, a one-year subscription to Yoga Journal magazine, discounts on our events, and for teachers, access to low-cost liability insurance and a listing in the Yoga Journal directory.

Are you ready to get a fresh perspective, tap into ancient wisdom, and maybe even meet your lifelong yoga mentor? Start by checking out this issue’s Master Class feature, in which Sri Dharma Mittra shares a home practice designed specifically to prepare your body and mind for his intensive workshop on yoga nidra. Then, visit yogajournal.com/masterclass and use the code MASTERCLASS for a 20 percent discount on this invaluable learning opportunity.

See alsoDharma Mittra: Interview with the Great Yoga Teacher

Meet Sri Dharma Mittra

Sri Dharma Mittra landed in New York City in 1964 and watched firsthand as yoga went from an obscure practice to a commercial mainstay. At 77 years old, he has a few things to say about what he’s witnessed and how yoga is a practice for all ages. We asked him to share his views on the evolution of yoga, and why, as the once-master of contorted asana (see his legendary poster, the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Asanas), he now places so much emphasis on yoga nidra, or yogic sleep.

When I was younger, I borrowed a book from my brother about yoga and controlling the mind. It really hooked me, so I decided to practice. At the time, we were in Brazil and there were no yoga classes. But then, in 1964, I came to New York City, and my brother and I started studying with Swami Kailashananda. After three years, when my English was good enough, I started to conduct hatha classes. In 1975, I asked my guru if I could open my own yoga center—the Dharma Yoga Center.

The ultimate goal of yoga is to realize that we are not our bodies. We are the seer, not the seen. We are consciousness—the eternal witness of body and mind. My practice now is focused on the first and second limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas, or ethical rules. I still practice the poses to stay in good health, and I use tools like yoga nidra to strengthen my mental powers and realize that I am more than my body.

I found yoga nidra many years ago, but it was only later in life that I discovered its healing benefits, including increased awareness and concentration. It is a kind of active meditation. Some people call it psychic sleep. It is a combination of techniques to place the body, like a corpse, into a deep, relaxed sleep without dreams. I practice every night. And when I’m feeling sick or tired, I practice more frequently. I also practice before teaching workshops, when I want to be more charged and enthusiastic. And just like Savasana, everyone can do it and unlock the secret to staying relaxed, which is to go beyond consciousness. Once you start a regular practice, you’ll be able to increase your powers of concentration. With constant yoga nidra practice, you will be able to recognize that you are more expansive than just your body; that you can achieve anything. You’ll be able to heal in all kinds of ways. I credit yoga nidra with staying young. Yoga nidra will help you cope with all of the problems of the world. Especially here in the United States, people are more vulnerable to technology distractions, which can cause attachments and therefore problems. But you can do some yoga or yoga nidra to calm down. You’ll soon see that you don’t have to be running around like everyone else and always on your phone. You’ll see that you don’t have to be distracted; obstacles to peace will become more and more subtle. Try practicing yoga nidra at least 10 minutes every day in order to not lose control.

The secret to happiness is finding more compassion, staying in good health, following the yamas and niyamas, and honing concentration and other mental powers.

I keep visualizing the next time I return to the world, 50 years from now. The world will be amazing. There will be no need for the yamas and niyamas because people will be civilized. You won’t need to find a swami—instead, Googleananda will have all the answers. The planet will be almost all vegetarian; hospitals will be out of business because everyone will be so healthy; there will be little violence; and everybody will be living higher states of yoga, realizing they are all connected to each other.

In the meantime, I am dedicated to teaching the ethical rules of yoga. I want to promote compassion and love for all beings. This includes teaching about the benefits of being a vegetarian. When I eat animal products, I can’t experience higher consciousness. If you eat too many animal products, you can’t concentrate—your mind can’t slow down. It is also a compassion practice. Every being is looking for happiness, and every being fears violence, even animals.

What we need in the world is more compassion—the ability to see ourselves in all beings. When I was younger, I was extremely sick and depressed, and looking for answers. I believe becoming vegetarian helped me find good health, avoid colon cancer, and advance my practice.

The secret to happiness is finding more compassion, staying in good health, following the yamas and niyamas, and honing concentration and other mental powers.

And if you’re lucky, you’ll find a guru. If God and my guru were standing in front of me, I would run to my guru and give him a hug first. Because of him, I realized the goal of yoga. Through him, I have witnessed something eternal, which is amazing. I just want to share with the world what
he has taught and shown me.

See also 5 Poses to Try With a Dharma Yoga Wheel