Adam Frei: You are famous for creating the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures. Can one achieve self-realization using just some of them?
Dharma Mittra: It is conceivable that someone could be physically capable of assuming all 908 Asanas, but that they still might remain totally ignorant of the true self. The postures are used to cultivate radiant health, mental powers, mind control and, most important of all, to help one find a comfortable pose to practice meditation in such as: Padmasana (Lotus), Egyptian (seated, upright on a chair), Sidhasana (Adept’s Pose) or any other comfortable sitting pose, so that after one is armed with yama, niyama, self-knowledge, disciplined in mind, self-controlled and full of love, one may stay in it for a long time, eventually becoming one with Him (the Supreme Self).
AF: Do you consider yoga to be a form of religion? If so, why?
DM: Yoga is not a religion or a cult, but a set of divinely-realized techniques which, when practiced correctly, within a short time, help one to achieve radiant health, mental powers and, in combination with the two first steps of yoga (yama and niyama), spiritual power. With these three powers, one can achieve anything. People of all faiths may practice Astanga, the traditional eight steps of yoga, and enjoy its benefits. Astanga Yoga is really a short cut to immortality.
There are other expressions of yoga that deal with the gods. In these cases, yoga can become very much like religion, in my opinion.
AF: What is pranayama? Is any breathing exercise pranayama? What is necessary to start pranayama practice?
DM: Prana = “energy” or “vital force”. Yama = “control”. So, pranayama means: controlling the speed, rhythm, ratio, retention and duration of the breath. By controlling the breath, prana is controlled. Combining the above in different ways, each will produce a specific result—affecting greatly the body and mind.
Some breathing exercises change the state of consciousness, some purify the psychic channels (nadis), others, combined with the bandhas (locks), join prana (descending energy in the body) and apana (rising energy in the body) and bring them up to the head, and still others stimulate the charkas (energy centers or vortexes). By performing some pranayamas, in combination with a specific asana, one may develop psychic powers. Some pranayamas are specifically designed for healing purposes. By controlling the breath, prana is controlled. To some degree, by controlling the prana, the mind is also brought under control.
As long as the breathing exercise is controlled in a specific way, it’s pranayama. It’s necessary to have a qualified teacher to study pranayama. Also, the student must be reverent and obedient to him or her. The student must try to be kind to all beings, be moderate in sleeping, eating, should stop eating meat if still doing so, and must be endowed with a desire for enlightenment to achieve any real success in pranayama.
AF: One of the yama principles, brahmacharya, is often translated as "sexual abstinence." To your mind, what is the point of brahmacharya? Is celibacy required for those who practice yoga?
DM: Brahmacharya means “to be celibate and meet your spouse only when your partner has needs which must be addressed according to the nature of your commitment to them.” A householder (one who lives in the world and is involved in its affairs) should be kind to all guests, pets and relatives. Perform your spiritual obligations, be obedient and reverent to your guru, and avoid entertaining sexual thoughts. Semen is pure divine concentrated energy, combined with spermatozoa. In one single ejaculation, millions of sperms are wasted. It takes from 70-100 pounds of organic food to produce that single ejaculate, and to replace it. Semen should be used only for the making of children.
If one is miserable, depressed and lonely, sex may be appropriate if married, rather than taking drugs or drinking. Also, there are yogic techniques to retain the semen during the sexual act itself. If semen is saved, it will turn into spiritual energy, and then boundless energy is available. Also, the body will then give off a sweet fragrance. For those who are looking to accelerate their spiritual progress and reach enlightenment in a very short time, keep celibacy. Remember, brahmacharya also means: “to be free from entertaining sexual thoughts.”
One may, of course, practice yoga without celibacy, but progress will be slower due to the distraction of sexual attachment and difficulty in keeping up with the teacher’s instructions. Possessing celibacy, tremendous will power is gained.
AF: In old texts on yoga, differences between male and female practice are not mentioned and asanas are often described from a man’s perspective. Does yoga need to be adapted specifically for women, and, are some aspects of yoga simply not accessible to them?
DM: Yoga practice is the same for men and women, except for some asanas and pranayama that are not recommended for women if they are pregnant (over three months) or menstruating. Yoga is truly for all.
AF: In the world of today, yoga has become big business. Doesn’t taking money for classes destroy the essence of yoga? Where is the point of balance between the material side of teaching and the spiritual meaning of the practice itself?
DM: As long as the yoga business’ profits are being used to promote, expand and disseminate spiritual knowledge in order to alleviate pain and suffering for the students, the essence of yoga is not affected. There are lots of yoga schools with restaurants, juice bars, yoga shops, massage options, etc., but everything still runs professionally. Rent is extremely high in many cities, and every teacher and employee has to be paid. As a direct consequence, yoga instruction must be offered for a fee.
Even when spiritual instruction is given, there must be some method of exchange. For everything one receives, one should offer up something in return. Asking for free things indicates poverty of spirit. In Ashrams, most students don’t pay for the instruction, but they have to do lots of Karma Yoga (selfless work) in exchange. The material side of teaching is really for those who are seeking name, fame, prestige and wealth. The spiritual meaning of practicing is: all yogic practices are intended for self-realization only.
Yoga instructors are of all kinds: dishonest ones, feeble ones, meat-eating ones, impure ones, unenlightened ones, some who do not possess knowledge of or honor yama and niyama, others who do know of the Yoga Sutras and about self-knowledge. All of these are just perfect, with a divine purpose: to accommodate every manner of student. There are teachers who want to date the students, so they attract students that want to date the teachers. Remember: “same attracts same.” Good students with lots of kindness, obedience, reverence for all beings, who are disciplined in mind and heart, and who possess a strong desire for liberation, without fail, attract the enlightened ones (true gurus)—teachers that will take the students to the regions of eternal bliss or self-realization. Isn’t that wonderful?
AF: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
DM: The greatest type of charity is sharing or promoting spiritual knowledge to others in need. This supreme knowledge stays with us until our enlightenment, and it can’t be taken from us—it’s really a treasure. A magazine helping to disseminate yoga indeed has divine qualities, because it’s doing the highest type of charity—bringing to thousands of people important knowledge—information that will lead them to the right path, thus relieving their pain and suffering. I thank this publication for giving me this great opportunity to answer the divine questions above—it was really a pleasure for me.
Regarding all of you reading these words right now, my wish for you all is for you to be engaged in constant practice—this is the secret of making progress. Meditate on compassion, stay vegan and seek enlightenment. Be obedient to your teacher and reverent to all. Oh my loved ones, keep yama and niyama! Then, you have a short cut to immortality. Lastly, I love you all. I am you and you are me.
Lots of Love, and Remember—the goal is Self Realization!
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, both at his Centers in New York, and around the world. For more information on all things Dharma, please visit: www.dharmayogacenter.com.