I am lucky to live in the same city as Master Yogi Dharma Mittra. Dharma is one of the few Yoga teachers alive today who has received traditional teachings directly from a guru, and practiced those teachings for over 50 years. An authentic Yoga practice is not limited to the physical exercises of asana. It includes dietary guidelines, ethics, breathing techniques, meditation techniques, and more. These limbs of an authentic Yoga practice help us transition from a small, limited perception of life to a larger perspective of wholeness, which inspires a sense of internal calm. Anyone who studies with Dharma can see his authenticity; and for those of us who wish to pursue Yoga studies beyond physical fitness, we cherish our opportunities to study with this Master Yogi.
But I’m not writing this message to convince you to take classes with Sri Dharma Mittra. Instead, I want to inspire you to take classes with teachers in addition to Dharma Mittra.
Over the years, I have noticed a bizarre phenomenon with many students at Dharma Mittra’s center. On days when Dharma is not teaching, many students do not attend class. I have even seen students arrive to the studio unaware of Dharma’s absence, and then turn around and leave when they hear that a different teacher will lead that day’s class.
Yes, Dharma is a living legend. But that doesn’t mean other teachers have nothing to offer. Dharma’s years of devoted practice have instilled the wisdom that his being is not limited to the body. Dharma Mittra identifies with the spirit, and spirit is not limited to time and space. Dharma frequently teaches, “You are not the body.” The students who truly learn from Dharma listen to him, and believe him. Dharma’s spirit is everywhere at the Dharma Yoga center, even when his body is not there.
Every time I arrive at the center to take class, I think, “this center is a gift, this class is a gift.” My thought doesn’t change simply because someone else will be teaching on any given day.
In addition, I always receive an exceptional asana class whenever a teacher substitutes for Dharma. Keep in mind: Dharma’s substitutes also adhere to the same serious track of study as Dharma. They didn’t just complete a teacher training yesterday! Not only do Dharma’s teachers have the knowledge and experience to lead an amazing class, they also use Dharma’s basic sequence while highlighting the unique insights they have gleaned along the way.
Dharma’s teachers are translators of an intricate language that takes years of study to fully comprehend. The language of Yoga seems simple at first, but continues to unfold its wisdom over a lifetime as we practice and study. Listening to each teacher, we begin to hear the layers of teachings being translated, and we develop fluency with the language of Yoga. Like instruments in an orchestra, each Yoga teacher voices a part of the same, multi-layered composition. The violin is not more important than the cello, nor the conductor more important than the instruments; all work in harmony so we can hear the whole symphony.
When I go to the Dharma Yoga center, I am not a teacher. I am a student. And part of my role as student is to follow instructions, perhaps try something I would not do in my home practice, sing a chant I don’t know, or contemplate a belief that wasn’t a part of my childhood education and doesn’t feel natural at first. Part of being a student is having trust and faith in the teacher. Dharma has selected the teachers who can substitute teach his classes. If he believes a teacher is satisfactory to cover for him, then I trust Dharma’s wisdom.
I believe in Dharma’s authenticity, and I want to support him and the work he does.
Part of the support I can offer is to help continue the existence of the Yoga studio he established through remaining a consistent student. This is not charity! I only benefit in the end. The healthy financial existence of the Yoga studio means that Dharma will continue to have a place to teach, and I will continue to have a place to study.
Do you have a beloved Yoga teacher? You may think you are showing loyalty to your favorite teachers by only attending their classes, but let’s not forget the lessons learned in Yoga Sutra 2.5: “Through not appreciating the nature of the transient, the impure, the painful, and the non-holy appear pure, holy, pleasurable and permanent. (translation Kofi Busia)”
Remember that your time with any given teacher is impermanent, and although you can use that fact to help you appreciate the classes and the knowledge you receive from your favorite teacher, don’t let a teacher’s absence prevent you from seeking the true goal of Yoga: self-realization. Worship of the teacher is not the goal. I encourage you to keep practicing in whichever way you can, no matter what the external circumstances, because you are also not your body. The real you is your spirit.