CONVERSATIONS AT THE SANCTUARY: Bringing Compassion To The Mat With Dharma Yoga
Graceful, yet challenging, Dharma Yoga is based on ahimsa (non-violence, or love towards oneself and all living beings). Pearl Bhasin shares more about coming closer to the goal of self-realisation through this devotional asana practice
Dharma Yoga was founded by Sri Dharma Mittra, a classical Hatha-Raja Yoga Master who was born in 1939. In the early 1960s, Dharma studied for over a decade with his guru, Sri Swami Kailashananda, who was also known as Yogi Gupta. An engaged ambassador of veganism, Dharma considers compassion as the most important attribute. It is taught that only when we are strongly established in ahimsa that we develop compassion. A vegan herself, Pearl Bhasin, who teaches Dharma Yoga at The Yoga School, tells us more.
QN: WHAT IS DHARMA YOGA AND WHAT ARE ITS KEY BENEFITS?
Pearl: Dharma Yoga is a form of Bhakti yoga. Bhakti means devotional – the sense of devotion is what connects us to our higher self. Dharma yoga classes often begin with the reminder to dedicate your practice to someone you love, someone you respect, or the higher power that you believe in (because not everyone practices the same religion).
The fact that the receiver of the offerings may be different, but the love and reverence that is expressed in the poses as offerings, prove that the connection is of more substance and integrity than the end receiver. That connection from the love and reverence is called Bhakti.
Dharma‘s main message and lesson is intuition and compassion. It’s essentially a very traditional Hatha Raja practice – “hatha” being “action”, which is all asana practice, and “raja” meaning “king”, which suggests that the practice focuses heavily on getting to the bigger picture.
QN: DHARMA YOGA SEEMS TO BE AN INTROSPECTIVE PRACTICE INVOLVING MEDITATION AND BREATHWORK. COULD YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT HOW THIS MEDITATIVE APPROACH IS APPLIED IN A DHARMA YOGA SESSION?
Pearl: Dharma always reminds us to focus on the space between the eyebrows or the centre of the forehead, this being the Seat of Intuition, or what some of us call the Third Eye. The more you practice using it, the more adept it becomes.
Dharma teaches us that we are all one collective consciousness, all teeny-tiny pieces of the original Big Bang. “I am you and you are me,” he often says. If we can tune down (and eventually, tune out) the mind chatter, we will be able to conduct our time on this planet with so much more graceful intention. The Bhagavad Gita states that the real, and only, purpose of life, is to seek spiritual knowledge. If you don’t work on that, it will be a waste of a lifetime.
One of Dharma’s main lessons is that “the goal of yoga is self realisation”. The self being the purusha (or pure soul matter); not the “I am Pearl and I am fed-up, and I need a Ben & Jerry’s – this is defined as Ahamkara, the “I” maker. Purusha is described as “pure consciousness; an unadulterated bliss; our original being. So the goal is to get here via the practice of yoga.
QN: WHAT KIND OF POSES CAN I EXPECT TO PRACTICE IN A DHARMA YOGA CLASS?
Pearl: A typical Dharma yoga practice has Sun Salutations (a flow of poses) and Shiva Namaskara (an expanded version of Sun Salutations, which are salutations offered to Lord Shiva, who is acknowledged as the first Yogi in the universe, and celebrated for his dedicated practice). The poses then begin: standing balances, arm balances, core work, backbends, twists – basically everything.
The practice of Dharma yoga is physically very well rounded, although there is a bit more emphasis on heart and hip openers. This, I feel, is linked to the fact that the core message is intuition and compassion. It’s believed that a lot of emotions are stored in the hips, and an open heart is more receptive of the gifts (of God, or the higher power you believe in).
A steady spine is indeed key. A steady spine is one that is as strong as it is flexible. A strong and flexible spine allows the central nervous system to run more smoothly, promoting radiant health, and with all our organs and hormonal system functioning at optimum level (not discounting karma). Dharma also believes in purifying the nervous system with pranayama (breath work).
QN: DHARMA YOGA FOCUSES ON THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA. HOW DOES THE EMPHASIS ON YAMAS AND NIYAMAS BRING PRACTIONERS CLOSER TO THE GOAL OF SELF-REALISATION?
Pearl: Dharma always says, “There is no yoga without yamas and niyamas.” The yamas and niyamas are the first two out of the eight limbs. The yamas are social observances: things to do to make the world a better place.
The niyamas are personal observances: things to do to make yourself a better person, or to become a better version of yourself.
The five yamas are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramhacharya (self-control), and Aparigraha (non-hoarding). The five niyamas are Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishavara Pranidhara (reverence).
At any given time, situation, or event, a combination of these things can and should be exercised. Observing and practising the yamas and niyamas on the confines of your yoga mat, allows you to practice the mindset and attitude, so that it comes more easily when you are off the mat.
For instance, Dharma has said before, “During practice, breathe softly. Don’t make too much noise, or you will disturb your neighbour who is practicing also.” This is Ahimsa (not disturbing someone else’s peace), Asteya (not stealing someone else’s attention from his/her practice), Saucha (keeping your practice crisp and clear, not thumping or huffing and puffing about), and the list goes on.
Whatever happens to you, only happens to the body and the mind – but self-awareness comes about when your awareness becomes highly refined, when you realise that you are “not your body and mind”.
That’s why Dharma always teaches us to “be a witness”. If you practice taking the stance of a witness, you will soon realise that you are beyond just physical, emotional, and mental activities.
Like I said earlier on, your true self, is enlightenment.
ABOUT PEARL BHASIN
Yoga has been in Pearl’s life for more than 15 years now. What started out as a fun way to stretch her stress away, evolved into a journey into awareness, care, and healing. Motivated to share the goodness of yoga, the warm-hearted mum-of-two decided to embark on teaching and sharing.
Pearl is trained in the tradition of Ashtanga Vinyasa, and graduated from Tirisula Yoga, under the watchful eyes of Master Paalu and Master Satya Wei Ling, here in Singapore. Although trained in Ashtanga, Pearl’s self-practice is heavily inspired by Dharma Mittra Yoga. While living in London for some years, she practised regularly with Senior Dharma Teacher Mark Kan, and Emi Takahashi Tull.
Curious to explore Dharma Yoga with Pearl? Join her in a healing and engaging workshop on 6 July 2019. The 3-hour session will start with breathing exercises (pranayama), chanting (mantra japa), and a full physical practice (asana), and finally end with Yoga Nidra, a deep relaxation technique. Click here to find out more and reserve a mat!