Friday, December 2, 2011

Dharma Mittra


Kill neither men, nor beast, nor yet the food which goes into your mouth. For life comes only from life! Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantih.


Dharma Mittra is currently 72 years old. Yet he can still perform the astounding unsupported headstand that has graced the covers of yoga magazines all over the world.  




 
"Most things in life that are truly worthwhile demand dedication" 

He teaches daily classes at the popular Dharma Yoga Center in New York City, which he established in 1975, in addition to his own daily practice. His classes are known as some of the toughest and most physically challenging yoga classes in New York City.
Most people seem deeply satisfied with his classes and are thoroughly impressed by his command of the postures. Yet a reviewer of the Center on yelp.com had one complaint.

She writes: “I am knocking off one star because there is a lot of pressure to eat 100% raw food”. 

Other reviewers praise the center’s loving energy or Dharma Mittra’s gentle teaching style, but it’s true; at the Dharma Yoga Center there is an emphasis on a vegetarian, living foods diet.
Dharma Mittra is an advocate of a raw food diet, an attitude he received from his guru, Swami Kailashananda, and his guru’s guru, the more well-known Sri Sivananda. It is an attitude that he has passed down to his own disciples and continues to encourage in his students.
While not all his students may appreciate dietary advice, Dharma Mittra finds diet to be a key component in a steady and well-developed yoga practice. He attributes his energy and ability to perform advanced postures even into his 70’s to his living foods diet and consistent daily practice.

 

He may be most well-known for this popular poster created in 1984 showing photographs of himself demonstrating 908 yoga postures. He estimates that even at his current age he can still perform 80% of the postures.

But he says “I don’t waste too much of my time doing fancy poses anymore. I don’t see any need”.




Dharma Mittra became interested in yoga in 1958. Born by the name Carlos Augusto Vargas in a tiny village in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Dharma Mittra was a physically active young man. In high school he took up bodybuilding, wrestling and Brazilian jiujitzu. In 1961 he injured his knee while serving in the Brazilian Air Force and spent 6 months in a hospital. Around the same time his brother Sattya moved to New York City, where he came into contact with Swami Kailashananda, known in the USA as Yogi Gupta. Sattya implored young Carlos to join him in New York City.  So he saved up enough money and flew into New York City on September 14th 1964. He had an audience with Kailashananda the very same day, and became one of his most devoted disciples.  



Dharma Mittra writes: “My first day upon arrival in New York I went to Yogi Gupta and I began attending every class he had,” says Dharma. “He immediately encouraged adopting a live diet, and by doing this, all of my studies with him accelerated.”

 All the devotees lived together with Kailashananda in one brown stone house, where Dharma Mittra became witness to Kailashananda’s raw food diet. It was there that Dharma Mittra learned to juice vegetables and to grow sprouts, sprouts being the cornerstone of Kailashananda’s teachings on diet. 


Dharma Mittra stayed with Kailashananda for 10 years, during which time he solidified his practice and became an advocate of a living foods diet for yoga practice and mind control. In particular, he finds vegetarianism to be essential to calming the mind. In a short pamphlet titled “Yoga of Diet and the Diet of Yoga”, Dharma Mittra writes,
 
The foundational aspect of all yoga begins with the diet and is expressed through strict observance of the first yama, which is ahimsa or non-violence. One can have an advanced practice of postures and breathing excercises, and you may have even acquired the ability to quiet the mind a little through sensory withdrawal and concentration, but action. The mind will never truly settle into silence without ahimsa as the primary motivation behind word, thought and action. -Yoga of Diet and the Diet of Yoga

Over time, the yoga community has come to have many subtly different interpretations of non-violence. Especially in the West, these interpretations often sanction the eating of meat, as long as the meat is organic, free-range, or killed “compassionately”. In his pamphlet on diet, Dharma Mittra goes on to clarify his understanding of ahimsa, which includes a purely vegetarian diet.

    So, how do we apply non-violence to our diet? By not devouring our brothers and sisters of   
    the animal kingdom. To really understand yoga, your kindness must extend beyond your pets! All   animals are like us —they love their children and seek only happiness. We must end this darkness and brutality where it seems acceptable to pay someone else to murder another living being on our behalf, clean up the carcass and wrap pieces in plastic. Then, you bring it home and put it in your refrigerator, making your home or apartment into a morgue.
 
Through his inspirational practice and lectures, Dharma Mittra has converted many people to a vegetarian diet.

Beyond simply vegetarian, Dharma Mittra recommends that yogis increase their consumption of raw foods to encompass at least 80% of their diet. He applies the advice of the 15th century yogic text Hatha Yoga Pradipika, suggesting that yogis avoid anything frozen or not fresh.  He also recommends giving up all salt and sugar, avoiding spices, and consuming lots of salad and green juices. He says “All yogis should own a juicer”. Like his guru before him, Mittra also emphasizes eating lots of sprouted seeds, nuts and legumes, and expresses a partiality to sprouted almonds. 

In a short article titled "Live Food Vegetarian Diet", Dharma Mittra writes: "A heated seed does not germinate. Life has been destroyed. Ancient masters instruct us to soak the seed overnight and expose it to the sun before eating. The Bhagavad Gita, which is the common denominator for major Eastern philosophies, specifically says: “Pious men eat what God leave over after the offering. But those ungodly, cooking good food for the greed of their stomachs sin as they eat it.”

But beyond just what sort of foods we put in our mouths, Dharma Mittra believes that the attitude with which we consume is the most important. He writes,
"We must also learn to offer thanks for every morsel of food we are fortunate enough to have before us. To not do so violates the yama of asteya or non-stealing.Offer what you are about to consume to all the gods and invite them to enjoy everything through you. Then the food becomes Prasad or the blessed portion that remains after an offering. This is truly the best sort of food for a yogi. Yoga of Diet and Diet of Yoga

Dharma Mittra is the author of "Asanas: 608 Poses".
You can read his biography, "Dharma Mittra; a Friend to All"
For more articles and information about the Dharma Yoga Center you can visit www.dharmayogacenter.com

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