In the middle of 2014, I committed mentally to applying for the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 800-hour teacher training for the following August. I had recently left my career in technology and begun a year of travelling and furthering my study of yoga. The 800-hour training was a great answer to the frequent question I was starting to get: “so what are you doing with all your time?” It sounded like a serious endeavor and indeed, it was a big commitment. One requirement is that you have already completed the extremely demanding 500-hour training. That training was a real test of discipline and fortitude. It transformed me for the better in many ways. In particular, the cultivation of a consistent self-practice was the most lasting impact. I felt the time was right to go to the next level.
With that plan set, in the spring of 2015 I gathered the application essays, medical waiver and doctor’s note for submission. My application was accepted, the tuition check cleared and on an early Sunday morning, August 2nd I found myself on a familiar Manhattan bound F train heading back to 61 West 23rd Street.
I was headed to the Dharma Yoga Center for the start of an eight-day immersion. There’s a picturesque moment on that ride as the train rounds a curve just after the Smith and 9th street station.
A beautiful view of the morning light and the Manhattan skyline comes into view for a few moments before the train plunges back underground. I paused and reflected. I began this journey years earlier on a rainy afternoon when I climbed the 2 flights of stairs to the previous incarnation of the Dharma Yoga Center at 297 Third Ave. Yoga was brand new to me then. I climbed those stairs not knowing what I would find or how my life path was about to change.
Fast forward through a 200-hour training, a 500-hour training, retreats, workshops and teaching various class around New York City. Now I was about to start the last of the formal trainings offered – also known as the Life of A Yogi Teacher Trainings. That name reflects the intention to impart what it is to live full-time according to yogic principles. I looked forward to the following 8 days, knowing from past experience it would be intensely demanding but also would be over surprisingly quickly.
The 800-hour training itself was not unlike that subway ride. In the beginning there was the quiet, focused energy during the early morning pranayama and meditation sessions. The energy and concentration was turned inward in the mornings. As the day progressed and the sun came up – the collective energy transformed. There was more asana, more challenges, and laughter. Some days there was kirtan and performance - not unlike the iconic NYC subway musicians and acrobats. And so the energy ebbed and flowed with each day just like ebb and flow of a subway commute.
I mostly stuck to my plan of conserving energy early on so as not to get burned out later in the week. The days were 10-12 hours long with only a break in the middle for lunch. My “go-to” tricks were superfood smoothies for breakfast, mini savasanas during breaks, and light lunches. This made it much easier to focus on the main objectives: learning the Psychic Development series, yoga nidra, and Dharma level IV asana.
It is said that you can learn more from your mistakes than successes. I can attest to that. While the Korean Falafel sandwich and fries near Madison Square Park are delicious, I don’t recommend them during a teacher training. And while it might be helpful to offer feedback to a fellow trainee – it’s probably best not to do so while they are teaching. I made both of these mistakes and definitely learned a good lesson in both cases.
Underpinning all of this was Sri Dharma Mittra. Like the subway itself, he was the constant presence throughout the eight days – serving all who came, but unaffected by it all. He himself had already travelled to the end of all the lines and was willing to take everyone as far as they wanted to go. Day and night, week after week and year after year – the subway is running. So too is Sri Dharma: leading teacher trainings in New York, flying to Hong Kong for a conference, patiently answering questions, posing for selfies and signing autographs. Back to New York again to lead another training.
At the end of the eight days Sri Dharma shared with all the trainees some final thoughts on teaching yoga today. What had the strongest impression on me was his thoughts on keeping up with your own practice. “A Yoga teacher must have a Yoga practice,” he said in a way that was part reminder and part warning. Clearly, he walks the walk. Many months removed from the training and that message is still a great motivation and inspiration to me during my daily practice and teaching. I'd like to mention a special thank you to my mentor for Kim Jeblick for her wisdom and guidance and to director of training Adam Frei for running a training program of the highest quality and integrity. I’m grateful for Sri Dharma’s continued dedication in sharing the knowledge, all the mentors for their unwavering support and all my fellow trainees for their inspiration. Om Shanti.