The Teacher Within

My name is Martin and I became a yoga teacher by accident. I had been practicing yoga regularly for 8 years with an amazing teacher who inspired and challenged me and I was fortunate to form a solid teacher-student bond with her. She teaches more than just asana. She weaves philosophy, meditation, pranayama, The Yoga Sutras, and more into her classes and I was eating it up. There were significant shifts that I felt mentally, emotionally & spiritually but I didn’t understand why. I knew it was a result of the yoga practice but I wanted to know “WHY?”. I knew there was more to this journey.

I asked my teacher what I should do to learn more about yoga? I had a million questions – “What books do I read?” “How do I learn more?” “Where do I find the answers to the meaning of life?” She told me that I should do a teacher training. “But I don’t want to be a teacher.” She told me that I would find the answers to all my questions in a teacher training. I asked her what I should do and she told me to go to NYC and study with Sri Dharma Mittra. Being an obedient student, I went home and signed up.

Little did I know that it was in for one of the most challenging things that I was ever going to face, but that’s a whole different story in itself. Part of getting certified was teaching a free class for 6 weeks. My mindset was “I’ve worked this hard, put in all this time and money and I’m not giving up.” I was determined to get that certificate. At the end of the six week class, I gave a heart-felt “THANK YOU” to my guinea pigs and got ready to send in all my stuff so that I could receive that coveted certificate in the mail and get back to my regular life.

Guinea Pigs: “What happens now?”

Me: “What do you mean ‘what happens now?’ ”

Guinea Pigs: “What about our Saturday morning yoga?”

Me: “Go find a studio and a teacher that you like.”

Guinea Pigs: “We want you to teach us.”

Me: “I’m not a teacher.”

Guinea Pigs: “What have you been doing for the last six weeks?”

Me: “Teaching you yoga.”

Students: “So, same time next Saturday?”

Teacher: “I’ll see you then.”

And that is how I accidentally became a yoga teacher.

Staying Healthy

In December 2013, around 6:30 in the evening, my mom was standing in her bedroom looking a two pieces of art hanging on the wall above her bed when both of her ankles pronated, collapsed and she fell to the floor.  Unable to get up or move her feet she crawled to the phone next to her bed and called my sister.  “Can you come over?”

“Why?  What’s wrong?”

“I think I’ve broken both of my ankles”

My sister and her husband went to my mom’s house to find her laying on the floor, unable to get up.  The ambulance came and took her to the hospital where they found out that both of her ankles had just snapped due to osteoporosis.  She had a severe lung and upper chest infection that was borderline pneumonia which had to be cleared up before they could operate on her ankles.  It was ten days before she was healthy enough to go into surgery.

They put one ankle back together with screws and the other one with pins.  This was just the beginning of a very long, difficult recovery that was to keep her off her feet and in a hospital bed for almost two months.  I flew to Texas to be with her in the hospital and to help however I could.  I was shocked to see how dire the situation really was when I got there.  I knew that the starting point for her recovery was so far removed from where she needed to be that getting healthy was going to take a lot of time and work.  Plus, being trapped in a bed, unable to stand or use her legs which were already not very strong, her muscles were going to start to atrophy very quickly. I was a little nervous to say the least.

My mom is 78 years old and has lived alone until now but her life will probably never get her independence back 100% to where it was before.  She has been relatively healthy most of her life but as she approached middle age and after a few minor health issues she became very sedentary and stopped moving her body at all.  She wouldn’t go for a walk or do any kind of “exercise” of any kind.  She slowly became fearful that if she moved at all or did anything to keep her muscles and joints healthy that she would actually hurt or injure herself.  Her point of view became very fear based which ultimately led her to the place where she is now with hardly any physical strength and almost no flexibility.

After the hospital stay she ended up in a rehab facility where they really pushed her.  She was in physical therapy for about 3 hours a day and they had her up walking in no time.  Her fear-based point of view was still standing strong and she was resistant but they really pushed her.  Luckily she’s a bit of a fighter so she didn’t back down from the challenge.  She called one day and said, “I walked 800 feet today!  That’s 2.5 football fields, you know.”  I was amazed that she could accomplish what seemed an impossible feat.  At that point I realized what determination could do and that the body can heal.

I can’t help thinking about how my mom’s situation would be different if she had done yoga to keep her body active.  Would her ankles have collapsed like that if she’d done yoga?  I don’t know.  Would she have had some physical strength and flexibility to fall back on after such a terrible accident if she’d done yoga?  Yes, definitely.  I can’t change the past and what happened is done.  What I can do is help her as best I can to recover and start to build some strength, some flexibility and, most of all, confidence that she has the ability to make her body healthy again.

Yoga practicioners know about the amazing benefits of the practice for the mind, body and spirit.  The asana, we all know, keeps our muscles strong and our joints healthy.  It can be challenging at times but it can really keep the physical body on track to longevity.  I see Sri Dharma at his age – he’s just 3 years younger than my mom – with his body still healthy, moving and grooving in his yoga practice.  We see octo and nonagenarians like Bette Calman at 84 in Titibasana and Bakasana, Toa Prochon-Lynch at age 94 doing full Mayruasana and, of course, BKS Iyengar at age 95 all still practicing daily with healthy bodies and clear minds.  They all not only do the asana but keep a healthy, simple and clean diet and maintain balance in their lives.  This is the best evidence that doing yoga keeps a body healthy.

Going through the 500hr TT and being dedicated to the practice for the rest of my life.  I know I will still be doing my asana, pranayama, meditation – all of it just like Sri Dharma when I’m 75 or 78.  It is so important to just keep using what we’ve been given even if we think we can’t, we surely can.  Sri Dharma teaches this with the amazing example that he sets.  Just try and keep trying – you’ll live a long, healthy and very happy life!  Yoga – it does a body great!!

Mantra, Japa & Kirtan

I didn’t know it at the time but Sri Dharma was present at the beginnings of my practice…..

I was very musical as a child and formed an extremely tight bond with music at a very young age.  My first piano lesson was the same day as my first day of first grade and I played my last recital my senior year of high school.  I joined the school band in fourth grade playing the tenor saxophone then went through a bunch of different instruments – french horn, trumpet, flute, oboe, tuba, baritone – until I quit band my junior year in high school.

I would save my allowance then ask my dad to drive me to the store so I could spend hours perusing the records before I finally made the decision as to which one of the many-coveted vinyl discs would end up living with the other beloveds I had so carefully chosen.  I would then spend hours in my room memorizing every word to every song and commit to memory every melody.  This passion for all kinds of music grew with me all the way through adulthood.

With this deep-rooted love for music I’ve always loved chanting in yoga classes.  I was first introduced to this part of the practice by my teacher, Stephanie Snyder and it quickly became my favorite parts of the class.  She always began and ended her classes with a chant and it was different every time.  At first I just loved the melodies, the smile that these lovely tunes always put on my face and the overwhelming sense of happiness that they left me with once they were done.  I listened very carefully to learn the words so that I could sing along, enunciating each word and working hard to be right on key which was made a little easier since she plays the harmonium.  When I got home from class I would look up these chants online to learn the words and their meanings.  I was certain that knowing the translations would make me understand them even more.

One of my favorites that I learned in Stephanie’s class and the most mysterious of all became The Purification Mantra.  She told us that she had learned it from her teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra.  She told us how this powerful mantra would  purify anything that the sound touched, purify the mind, the practice, everything.  I found myself chanting The Purification Mantra when I was washing dishes, when I was riding my scooter, out for a walk, settling in for my practice – all the time!  I asked Stephanie what it meant and she told me that she didn’t know and that I didn’t need to know and that it is more powerful when you don’t know the meaning.  This piqued my interest.

I started to realize that the effects of the mantras were what was making me feel so clear and grounded, not the happy tune or the words.  It was the repetition of the words that were calming my mind, clearing things out and giving me that feeling of peace and calm.

Many students of meditation and spiritual life complain of a noisy mind, out of control senses, and emotional challenges. One of the most significant, single suggestions of the ancient sages is the use of mantra japa, or sacred word to focus the mind. No amount of intellectualizing will convince you of this. It must be practiced for the benefits to be experienced.  Regardless of what mantra you use, one of the most important principles is the practice of constant remembrance. By cultivating such a steady awareness many benefits come. (

When I sit with my mala and chant my mantra 108 times I almost forget the words that I am saying.  The japa of the mantra calms the vrittis to the point that I can hear my own voice as if it is a separate entity completely.  The cadence and rhythm of the mantra and the repetition of it are the simplest way to “nirodhah the vrittis”.  Now I don’t try to figure out the words or what they mean when I learn a new mantra.  I just get into the groove of it and let it works its magic.  These are some one of my favorite times with Sri Dharma – comfortably sitting, chanting, responding incessantly what he calls out and feeling the amazing sense of clarity and calm that comes without really knowing what I’m saying.


Fear is such an interesting thing.  It is so real for some people and not so much for others.  I feel a lot of fears come from our discomfort with the unknown.  Fear holds us back from experiencing true happiness without constraints.  It’s like a blindfold that hides the truth, keeping us separated from what we want.  It hides our potential and keeps us from attaining the life that we want.

There are many ways to confront fear but I think that courage and objectivity are powerful tools.  Courage is a confidence that helps us to work to confront something causes us fear.  We develop it by learning to trust ourselves – it’s like protecting ourselves with our own self-knowledge. Objectivity is being able to look within and to see ourselves with clarity and without judgement, observing with unconditional understanding.  When we have to have the courage, confidence and self-knowledge to realize our own strength, we conquer our fears and overcome them so that we are not controlled by them.

When I was a child I thought that there was something in the closet or under the bed that was going to get me at night and I was really afraid.  But when my parents turned on the lights, I looked under the bed and in the closet and saw that there was nothing there then the fear went away.  Sometimes we need someone else to pull away the curtain of fear so that we can see clearly.  Experiencing the things that we think we are afraid of often remove the sense of fear.

In teaching yoga, students often tell me that they don’t do or can’t do certain poses which usually comes from a fear-based point of view.  These are usually the poses that present the most challenge in terms of strength, flexibility or they’ve never done them.  If we are dealing with an injury then that is a whole other discussion.  BUT, if the student is willing to try with the support of the teacher then, more times than not, the fear of the pose is lifted and then the student can move forward in the practice with confidence.  The pose may be accessible but the fear of what they think might happen when they do it becomes the fear.  Being afraid of fears allows them to control us even more, keeping us constrained and keeping us from living a happy, fulfilled life.

In my own life I approach some situations with caution or trepidation but I don’t know let fear enter into the picture and for that I am very thankful.  There is an old Spanish proverb that I heard for the first time in the movie Strictly Ballroom and it says, “A life lived in fear is like a life half-lived”.  Who wants to half-live their life?  I don’t!