Sample from the Spring 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Sri Dharma Mittra

In 1984, Sri Dharma Mittra completed the now famous “Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures,” an offering to his Guru, Sri Swami Kailashananda, that can be found hanging in many a Yoga center. Now Dharma Mittra’s influence on the Yoga world extends far beyond the poster and to the tens of thousands of Yoga students that he and the teachers he has trained have taught. The consummate Hatha Yogi shares his profound commitment to promoting Self-realization as the true goal of Yoga.

Integral Yoga Magazine: You created this amazing asana chart. Are there even more poses you didn’t include?

Dharma Mittra: It is said that Yoga takes the shape of all of creation. There are an infinite number of poses—this is what makes Yoga a living tradition. When I started thinking about making a Yoga chart with all the poses that I knew, I went out searching for every book that was available in bookstores that were available at the time by yogis, as in Master Sivananda, Swami Satchidananda, Mr. Iyengar and my Guru as well.

Three thousand years ago Yoga started with one meditative pose, Easy Lotus. The word asana originally meant “meditative posture.” Then the masters introduced cobra pose to keep the spine flexible. In their quest for physical health they developed the eight most important poses to insure the health of the body and glands. From there it grew. Even today, dozens of new poses are created each year by true yogis all over the world. There are many different schools, each with its own variations, but basically all Yoga comes from the same set of classic asanas. In the more than thirty years I have been teaching I have developed many poses, but in Yoga no one puts his or her name on a pose because, in reality, I didn’t do anything. I am just a body through which the intuition has passed.

IYM: What is your view of the various styles of Yoga available today?

DM: Many of the newer and more popular variations of Yoga are geared to getting into a sweat and burning calories. They require a lot of movement, and people tend not to worry about concentrating in the pose. Unlike bodybuilding or other purely physical routines, Yoga is a holistic practice. Each pose performs many functions, not all of them obvious, that can stimulate internal organs and glands, increase the flow of blood, reduce stress and improve overall health. Dhanurasana, bow pose, is a good example. It bends the spine backwards, which develops its flexibility and elasticity. At the same time, the body is resting on the abdomen, stretching and relaxing muscles there, improving digestion and peristalsis. This can help chronic constipation and liver dysfunction. It also sends a rush of blood to the abdominal viscera. So while it may be classified as a back stretch pose, it also has a powerful effect on the internal organs.

The way I learned, you relax and concentrate on the third eye or, if you’re not feeling comfortable, on the point of stress. This calms you down, helps diminish desires and focuses energy. But here’s the truth: while there’s a different style for every kind of person, all Yoga, if practiced properly, achieves the same ends.

IYM: What does it mean to “practice properly”?

DM: Unfortunately there are many certified Yoga instructors today who don’t know anything about Yoga. But students needn’t worry—everything has a divine purpose. Instructors who don’t know anything attract students who don’t deserve the truth yet. There is a natural order in the world. Yoga is beneficial to so many physical conditions, but the ultimate reason to practice it is to find the truth. Those students who practice eventually will be thirsty for higher knowledge. Then they do asana, but will use all the other energy for Self-realization.

Asana is not yet Yoga. It is a preparation, and pranayama is preparation. Yoga is the last moment and you go into Self-knowledge. It is joining together. You see all the famous yogis doing fancy poses and making everyone envious. But, if they are not following Yoga and are not vegetarian, they will eventually realize that is not yet Yoga. Asanas are only one part of an eight-stage process in the search for enlightenment. They prepare the body for meditation. The great Yoga master Iyengar said, “My body is my altar, and my postures are the prayers.” Only when you’ve learned the postures and the ways to control the mind, the breath, the senses and the emotions, are you ready to enter the temple…

Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.