Mar 21, 2014

Giving an Effective Dharma Talk in Your Yoga Class. Theme: “Your Beliefs are Pointless.”

    Giving an Effective Dharma Talk in Your Yoga Class.
                  Theme:  “Your Beliefs are Pointless.”

   At Swan River Yoga, there are a few integral aspects of our Hatha yoga asana based classes that you will find that may be new or unique to you, especially as yoga grows and becomes ever popular, with many new trends and styles emerging.
One key aspect of importance we have found in offering deep, authentic yogic teachings is to include a dharma talk in every class. In this case, “dharma” means “to uphold the truth, purpose & teachings” as well as be committed to it. Our goal is to actually implement many of the “margas” or paths in one well rounded public class. Dharma, often spoken at the beginning, offers an activation of your mind with short but poignant philosophical discussions that you can then steep, cook and brew in as you move.

   There is quite an art to communication. I adore this art. I love hearing public speakers. As a “teacher” (and more so a student)  I have found myself constantly editing my words and searching for more effective language that hits the mark of receivers. I want to be concise and succinct.  I also want to mean what I say without the insecure use of filler or confusion of my own doubts or thought forms. There is also such an art to know whom you are speaking to so that it is well received.  I may know a topic extensively and be really into it, but it does not mean those receiving the talk are and may be turned off by my wild passions. It is my intent to invite the ears of those listening to perk up and open just slightly more than before by getting their attention, yet not allowing it to get so “out there” that I loose the relatable and thus loose them. I do also wish to push things just a bit. I am careful not to diminish or dishonor the depth of yoga since I have made a personal commitment to it.  Often fear of what others might think of me or a lack, economic based consciousness of loosing a more "pop based" or populated, trendy classes can be how a class is navigated. It is a tricky blend, offering these teachings just so, being both bold and available to the masses. I consider these goals each time I offer a dharma talk… I want to know their concepts are challenged. I want  new ways of perceiving thought forms to  be recognized. I want them inspired. I want them to feel uplifted when they leave the classroom. I am to be bare bones hones, moving and compelling. t I want to establish connection.

Below is a list of 5 Bindu (seed) points recommended for an effective, compelling, memorable dharma talk:

1. Name the title
2. Say the title 3 times during
3. Relate a personal story
4. Include and tie in a yogic philosophy
5. Relate to how they will practice this on the mat

   I often access our Jivamukti Yoga themes of the month for inspiration. It is also my suggestion to also align with what is already going on in the world when searching for themes, the community, to nature or deeply moving lessons or teachings you are currently working on so that your dharma talk is authentic and less scripted. It is not moving to read things nor speak of things you haven’t “got” on some level yourself. This is why experience and experienced teachers are indeed so valuable. This way it is far more likely to be received. This will also set the tone for your theme infusion throughout the class, give you ideas for your sequencing and a possible peak pose and allow this to all be threaded together, related to the title. The dharma talk is given at the beginning of class and a suggested length is 3-7 minutes and NO MORE as in the end students came to move and not listen to you talk the entire class.

   I am going to give a dharma talk here and now based on the 5 bindu requirements. I hope you enjoy it! Please note, I would never read this in class. This is my diagram for becoming a good story-teller from the heart. It is an outline to base my dharma talk from.

DHARMA TALK: Your Beliefs Are Pointless.

   “Your beliefs are pointless!” I  heard my teacher, Sharon Padmaji Gannon, founder of Jivamukti Yoga proclaim while we were in India on my most recent “Yatra", or pilgrimage. “Has she lost it?” I thought.  “What in the world does she mean?”

   On one of my journeys to India I went to Vrindavan. This is thought to be the “forest of Krishna”, where many of his stories and pastimes took place with the Gopis. There is a profound stunning statue of Laxmi, or Radha just outside the village, on the other side of the bank of the Yamuna River. (*Note…we just sang to Radha in this opening chant... "Jaya Radhe. Jaya Shri Radhe"). In looking up the etymology of Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth, abundance, health, value and generosity, another key root to the meaning of her name is “Aim.” Just outside of Vrindavan,  this Radha/Laxmi statue is deeply focused Krishna’s forest. It looks as though her focus and aim are just that, somewhere distant and forward. She is known to have unrelentless focus. She could be stripped down, in deep despair and agony, in so much pain, yet her focus and poignancy is stable and unwavering on her point.

   The statue doesn’t mean what it might look like to some. Her aim is not about the future nor something beyond her. It is not a projection. She is not projecting a future outcome or “believing” some “thing” better is going to eventually happen later for her. She is the full embrace and embodiment of her aim being clearly here and now. That is the point! Her unwavering devotion and faith has allowed her to fully embody and experience the now. She has not missed the point at all. It is her role and she cherishes the value of being present. She IS total sensual ecstasy and beauty. Her senses have become refined. All she desires is the point of it all. Her essence is a clear statement that “beliefs” are pointless, and a true embodiment of faith, called “”shraddha” in Sanskrit gets us to “point less”. 

   Many words can get lost when translating them from english to Sanskrit. Faith, from a yogic point of view, is very different from belief. Faith is the opposite of blind. It means you have tested it all  from all angles and sides and that you have sought out deep and rich experiences of it. It is said too that once you get it, once you really do step into the river of Real faith, there is no going back and you really do get that "beliefs are pointless", but until then, as we develop and it is refined, it wavers, yet EXPERIENCE (or the physical NOW) is the key to it’s infusion within you.

   Even in India, pointing with the index finger, the mudra for our individual self, is rude. When using mala beads, the index finger is not to touch your malas. In chin mudra, the index finger is to touch the thumb (representing the Higher Self) so that there is a merge. It is not about pointing nor projecting, nor is it meant to be so personal, where we could easily disconnect from sharing and participating in the great abundance that we are currently surrounded by. In an individually based lens, we can easily hoard and believe in lack consciousness. Here we really miss the point of it all. Radha, or Laxmi, is getting us to point less so that it all, the here, does not become pointless to us.

   While I was in India, there was an evening that I experienced the essence of Radha in the form of a flower petal ceremony, called a “Pushpabishek”. For 2 days my Jivamukti brothers and sisters and all of the Indian devotees plucked 1.3 TONS of flower petals. It was truly almost too much to conceive of. These flowers were to be tossed over the deities and then all of us after. Many of the flower petals were roses from Vrindavan. I was utterly thrilled to participate in this!

   Once it began I had out of body experiences of such tremendous joy and ecstasy that it felt as though I no longer had a body. I also had moments of wondering…”ok is this almost done. This is almost too much. I am not sure how many flowers I can handle. It is like a flower petal blizzard. I can’t see. How much more beauty and abundance can there be?”…. and then I caught myself hearing myself, as in the end, I want to be able to handle as much as possible!

   A key aspect of our yoga practice is just this point. It is priming us in readiness to be able to handle more. We will and can only handle as much as we are full at this very moment. We can’t force anything else right now. The asanas are a wonderful way to empty our container so that we can receive more. Then our desires, practices and relationships too will also become refined quite naturally, as there is always more. Things might especially come that were totally out of your radar before and you would have never known of their existence otherwise. This idea also means that we will become less distracted by things that have less value or devalue. All we seek will become more sustainable, imbibe longevity & activate even more consciousness. We will truly embrace, not as a belief but a real life experience that there is so much beauty, magic and order. It is all perfectly orchestrated, this curriculum of your life. Expecting less and trying to predict (and then often ruin) the outcome of everything will in time cease. You will point less and less and less you will no longer foster the inert attitude of lackluster and pointlessness that is so painful on a daily basis. To me, this just sounds horrible and I do not want to wake up everyday like this.

   We will practice this in actual form in our bodies by really rooting into the foundation of every pose, grounding all 4 corners in pose and transition. By pushing down into the earth we will feel the value of everything in our bodies with hands and feet and rooting the base of the pelvis and tailbone down. We will also work on hip openers to get the “apana vayu”  (downward moving winds) to flow. Go out of your way today to establish a connection in every pose and anchor into the now, no matter what the foundation is. Consciously work on being HERE by also watching the mechanisms and responses of the mind. Now, like faith, must be felt and embodied. Never allow the practice to be shallow, on the surface, self absorbed nor pointless. Allow your asana practice to instill true riches and worth so that you do not miss the point. So… point less!

   We will now begin. Please apply ujjayi breath, your drishti (keeping focus, which helps rekindle our ability to narrow things down into the point,  and come into downward facing dog. Push down through the 4 corners of the hands and feet, connecting to the body and the surroundings of now. Become aware of the value of your breath... "Inhale, exhale 1...."

Quote used within class:  "Your idea of what is possible limits your possibilities."  Sharon Gannon and David Life


  1. Great blog, "Faith is the opposite of blind" Faith is to enlighten, not be blind.