Dharma Yoga Complete Guide: What Is It, History, Benefits + More

Founded by Sri Dharma Mittra, this slower style of yoga can lead to self realization

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Dharma yoga is a style developed by Sri Dharma Mittra, a yoga teacher who first began his practice in the 1950s. 

He is known for his amazing physical skills, so much so that his graph where he shows 908 poses adorns the walls of thousands of yoga studios. 

Nevertheless, his focus with Dharma yoga is much more than purely physical.

The style is akin to Hatha yoga and puts as much emphasis on deeper aspects of the practice, working with the mind and emotions. Finally, that leads to self-realization.

In this article we’re going to cover these topics:

Let’s dive into it! 

What is Dharma Yoga?

When I first heard a friend is going to Dharma Yoga and asked her what it is, she said something like:

It’s a slower style and has more meditation and breathwork than other classes.

She summarized the style really well. From a physical standpoint, Dharma yoga is a slower style. It does have a flow similar to Vinyasa, but its roots are in Hatha-Raja Yoga.

That means it goes back to basics physically, focusing on the foundational asanas. As in traditional yoga, there are multiple levels, which means you will be able to start on a basic level and then progress as you go. 

That also means it incorporates all of the eight limbs from the Yoga sutras, which means your class will be much more than an exercise.

Each class involves asanas, but also breathwork, meditation, and often lessons on yogic philosophy. You will hear about yogic moral codes and the practices that help you reach the goal of meeting the True Self. 

Even the main focus with poses is not physical.

They help you improve concentration, still the mind, and learn to be content and relaxed. Basically, they are only here to prepare you for meditation and self-inquiry, which was the original goal of asanas. 

The breathing exercises and different techniques for meditation are at the core of dharma yoga, helping you to calm the nervous system and the mind.

The style also includes Yoga Nidra, guided relaxation which involves the teacher leading you through a visualization meditation while you are lying down in Corpse Pose.

The main philosophical focus of Dharma Yog is ethical living and it emphasizes ahimsa, the principle of non-violence and compassion. 

If you want to dive deeper and get a holistic yoga experience that will improve your physical health but also teach you how to meditate and become a better human being, Dharma yoga is right up your alley. 

History of Dharma Yoga

The history of Dharma Yoga is tied to its founder, Sri Dharma Mittra. 

He was born in Brazil and became fascinated by yoga and esoteric teachings in his early teens. From 1958 to 1964, he served in the Brazilian National Air Force, practiced Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, and bodybuilding, and received awards in bodybuilding and powerlifting.

He only studied yoga through books until 1962 when he and his brother went to New York and he commenced his practice with their guru known as Yogi Gupta. He left his previous occupations and sold what he had to afford the plane ticket to New York. 

As soon as he arrived to New York in 1964 he commenced his yoga studies with the guru.

He began to study the eight limbs of yoga and dedicated the next decade of his life to Karma yoga.

He was initiated as a sannyasi, a type of monk who renounces worldly life and dedicates himself to God.  While he was a sannyasi, he was the personal assistant of the Guru.

He started teaching asana and pranayama classes in New York in 1967.

With blessing from his guru, he left the ashram in 1974 and founded his yoga studio which is known as Dharma Yoga Center today. He founded the style, Dharma Yoga in 1975. 

His popularity came from the fact that he dedicated his entire life to yoga, and also, at the time, he was the only person in New York to teach advanced yoga asanas.

He taught many teachers from other schools. He also taught the philosophy of yoga which shaped the path of Dharma Yoga, still present to this day – being a style that puts as much emphasis on all 8 limbs, rather than physical postures alone. 

Dharma Yoga Benefits

Since Dharma yoga deals with many levels of your being, it offers an array of benefits. 

Here are some of them:

  • Improves flexibility: The practice will make your muscles more flexible, and you will be able to progress naturally as you level up through the sequences.
  • Reduces pain: With greater flexibility, you will combat related pain, such as back pain.
  • Strengthens the nervous system: Dharma yoga strengthens the nervous system, and you will feel more physically and mentally calm.
  • Improves sleep: Relaxing the body and learning about its cues will improve your sleep.
  • Supports bone health: Consistent practice of Dharma yoga improves bone strength and development by lowering cortisol and increasing calcium.
  • Improves strength: The practice will make your muscles stronger and leaner.
  • Improves posture: By focusing on good alignment, and improving strength and flexibility, the practice improves your postural habits.
  • Improves cardiovascular health: Boosts the heart rate which lowers your risk of heart attack.
  • Combats mental issues: By releasing tension and improving your knowledge of yourself, the practice helps combat stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Improves balance: Regular Dharma yoga practice improves balance and proprioception.
  • Improves breathing: The classes always include pranayama which will improve your breathing pattern and lung capacity over time.
  • Teaches philosophy: You will learn to improve your everyday life through yogic philosophy, particularly the moral codes and principles.
  • Leads to greater self-awareness: The practice involves meditation and all other limbs of yoga, guiding you closer to self-realization. 

6 Fundamental Poses Of Dharma Yoga

Sri Dharma Mittra built his practice on the six foundational poses all Hatha yoga poses are based on. You will practice variations of these poses in each class. By going through all of them you will enjoy a full body stretch and strengthening. 

These are the poses:

  • Lotus Pose: The base for all seated postures. Each class involves this asana for the pranayama and meditation practice, although you will be able to modify it if it’s inaccessible – e.g. doing the Easy Pose
  • Seated Forward Fold: This is the base for all forward bends, and it works through your entire back body from neck to ankles. You might do a variation in a class like a Standing Forward Bend.
  • Cobra Pose: This asana is the foundation for all backbends, stretching your front body, particularly the chest and stomach. The same base is used for other heart-opening asanas, like Sphinx Pose or Boat Pose.
  • Headstand: Traditionally, a headstand is considered the king of all asanas – if you will do only one pose, this should be it. It reinvigorates the entire body and improves mental abilities. It is the foundational inversion you will be able to gradually get into it through your classes. 
  • Candle Pose: Almost as important in the past as the previous pose, Candle was called the mother of all positions. It is often done at the end of class and you can use it as a modification for Headstand.
  • Lateral Twist: A seated twist is the base for all spinal twists, although you’ll sometimes also do a supine or standing variation in class. Twists are particularly beneficial for the health of the spine and the internal organs. 
an annotated image of a man wearing black yoga clothes sitting in lotus pose

Dharma Yoga Levels

Not all Dharma Yoga classes are the same, there are different levels, which help students naturally progress, from a beginner to an advanced level.

These are the terms that you might stumble upon in a Dharma class along with short descriptions so you know what to expect:

  • Dharma Yoga Shiva Namaskar Vinyasa  – a dynamic Vinyasa series designed by Sri Dharma Mittra to encourage the flow of prana and to unblock the energy channels in the body. This brings a balance to the body, improving your health. In a Vinyasa class, you will also go through meditation, pranayama, and possibly Yoga Nidra.
  • Dharma Gentle 1 – made for absolute beginners, which includes the primary sequence of Vintasa. The routine includes an accessible yet intense series of poses and ends with deep relaxation, pranayama, and meditation.
  • Dharma 2 – after you feel secure in Dharma 1 you can progress to this series, which is built on the fundamentals of the previous sequence bud adds deeper variations of the poses, for example, this is where the headstand is introduced. It also includes pranayama and meditation at the end.
  • Dharma 3 – after you master Dharma 2, you will be able to advance to Dharma 3 which includes even more challenging asanas built upon the foundations of the first sequences. You will work with your life force, but also learn more about self-realization. You will learn a meditative version of the Headstand and Shoulderstand, and the practice ends with breathwork, Deep Relaxation, and meditation.
  • Dharma 4 – the most advanced Dharma yoga sequence with the most difficult asanas, with the goal of both improving your health and stamina and teaching you how to reach self-realization. Like the previous sequence, the practice ends with breathing exercises and meditation to reach a deep sense of calm and presence. 

If you’re still considering if Dharma yoga is for you, or want to continue your research, check out other styles in our library:

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Sara lives in Croatia, near the sea, with her dog. She enjoys exploring nature, and making art. She is currently developing a series of children’s/YA stories and comics in her native language, which she feels complements her work and allows her to live her dream life – having yoga, writing, art, and nature in her every day.

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