Carrying the Light Forward: Chandra Om

Carrying the Light Forward: Chandra Om

by Jyoti Devi, Clarity Magazine

Maha Sadhana

It is almost 6pm on a Monday evening, and we are on the second floor of a seemingly average building in the Five Points area of Raleigh, North Carolina. Students are bustling around, laying mats out, smiling and embracing friends and quietly preparing for what is obviously a deeply spiritual experience for all.

Beside me, a woman sits in Vajrasana, eyes closed, quietly meditating. An ethereal aura of reverence lends a surreal aspect to the warm, softly lit yoga room, as the eyes of the yoga masters and saints gaze over us from the pictures surrounding the perimeter of the room. The sun is setting, visible through the front wall of windows, and amidst the bustling of activity, I see a small woman quietly walking toward the stereo. Stopping to smile and say hello to students, she offers her hands in pranam with a gentle smile. The quality that surrounds her is simultaneously approachable and intimidating. You can feel the shift in energy as nearly 40 people of varying shapes, sizes, colors, ages, backgrounds and abilities sit upright with hands in Jnana Mudra (index finger and thumb touching), eyes closed. Chandra Om is about to start class.

For the next 2 hours I ride a wave of extremes, as I attempt to keep pace with some of the most exquisite Hatha Yogis I have ever seen, let alone, tried to practice near. Yes, there are those struggling. Yes, there are those who occasionally look as dazed and befuddled as I feel. But there is a transporting, ethereal calm through every moment. The instructor is continually saying “Think of God”, “Close the eyes and concentrate at the location of the third eye”, “Learn to control your thoughts”. Everyone is so calm! The teacher is so humble. The teacher is so firm. The teacher is putting me into postures I never attempted nor thought I could achieve. Suddenly I am twisted inside a bending posture shaking everywhere when the woman next to me catches my eye, smiles and says, "just think of God."

Chandra Om has become one of the most respected and talked about yoga teachers in the country, recently being chosen by Yoga Journal as one of the top 20 yoga teachers under the age of 40. She is the senior teacher and disciple of legendary yoga master Dharma Mittra, who she credits with everything. The moment I mention Dharma Mittra, her face lights up and she becomes very talkative. “My Guru is the greatest yogi in the world. He took me from nothing, from the absolute depths of spiritual ignorance and worked tirelessly for me. I owe him everything.”

Chandra and Dharma

In 2001, Chandra founded the North Carolina School of Yoga as an offering to her Guru and as a concentrated place to perpetuate the teachings of her lineage and classical yoga. It has since become one of the most respected yoga schools in the country and gained the reputation of being one of the few schools today where students can still study true, classical yoga. This is due in large part to Chandra’s unwillingness to water down or westernize the traditional teachings.

“I am precise and firm with those who come to me for study,” Chandra says. “But that is the classical way. I learned from my Guru, he from his and so on, all the way back to Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna. I know it is not the way for everyone, but it is all I know. My sole interest is in preserving the teachings as they were taught to me by my Guru and providing classical study to those who still wish for that in this day and age. I understand most students do not wish for that kind of intensity, but that is okay, there are plenty of other places for them to learn a little hatha (the physical practice) and meditation. This is my way; take it or leave it. I will never alter the science.”

I am almost in tears as I listen to this humble woman describe her Guru, her path, the students who have come and gone over the years, the beautiful school, and how, despite the ego driven athleticism and commercialized side of yoga, many students come here from all over the world to study the classical way.

“Divine insight is sometimes painful to worldly ears,” says one student of Chandra. “Chandra is not always popular with superficial students, but she is fair and authentic, and most importantly, she only teaches those that ask for training. She does not solicit students, nor try to make disciples. She also does not compromise the teachings as they were taught to her. For her, the Guru is everything. For those that are not of that temperament, they are never made to feel poorly, but one cannot make a teacher in the image they would like, they must accept the temperament of the teacher or move on. Students come, and many go. Those who crave a path of ego recognitions are generally disappointed and do not last long under her tutelage. Ego-balm is not encouraged by Chandra. Her words and approach are not for the unprepared ears, but for those who are interested in the classical approach, this is a place for them.”

I ask Chandra where she sees herself in 20 years and she pauses and smiles, gazing down for a moment. “Wherever God wants me. Teaching most likely, with a small group of students. We are in the beginning stages of opening an Ashram, for the more serious students, so probably there, working with them, taking care of some animals and trying to help in any way I can. We’ll see. Whatever the Lord decides.”

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