Fit Yoga Interview with Chandra

Interview with Chandra Om

This interview, "A Disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra imparts classical Yoga principles for building spiritual strength in our times," was conducted by Teri Wingender in the fall of 2007 and appeared in the February 2008 issue of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Dedicated to teaching traditional classical Yoga passed down from Guru to student, Chandra Om founded the North Carolina School of Yoga in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2001. She is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra, who is known worldwide for the classic 908 Master Asana Chart and beloved by thousands as the "Rock of Yoga" and the "teacher's teacher."

Says Chandra, "The reason I teach is to honor my Guru." Her school offers certification in Sri Dharma's classical and traditional practice of Yoga. Chandra recently published Dharma Mittra; A Friend to All, a biography of her Guru, who has been teaching since 1967 and continues to teach in New York City. Chandra has also released three critically acclaimed CD's, Dhyana, Mere Gurudev and Be Receptive. Here, Chandra passes on ancient insights into the development of spiritual strength in our times.

Fit Yoga: How does finding one's strength through Yoga progress physically and spiritually?

Chandra Om

Chandra Om: Living in this material world of sense perception and identification with name and form can feel so dense. Seeking spiritual answers inside this material world—Is there reincarnation? Should I be a vegetarian? Do I need a Guru? Where is God? How can I conquer my addictions?—without physical endurance and strength can be difficult because the moment you try to uncover the deeper answers, suddenly you have a craving for a food or there's an inability to sit still—it's always something. As you develop physical strength through asana, diet, yama and niyama, not only do you achieve supreme health, you prepare yourself for the cultivation of self control—to get quiet, master the energies in the body and mind, and go beyond them—to cultivate spiritual strength where the answers to all your questions will come from and to see reality beyond the material plane.

Fit Yoga: Can spiritual strength happen the other way around too? For example, when you face a serious illness and your body fails you?

Chandra Om: According to the Yoga system, you have to have a certain kind of consciousness for it to happen that way—a devotional, yielding temperament that says, "Lord, I know you are with me, I know I am in your hands". Very often, the world has to beat you up before you can have that kind of humility. The culmination of Yoga is surrender—Ishvara Pranidhana—surrender to God or the Supreme Self. So yes, it can happen in reverse. But unless you can surrender your ego, your personality, your agenda for the way you think things should be, generally you have to develop some physical strength first.

Fit Yoga: How do we use the strength we're building in our practice to change the world? If you were in Iraq at this moment, what would you do?

Chandra

Chandra Om: I love that question. And the answer is that you just love everyone. True communication does not happen in the physical realm, but through thoughts and thought projection. This is why the Yogis do not concern themselves too much with being socially active or taking up picket signs or choosing sides. Because everything is one. There is no us and them. If I were in Iraq, it would be no different than if I were in the middle of Beverly Hills. You just look around for any way, anyone that you can help. Wherever you are, you serve. Realize the power of your thoughts and learn to control thoughts. As a Yogi, you don't see the Osama bin Ladens or the Hitlers the way everybody else is seeing them—you just love. It does not mean you condone the actions. A Yogi sees levels of consciousness and that this behavior is much lower because they are not allowing God to pass through them, surrendering to the source from which they came. You have to cultivate that consciousness. It's very easy to love your child, or your best friend or your Yoga teacher, but what about the ones you perceive you have conflict with? When you ask God how you can serve, you may hear something the ego does not like. That's the purpose of the breathing and following Yama and Niyama—to lift your consciousness so you can let God pass through you full force and become a servant of humanity.

Fit Yoga: There is a growing awareness about what you can create through intention and aligning your energies with the universe. What is happening in the global consciousness for these ideas to be springing up so strongly?

Chandra Om: Everything is consciousness and the collective consciousness is slowly beginning to awaken. This planet is beginning to lift from lower behaviors to fourth chakra heart region instead of the lower three. It still needs to go a lot higher, but as a planet we are becoming more compassionate and realizing that when you're concerned with name and fame and finances, controlling people (even turning Yoga into business) those are the seeds you are going to sow—more separation and things that are empty and impermanent. Concentrate on transforming yourself through yama and niyama and loving everyone, including your enemies. If everyone starts doing that, then transformation just happens. You don't even have to open your mouth.

Fit Yoga: Is is important for Yoga students to find a Guru?

Chandra Om: Yes, without a doubt. There are some very rare beings that do not need a Guru. But the Yoga system, the scriptures and Masters, stress the importance and necessity of a Guru, a Preceptor. In reality, you are already perfect. Inside, you already hold all the answers. If everyone was walking around fully conscious of their true nature, this place would be a paradise. The Guru awakens the dormant energy for the answers to be revealed to the student. The Guru has gone before you and can say, "Take my hand. You're going to have to do the work, but I will help you". And there must be complete trust and obedience. Because the mind is going to say, "I see where you're taking me, but there's a shortcut over here on the left and there's something really attractive on the right too!" The Guru shortens your suffering and leads you to the Divine goal very quickly.

Fit Yoga: If you don't find your Guru in this lifetime, can you assume it's karma?

Chandra Om: Of course, everything is karma. And don't you worry about it at all. I desperately wanted to find my Guru, but I had already been resigned to the fact that it might not happen in this lifetime. But that was never going to stop my intent prayer. God doesn't forsake anyone. If the student is very sincere, the universe is going to conspire to make everything work. Just know you are doing everything you can and remain receptive.

Fit Yoga: Are you receiving the teachings of your Guru in a different way now than when you were younger?

Chandra Om: Yes. In the beginning, I didn't know much. The instruction was more literal: "Chandra, breathe this way", or "Chandra, do this for 30 days". But then I began to hear my Guru speak to me psychically, and as time went by, that's how the real communication takes place. The greatest way I learn from Dharma is to copy him, to do everything he does, the way he is so loving and kind to everyone. Once we were at an airport, and a young girl threw up. I looked over and he was cleaning up the vomit. Of course, there were many people who could have handled it, but he was doing it. You don't wait for somebody else. If you can do anything to help, you just do it.

Fit Yoga: Your Yoga school focuses on teacher training. Do you feel there is a need for more training in the traditional path?

Chandra

Chandra Om: Oh yes. I didn't see it happening in many places, so I wanted to offer it. It had to be traditional because it was (and remains) in the lineage of my Guru. I would never modernize it or add anything to it. My Guru never added anything to traditional Yoga. He always did exactly what the Guru said and followed the classical teachings. There is nothing I am going to suddenly bring to the science of Yoga. It doesn't need me. I just want to keep it pure and traditional, so if people are interested in learning, the full science it's available.

Fit Yoga: What do you think about the styles of Yoga we can choose from today?

Chandra Om: As long as there is no ego involved, or you are not looking for name and fame or to make it a business then it's OK. My Guru is very well known, but he never sought any of that. It just evolved around him. It has to be a direct prompt from God; it should not be that you think you created something. Of course, with evolution, very soon we're going to be doing Yoga in outer space—evolution is wonderful. There is no reason we have to be in the caves of India to keep it traditional or classical. But even in outer space, we still do the breathings, the techniques the same way, and honor the lineage of the Masters. The intelligence is within the science. It doesn't need to be altered.

Fit Yoga: Tell us about your personal practice?>

Chandra Om: I eat a mostly live diet—about 90-95% because my Guru encourages it. With that, the postures come very quickly, you don't need much warm up. I try to be nice to everyone, and try to follow ahimsa (non-violence), and do some of the postures every day to keep the spine flexible and healthy.

Fit Yoga: Are there postures you believe are important to do every day?

Chandra Om: Oh yes! The headstand must be done every day. It's very easy and does not require any flexibility. Do the 8 main postures every day and your spine will stay healthy. I like the more advanced postures, so maybe I'll do the Headstand Vinyasa, but for the average person, you don't need all of that—that has nothing to do with success in Yoga or lifting your consciousness. Just do the 8 main postures each day for the asanas and then the spine will get moved in all directions and you have nice health.

Fit Yoga: Why is headstand so important?

Chandra Om: The headstand is a tonic for the entire system. You develop tremendous powers of concentration and mental strength and everything is inverted, so all your organs are toned. The pituitary gland is stimulated and this posture induces meditation, so very soon you cultivate the strength and comfort to stay there and then very magical things begin to happen as you move beyond the physical realm. Once you are able to stand on the head comfortably, and everyone can, there is nothing in the world that will make you give it up.

Fit Yoga: What postures are most challenging for you spiritually?

Chandra Om: From the simplest to the most advanced, the most challenging aspect of any posture for me is when I'm not fully concentrated on God and making the posture an offering. The only time people get frustrated or injured is when they are looking for a personal outcome, a personal result rather than offering the fruits of their actions to the Supreme Self.