We were curious about the benefits of yoga for menopause and for delaying the effects of aging. That’s why we interviewed legendary yoga teacher Sri Dharma Mittra, the model and creator of the “Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures” and the author of ASANAS: 608 Yoga Poses. He first encountered yoga as a teenager before meeting his Guru in 1964 and beginning his training in earnest. Sri Dharma founded one of the early independent schools of yoga in New York City in 1975 and has taught hundreds of thousands the world over in the years since. Sri Dharma continues to disseminate the complete traditional science of yoga through daily classes, workshops and his Life of a Yogi Teacher Trainings at the Dharma Yoga New York Center and around the world.
Viva Fifty.- What would you say to people who claim not to have time to meditate or practice yoga?
Sri Dharma Mittra.- What I would say is that most everyone can find five minutes a day to practice a little meditation or cultivate compassion. The point is not that one needs to carve out an hour every day, or two hours every third or fourth day, but that if someone can commit to doing just a little, but doing it consistently, that right there is the practice.
Viva Fifty.- Yoga enables us to age gracefully, but what if at 50+ you’ve never practiced yoga or meditation before? How would one start?
Sri Dharma Mittra.- Easiest is probably to find a class you can try to see if it meets your needs. There are all kinds of classes and all kinds of teachers to fit all different sorts of students. Sometimes, you have to try a few to find the one that fits best to you. If you are someplace where classes are not available, there is a lot of information available today through the Internet. Google can be an excellent place to start.
Viva Fifty.- What one yoga or meditation practice would you recommend above all others if we could only choose one?
Sri Dharma Mittra.- I think the most important part of yoga and that’s fit for everyone is the Ethical Rules – especially compassion, the first of them. If we apply this compassion to every aspect of our life and practice, we can make rapid progress in yoga.
Viva Fifty.- How would yoga and/or meditation be beneficial for menopausal women?
Sri Dharma Mittra.- For someone going through a time of transition like this, yoga will be a great help. The postures can help to normalize the secretion of hormones into the blood, as well as to keep the physical body healthy. Also, many of the poses include elements of balance and weight bearing that help to build bone mass. The relaxation, breathing exercises and concentration will help to calm and settle the mind a little, allowing one to pass through difficulties with greater ease. The meditation and philosophy will help one realize that they are not the body and not the mind, but something so much bigger and greater. Developing the ability to observe the body and mind as they pass through experiences can really help one overcome challenges. You come to recognize that what is real and essential is unchanging, as compared to everything else that is always changing, always in flux.
Viva Fifty.- Can one practice yoga or meditation at home, or is it better to do it under proper supervision?
Sri Dharma Mittra.- If practicing yoga at home is your only option, then try to seek out the best teachers online and experiment with what they have to offer until you find the one you like and can learn from consistently. If you have the opportunity to interact with a teacher in person, I think that’s really best because a teacher with some experience will meet the student where they are and help them to make progress.
Also, just to clarify, meditation is part of the yoga system. Much of the practice is really just preparing the body and mind for this sustained form of concentration.
When people in the West hear the word yoga, I think they mostly think of the third limb of practice, the physical postures or Asanas, but there are actually seven other limbs of practice including the Ethical Rules, the Yogic observances, breathing exercises, sensory withdrawal, concentration, meditation and absorption with the object of meditation.
Viva Fifty.- If you found out tomorrow that you could for some reason not meditate or practice yoga, what other practice would you consider and why?
Sri Dharma Mittra.- One major part of the practice is to cultivate non-attachment. If I lost the ability to do certain things, I would apply discrimination to determine what I could do, and then I would be constant in doing that. For me personally, it’s somewhat different because I already have my diploma. Today, I am mostly just involved with staying active to keep the body in shape to teach or, occasionally, I get involved with something specific to address a specific condition. For example, if I have to teach and I feel depressed, I might do ten minutes of Positive Breathing.
Viva Fifty.- Our readers will want to know whether there are beauty benefits to yoga and meditation?
Sri Dharma Mittra.- I think many of the yoga practices can help to make you look and feel younger, and youthfulness is often seen as equivalent to beauty. Keeping the Ethical Rules will force you to adopt a vegan diet. Eating lighter and getting all that animal-derived food off your plate will help you feel better overall, shed some pounds and digest easier. The physical exercises will help keep the body limber, especially the spine. If the spine stays flexible, it leads to the whole body feeling young and nice. The breathing exercises will help calm the mind which has the long-term effect of being able to really rest and recharge whenever you lie down. The concentration and meditation aspects of yoga will help to put power behind your thoughts so you can make progress in any area of your life you like.
Viva Fifty.- Anything you wish to add – Our audience is mainly 50-60, mostly women and many are Hispanic.
Sri Dharma Mittra.- Just to thank you for the opportunity to share a little of what I know. I have devoted 50 years of my life to sharing this yoga with people of all ages and, in my opinion, it is the most efficient way to cultivate health of body and peace of mind. For people in their 50’s and 60’s, there are so many points of entry into yoga and many where the benefits can be realized almost immediately. At every age, we need to stay active and the posture practice is a great way to do that. With the great variety of poses available, everyone can find the physical aspects that work best for them. We all suffer anxiety and worry at every age. The breathing exercises can be a great way to soothe and calm the mind, leading to increased ability to appreciated life as it is and our place in everything. As for the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga, anyone can access them anywhere under most any condition and allow them to start affecting their entire lives immediately. Remember, yoga truly means to be respectful and compassionate to all living beings and to be free from all sorrow. Who wouldn’t want that?