“Working Out My Karma: Struggling to Find My Dharma On and Off the Yoga Mat”

Here is another guest post by writer, friend, and yoga student Sarah Militz-Frielink.  You can read the first post she wrote for LYJ entitled The Illusion of When.

Sarah was inspired to write this post after becoming disillusioned with the corporatized yoga that is currently playing in the modern American yoga scene.

If you like Sarah’s style, contact her at sarah (at) leavingdark (dot) com if you need a writer.  Sarah said that she is finally getting back into spiritual writing and is thinking of starting her own online non-profit magazine.

Enjoy, and comments welcome!


It seems like just yesterday, I signed up for my first yoga class at the local park district down the street from my house.  That was eight years ago, and I have been practicing pretty much regularly to this day.  At the time, I had no idea what I signed up for or what a genuine yoga practice should look like.  I never anticipated all the challenges I would encounter along the way.  Probably motivated by the wrong reasons to try yoga, my underlying goal was to shed 30 pounds of baby weight that still clung to my body.  I had just given birth to my third child.  I was definitely lacking the spiritual discipline a true practice actually involved.  I just wanted results.  I did not know that a beautiful path lie before me where I would have to confront my own karma and struggle to find my dharma.

I guess I bought into the corporatized version of yoga: hot, sweaty, skinny, bodies on a mat glowing with a renewed sense of beauty, a calmer demeanor, and a compulsion to eat vegan.  When I use the term “corporatized yoga”, I am referencing the images that dominate all things yoga in magazines, commercials, DVDs, props, mats, and books.  Media and pop culture bombards us with a plethora of images—pictures of hot, upper-middle class blond females, doing handstands with ease.  And then there are the magazine photos boasting post-practice smiles plastered on flawless porcelain faces as the “model” promotes a new sport drink or yoga pants line. These images do not reflect a genuine yoga practice, one that seeks to unite the “human with the divine—all within the self” as the ancient yogis instruct us to do.

During my journey, I realized that these images conveyed a false sense of hope, one based in consumerism, vanity, and prejudice.  As if all bodies on yoga mats should look the same, as if all people who do yoga are skinny, blond, vegan, and Zen-like.  What’s worse is that these images brainwash Americans into thinking what yogis should look like or act like. If someone does not fit the norm, they are questioned along the way.  This is what I call a “yogaism” a belief that those who practice yoga should conform to the norms of the corporatized yogi image and a discrimination against those who do not.

For example, I was once asked why I didn’t act enlightened all the time.  My coworker thought people who do yoga and meditate were like Buddha every second of the day.  “How come you aren’t calm all the time? I don’t get why you do yoga and are not in a continuous state of serenity.”

“That’s one of the reasons why I do yoga now,” I told him. “Because I have recognized over the years how much anxiety I had that I wasn’t even aware of; I know I’m not calm all the time.  Enlightenment is a process; it ebbs and flows.”

My coworker then responded that he disagreed with my statement about enlightenment. The people he knew who had a true yoga practice were always that way.  They were never anxious and always enlightened.  My practice then must be a sham.

I laugh now looking back on this. Who were these yogis he knew who were in a constant state of enlightenment?  Maybe he confused the ones in yoga magazine for real people in the flesh.  Maybe he knew yoga masters who practice in a monastery on a mountaintop because last time I checked we were all human and subject to moments of fallibility.

Yet on and off the mat, I am still working out my karma, struggling to find my dharma as I continue to question what a genuine practice should look like.  I now know a bit about what a genuine practice does not look like.   A genuine practice is not limited to hot, skinny, blond females, who are in a semi-drugged state of yoga bliss.   A genuine practice does not come easily.  It isn’t about increased flexibility or weight-loss.  There are times when you confront your own demons on the mat.  You realize that you have unforgiveness stored in your heart chakra.  You learn to love yourself and in the process love others as you slowly release pain from this life and (at times) the pain from previous lives.

A genuine practice does not boost your self-esteem.  You are humbled at the limitations of the human condition as you practice your poses.  You become aware of how you sell yourself out every day as a consumer in cultural capitalism.  How small acts of kindness (i.e. donating a pair of shoes to an impoverished child in Guatemala) do not change the system (i.e. the child still lives in hideous poverty).

You develop an increased sense of social responsibility as you come to grips with the excesses of the American lifestyle. The eco-friendly mat and water bottle no longer seems to compensate for the size your carbon footprint.

This is what I have learned about a genuine yoga practice.  It should not be based in a “yogaism”—one that excludes overweight individuals, persons of color, or working class individuals. Yoga should embrace all kinds of people who are different shapes, sizes, and colors.  Yoga is about making peace with self and others and embracing who we are—both on and off the mat.

Sri Ramaswami on P. Jois and birth and death

(AUM written in Tamil)

I am an ongoing student of Srivatsa Ramaswami and this is what Ramaswamiji had to say in an email about the passing of Pattabhi Jois and birth and death.

Sri Ramaswami was Krishnamacharya’s longest standing student outside of Krishnamacharya’s family. He studied with Krishnamacharya for some 30 years, longer than P. Jois, Iyengar, and Desikachar.


Three of the disciples of my Guru, Sri Pattabhi Jois, Sri B K S Iyengar and Sri T K V Desikachar, propagated Yoga in the modern times and their influences have been phenomenal. The oldest of them, Sri Pattabhi Jois, taught the unique adaptation of my Acharya’s asana teaching, christened Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. It has caught the imagination of hundreds of thousands of Yogis all over the world and is practiced with tremendous enthusiasm. His passing away at the ripe old age of 94 leaves a void in the Yoga World. A tremendous teacher, Guruji was dearly loved and highly respected in the Yoga world. I had not met him but am aware that he was an ideal student of my Guru. The debt to a father is repaid by the offspring by exemplary conduct. “What good karmas the father should have done to get such a wonderful offspring”, people should say of the son/daughter. Likewise it is said that a student should bring out the glory of the teacher by his teachings — “Acharyam praksayeth.” People should wonder, “Who was his teacher?”

Sri Jois by his relentless and pioneering work on Yoga brought name, fame and respect to the legacy of his teacher Sri Krishnamacharya.

Om Shanti.


All the orthodox philosophies which accept the authority of the Vedas subscribe to the Theory of Karma, even as they have significant differences in the interpretation of the Vedas.

According to the Vedas, the individual soul surrounded by the vasanas or impressions of the past lives and also the remainder of the accumulated subtle karma bundle, gets attached to the subtle body of the individual. The subtle body itself, according to Sankhyas, is made of 18 aspects, the three internal organs of the chitta, viz., mind, ego and intellect, the ten indriyas and five tanmatras. When a person dies, the non-changing pure consciousness — the soul or self also known as purusha or jiva along with the subtle body undergoes the first transformation when it goes through ‘fire’, as the physical body is consigned to the fire after death. Then the subtle body goes up the sky space and approaches the heaven, but due to the avidya and the power of the accumulated karmas, stagnates and then is absorbed by the rain clouds, which is the second transformation due to the ‘fire’ of water. The subtle body then descends to earth with the drops of rain and is absorbed by a plant which is the third transformation through fire of earth. Then when the plant or the plant product is eaten by a being, it is absorbed and becomes the generative fluid of that person. This is the fourth transformation through the fire of the being, or gastric fire. Then when it is transferred to the female being, it undergoes another transformation through fire of the womb and becomes an embryo. Then according to Samkhyas the embryo has the subtle body and the genes/genetic body. The subtle body which went through five changes now gets the second body or the body given by the parents (mata pitruja sarira). This embryo then gets nourishment through the mother and develops another body known as bhuta sarira (the physical body) or a body made of the five elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space. And then one is born again. These five fire transformations is in the panchagni vidya of the Upanishads, and the Samkhyas talk about the subtle body, the genetic body, and the physical body to complete the story of the journey from death to birth. But those yogis who have attained Kaivalya or Moksha or Nirvana have their souls liberated and are able to shed the subtle body when they attain liberation and are able to break this cycle of samsara or transmigration. One who is able to clearly understand the process of transmigration through meditation and understanding of the panchagni vidya briefly narrated above are able to attain liberation (for better understanding, read the panchagni vidya from Chandogya Upanishad.) Such a person is able to see the distinction between the changing body going through all the transformation between birth and death and then between death and birth and the non-changing pure consciousness or the Self. Such a person is able to identify with the non-changing consciousness as ‘oneself’, the immortal self and becomes immortal. The rest, considering themselves to be mortal go through the cycle of samsara repeatedly and endlessly say the Upanishads.