I was met with genuinely friendly smiles at Dharma Mittra's gorgeous and spacious studio on West 23rd Street. With gold painted walls on two sides, the large room is decorated with Hanuman posters, and statues of Ganesh, among other deities. Up front there is a stage for the teacher to demonstrate the poses. As with most Dharma Mittra classes, the teacher demonstrates up front with very little physical adjustment. The Maha Shakti classes are "open level" so while the poses are often simple, the teacher often gives more advanced options.
Our teacher for today, Dov Vargas, is famous for being Dharma Mittra's son but is also a fantastic teacher in his own right. We began chanting several Oms followed by the "Mantra for Purification" which begins with "Om Apavitra."
"If you don't know it just follow along as best you can," Dov advised us on this complex mantra that is also chanted at the beginning of every Dharma Mittra class. We followed that by chanting the Bija mantras, the seed sounds for each chakra with Dov giving us the visual color for each seed sound.
We then practiced several rounds of Sanmukhi mudra, a mudra that involves using all five fingers to block out the senses. Dov then directed us through some simple Sun Salutations in the Dharma Mittra variations: Crescent Moon to Uttanasana to Tadasana, arching back to center to fold to Crescent to Plank to Knees-Chest-Chin to Cobra to Downward Dog...and repeat. In between vinyasas, Dov would sometimes give us the option to try Dolphin Pose into Forearm Stand as Dov effortlessly demonstrated. He would add, "As Dharma says, 'Split the legs.'"
After several rounds of Sun Salutations, Dov walked us through some simple standing poses consisting of Warrior I, Warrior II, Extended Side Angle, always offering the option to bind. We added a twist to our standing poses including a lunge twist with option to bind.
Moving into the realm of hip openers we then held a lengthy Lizard with Dov demonstrating numerous variations to do with twists and binds. We then took a Hanuman Split which became a Pigeon. Dov joked with us, "What does Dharma say about this pose? 'This is Christmas!'" Dov told us to turn on our mats so we could come forward into a Wide Legged Forward Bend, AKA Upavistha Konasana.
We also practiced a standing variation of Titibasana either taking the easier option of binding one leg or binding both legs and trying to clasp the face with our hands. Dov then invited us to practice Headstand in the middle of the room and demonstrated up front careful methods of coming up, either coming up with one leg or with both legs, but not hopping into the pose.
As class wound to an end, we began the back bending portion of the class with several Ustrasanas, or Camels, and three rounds of Full Wheel. Dov instructed us to pause halfway, with the support of our heads, placing them on the floor and holding for several seconds before coming into the full expression of Wheel Pose.
We finished with a Paschimottanasana, and then Dov gave us the option to spend two minutes practicing the pose we'd like to try or felt we needed to do.
Class ended with a short Savasana and a round of Oms. Sleuth felt invigorated from the class but also peaceful because of Dov's quiet, yet confident present. Dropping my mat off at the front desk, the karma yogi asked how I enjoyed class. Sleuth gave her the thumbs up.