It’s not always easy to walk in your father’s shoes.
Especially when he’s not wearing shoes and prefers standing on his head without using his hands. This is what it’s like for Dov Samuel Vargas, 24, whose father is the legendary yoga master, Sri Dharma Mittra.
Dov was initiated as a young boy into the yoga lineage by his father’s guru, Yogi Gupta, and given the spiritual name Varuna.
But the yoga lifestyle didn’t catch on until four years ago, after Dov took a teacher training with his father and came to realize the power of who Dharma is. Then Dov realized the path he must take.
The two didn’t spend much time together as Dov was growing up because Sri Dharma had a demanding teaching schedule, as he still does. But now, they travel and teach together. Dov is a regular in his father’s classes and an asana model in Sri Dharma’s worldwide workshops.
Sri Dharma Mittra, 75, has been teaching yoga in New York City for 46 years.
Q: What are some of the earliest memories you have of Dharma?
A: I know from pictures I was pretzeled around. They definitely put me into poses and dressed me in traditional beads and shawls. We were moving around a lot in New York so sometimes my dad would be living at a center and different students would babysit me.
But there were times we were at the country house and my sister and I would pick salamanders. My dad would always say: “You have to put them back where you picked them up because their family is waiting for them.”
He’s always trying to subtly instill ahimsa, non-violence.
Q: When did you discover yoga as a personal practice?
A: I did some kids yoga classes but I wasn’t so into it. In high school, I took some classes too. It just didn’t really appeal to me. It was weird going to yoga classes because, being his son, I’d get all this attention and I was shy.
My first training happened while I was part of a Jewish camp and we’d go to Israel. In 2010, Dharma was doing a teacher training there. They didn’t say I had to go but they said if you’re going to Israel, you should do the training. For some reason I agreed to do it.
At that time I was still smoking cigarettes and my diet wasn’t amazing. We’d go to the morning session and I’d be smoking and walking with Dharma.
Q: He was tolerant of your bad habits?
A: His style of reprimanding you is not yelling at you and telling you to stop. He’d maybe pull me to the side and say, “Dov, why don’t you cut down a little bit? Smoke a little bit less.”
He was placing himself in my shoes. He also smoked when he was young.
Q: At some point teenagers tend to dislike their parents. Did you ever have that friction with Dharma?
A: I never had anything against him. Sometimes I would be embarrassed by him for things he would do. Like if we were in an elevator and there was a piece of trash on the floor, he would pick it up.
My sister and I would be like, “Why would you pick that trash up?” Or in a restaurant, he would stack the plates after we ate to get things ready for the server. But nowadays, I do what he does.
Q: What clicked during the teacher training to make you decide that yoga is for you?
A: At the end of the training they have the part where the students make comments. I remember this one guy was sobbing and bowing down trying to kiss Dharma’s feet and saying how much he had been changed and how he was wishing Dharma would stay to help him.
At that point something clicked in my head and I began to see Dharma as everybody else has seen him instead of, “That’s just my dad sitting up there, telling these people to stretch.”
For my childhood he wasn’t around much, he was always teaching classes. At that moment, I realized what he was doing. It just changed everything and I realized this is what I want to do. I went back home and quit cigarettes and changed everything. I have that mentality where I go in 100 percent.
Now I’m trying to spend as much time as I can with Dharma.
Q: How do you feel now as a yoga teacher?
A: When I first started, I felt weird from these energies coming at me because some people worship Dharma so much and they’ll be like, “Oh, there’s Dharma’s son. I thought he was supposed to be more flexible.” It took me a while to get over stuff like that.
Then I got stronger and said I’m just my own person. Recently I’ve been getting invited to workshops and traveling. My first real experience was [this year] in Barcelona. And in my head I said, “I’m not ready to do this.”
But God throws these things at you and you have to go with it.
Just by growing up with Dharma and being in his aura, there’s all these things that I know innately. And during Barcelona, I was there to lead a teacher training representing Dharma Yoga. I had to answer all the same questions that Dharma would get. Somehow I answered every question perfectly and got a little taste of being in his shoes. I know these things that I don’t even know. These subtle things just got instilled.
Q: Will you keep going down the road of Dharma Yoga?
A: This is my karma. I was born into this circumstance and it’s what I have to do. He’s my dad and this is my lineage.
To find out about Dov’s teaching schedule, visit www.yogivaruna.com.
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Editor: Travis May
Photo: Provided by author