By Hannah Allerdice
Sri Dharma has often referred to himself as the handyman to his Guru, Yogi Gupta. My heart swells to think of Sri Dharma as a disciple, lovingly shaving Yogi Gupta’s hair, preparing his vegetables (slowly taking all of the sides of the mushrooms off), and preparing juices for Satsang. Although he’s not fixing electric wires, or serving Sri Dharma’s personal needs, in many respects, Adam Frei is Guru-ji’s handyman, lovingly serving him with full dedication and love.
Most of us know Adam as the director of Sri Dharma’s Life of A Yogi teacher trainings and for his stunning devotional kirtan. Indeed, many of us swoon ourselves to his chanting. But Adam is behind the scenes for so much of Sri Dharma’s beautiful interviews and writings. He edited the comprehensive LOAY TT manual (soon to be published!), and has been instrumental in conveying Sri Dharma’s messages within his interviews and other writings. He also spreads Sri Dharma’s messages throughout the wild world of social media. In his direct teachings, in New York and when he travels, he is a bright, clear channel of Sri Dharma’s teachings. This might be why I’ve heard Sri Dharma say, “Next life I will be Adam and Adam will be in my place.”
Last year, I interviewed Adam to learn more about him, and from him. We talked about his spiritual journey, meeting and developing a relationship with Sri Dharma, common obstacles and tricks for staying on the spiritual path, and what it means to be a yoga teacher. His messages bring out the qualities – the virtues – that Adam embodies: love, strength, clarity, humility, cheerfulness, kindness and devotion. May you learn and cherish this as much I have!
Q: Can you talk a little about your own spiritual journey?
Adam: Yes. I started singing when I was very young. One of the places that I sang from the time I was young was in Synagogue. So, I always had a certain experience that was more experiential – than anyone telling me to think a certain way or feel a certain way. That sense of connection, and that experience, was something that I looked to find other ways and tried to understand, especially as a teenager. I actually served as a cantorial soloist for three years starting from the time I was thirteen, so I was the person leading the service, which is mostly song in a synagogue. And, there was a difference between that and regular performing – dealing with people’s energy. I was thinking about those things.
I went into yoga because I liked the idea of something that was integrated. It was ethical rules, breathwork, it was meditation, it was the asana to help to maintain the physical. I just really liked the idea of something that was comprehensive because to just meditate, I don’t know– I always had the ability to just sit and be completely still. I really liked yoga. It was one of those things, when, from first times I practiced, I felt like it was exactly what I was looking for.
The [Sri Dharma Mittra] poster for me was a very important part of my yoga journey. No one I ever spoke to at Kripalu, where I used to look at the poster, had any idea of who Dharma was. No one could ever give me information other than, “Yea, it’s a great poster, we sell it. We have it in two sizes.” When Dharma’s DVD’s came out, I had this advanced copy of the Level 2 that I was sent. I remember practicing it and being like, “Whoa, this is awesome!” And, realizing, “Wait! Dharma is alive, this is the same guy as the poster!”
Coming and taking class with Dharma for the first time – it really blew me away. For me, it was everything that I was looking for in terms of a teacher. It’s funny because everyone has such a different experience with Dharma. You know people often say that he never tells them what to do. Dharma always told me what to do. From the very first time I met him, he would always say things to me like, “you need to do this, or do this.” I found that to be very helpful.
I never used to ask Dharma anything, but Dharma always, like so many people say, used to answer all of my questions as a part of the teachings. I’d be thinking about something riding the subway in, I’d go to the class and then he’d talk about that exact thing and answer the question. I remember at some point Dharma saying to me, “You are like Arjuna, you’re always asking questions.” But I never asked him anything! In fact for the first year and a quarter, we never even spoke, directly, other than him teaching me within the class.
It’s exactly what I think I was looking for. And as much as anything else, certain things that I thought, or realizations that I had. Dharma at different points, if I ever asked him a question, would say to me, “You already know the answer.” And I’d say, “Oh, he’s right.” Or, he would say to me, “Why are you asking me, you know just as much as I do.” And I am not saying this from a place of ego. He was validating and helping me to have more confidence.
Q: Some people talk about when they meet their teacher, they are overwhelmed. Did you have that feeling when you met Sri Dharma?
Adam: No it really wasn’t like that. I think I came to the first class with Dharma in a certain way, almost having given up. At that point, I’d been actively looking for a teacher for about seven years. I was planning that that summer to go to India. My thought was that I wasn’t finding it here and in different places I’d gone in North America. I thought, since that was where yoga came from, it could be a place where I could find something. I already had a schedule when I was going to take my shots. It was really far into the planning stage.
That first class – in those days the noon class was the most popular class. The place was completely jammed full. It was a lot of yoga teachers who would plan their day so to take that class. And they were teaching before and after. I set down my mat, I went toward the back of the carpet, assuming, like everyone else, that Dharma would teach at the front of the room, and Dharma came in and put his mat right in front of where my mat was. There were 60 people in the room, all the way back to the bathroom. There were people in the hall down there. Almost in every pose he adjusted me. He had all these things to say, it wasn’t about the adjustments, it wasn’t like fixing, it was about showing me how to go deeper, or “this is another way to do it, or try this way.” And always, “open your eyes, look at me, I am right here. The reason I’m doing this is for you.” That, in and of itself, was amazing. That someone had all this information and was so generous to share. Then, just the experience I had in savasana, which was just very different than any kind savasana experience I’d ever had which then meant that the meditation was so different.
I talked to Dharma briefly afterwards. He was so uncomfortable. I tried to thank him. So often teachers are usually like, “come to my retreat. Would you like to buy my book?” And here was Dharma saying, “I didn’t do anything, you don’t have to thank me.” I was thinking, “What?” And there were people stacked up to talk to him and he got out of there as fast as he could and almost ran down the stairs. I was just fascinated by the whole experience.
I rearranged my entire work schedule so I could be at those classes at least twice a week. In the summers I was there four or five days a week. I just made it a part of my life. A big thing for me also was when Dharma came back from his first trip to Japan. He came in that day, about a half hour early. I always went early, so I could warm up so I could do the class. He sat down, and instead of going through his own practice, like he always used to do in those days, he sat down he started talking to me. “So, I was in Japan.” He started telling me about Japan – the students, the experience of teaching there. And he said, “some day you’ll go to Japan and you’ll teach there.” We literally had never spoken a word outside of him teaching in the class and all of a sudden it was like, oh, okay… It’s always been a really good thing for me – and I just I feel so fortunate, I feel so blessed to have the experience of being able to learn from him. He is so generous. To this day, he still has things to tell me. Even though he insists that I know all his tricks. There is always something else. I just love it, I love being around him.
Q: How has your relationship with Sri Dharma changed?
Adam: Basically after I had been there a couple of years, around New Years, Dharma had started saying to me, “Why are you still here? You’re done. You don’t need to be here anymore.” He’d say that in class, in front of everyone. I felt a little embarrassed about it. We were at Kripalu, He said this every time he saw me at Kripalu. I said, “Dharma. You may think, and I am sure you are right, because you know better than I do, that I am done, but I feel like even if I am done, if I stay maybe I can help in some way. And, in some way, for everything you have done for me and everything you do for everyone else, maybe I could somehow help a little bit, and I’d like to stay around.”
There are things that come up. Like, about six years ago, I asked Dharma, “Someone asked me, since you weren’t there, if I could charge their malas for them and I don’t know if I am comfortable.” Dharma got angry at me: “What do you mean? You do it. If someone asks you, you do it.” I guess too, I think this was a long time ago, actually, Dharma said something along the lines of, “Let’s just be friends.” He was sort of trying to not have me be so reverent – or insisting upon reverence all the time. “Lets just be friends- treat me like you’d treat your friends.” For me, sometimes its hard, because I feel an enormous reverence for Dharma. But also I have the sense that because this is what he asks, I’ll be obedient. To the degree that I am able to because that’s the way he’d like it to be and that is what is comfortable for him.
Q: What have been some big obstacles for you? Can you share what kinds of things you learned to overcome them?
Adam: It sounds kind of ridiculous to say, but I feel like some of the biggest obstacles that I have had are not as recent. I used to try more to do things, try to make things happen. The more I have been able to go into the surrender, the fewer obstacles there are. It’s not to say there aren’t obstacles. It’s always this thing of being patient until things work themselves out in whatever way they work out. I used to think, particularly when I was more interested in singing opera professionally and was doing that a bit- that I am going to prepare, that I am going to do, and based on my preparation, and based on everything, this is going to be the result. If that wasn’t the result, I’d have that feeling that I have to work harder, I have to do, and I have to make. I started to understand over time, there is no “do,” no “make.” There is making your best effort, but being unattached. The less you are attached, the less you worry. I could say something completely asinine as part of this interview. But in a certain way, I can’t help that because that is what I am supposed to say.
I used to get very nervous, I’ve noticed in recent years, I don’t get that nervous. I think it is because I am not attached to the result. I mean, I cannot say that I am not at any level, I am not perfect, I am not perfected. I try to make the effort and offer up the fruit, whatever it ends up being.
Q: Do you feel like that this is your work — this is your internal, personal work?
Adam: I don’t feel that way at all. It used to be internal work. There were certain things, certain experiences I had where I thought I needed to put names to them or I needed to categorize them, to be able quantify them. Because of the way this brain and the body is, I needed that for my own development. I don’t think of anything in terms of myself. I don’t mean that I have no ego, no personality. It’s not to say I walk around, and if someone spits on me I say thank you. I don’t know how to explain it. I used to have a lot of goals, I used to have a lot of things – I don’t feel that way anymore. I have an obligation to my family, to take care of them, having brought two children in the world. I want to do everything I can for their life – to set them on the right path, and be the best husband that I can, and support my wife and our household and the rest of my family. I don’t really think in things for myself. Lately, I gained some weight as my metabolism has slowed down in recent years, and I am making an effort to lose it at this point, because there are some asanas I can’t demonstrate and it’s good for the students to see certain things. It was something I let go of for a while. But, I feel like I want to do something about it. I feel like this is the house I am living in and it’s a very comfortable and nice house. Everything works well and I am grateful.
It’s not like where Dharma will say, “I already have my diploma.” I see there are a lot of things I could still do or achieve. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just not something I think actively about.
Me: That sounds very peaceful!
Adam: It wasn’t always that way. When I was younger, I was very competitive. I used to ski race, so I was competitive about that. I used to be interested in jobs, careers. At this point, it’s just different.
Q: What are some tricks that you have for staying on the path, and remaining useful on the path?
Adam: I don’t know if they are really tricks, per se. One of the things is first to have the courage to have the experience – and to try. Because, if you are willing to go into places that sometimes seem a little dangerous, scary, and certainly unfamiliar – that’s where you grow the most, where there is the opportunity to experience the most. Moving toward enlightenment, in psychological terms, is uncoupling the thinking processing mind from the part of our being that just experiences –that just sort of records and witnesses. If you went to that place, and stayed at that place, you’d stay insane. To be willing to go to that place, but keep that thread to come back. People think, or they look at enlightenment like it’s going to be a life changing experience, they are going to be a different person – like everything that is broken will suddenly be fixed. I don’t personally think that enlightenment is anything about that. It is coming to see something that at a certain point you already know, but you are not willing to accept with every fiber of your being. I think, once you accept it with every fiber of you being then everything is different, everything is just changed. Everything you experience, you perceive, you see and experience from a different place, a different perspective.
For me, seeing Dharma and the way he lives his life is helpful. He still has a family, and things he has to deal with. Like, his basement flooded. He drove all the way to the city and had to turn around and drive back home. What are you going to do? You have to take care of it. It’s that whole Zen thing: before enlightenment the laundry, after enlightenment, the laundry. Things have to be done. I think of it and feel it in a different way. I am not saying I am enlightened, but a lot of people think that something is going to fundamentally shift, that they will become superman, or super woman. I think all that stuff is all expectation, all attachment. It is all imposing a form on something that is not about form.
Dharma talks about the part of us that is not affected. Something happens, someone cuts you off in traffic, you get that flash of anger and it is gone as soon as it comes. That flash of anger, it’s gone – it is just body and mind going through whatever experiencing it is having. It’s not that you don’t walk around without the body and mind living out the karma of this lifetime – the prarabdha karma. It’s going to be whatever it is going to be – sometimes you are going to be good, sometimes it is going to be bad, sometimes you are going to be hot, sometimes you’re going to be cold, it doesn’t matter.
Q: Do you feel like there are any other lessons that would be helpful for our spiritual community – more messages emphasized?
Adam: There are two things. One is that I think it’s really important for people to stop confusing that asana and yoga are synonymous. And, it’s very hard, because where we are with yoga in the West, it is mostly a physical practice. But by looking at yoga in that way, you are stuck with just 1/8th. I think there is so much more to the system – if people are able to see the other parts as just as important, then yoga has the potential to change everything.
The second point is one Yogi Gupta always made: You have to discover your tendencies, your dharma. What works for you, you have to do a lot of it. It is certainly true that there are things we don’t like to do. But if you are a person to sit and sing and that’s something where you have a strong sense of connection – you should do that a lot. And just because everyone else enjoys these punishing asana classes — that may be helpful at some level, but it won’t help you make the most progress. The body and the mind have their tendencies and those are built-in. Figure out what those are and work with that. I think that is something that can help everyone make progress.
Q: You are the director of the LOAY teacher training program and you see the development of teachers. What are some things to consider when wanting to be a teacher?
I always go back to something that one of Dharma’s senior teachers said in response to the question, “What it is you want to do as a teacher?”
They said, “You want to be someone who helps someone find God.”
I thought, “Wow! How many people approach teaching yoga like this? I think about that answer daily. There are some people who teach parts of yoga- and that can be helpful. But, if they are really wanting to be someone who wants to share the full Ashtanga yoga with someone else – that is a big thing – a big level of responsibility. When we go through it, we don’t necessarily understand what we are going to be involved in.
When you go to teach the public classes, sometimes people are there for the workout, and that’s wonderful and great, and there are people who are really doing something devotional. You teach all of them. You try to help all of them. I think the biggest thing about being a teacher is that people have a fantasy that they will become famous. That people will be interested in what you have to say. Teaching is service – you try to do whatever you can to help people make progress. I always echo what Dharma says, teacher training is here to help you make progress so then, over time, you can help others make progress on their way.
Hannah was born in Manhattan, NY, and raised in Florida and Georgia. She came to practice with Sri Dharma Mittra in 2007 after learning under Saraswati Om in Syracuse, NY. Hannah completed the 200-hr and 500-hr LOAY in 2008 and 2011 and is honored to be a mentor in the LOAY Teacher Training programs. She teaches yoga and stress management, leads kirtan, does energy healing and cares for her growing family in Washington D.C. She feels so grateful to be a student of Sri Dharma Mittra and a part of his loving Dharma Yoga family. You can find more at hannahabricker.com.