Category Archives: intentions

Yoga For Trying Times

By Sri Dharma Mittra 

In terms of the world today and what the new (U.S.) president may be saying or doing, some people have a lot of fear or concern. What would you recommend for the people who are afraid or worried?

Many years ago, I asked my guru: what about the president now? He said to me with a smile: “Don’t you worry, my son. Everything is just perfect. If the majority of the people chose him, that’s just what the people deserve — are ready for.” So, everything is perfect. Not even one blade of grass moves without the will of the Almighty One. Do you think that the Almighty One is allowing something that is not right? Everything is perfect. We do our best to help, to influence him, but whatever is happening: perfect! People who get hurt in this process: they have their karma. Perfect. Everything is Divine. Don’t worry: there are Celestial Beings that went before us. They are watching the planet, allowing all these people to assume their positions. Everything is just perfect. Let’s do our best and pray for the president. Remember: he is our brother, too. In reality, he is doing Divine work. That’s what I think.

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Ahimsa and Veganism

by Susan Craig

“The most violent weapon on earth is the table fork.” Mahatma Gandhi

I became a vegan nearly 30 years ago – long before I found Sri Dharma. My decision to stop eating animals was born out of a very hopeless period in my life when I was severely abused. During that darkest days of my life I made a pact with myself that, as small and inconsequential as my life seemed to be, knowing what it felt like to be abused and to be treated as if I had no value, I would do my best not to treat others as if they had no value. This decision included non-human animals; the least that I could do was to stop eating them. Little did I know that this decision, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, would take me on a most amazing journey which recently included finding Sri Dharma Mittra as my yoga teacher.

While the deep pain in my life did not suddenly dissipate as a result of becoming a vegan, I did experience some immediate benefits. My overall physical health improved quickly and dramatically (To this day, at nearly 60 years old, I am far healthier than I was in my teens  and twenties.). Along with that, issues around body image and eating that had been a source of personal torture since my teens disappeared and never returned. These were miracles!

With veganism as a non-negotiable core value, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, I began the slow and arduous climb out of the deep pit that I found myself in. While I have utilized many additional means of recovery support along the way, I believe that the deepest and most profoundly transformative decision that I have made has been to become a vegan. Sri Dharma’s core teachings around Ahimsa certainly support this.

It is a rare individual who has not eaten animal flesh, dairy, and eggs. We have been born into cultures that treat food animals as commodities meant to be eaten. From birth we have been indoctrinated into a culture that tells us that we must consume animals, that it is normal and necessary for health. Upon questioning this indoctrination, however, we find that it is based upon false information. The human body is designed to thrive on a vegan diet. Additionally, on a deeper, spiritual level, the simple act of changing what we put on our plates at each meal – the decision not to participate in the abuse and slaughter of food animals, is liberating  beyond words. The benefits extend far beyond one’s health and spiritual development. As the effects of climate change become become increasingly evident, numerous sources of scientific research indicate that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming. (Perhaps the law of Karma is at work here…as we reap, so shall we sew.) What a blessing that, by choosing a plant-based diet, we are improving our own health, we are ceasing to participate in wide-spread violence towards sentient beings, and we are drastically reducing our contribution to the environmental stress on the planet!

In June 2015, I participated in the deeply transformative 200 hour LOAY training with Sri Dharma Mittra. Prior to making the decision to go through the LOAY training, as I searched for my yoga teacher, I started with one screening requirement: I needed a teacher who practiced and taught veganism as a core requirement of being a yogi. This one requirement narrowed the field of potential teachers down to few enough that I could count them on the fingers of one hand. Out of these few, I found myself drawn to Sri Dharma – his wisdom, dedication to his practice and to selfless service, his humility and egoless presence, and his fidelity to practicing and teaching the Yama of Ahimsa or non-violence. Ahimsa literally means A=not, himsa= killing or violence. In the LOAY Teachers’ Manual (2015, p. 4) Sri Dharma says, “Ahimsa means love; ‘thou shalt not kill!’ This applies not only to human beings, but to every living creature.”

Sri Dharma is one of the only yoga teachers of whom I am aware who does not shy away from teaching the yama of Ahimsa to his students truthfully. He regularly states while teaching that one must extend one’s compassion beyond one’s pets and that when one eats animals one is engaging in cruelty. He talks about how when one consumes animal products, one’s body becomes a morgue. In Sri Dharma’s words, “Without taking on the yama of ahimsa, there is little benefit to observing the other four yamas or any other aspect of the holy science of yoga.” (LOAY Teachers’ Manual, p. 5) I know, from the center of my soul, that this information is true and correct. The decision to become a vegan as a core component of one’s practice of Ahimsa will deepen and strengthen one’s  yoga practice. It will simultaneously improve the quality of one’s life immeasurably while benefiting other beings and the health of the planet. I highly recommend it!

Note: For additional information on the benefits of veganism that this blog has room for, I recommend reading The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle and viewing the documentary, Cowspiracy.

Susan Craig is a Berkeley, California native who participated in the transformational June 2015 LOAY 200 hour training. Susan strives to practice Karma Yoga each day in her job as a school district administrator where she oversees support services for marginalized youth, as an advocate for animals through vegan activism, and as a teacher of a weekly donation-based yoga class. She resides in Napa in the home of the four cats and a rabbit who rescued her. Susan is most grateful to have found Dharma Yoga and to have Dharma Mittra as her yoga teacher and spiritual guide.

Effort as Offering: Changing the way we approach our practice

headstand

by Eileen Lorraine

My life has gone upside down many times; in my yoga life though, inverting has always eluded me. I came up with many viable reasons for this, blaming my gymnastics teacher who denied me my beloved balance beam until I learned to do multiple backward summersaults on the mat. Yawn. I blamed my thick thighs which I felt were far too heavy to lift higher than my hips. Gravity’s got me like. I blamed my unwarranted fear that kept me rooted to the ground no matter how many people kindly attempted to show me their way of going upside down on their heads. Feeling somewhat defeated, I eventually came to accept it as fact. I cannot do a headstand. There, I said it. Let others do it, let others teach it. It just won’t be me.

I suppose all along there was something deeper inside me that wasn’t fully buying such a definitive statement, and what didn’t come as a surprise to those who know my rebellious spirit, I applied to do the Life of a Yogi 500 hour teacher training with the man who dubbed the headstand, the “King of Poses”. In August 2015, I took a micro-sabbatical from my corporate gig and teaching classes in Las Vegas to join 65 other yogis from all over the world in New York’s Dharma Yoga Center (DYC). Feeling much like my first day at a brand new school, I entered the temple thinking, “What the hell did I get myself into?” During our first practice together as a group, Sri Dharma Mittra called sirsasana ten minutes into class. Ten minutes into class?! So I sat while the rest of the room went upside down, all the while trying to fake a look of serenity and confidence in my “watchasana”, when inside I was crumbling. “I want to do that,” I thought. “I should be able to do that! I don’t deserve to be here. I don’t deserve to be a teacher. What am I doing here?” And on and on and on the internal dialog went until sweet relief came when I heard Dharma-ji say, “Ok. Now break the pose.” (Holding self-chastising-asana is remarkably exhausting.)

Soon after, we were paired off into small groups of six. These were to be my peers for the two contact modules during our training, led by my first of two mentors, Andrew Jones. Being paired with Andrew, a senior teacher at DYC, was a gentle gift from the Universe. His soft British accent and kind demeanor invited me to share my dark confession with the group, “I can’t do headstand. And I want to. I really, really want to.” I expected to be met with instructions to go into a headstand and then feel the familiar shame of not being able to go any further than a deep version of dolphin pose. But that’s not what happened. Instead he simply said, “So you can’t do headstand. Its ok, you don’t have to.”

Wait, what?

Four words were all it took. “YOU DON’T HAVE TO,” and I was suddenly set free. Andrew continued, asking if I could consider removing the goal of conquering the pose, to take if off of my to-do list and to remember that asana is not the yoga I was after. That it wasn’t what pulled me away from my life in Las Vegas and called me to spend this time with Dharma-ji. He reminded me that our practice is an offering, and in that sense no matter how little or how much I invert myself, it is enough. For God, it has always been enough. And it was then that I gave myself permission to release the white knuckle grip I had on this pose, to slow down, to open my mind in a way that could finally absorb the technical hints my mentor and peers lovingly shared with me. And little by little over the course of the next eight days, my legs began to go up. It wasn’t until I returned to the security of my home did I fully invert away from the wall, but let me just say, it was an amazing feeling. I’m up, I’m up! I had a huge sense of pride, not for conquering the pose but for being able to let go of my ego enough to make my all my efforts an offering. And let that offering be enough.

Self-realization happens in subtle moments when we witness ourselves for whom we truly are, made of our strengths and our limitations. It happens in the moments when we release what is outside of us and instead go quietly inside, gently encouraging ourselves (with a sweet English accent if possible, it bloody helps!) to experience the moment, not the result. Without bringing compassion to our practice, there is no yoga.

shirshasana1 Shirshasana2 Shirshasana3 Shirshasana4 Shirshasana5 Shirshasana6 Shirshasana7 headstand

Shanti Shanti Shanti Om.

Without Compassion, There’s No Yoga in Your Asana

By Garth Hewitt

I remember practicing once with Sri Dharma when I first went to check out his classes about six years ago. It was a Master Class, but there were all levels of students in the room. Some of the students were very advanced –far more advanced than I. Some of the students were quite new and finding the class really challenging.

Sri Dharma loves to hold twisting extended side angle pose for a long time. We were holding this pose for a really long time at this class and there was a woman in the class who was having a really hard time maintaining her balance. She kept falling over and she was getting really upset and frustrated. She looked like she was on the verge of crying. You could feel that she was becoming very overwhelmed. My first reaction was to judge her. I’m embarrassed to share that with you. That was my first reaction, though. I remember thinking that she didn’t have any business coming to a Master Class when she was clearly a beginner. I was being such a selfish &$%-hole and I didn’t even realize it at the time.

Something amazing happened after that, that made me feel ashamed and made me re-think what I was doing on my yoga mat.

The regular Sri Dharma students around the woman started to encourage her and offer kind words. They let go of any focus on “their practice” and they focused on her and gave her their energy and attention. One of the students, in front of her, who had a very advanced asana practice, came out of his pose and walked over to her and helped her to find her balance. I heard him say, “It’s OK. This is a hard pose. You’re doing great.” Several students offered her their smiles and encouraging gestures. It was really beautiful to witness. I was blown away by the community and how everyone reached out to her. It almost made me cry.

I remember leaving the class and thinking about this moment for a long time. There was so much competition in the classes I was taking back in Los Angeles, so much ego. There was so much competition in my own practice, too, so much ego. This pursuit of asana, pursuing these fancy trick poses and advanced transitions. What was the point? I remember thinking after this class that these things aren’t yoga. Somehow, somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten off track; we’ve missed the point.

What happened in Sri Dharma’s Master class that day was yoga.

Sri Dharma always teaches that the number one practice is to be respectful and to be kind to all living beings. I’ve made many trips to New York now in the past six years and I’ve completed 800 hours of training with Sri Dharma. I’ve met so many incredible people through this community. Sure, there are some really advanced asana practitioners. Many of the people are way more advanced than me. Sri Dharma is a really advanced asana practitioner. The thing that I love so much about the Dharma community is that Sri Dharma teaches that the asana doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t moving through the world with kindness and love. The practice is so much more than just being able to do a fancy pose.

I was talking about Sri Dharma the other day, about the space that he creates in his classes. No competition in the room. This really wonderful community of students supporting each other, growing as a community, practicing as a community. One of my goals over the past six years has been to create this kind of space in my classes and encourage this same idea of community. A group of students coming together, connecting, supporting each other, growing, helping each other along the way.

Last week one of my students in one of our awesome communities (Westlake Village!!) was having a challenging time in a pretty tough class. This student sometimes leaves class when it gets too tough for her. I’ve encouraged her to stay and just come down and rest, to not give up on herself, but this is a habit that’s been hard for her to break. Sometimes when the going gets tough, she heads for the door.

When she got up to leave in the middle of this class, due to where I was standing in the room, she had to walk right past me on her way to the door. She tried not to look at me as she went by. I stopped instructing the class. I smiled at her and said, “Come on. You can stay. You can do this. You don’t have to leave. Come on.”

She stopped and the whole class looked at her. There was a long moment where we all waited to see what she was going to do. Then something amazing happened. Everyone started to encourage her to stay. They started to smile and tell her it was OK. That she would be fine.

People said things like, “You can do it!” and “Stay, we’ll do it with you!” There was so much love in the room. It overwhelmed her and she smiled and went back to her mat to stick it out and finish the class.

This was one of the most special moments for me ever as a teacher. I watched this really strong group of students, mostly regulars, who’ve been coming to class for a while now together practicing yoga. I watched these guys, not just doing asana, but practicing yoga and I was so proud of them as a teacher.

After the class, I talked to my student who had given up on herself and asked her if she felt good that she had stayed for the whole class and she said she had never felt so much love from a group of people in a class before. Powerful stuff.

Be kind and respectful to others. Love. Open your heart. Help someone who needs help. These are the greatest things that we can teach to our students. Thank you, Sri Dharma, for teaching me about what really matters. These are the great moments we get to experience as teachers and why I love my job so much! Thank you for letting me hold the space and passing on the teaching of my teachers.

 

IMG_5642Garth Hewitt is a 500hr E-RYT, Teacher Trainer, Yoga Therapist, Certified Yogaworks Teacher, Certified Dharma Yoga Teacher, and has led classes, workshops, retreats and teacher trainings in Los Angeles and around the world. Garth taught for several years at the original Yogaworks in Santa Monica and at Exhale – The Center for Sacred Movement in Venice.  He led the first Pure Yoga Teacher Training, in Los Angeles, at Equinox, with Ashley Turner.  He has been featured in and contributes regularly to: Yoga Journal, Men’s Health Magazine, Mantra Magazine, Yoganonymous and LA Yoga.  He has spent time in Mysore, India, studying Ashtanga Yoga, with the Sri K. Patthabi Jois family, practicing with Saraswati Jois. Garth teaches integrated yoga classes, focusing on; alignment, breath and concentration. He also teaches: pranayama, meditation, yoga nidra and sees students privately for yoga therapy sessions.

 

To Understand “Dharma” as Duty

By Diana Scime-Sayegh

We are a society obsessed with “fulfilling our dreams.” However, those dreams are usually ego based—ones of fame, fortune and “having it all.”  Yet many of these dreams cause great suffering when they are not achieved—feelings of failure, FOMO and not being good enough. This then impedes our ability to move forward in our lives and can result in depression and anxiety.

What if instead of fulfilling our dreams, we grew up excited and present with the idea of fulfilling our dharma?

Dharma is defined as duty, but it is not that simple to fully digest.

Dharma is what we were put on this earth to do for our soul’s evolution, to reach self-actualization, and perhaps most importantly to serve the rest of our community and Lord Shiva.

Beloved Sri Dharma will sometimes (lovingly and joyfully) say during class, “I don’t wanna be here! I wanna go home.”  But he understands his Dharma, and so he shows up and practices with us, teaches us, stays with us.

He left Brazil to follow Yogi Gupta, left India to come to NYC and fulfill his purpose handed to him by Shiva and his Guru, to teach and spread true yoga to as many people as possible.

Sri Dharma has been in the army and worked as a janitor, never feeling any job was beneath him, always willing to work hard, shed karmas, and offer all of himself to something much greater.

He opened one of the first yoga schools in NYC, and at his first class he watched as the one person who showed up left before he could even finish the Om. Regardless, with ego non-existent and no attachment to the outcome of his labor, he kept on going.  He understood it was not about “him,” but rather that this was his offering to the Lord and the purpose of his soul.

Now 76 years old,  he has taught all over the world and is an endless source of compassion and giving.  He is tired, but he knows he has a duty to fulfill (to such an extent his Guru gave him the name Dharma!) and he keeps going.

I have finally come to understand that “Dharma” and our dreams are not to be confused, and that a person must be fully established in a release of ego in order to truly hear their Dharma. I once thought my dharma was to be a world famous yoga teacher, a household name who was being asked to teach at Wanderlust and Bhakti Fest, leading Gwyneth Paltrow through practice.

How wrong I was, how wrapped up my ego was in these ideas! That was my DREAM, not my “dharma”.  As Sri Dharma says, “you might think you are very right, but really you are very wrong.”

As I sat in the garden this summer watching the bees tend to their work day after day I finally understood “dharma” and releasing the fruit of our actions. The bees show up to the flowers every day, busily working and ego-free, with no need for accolades, awards, or notoriety. They show up to the flowers because they must, because it is their dharma to the rest of the community—to nature, to us.  They fulfill their role joyfully, dutifully and with great discipline.

How much the bees have taught me about “dharma”.

I now understand in order to teach yoga in the way it is meant to be taught I must simply get a full time job like everyone else. In that way I can serve without a business mind, without the need to prove myself, without attachment to the workshops and the classes. But rather with the freedom and the joy of understanding that all of my work is actually done by Shiva anyway, and that all I do when I teach yoga and show up to my job are my offerings back to the cosmic consciousness.

All work is spiritual and all work is yoga when we understand all work is an offering.  Meditate, come to know yourself and the supreme teacher within, and be freed from the ego’s constant need for gratification, praise and attention.

Our purpose as yogis is to serve, and we cannot do this fully if we are serving our egos before our brothers and sisters, if we are more concerned with fulfilling our dreams than our dharmas.

 

DianaDiana Scime-Sayegh is the owner of Happy Heart Yoga Shala where she leads bespoke yoga for vibrant living, creating custom private practices to help release people of the blocks that keep them from living their most effervescent, joyful lives.  She received her 500-Hr from Sri Dharma Mittra and regularly practices with him. She is humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to teach yoga and is committed to serving, sharing her spiritual knowledge and transforming lives through yoga the same way she transformed her own.

 

Reflections on Guru Purnima

By Sandra Lafuente

I am writing this on Guru Purnima. There are no words in this physical gross plane that can really depict the gratitude and love I feel for Sri Dharma Mittra, but I will try to use the ones I know that come from the heart.

I love him beyond everything that is tangible. Same way I love my grandfather Bernardino, the first guru I ever had, not in his body anymore. Same respect and tenderness. They are so alike. They teach me the same.

Dharma Mittra-ji embodies the deepest meaning of Yoga in the simplest way. The innermost sacred message: life is a game. It’s all an ilusion. If one is established in the Higher Self, in what is Real, suffering disappears while playing the game. One is content. One is sattva. One Is.

Guru-ji takes out of me the child I never stopped being although I concealed it for so long. He helps me bring that little girl back. Fearless, joyful, curious, lively. The child whose divine qualities are stainless. He helps take the dust off and see her as she is, natural wild perfect. A manifestation of God.

That is what practicing with him is about. Do it now, don’t even think about the results. Do not fear. Laugh. It is easy. It is simple. Play!

Five years passed before I came back to New York to be at the presence of Sri Dharma again. Intense purging, purifying, long five years I went through with the main guidance of Andrei Ram. The bitter before the nectar. That period was preparation to come back. I realized I never lost the psychic connection with Dharma-ji, the link became more powerful in the most arduous times. I tuned in and he taught: don’t take it so seriously, don’t be so hard on you, don’t try to be perfect in the changing world of forms and names, you are already perfect in your formless nameless no beginning never ending Self. Act with no expectations. Love. Live!

Then I went back to his temple in June for a whole month. I recognized his voice as if I never stopped hearing it –I never did. It was as if I just took his class the day before and every previous day, non-stop. As if he never left me and I never left home.

And so I heard him saying that the meaning of life is to experience all manifestations of the Creation, that one should enjoy everything but be ready to lose it all.

That’s it!  Go ahead, make mistakes, learn from them, be patient. It is in this very world where you have to be. It is in this very maya where you have to reach for the Light and make it permanent.

And then I played, although the body hurt like hell at the beginning because of old physical and emotional injuries. The mind wanted to win me over, but I didn’t give out. Tried over and over. I did it because it had to be done. Like a child. Like that little girl. No worries, unconcerned, happy.

It is much much easier than the mind puts it. It is uncomplicated. Effortless if one stops resisting. So difficult to get to surrender to God, so liberating once you have accomplished it. I am still working on getting there but have savored it periodically. Ananda. Wholeness. Letting yourself be carried by the Mother-Father, by the Supreme Master within. Freedom!

That is what Dharma Mittra-ji teaches.

I brought a friend who lives in New York to Maha Shakti, the day before I came back to Madrid. He had never practiced with Dharma-ji. I saw his perennial smile while doing every posture, all of them. I asked him how he felt at the end of the session. “It was like going back to school,” he replied.

Thank you, beloved Guru. Thank you to the brothers and sisters who brought me closer to you like angels.  I bow and I am humble. We are One.

OM

 

Sandra Lafuente was born and brought up in Venezuela in this lifetime. She currently lives and teaches in Madrid, where she also works as a freelance reporter and writer. She has realized, no doubt, there is Yoga in journalism, Yama and Niyama being the foundation, although she does not write about spiritual matters. Always grateful to the Supreme Source, to the Guru, the masters and the Sangha, she keeps working ceaselessly for the ultimate purpose of Yoga, God-realization.

(Picture by Fabio Filippi)

An Opportunity to Serve the One who Serves So Many

By Smita Kumar

Sant Kabir wrote this verse to sing the glory of guru and wonders: “If both guru and God were to appear at the door, whose feet will I worship first?” He then adds, “The guru’s feet because without the guru how would I have recognized (known) God?”

Two years ago when I started practicing Dharma Yoga, I thought it was going to help me deal with the challenges of my graduate study. When I graduated from 500 hour LOAY teacher training in May, it was clear that I came to the U.S. to learn from Sri Dharma Mittra. If I had not undertaken the 500 hour training last year, I would have been participating in the graduation ceremony at my school. However, instead of graduating from school, I graduated from teacher training on the very same day!

A desire to spend time with Sri Dharma took me to training, and during the last several months I often found myself speechless when someone asked me about the training. I still do not know what happened and I am not sure if I will know. All I know is — I lived several lifetimes and became aware of a certain silence deep inside me. There were days when the training felt challenging, but interestingly, everything fell by the wayside and all I did was to carry out my daily practices.

I also encountered a challenging life experience that questioned my faith in God, guru and my practice. I felt let down and forsaken, as though I was suffering despite my practice. In those dark moments, I received messages from Sri Dharma to go beyond fear and doubt, but I did not know how. To my surprise, I found the answer in one of the daily meditation practices– have faith! I learned I could not have survived the test without God’s grace and the guru’s support.

It is interesting to learn that nothing moves without God’s grace and the guru’s guidance. The following incident taught me that Sri Dharma is ever so perceptive and gives us way more than we desire. I do not recall when, but somewhere over the last two years I had a desire to serve Sri Dharma like he served his guru; cooking, cleaning, taking care of all his needs and just doing everything. I had dreams of cooking for him and sometimes I made vegan sweets, which I took to New York, and Sri Dharma lovingly accepted them.

With Sri Dharma’s Washington DC visit, my dream came true — I was blessed to have the opportunity to cook for him. I even planned to submit my dissertation before his arrival to ensure there was no distraction. Just as I was busy deciding the menu and preparing for his visit I received a call from the organizers to inquire if I would be available to take care of Sri Dharma during his visit — such as receiving him from the train station and dropping him back. I just froze. I was amazed at God’s lila and the guru’s blessings.

Lastly, my mother had planned to visit from India to participate in my dissertation defense, but somewhere deep down I hoped she would come for my 500-hour graduation. However, I was shy to ask, as it meant showing my deep love and faith for my guru, it meant opening myself for any judgment, and most importantly, it meant making myself vulnerable—what if she declined?

Nonetheless, I faced my fears and asked. She was interested, but was unsure if it was logistically feasible. A day was left for the graduation and I still did not know if Ma (mother) was coming, so amidst my anxiousness I offered it all to God and Sri Dharma — “You will bring Ma if she is meant to come.”

An hour later I received a call from my mother confirming that she was going to be there! My mother came and all I did was cry. I was overwhelmed with her presence, and more importantly, I realized there was nothing more to complain about. Slowly, it was becoming clear that I was receiving all that I desired and more — not just with my mother’s visit, but by coming to this country to learn yoga, finding my guru, getting an opportunity to serve my guru (for a day), and simply everything.

 

Smita KumarGrowing up in India in a family of Karma Yogis, Smita was exposed to the teachings of Bhagavad Gita and started practicing asana nearly a decade ago to find peace (and something more). However, it was only after coming to the U.S. that she found her yoga home with Dharma Yoga and since then her life has not been the same. She continues to be surprised and humbled with all that she has received and continues to receive from Sri Dharma and his teachings.

An Interview with Sri Dharma’s Modern Handyman, Adam Frei

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.

 

hannahHannah 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.

Purifying Bit by Bit Through Practice

By Jenna Pacelli

When I look around me at all the different kinds of people, in completely different places in their lives, I notice my mind judging certain aspects of them. Being a yoga practitioner and firmly on the path of self-realization, I am often humbled by my mind’s ability to spew some nasty things, contrary to the compassionate goals of yoga.

However, the practice comes not from being perfect necessarily but from learning to observe these tendencies and using the practice to continue to cleanse and purify the mind, body and heart.

The practice and teachings of my teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra, have changed my life dramatically. He has taught me how to purify the parts of myself that would make your hair curl, parts that all of us have, if we just look closely enough. The more and more aware I become, the amount of work I still need to do becomes ever clearer.

As a Dharma Yoga instructor, I practice pranayama, meditation, mantra, asana, concentration, and other spiritual practices every day. These form the bulk of my practice and there is a direct correlation between how steady I’ve been in my practice and my own ability to be compassionate, calm and patient in my daily life. It is literally a never-ending process of cleansing and purifying the places within myself that I would rather not look at. I once read about a teacher whose student asked them if they should practice every day.

The teacher replied: “You don’t necessarily have to practice every day but when life gets difficult, you’ll hope you’d been practicing every day.”

The path to self-realization is not an easy one. It can be very lonely and isolating, not to mention mentally and emotionally trying. However, the payoffs greatly outweigh the costs and eventually all costs go away and become irrelevant as a self-realized being. It’s the difference between suffering in my own thoughts and feelings about others (because we’re truly the only ones that suffer when we judge) and allowing others to have their own awakening process.

The people surrounding me haven’t changed – I have! So I can walk through the grocery store and either feel the hot anger of judgment and criticism inside my body (which the practice has also helped me connect with) or have a totally peaceful experience. Nothing about my outside surroundings changed – but when I’m connected to myself through the practices of yoga, I hold the power of changing my experience in my hands.

Judgment serves as a mirror for our own progress on the path. It’s simply a construct of the mind and when we learn to purify the mind, we’re really learning how to remove obstacles on the path.

This is why we practice – to shed light on the dark, cob-webby places inside of us that need our attention. Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras did Patanjali say “You must be free of all imperfections.”

What he did say was that yoga is the “settling of the mind into silence.”

When we silence the mind, the place where the dark, harmful thoughts originate, then we start to experience the peace of our true self. And the joy that accompanies that supreme knowledge is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, even if only briefly.

 

DSC_0094-MJenna Pacelli is a Yoga Teacher and Board-Certified Holistic Health Coach in San Francisco, serving clients and students all over the world. She helps her clients navigate radical life changes and transitions, helping them heal at the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. Connect with her at jennapacelli.com.

The Bethlehem Star Guiding Us to Sri Dharma

By Gaia Bergamaschi

The 6th of January is celebrated as Epiphany according to the Western Christian tradition and the etymology of the word Epiphany from the ancient greek meaning “manifestation, striking presence reminds me of the importance of experiencing the presence of our spiritual masters who manifest and teach devotion, prayers, and sadhana (spiritual practice).

Although I am far way from our beloved Sri Dharma and the Dharma Temple in New York, geographically speaking, when I returned to Italy from the last module of the teacher training in November, I promised myself I would engage in special spiritual practice to overcome the physical distance. My intention is to turn the illusion of being alone into the real aptitude “bhavana” of a yogini blissfully active in the Dharma community and in the world around it.

Before starting the asana, pranayama, and meditation practices, I close my eyes and focus my inner sight into the shining eyes of Dharmaji. Whenever I can, I connect myself to the starting hours of the weekly and weekend lessons, repeating the purification mantra. It’s a remote distance bhakti yoga tool which I am sure I share with many others!

In the same way the Three Wise Men (Magi) let the Bethlehem star guide them towards Jesus’s feed trough (a symbol of nourishing humanity), I imagine every yoga practitioner joining an inner path towards “satya,” the eternal truth, which can be considered nourishment for our actions.

Sri Dharma, the teaching faculty, and all the people working and studying in the Temple act as the light which diminishes the obscurity represented by the afflictions described by Patanjali as the five kleshah: avidya: spiritual ignorance, asmita: ego pride, raga: attachment, dvesa: hate and abhinivesa: fear of death (Yoga Sutra II.2).

The attachment to a sacred and spiritual place has to translate into the faith to rebuild it into a secret corner of our hearts. The light has always been there because it is eternal — regardless of the contingent life we’ve been assigned. As we’ve learned, if one is endowed with true wisdom as to the fleeting and painful nature of the worldly enjoyments, one can exert oneself in the right direction to do or undo one’s Prarabdha, the portion of Karmas ripened for actual experience in this current birth.

During Sri Dharma’s psychic development lessons, I often dreamed of sitting on a stardust mat. The stardust has the power to transform itself into the original stars it comes from, letting the inner child hidden in every one of us to come out through the coexisting presence of the voice and of the silence of the master. The marvelous and precious Sri Dharma logo immediately appears in my inner landscape as the reincarnation of that child!

Coming out from this dream state, I’d like to symbolically share with you the gifts I offered to Sri Dharma during the Epiphany day:

–       gold as my yama and niyama practices;
–       frankincense as my prayers and mantra chanting;
–       myrrh as my continuous learning experience.

As Sri Dharma said, “The universal principles of spiritual disciplines can elevate the seeker into eternal God communion. This is the true goal of yoga.”

During this special day, I’d like to celebrate with you the manifestation of the divine presence in all of us, committed and generous sadhakas, thanks to the living example of one of the greatest living Hatha yogis.

 

 

GBGaia Bergamaschi started her yogic path about ten years ago. After having been certified by the Vedanta Forest Academy of Swami Sivananda and having studied in India, she discovered Sri Dharma. Since the first step into the temple she knew Dharmaji was the Acharya she had always been connected to, regardless of space and time. She’s currently teaching in Milan according to Dharma style and Dharma ethical principles. After quitting her job in the investment banking sector, she took another degree in clinical psychology. She aims at merging the yama and niyama with the relational psychoanalysis and the humanistic psychology, creating yoga-therapy protocols inspired to Sri Dharma targeted to people who suffer from personality and mood disorders.