How Bhakti and devotion fit into a modern yoga practice

I want to continue our rolling with a little less asana, a little more heart. We need to balance things out.

So, for those in New York, here’s something to check out. As seen at Ashtanga Yoga New York:

YogaCity NYC Deeper Learning Series,

Friday, November 15th at Integral Yoga Institute 4-5:30 pm

Five Senior Teachers Discuss Bhakti Yoga And The Role Devotion Plays In Their Practice 

Teachers Swami Asokananda, Eddie Stern, Joshua Greene, Michael Bühler-Rose and Bryn Chrisman will examine how the practice of Bhakti Yoga is integrated into their yoga practice and their teachings. Moderating the panel will be Brette Popper, Publisher and Founder of YogaCity NYC.
The discussion is FREE and open to all.   Register here.
What is Bhakti?  How does it play a role in modern practice? How do teachers and studios bring Bhakti to their classes? And, how does it get integrated into American religious beliefs? This outstanding panel of experts allows us to ponder some of the more advanced and intellectually richer aspects of yoga that get short shrift in the media which tends to focus on celebrity teachers, high priced clothing and asana as pure exercise.

That last sentence sounds like something Eddie might right — and rightly so. I think the “asana as pure exercise” fits nicely into our latest big deal issue courtesy of the NY Times.

I’m also reminded that Eddie and Tim Miller covered a similar topic at the 2012 Confluence. Here was our quick summary:

Bobbie: We learned some beautiful Sanskrit from Eddie, a Ganesha invocation. He divided the room in two and we chanted “Om Gam Ganapati Namah.”

Steve: That was after Tim told his story of coming to Hanuman. First, via Krishna. And then the Divine Mother. And then an opening of his heart with Hanuman. It’s a story everyone should hear. Eddie after said, “Thanks, Tim. That was beautiful.” It is.

Bobbie: I had a wonderful dovetail moment: John Keats and Ganesha. I learned that Ganesha is the lord of Negative Capability.

Steve: Tim talked about bhakti’s role. When we are all asana — he heard this from Bhagavan Das — you burn yourself up. Devotion keeps you juicy — ojas. You need some bhakti to stay juicy. And then we finished with the Hanuman Chalisa.

And here’s what might be the only video of their discussion (only 150 views; other first-year Confluence videos have 1,500 or 2,000; this one is pretty short though):

So that might be a taste of what folks will be in for on Friday in New York. Perhaps it’ll end up on Youtube for all of us to enjoy and consider.

Posted by Steve

Tim Miller rides the Bhav at Bhakti Fest, lunches with KD

On Saturday, Tim Miller went the Bhakti Fest.

On Tuesday, he wrote about it.

Last week, I dropped a quick link to Tim’s blog post about the awesomeness of September and a surprising number of folks clicked through. So perhaps it is worth reminding everyone of Tim’s wonderful Tuesday pieces, and this week’s is on a subject matter I know a lot of our readers fancy. Here’s Tim on the Fest; here he is talking about Krishna Das‘ set:

My favorite was a hymn to the Divine Mother interspersed with the chorus from the old Journey song, “I Want to Know What Love is.”  I hung in there until 11, but knew I had a two and a half hour drive ahead of me and two classes to teach Sunday morning.  I left with a nice glow and an open heart that made the ride home much more pleasant.   I’m very glad I went.  My friends always told me it was my kind of vibe and they were right–I don’t know why it took me five years to get there.  If Bhakti Fest ever invites me to teach again I will say yes.

There are two other reasons you ought to take a look at his full piece. The first is the story retold from his lunch with KD, concerning Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass and the infamous hit of acid that Ram Dass once gave his teacher. Did the tab really have zero effect on the Indian guru? You’ll have to read it to find out.

The second illustrates the impact on people that Shyamdas had. We linked through to Namarupa’s special issue on him after he passed away in February.

I always hear good and bad things about Bhakti Fest (is there anything one doesn’t hear good and bad things about, though?). Tim paints a picture that shines through with all the good.

Posted by Steve

Progress reported between Yoga Journal and hotel picketers; Shyam Das passes

This shows what a public yoga class can do.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian is reporting that progress has been made between workers who are picketing at the San Francisco Hyatt Regency and organizers of the Yoga Journal Conference, which is being held there despite the protests:

The group Yogis Uniting for Workers’ Right held a high-profile yoga session on the sidewalk in front of the Hyatt yesterday “in a show of solidarity with the workers,” the group (led by local yogi Sean Feit) wrote on its Facebook site. “Because a living wage and health care are fundamental aspects of enlightenment, and because we believe that all the yoga in the world isn’t worth a damn if people aren’t taking action to make the world better.”

The hotel workers union Unite-Here Local 2 also met yesterday with one of the conference’s highlighted yoga teachers, Seane Corn, and her group Off the Mat, Into the World. Afterward, Corn issued this statement: “After listening and learning I want to publicly acknowledge my ongoing support to the workers and believe fully in this boycott… I will not teach at the 2014 SF YJ Conference, or any other conference, if they’re held at the Hyatt and the boycott is still in place.”

Other yogis featured at the conference – such as Shiva Rae, who publicly said, “Their mistreatment of their employees is not in alignment with where we all stand” – have also made public statements of support for the workers and pledged to stay at other hotels, even while planning to teach at this year’s conference as scheduled.

The workers, it should be noted, aren’t on strike — they’ve just been working for three and a half years without a contract, according to the Guardian.

The key thing to note is that some of the conference’s big names — Corn, Shiva Rae — are getting involved. If they won’t teach at next year’s conference, that’s the kind of pressure that will make things happen.

In other, sadder news, you may have seen that bhatki guru Shyam Das passed away in India this weekend, reportedly in a motorcycle accident. Here is official word from his website:

Hari OM…Beloved friends and loved ones of Shyamdasji and bhaktas and kirtan lovers. Our priceless friend Shyamdasji left this world last night. He spent his remaining hours, as usual, in satsang and bliss with a group of dear friends. On this night in particular they were reading Shri Vallabhacarya’s teaching “Krsnashraya” and reflecting deeply on and repeating the refrain, “Krsna eva gatir mama…Krishna is my refuge and destination.” He has arrived at his final refuge and destination now.

We add our Hari Om to the many being said today.

Posted by Steve

How to survive the Kali Yuga

One word, right?


That’s one lesson you can get from this week’s Tuesdays with Timji, which not only notes that this Saturday’s full moon offers the opportunity to get a little divine Bhakti nectar but also details one story of just how critical devotion is during this most troubled of ages. (Has anyone heard disagreement that we are, in fact, in the Kali Yuga? I’ve heard that a few times lately, but I don’t have any solid source.)

Here’s a bit from Tim’s post. Speaking is the sage Narada:

“The Kali Yuga lacks every other virtue; in this age all things lose their innate grace. Yet, this is the only yuga in which the very name of the Lord can set a man free. Dear Bhakti, don’t let anxiety have its way with you. Remember Krishna is always with you. He loves you more than you know, and He will never abandon you. You, Devi Bhakti, will be worshipped above every other goddess in this Kali Yuga. Why, you shall be the only way to salvation.”

It’s an easy path for some of us, a more difficult one for others.

One argument in support of our being in the Kali Yuga: I bet in the other three yugas that Ashtanga’s rest day never coincides with a Moon Day. Grumble.

Posted by Steve

Thoughts on Krishna Das kirtan: ‘lost in love’

Sunday was a bit of a local Bhakti Fest in the Confluence household.

We first headed to Venice to witness the ISKON Festival of the Chariot, aka the Ratha Yatra. It’s been going on along the beach in one of Los Angeles’ better-known weird neighborhoods for 36 years.

And then later we headed back to Venice for a kirtan with Krishna Das.  Quite a bit of bhakti for two people who clearly are on the Raja / Ashtanga yoga path. One thing’s for certain, though, it’s worth dipping the occasional toe into all four — if you want to narrow it that much — paths.

Protesters in front of the chariots; note the counter-protester

During the Chariot Festival, we were more observers, watching as the three chariots carrying Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balarama and Lady Subhadra went past. We checked out the scene, strolled through the festival grounds right near the beach, but we were in a bit of a hurry because of the later KD event.

Also, I think we fell into a strange middle ground. We weren’t part of the event, but we aren’t bemused or unknowledgeable witnesses. The Q&A, the info and other ISKON outreach wasn’t really directed toward us.

It was a good event to see, however. And — to side track a bit — later on in the day, as the horrible events from the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin occurred, it wasn’t lost on us that we’d just been at a very public, non-Christian event. (Not to guess the Wisconsin shooters motive, but, as the photo above notes, there were protesters walking ahead of the Chariots. Thankfully, it was all peaceful, but it was a reminder of the line between legitimate differences of belief and opinion and the messed up, incomprehensible way people can react.)

The day really was about the KD event, however — the Chariot Festival was a bit of a late realization on our part. And the reason I nudged Bobbie to go was because of its scale: small. The kirtan took place in a yoga studio, and as we were waiting outside, I heard someone say the room’s capacity was about 140.

This is a kirtan more to our make-up, something closer to the private, meditative and reflective yoga path we are on. And we were participants, albeit ones still exploring this particular path to the Truth. (We may have realized we are more Shiva than Krishna, more seated alone on the mountain top than dancing in a group in the fields.) But, it’s KD, right? And with all that lead-in, some thoughts:

  • It will come as no shock, but his voice is really stunning and moving. The deep depths from which it comes — physically and emotionally — are dramatic and dynamic.
  • My introduction to KD for the event happened in the restroom. Bam! There he was. It should have been my chance to beg for the Hanuman Chalisa; I didn’t, and he didn’t play it.
  • John Densmore of the Doors was part of the group accompanying KD. So that was a celebrity surprise.
  • We realized that we enjoy the sing-a-long type kirtan more than the call-and-response type. (This also is true for the opening and closing Ashtanga chants.) It tends to be how Tim Miller leads them, so it may just harken back to that.
  • Listening to KD talk, in his spare and sparse way, about his guru and the Bhakti path — we’re reaching for a love that’s within us all, I think, is one way to capture the core of the message — was a reflective addition to the earlier Chariot Festival. As the chariots rolled by, accompanied by the kirtan chanting names of God, what was on display was the simplicity of the loving relationship. But KD added a twist that, while easy — this love is in every atom of the universe — it isn’t simple. How do we get to that opening to love? He told the story of his guru’s explaining how Christ meditated (and their all hoping they’d get some concrete how-to instructions): “He lost himself in love.” Easy to say, easy to pretend (follow the lead of the woman swaying next to you, right?) but not so easy to actually do.
  • Playlist? A few versions of the Maha Mantra; a little Shiva; some Narayana; a couple of Durga ones; Jesus on the Mainline.

If you’ve been reading our thoughts for a little while now, you’ll probably recognize that the complexity to KD’s message appealed to us. Our paths clearly are ones that challenge us, that unfold themselves in a difficult way. Listening to KD talk about all the years he wasn’t singing, of going back to India and — this is how I understood it — re-learning chanting as a path to God or love, it revealed more forks to this particular path of yoga. And it reminded me I need to get back in front of the harmonium. And it made me very curious about the documentary on him.

Ultimately, I think it demonstrated that chanting ought to be a part of our path; it may not be the main one — for us, anyway — but it is one to explore, to see how we can better get “lost in love” down the road.

Here’s about 30 seconds of the kirtan, during “Hare Krishna Waltz,” if I caught the name of this version correctly. I sweep over to Densmore at the end.

Posted by Steve

Krishna Das film gets NY premiere, and we’ll be seeing him soon

Krishna Das — or KD — is coming to Los Angeles in August, hitting two of LA’s yoga hot spots: the Westside (I’d say Santa Monica, but he’ll be appearing just south in Venice) and in Larchmont, where the second (I believe) YogaWorks is. (That’s where he’ll be appearing.)

From the official website

His Venice appearance is at a yoga studio, as well, and I expect we’ll provide some reactions to our experience of the evening. I suspect it will be the closest thing to a night of Bhakti that we’ve experienced outside of kirtan with Tim Miller. (And those are something special because, well, it’s with Tim.)

We’ve seen KD before, but in a larger venue that produced more of a classic concert effect. Next month’s kirtan will involve our own pillows and cushions and not a theater seat.

The big question is: Will we need them or will we be up and dancing the whole time?

There’s also news about the KD documentary, which premiered in Maui (and apparently got named best documentary at the Maui Film Festival). That news? The New York premiere:

ONE TRACK HEART premieres in New York City on September 13th, 2012 at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. OTH is being featured as a part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Art of the Real” series. It will be shown at the Walter Reade Theater at 6:30pm, followed by a Q&A with Krishna Das, Sharon Salzberg, Lama Surya Das, David Nichtern and director Jeremy Frindel. Tickets go on sale in August, check back soon for more details!

It is, of course, the Q&A that’s the real selling point. That is a pretty heavy duty lineup.

Posted by Steve