Your chance to learn about sacred chanting in Los Angeles

For our readers in and around Los Angeles, maybe mark your calendar for Dec. 13.

That’s when Naren Schreiner of Sangita Yoga will be up here — at the Center for Yoga / Larchmont Yoga Works — leading a workshop on sacred chanting.

Link to the promotional flyer is right here. (You also can preregister at that link.)

A few details: It runs from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Cost is $30. A quick rundown:

Naren K. Schreiner and Lopamudra Bose will teach sacred chants of India, including correct pronunciation coaching, and the foundations of sacred and yogic chanting.

Lots more at the flyer. Previous info on Sangita Yoga at our site is here. As we’ve noted, Naren has a compassionate and deeply devoted approach to teaching people to sing or understand the fundamentals of chanting. More on Sangita is right here. Also, Naren has a new album of sacred music out. Info here.

Posted by Steve

LA, Boulder: Here’s your chants to explore India’s sacred music

Oh, yeah, I went there.

Two upcoming events — one in Boulder, the other here in LA — feature Naren Schreiner of Sangita Yoga, who has performed kirtan and Indian sacred music at the past couple Ashtanga Yoga Confluences.

Up first is Boulder, at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop. One is a workshop on chants, the other a more “traditional” performance of bhajans. Both are happening the weekend of Nov. 8-9; day one is $30, day two is $20:

In ancient India, chanting formed a path of Yoga — union of soul and Spirit. This simple and profound discipline is an important part of spiritual life.

In this workshop you will learn about the sacred foundations of chanting and music, how to use your voice yogically, and how to pronounce and chant simple Sanskrit slokas.

A month later, Naren will roll up from Encinitas to LA, at the Yoga Works “Center for Yoga,” where both Tim Miller and Pattabhi Jois have taught:

Discover how India’s tradition of sacred music is an integral part of yoga and spiritual living. Naren will introduce India’s tradition of sacred music in the context of yoga practice and the spiritual lifestyle. This interactive and experiential class will include live and recorded music demonstrations as well as guided practice intended for all levels—no musical experience is required.

In this workshop you will learn:

• An overview of the art and science of India’s sacred music.
• The effects of music and sound on your body, mind, and spirit.
• The function of your voice as a sacred instrument of speech, mantra and chanting.
• Practical instruction in correct pronunciation of Sanskrit and Hindi.
• Daily practices to help you bring sacred music into your own life.

All levels welcome. No musical experience required.

Cost is $30. Registration is at the link above.

Posted by Steve

‘People are not dying. They’re gaining moksha’

The Namarupa blog has a link up to a CNN story that I can’t help figure is Robert Moses’ way of telling those of us going on this summer’s Yatra: “Read this.” It’s about Varanasi, one of our many stops:

Varanasi has always been known as the city of light. But a more appropriate moniker might be the city of death.

The end of life here is stark and out in the open, for all to see. Bodies blanketed by white shrouds and orange marigolds are brought to the ghats, the broad steps leading down to the Ganga. Funeral pyres, especially at Manikarnika Ghat, the most sacred of cremation places, burn nonstop, melting human flesh on piles of mango wood. Sometimes, parts of bodies remain after the flames go out; stray dogs surround the smoldering embers. Those smells and sights reminded me of my time covering the war in Iraq.

Many of the city’s residents make a living from death. They include the Doms, the untouchable caste of Hindus who work at the cremation sites as well as the astrologers and priests who gather at the river. Part of the fascination for visitors, especially foreigners, is to bear witness to the process of dying.

The piece comes with a ton of arresting photos, too.

Also, we just highlighted Sangita Yoga’s Naren Schreiner’s effort to crowd-source funding for an album of devotional music. If you are somehow on the fence, maybe give a listen to a radio show he did over the weekend to get a sense of why we think his Yoga of Music is worth support.

Posted by Steve

The yoga of music goes to college

It’s not secret we’re big fans of Naren Schreiner, who leads Sangita Yoga — the Yoga of Music — and performed at last year’s Ashtanga Yoga Confluence and will be doing so again in May.

He brings a sweet, light, quietly devotional perspective to music, focusing it on honoring the Divine. (Yes, somehow quiet even though it is music. And from our experience, it seems like a lot of kirtan leaders are celebrating themselves when they sing and not you know who/what.)

So we are happy to pass on the following video, although we also have to say we aren’t fans of the location! (That’s for you college football fans… er… fan?)

Posted by Steve

Get your Hanuman on

A few big celebrations of one of our two Ishta Devatas, Hanuman, are on the horizon.

The first is global, the second local.

A Tantric diagram of five-faced Hanuman. Via ExoticiIndiaart.com
A Tantric diagram of five-faced Hanuman. Via ExoticiIndiaart.com

On the global front, and with the support of both Krishna Das and Jai Uttal as well as Sounds True, Shri Anandi Ma has organized a worldwide chanting of 108 Hanuman Chalisas on April 20. Information, including how to register, is here. A bit of the detail:

Event Date: April 20, 2013
Time: 9am – 6pm Pacific
(USA West Coast, California
(webcast 8:30am til event end)

Broadcast live on the web from Antioch CA and other world locations via Skype.

Physical event with Shri Anandi Ma is in Antioch, California

The link above includes some wonderful quotes about Hanuman and the Chalisa.

The local event is down in San Diego, at Tim Miller’s Ashtanga Yoga Center. The Center and Sangita Yoga will be chanting the Chalisa 11 times from 7 to 9 p.m. on April 25. It’s free. The Center, for those who don’t have the address, is at 1905 Calle Barcelona in Carlsbad.

Posted by Steve

 

The Yoga of Music at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

I’m considering changing this blog’s name to the Confluence Music Countdown. Music, music, music. We can’t get away from it, despite my best efforts.

This time, though, I’m more than happy to fill a post with some sacred music. Below is video produced by Sangita Yoga, who performed the sacred music at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. Perhaps some of what Naren Schreiner says in the voice over will be a way to tie up the ongoing discussion about music’s role in yoga.

Enjoy:

 

And no, I don’t think either Bobbie or I are anywhere in the video.

Posted by Steve

An outsider’s view of Ashtanga and the Confluence

“Outsider” in this context really isn’t fair, but it seems the best way to sum-up Naren from Sangita Yoga’s look back at us and at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.

In other words, this isn’t from one of the many attendees nor from one of the teachers. (And believe me, I’ve got my eye out to see when some more of the teachers reflect on the weekend.)

Naren’s put some thoughts to virtual paper on the sacred music performance from the Confluence. Not only does his devoted and serious approach to yoga come through, but he offers a glimpse of us and our practice from someone only recently introduced to Ashtanga. That strikes me as rare and valuable, especially since it doesn’t end with some superficial description of Ashtanga as being the Marine Corps of yoga, etc.

Take a look at his full piece right here. Here’s just a little taste:

Being traditional and a purist in may ways, I confess that I’m often skeptical when Westerners are in charge of anything dealing with India’s sacred traditions.

[snip]

A shortened, yet very authentic, Ganesha Puja was led by Eddie Stern.  We immediately saw and felt his authenticity and reverence. His intention was to invoke Sri Ganesha’s blessings on the conference and convert the resort into a yoga shala, a place of practice and learning.  Those of you who know me know how much we at Sangita yoga value such invocations.

[snip]

Afterwards, our Sangita Yoga crew sat together talking about the event.  We were very impressed with the sincerity of the ashtangis and their determination to stay true to the traditions of India, brought by their Guru, despite living in a society where quick n’easy usually trumps authenticity and discipline.

That last paragraph, especially, captures a substantial part of the essence of the Ashtanga practice — and certainly much of what the gathering of teachers last weekend highlighted.

As I’ve already urged you, click through and read all of his piece. (Pay no attention to the quote from a “veteran ashtangi,” though.) Naren uncovers some deep truths about yoga, our practices and the paths we all are on. And you can look around the site a bit — there’s lots of resources there. And we love resources.

I’ll also urge you not to miss Sangita Yoga if you have a chance in the future. (Don’t forget, you also can buy Naren’s recent album at this site.)

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence highs, and one low, from Tim Miller

We’ve given you plenty of student perspective on the Confluence, ours and other’s alike.

Now, how about from the other side of all those adjustments?

Through my long and treasured association with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, I had the great pleasure to meet and form friendships with all of my fellow presenters at the confluence. I have known them all for more than twenty years, long enough that they feel like family. It was such fun for me to be able to work and hang out with my dear friends for a few days. I don’t get a chance to see them very often and almost never get a chance to work with them, so it is a rare treat for me. My sense is that the other teachers felt the same way. Hopefully, we were able to convey that to the students.

That’s Tim Miller, of course. He goes on to give the close-up version of what he messed up during the Ganesha puja, divulges whether he opened his eyes during singing the Hanuman Chalisa and lets everyone know which year’s panels he thought were funnier.

And he finishes with one little disappointment:

My only disappointment with the Saturday evening kirtan was that more people didn’t turn up to hear the beautiful music and singing performed by my friends Naren and Janzel. It was just what I needed after an exhausting day to recharge my battery. Those that did come recognized that the key to good kirtan is audience participation.

I agree. Everyone who missed Sangita Yoga missed a key moment, one that — as Tim says — brought some needed juiciness to counter all the tapas from the rest of the weekend — mental and physical tapas. I should have included the music as another reason my Sunday practice was so open and powerful.

Oh, and you have to click on the link to Tim’s post to find out what “unexpected gift” he got, too, over the weekend.

Posted by Steve

Sacred music to point you to the ‘higher goal of yoga’

Among the many highlights from Bobbie’s two weeks and my one week down with Tim Miller in August was the chance to get a sneak peak of the musical performer who will take center stage on Saturday night at the 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.

Well, performer seems not the right word, although Naren Schreiner — the director of Sangita Yoga — is absolutely a wonderful harmonium (and other Indian instruments) player and a hauntingly clear and beautiful singer. The experience watching him during this “musical gathering” (we steal that phrase from him) was deeply moving, both extremely personal and open and shared. We posted about it here.

We also wanted to learn more. And we thought it made sense to give you all — obviously those planning to attend the Confluence, especially, but also anyone reading — more background and perspective on Schreiner and his musical explorations.

Performance at Ashtanga Yoga Center by Sangita Yoga

Naren was kind enough to reflect on five (well, more than five) questions we sent him. There is also more at both the Sangita Yoga website and its Facebook page. We encourage you to check them out, and we thank Naren for taking the time to provide us with thoughtful, interesting, introspective and compelling answers.

1. First of all, the basic question: How did you come to start Sangita Yoga? I know you’ve spent time studying in India, can you talk a little about that and what you’ve learned there? And what drew you to experiencing yoga via music?

It all started when my dad took me to my first kirtan when I was 5 years old.  I started playing harmonium when I was 9.  In my teens I got into all kinds of music, even studied flamenco.  My love for kirtan was very strong, though I kept it hidden. In 1993 I saw Amma, back when only 700 people came for her darshan, and I was deeply moved to see the musician-devotees seated on the floor, facing their guru (not the audience), and chanting all night.  At that time I read “Autobiography of a Yogi” and that changed my life.  I was intensely drawn to follow Paramahansa Yogananda and his lineage and tradition, which emphasizes yoga meditation but includes devotional chanting, and so I began the sadhana he teaches, and eventually entered his ashram where I studies, practiced, and served for about 14 years.

My bhakti nature led me to focus on chanting, and I learned Yoganandaji’s way, which comes from the Bengali devotional style and the Nada Yoga methods.  Those were the years that I began to experience how my study and practice of yoga meditation were directly enhanced by my devotional chanting, and vice versa.

I went deeper into Indian music when I was in the ashram as a brahmachari.  A monk from India stayed with us for a few years; he was trained in India’s oldest classical music style, Dhrupad.  From him I learned how to play the tanpura and develop the voice in that style.  I would practice the “swarsadhana” for hours, in combination with my yoga practices and study.  This was about 7 years ago.

In 2010 I was invited to India to train with real maestros of classical music at the prestigious ITC-Sangeet Research Academy. It was intense— many hours a day. By then I had 17 years of experience in yoga, and I had developed many theories about devotional music.  All that I learned at the Academy filled so many gaps, answered small questions, missing pieces to the puzzle… and I just took off!   A few months after I returned from India, I had a vision of two sacred rivers converging.  One river was the sacred music of India.  The other river represented Yoga.  The convergence of those two rivers is Sangita Yoga – The Yoga of Music. This has been my life experience and is what I desire to teach and support.

2. You spoke on Saturday night about trying to determine how different bhajans, different time signatures (6 beats vs 16, for instance) produce different experiences and emotional reactions — essentially, I assume, different ways of approaching yoga (in the sense of union). You suggested that perhaps a result could be having certain songs or bhajans that would be appropriate to different moods or needs. How are you going about investigating this and what are you finding?

I began this research 12 years ago in the ashram, in the lab of my own meditation room, with my harmonium and tanpura. Along with all my study, I went into the actual practice to deepen my understanding. When I learned about India’s system of ragas and their association with certain emotions and times of day, I began to connect the dots with yoga.  Many ragas and rhythmic meters were developed long ago by enlightened seers and rishis.  There is a science behind it all, a spiritual power inherent in them. But there is no comprehensive source to learn from; there are various schools of thought in India.  The Natyashastra by Sage Bharat touches on “rasa” (emotions for music), but this scripture is largely devoted to dance and drama.  So I’m pulling from various sources of music and yoga to develop a list of 10 foundational states of consciousness (bhavas) that are essential in yoga practice, and the ragas that create or promote those states.  Rhythm is also very important in all of this, and has a direct effect on mood and even the rate of breathing.  The chakras are at the core of the experience of vibration, so it’s all very esoteric.  I strive to keep it very experiential, and not too intellectual. There are musicologists and music therapists that research this, but I am approaching it strictly as a yogi, concentrating on that esoteric level, keeping in mind that it all must point towards the higher goal of yoga.

3. You also spoke at one point at the performance on Saturday about appreciating how Ashtanga yoga practitioners tend to try to conform themselves to the traditions and practices of India rather than the other way around. It is obvious you are doing the same with your approach to traditional Indian chanting and devotional music. That runs, in some ways, counter to the growing kirtan movement in America and the West, which incorporates Western musical traditions, instruments, etc. Do you find there are differences in the experience that more traditional Indian music produces compared to a kirtan based more on Western music? I’m not trying to suggest one is better, just that with your focus on the moods, feelings and emotions that music produces there might be noticeable differences.

Yes, I have found that the experience of India’s traditional music is quite different from the Western style of kirtan that we hear today.  There are many factors to all of this.  But that’s a vast subject.  There is a musical side, and a yogic side.  I am sensitive to music; but I turn that part of my mind off when I go to a true kirtan.  I concentrate on the intention, the “vibe” of the leader. I have been deeply moved by someone chanting even though they were off key, because their devotion was contagious.  Others might be musically perfect, with lots of polished performance, but it can be dry to me. Some people play kirtan music in the background while they clean the house.  And some bhajan is so deep that you have to sit quietly at night and listen to it in a meditative mood.

Classical training has enabled me to go deeper into the experience of kirtan and bhajan. I teach the essence of this to my students, and as a result they appreciate kirtan more, even the ones that are not musicians.  So that element of Indian music is important to me, and I would like to see more of that in the West.

But knowing classical Indian music is not necessary. The harmonium is a very simple instrument.  It is an East-West hybrid, perfect for kirtan in the West.  Many devotees have used it to go very deep into devotional chanting. The introduction of Western instruments (not counting the harmonium, which is actually Western) has really changed kirtan.  The musical creativity is great, and it is reaching out to a broader audience.  But in my personal experience, acoustic Indian instruments have a subtle effect on the body and emotions more than electric.

I also believe that correct pronunciation of the words is important, but not as important as sincerity and devotion.  Understanding the meaning of the words is very important to me; I cannot convey the true feeling if I don’t understand all the meaning and background of a chant.  This is also what I look for when I listen to other kirtan musicians…the feeling, the sadhana behind the words.

The tune itself is important to me as well.  Certain Western melodies and rhythms were developed to create human emotions of romance, sensuality, fun, etc. and often these tunes are used in modern kirtan. I have had the deepest experiences with kirtan that uses the ragas and rhythmic cycles of India.  These were developed by rishis and yogis long ago for specific results.  So they are tried and true…I can feel it when I hear a devotional bhajan or kirtan that is sung in that way.  I think there is a similarity with hatha yoga—there’s a lot of variety, a lot of adaptation.  But when you go to a place that is rooted in tradition, a discipline that has not changed much, it is evident.  This is one reason why I enjoy being with the core of Ashtanga Yoga teachers and practitioners.

4. I want to transition to your participating in the 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. I know it is far ahead, but do you have an idea of what you might be performing or how? You mixed bhajans and kirtan, and even discussion, on Saturday. Will you do that — with a bigger audience — or might you perform kirtan in the way most Westerners think of it? And, further, how do you decide how to put together a performance more generally?

The sacred music that I share is the same whether for 10 people or 500.  Before I prepare for a musical gathering, there are a few important factors that I consider.  Sacred music should be very enjoyable, but it’s not about entertainment.  It is a question of experience and purpose.  The guiding principles of a yogi, a teacher and a musician are each different.  If I sing at a temple, for example, it is for worship, the other musicians and I will face the altar, the “audience” is God, and there is no talking or teaching. On the other hand, in a workshop I face the students, there is talking and musical demonstrations.  And then there is the form of sacred music that is meant to be practiced alone.

I’m really looking forward to the Confluence.  I am sensitive to the fact that everyone will be taking in a lot of advanced information from the teachers. So the purpose of Saturday night’s musical evening is mostly to give an experience that will balance out the intensity of the training (to cool off the fire of tapas). I won’t give much information, and I will focus on creating an experience of sacred rhythm, melody, and words.  I want to be as true and authentic as possible in my presentation of this sacred music tradition that has blessed my life. With such a large gathering at the Confluence, it will be a powerful exchange.

5. Finally, what are your plans and goals (a very non-yogic question!) with Sangita Yoga? 

Actually, goals are very yogic! (But I get what you mean). I want to help people experience sacred music themselves, not just to perform for them.   Yes, everyone should listen to music, and many will enjoy my concerts and CD’s, but I want to teach people how to create their own experience of yogic music, whether or not they are musical.  Just recently I taught a middle-aged engineer from Germany his first chant on his new harmonium; he was overjoyed, he had goose bumps all over his arms, and watery eyes.  It was powerful, and an honor to help make that connection for him.

My first goal is to reach out and introduce the concept of music as a form of yoga, and present the true roots and traditions of kirtan and bhajan.  This will be done mostly by Sangita Yoga presentations, workshops for students and yoga teachers, and musical programs.  It’s a lot of education and information in the beginning, but it also has to be experiential—just like music and yoga.  A lot of my research and what I teach will be up on our website later in the year.

We will be bringing new musicians from India and also teaching musicians here.  We will also help guide other yoga organizations, conferences, and centers to create sacred music, both for one-time events and ongoing programs.

In the West, there is a huge movement for yoga, kirtan, and Vedic thought. Sangita Yoga seeks to emphasize the musical part of it and show its roots in yoga.  Music is powerful, and when it is used as a form of yoga and sacred experience, it can be a tremendous source of joy and spiritual support for yogis and devotees.

Posted by Steve