Category Archives: Festivals & Events

Sandra Gomez de la Torre, Kundalini instructor

This is Kundalini Yoga: El Encuentro con el Yoga Kundalini

Guest blog by Sandra Gomez de la Torre, (pictured above) a Kundalini Yoga instructor in Barcelona, Spain

I rarely post guest blogs. However, this first-person story about the Kundalini Yoga community struck a chord. Sandra, aka Narayan Himat Kaur, wrote in Spanish. So please (try to) read her version. However, for the Spanish-challenged, scroll down to see my translation. But, please recognize that things are always lost in translation. To learn more about Kundalini Yoga, check out one of my earlier articles that references how its can settle the mind.

El Encuentro con el Kundalini Yoga, y el Yo

No te voy a pedir que lo entiendas…

No se puede encender la luz a alguien que no quiere ver.

Esta foto es del año pasado. Llegaba del Festival de Francia de Kundalini Yoga al que había ido por primera vez.

Era el 50 aniversario.

Había mucha gente (3,000 personas), familias con niñes, Yoguis y Sikhs por todos los lados. 

Nos levantábamos a las 4:00 para la Sadhana, (práctica espiritual diaria basada en el yoga y en el canto de mantras). El día transcurría practicando yoga y haciendo ayunos de 16 horas a partir de las 15h.

En el festival no había drogas, ni alcohol, ni sustancias estupefacientes. De hecho ni se podía fumar. La entrada para una semana, con pensión completa en habitación compartida me había costado poco más de 350€ ($US 415).

Kundalini Yoga me había ayudado y por qué no decirlo, me había cambiado.

Ya no era la misma persona que había construido con mis patrones y experiencias. Tenía cierto miedo y desconocimiento de la persona con la que me encontraba, que era YO, porque ya no estaba el personaje que me había creado o apenas aparecía.

Algo dentro de mi, se manifestó. Donde había estado todos estos años mi alma? La vez que había estado más cerca de ella, fue cuando mi madre marchó a otro plano.

Al segundo día de estar allí, salí corriendo sin rumbo porque mi confrontación fue tal, que pensé haberme metido en una secta.

Fui a un pueblo caminando durante 45 minutos, vi una iglesia y me metí. Necesitaba reconciliarme conmigo, con Dios, con la vida. 

Mi madre desde los éteres azules, me dijo:

— Hija, crees que no es una secta ir a un sitio donde trabajas 12 horas al día para que alguien muy rico, se haga más rico todavía sólo porque tienes un sueldo?

— Hija crees que no es una secta vivir de una forma en la que solo se es feliz por estímulos externos y por lo que te quieren los demás? 

— Hija, crees que no vives en una secta si vives como un robot, sin alma, sin sentir más que emociones o sentimientos bajos como rabia, odio, ira y miedo?

— Pequeña, he de decirte que estás viviendo en una secta dentro de ti.

Volví al festival tras estar cuatro horas fuera.

Me había reconciliado con la vida. Entendí que Dios no es más que la voz interior de cada uno. Entendí que yo y Dios, Dios y yo, somos uno. 

Mi familia hacía algunas preguntas raras 😂 yo les entiendo. Pero os aseguro que nunca en mi vida me había visto tan clara en mi propio espejo.

Era como si hubiera vuelto a nacer, como si hubiera vuelto a ser una niña. Inocente, sin culpas. Porque en el fondo todos los somos por muchas atrocidades que hayamos hecho.

Podía ver mi mente, vacía.

Podía ver mi cara sonriente sin motivos aparentes.

Podía notar en cada poro de mi piel que me había enamorado de la vida. 

Vestir de blanco era un ejercicio de conciencia sobre mi cuerpo.

Ponerme un turbante significaba que iba a estar enfocada en mi interior y que no iba a dolerme la cabeza. (Porque aunque no lo creáis, 3000 personas con nuestra neurosis y nuestra basura mental, afectan a nuestro sistema).

Hacer yoga cada día varías horas, me hacía estar en un estado de éxtasis que pareciera que la vida se había pintado de un color totalmente neutro. No había bueno ni malo, mejor ni peor.

Observaba a los niños, a las familias y pensaba que si algún día tenía hijos, me gustaría que vivieran la experiencia. (Libres y si ellos lo eligen). 

Hacer ayunos (no por estética y para adelgazar), me parecía una fantasía ya que me daba más energía que si comiera cinco veces al día. 

Mirar a la gente a los ojos para saludarles sin conocernos de nada con un Sat Nam mientras sonreíamos, era similar a oler rosas a cada instante.

Éramos una comunidad, porque nos servíamos los unos a los otros. No lo podía creer, de repente había una familia de 3,000 personas.

Llegó el tantra. Mirar a los ojos a alguien durante más de 8 horas tres días, fue como ver toda mi vida en una película de cine siendo yo la espectadora.

Lloré, reí, me confronté, me enfadé… no se. Todas las Sandras que hay en mi salieron en escena y a todas las abracé. 

Entendí la devoción, el amor, la compasión.

Estoy tan agradecida a la vida y a las enseñanzas que lo mejor que le puedo desear a alguien es que viva esta experiencia al menos una vez en la vida. 

Ahora no pasamos por un buen momento, pero cada unx de nosotrxs debe encontrar su verdad, abrazando la de los demás.

Para mi esto es Kundalini Yoga y ojalá siempre siga siendo así

Finding Kundalini Yoga, and Oneself

I won’t ask you to understand…

You can’t turn on a light for someone who doesn’t want to see.  

This photo is from last year. It was my first time at the Kundalini Yoga Festival in France.

It was the 50th anniversary.

There were loads of people (3,000), families with kids, yogis, and Sikhs everywhere.

We woke up at 4:00 a.m. for Sadhana, (the Kundalini daily spiritual practice comprised primarily of mantra meditation). Each day we practiced yoga, and at 3 p.m. began our 16-hour fasts.

This was a drug-free, alcohol-free, substance-free festival. In fact, not even cigarettes were allowed.  The cost for the week, including meals and shared rooms, was just a little more than 350€ (US$ 414).

Kundalini Yoga had helped me, and why not admit it, it had changed me.

No longer was I the the person made up of my own imprints and experiences. I was a bit afraid, and unsure of who I would find myself to be. I was ME, because I no longer was the character I had created or barely came into view.

Something within was revealed. Where had my soul been all these years? The only time that it was close to me was when my mother left her body.

My second day there, I was afraid I’d gotten myself involved with some sect. I left running.  To who knows where?

After 45 minutes, I was in a small town. I saw a church, and went inside. I needed to reconcile with myself, with God, and with my life. 

My mother, from the blue ether, said to me: 

— My daughter, you don’t think it’s a sect where you work for 12 hours a day for some rich person that’s only getting richer because you’re a salaried employee?

— My daughter, you don’t think it’s a sect living in a world where you’re only happy with the help of external stimuli and thinking about why others love you? 

— My daughter, you don’t think it’s a sect living like a soul-less robot, feeling no emotions except anger, wrath, hatred and fear?

— My little one, I have to tell you that you’re living with a sect inside yourself.

I returned to the festival after being gone for four hours.

I had reconciled with my life. I understood that God is nothing more than one’s inner voice. I understood that God and I, I and God, we are one.

My family had asked some strange questions 😂 I understand them. But I assure you that never in my life had I seen myself so clearly in my own mirror. 

It was as if I had been reborn, as if I was a young girl again, Innocent, guiltless. Because at heart, we are all guilty for so many atrocities that we have done.

I could see my mind, empty.

I could see my face, smiling for no apparent reason.  

I could see in every one of my pores, that I was in love with life.

To dress in white was an exercise in bodily consciousness.

To put a turban on my head meant that I’d be focused inward and that I would have no headaches. (Because believe it or not, 3,000 people with neurosis and mental garbage, affects our body).

To do yoga for several hours every day, put me in a state of ecstasy as if life had been painted in a completely neutral color. There was no good or bad, no better or worse.

I watched children and families, and I thought if I some day have kids I’d like them to live this experience. (Free, and as they choose). 

To fast (not for vanity or to lose weight), was like a fantasy as it gave me more energy that if I had eaten five times a day. 

To greet people we didn’t know anything about, looking at them in their eyes and saying hello with a Sat Nam and a smile, was like smelling a rose at every moment.

We were a community because we served each other. I couldn’t believe it, all of a sudden, there was a family of 3,000 members.

Then there was the tantra. Looking in someone’s eyes for more than eight hours, three days, was like seeing my life in a filmstrip, and I was the viewer.

I cried. I laughed. I faced myself. I got angry with myself.  I don’t know, I guess all the Sandras within me came out to the stage and I embraced them all.

I understood the devotion, love and compassion. 

I’m so thankful for life and its lessons that the most I can wish anyone is to live this experience at least once in their lives.

Now, we’re not experiencing good times, but for every one of us (he/she/it/we/they) should find their truth and embracing everyone else’s essence.

This, to me, is what is Kundalini Yoga and I hope it’s always this way.

Jai Uttal to offer online Kirtan Camp

Kirtan Camp with Jai Uttal Goes Online in 2020

Jai Uttal's Kirtan Camp Goes Virtual

This is the 18th year that Grammy-nominated recording artist, Jai Uttal, and his classical Indian dancer yogi wife, Nubia Teixeira, run a Kirtan Camp. This camp is all about play.  Playing and singing devotional chants, that is. Kirtan is an ancient practice. As part of bhakti (devotion), it is a branch of yoga that helps connect with one’s inner soul, and the divine. 

This year, Kirtan Camp is virtual. It’s more affordable. And, accessible. People can tune in to Kirtan Camp from anywhere, any time. No long flights or drives. Live Zoom sessions run June 30 until July 28. What’s more, participants can catch the recordings at their leisure, or even replay them repeatedly, for three months.  

The 2020 participants will learn all the basics about kirtan music, which Jai says is “a timeless gift that has been given to us by the saints and sages of ancient India.” Given the confusion, frustration and anger that’s sweeping our nation and the planet, the 2020 camp will be even more meaningful. Content will empower people to go inward to find greater meaning to what’s going on around them.

Kirtan is food for the spirit, a life raft of song. –Jai Uttal

Jai Uttal's Kirtan Camp in 2020

“The current global crisis brings a different context to the practices, demanding us to look much deeper into our spiritual selves. The rising awareness of the inequalities in our society demand us to reach out to others and express our bhakti in service. I hope to inspire the students to share this work far and wide.”

Furthermore, a bhakti practice can be very healing for oneself. Arguably, it can permeate the world. 

“With the many distractions and attractions of human interaction being cut off, we are left with our selves, our loved ones, and our practice. The harsh reality of police brutality asks us to keep our eyes open, and our vision clear, regarding who we are and what we stand for. All of this is very challenging, and requires a calm mind and an open heart. Singing kirtan, and chanting mantras, is a soothing balm for the soul and helps clear away the fears and anxieties of this transformational time. I hope that the practices shared in this online camp will become like a soft blanket of blessings over your life, like they have for me.”

Raised in the music industry, Jai learned classical piano at age of seven. However, it wasn’t until he attended a concert by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan that he discovered the music that moved his soul: the classic sounds and instruments of India. Ragas. Bhajans. Sarod. Harmonium. 

He felt the sounds, “entered my heart like the source of all life.”  As a result, kirtan and bhakti are pillars in his life. For 50 years now.

The idea for Kirtan Camp was actually Nubia’s. Also a bhakta, for 30 years she has dedicated herself to the “art-science-philosophy-practice” of yoga. Participants can enjoy a 40-minute bonus segment she’ll lead on the Gods and Goddesses of India. 

Kirtan is for all people. There are no advanced students, no beginners. –Jai Uttal

Jai Uttal's Kirtan Camp

Kirtan Camp is appropriate for anyone that wants to delve deeper into the sacred sounds. It’s not restricted to musical virtuosos or those who sing like a nightingale. Jai says his camp is ideal for anyone who:

  1. wants to explore the journey of bhakti yoga in a deep, joyful, and meaningful way; 
  2. has been touched by a kirtan experience, or who wants to bring more devotion into their lives;
  3.  is seeking a more heart-centered and soul fulfilling life;
  4. or is ready to find their voice, and learn musical skills that support a chanting practice. 

chanting devotional musicDivided into six extended all-level lessons, each is appropriate for a beginner or an experienced kirtan leader alike. While no instruments are necessary, Jai offers harmonium and guitar tutorials. Recordings facilitate participants to go at their own pace. At the same time, live Zoom sessions and a dedicate Facebook page will boost sangha (community, or association). 

Kirtan is a train carrying us home. — Jai Uttal

Virtual-KIrtan-Camp

The virtual sanghas are not new to Jai. He was onboard with livestream concerts and kirtans when quarantine began. Nor surprisingly, those gatherings built bonds among people all over the world. 

Jai notes that they “chat with each other and send me many letters of appreciation. I feel like my Friday concerts have created a real online community of bhaktas that want to give support and receive support. This has been very healing to all of us.”

Kirtan Camp to offer guitar tutorials

Additionally, he wants the interactive Zoom sessions to be a source for cohorts not just to learn the basics about kirtan, but to connect. Share their own music. Find homework buddies. Listen to one another’s thoughts and dreams. In essence, create a new community of like-hearted friends. 

Finally, as everyone reconsiders what to chuck from pre-Covid days, Jai encourages people to think about the planet.

“Air travel is one of the biggest causes of climate change. As we’ve been forced to share our work online, we’ve also felt the relief of not traveling. So we’ll continue to work this way as long as it’s sustainable. I do miss playing with other musicians and interacting with a ‘live’ audience, so I’ll still do concerts and kirtans, but I’ll stay much more local. And I’ll continue to compose and record new music till the day I leave this planet.”

Listen to Jai talk about his upcoming Kirtan Camp. Or, read one of my prior posts on the benefits of kirtan.

connect via virtual sangrias during covid 19 shut ins

Virtual Sanghas Amid Shut-ins

 

World Bhakti with Sean Johnson now creating virtual sanghasSocial distancing and quarantines are no fun. Fortunately, virtual sanghas are forming to keep us sane.

For example, the other day, Gov. Cuomo mentioned an extremely heartfelt talk he had, virtually, with his daughter who was in self-isolation.

Without a doubt, technology is providing us with a welcomed doorway. A bridge to keep us connected. Uplift our energy and spirits in these trying times. For those missing their normal routine, now is an even more important time to soak up the wisdom, creativity and positivity of others. 

Moving in a pinch, all the lead presenters from the recent World Bhakti festival revved up ways to  get connected.  Opportunities for the homebound to connect with like minded people. What I call virtual sanghas

World Bhakti with Sean Johnson“I’m grateful for live interaction with my circle of support in challenging times,” says Sunshine Kessler Teran. She synchs to Bhakti House Band’s virtual sanghas. Plenty of others are finding solace tapping into the energy, spirit and talents of their favorite yogis or kirtan artists. Live. From their phone, tablet or laptop. Following are just post-World Bhakti offeringsi. (Details follow.) Because I was there. Felt the sangha form. And, recognize the doors to those virtual sanghas are wide open.

While I wasn’t a presenter, I’ve got sangha in mind. Aside connecting with other yogis in their virtual offerings, I revived my Yoga Book Club from San Antonio. Undeniably, this will be super simple. No need to buy or read anything in advance. Just tune in via Facebook Live Tuesdays, Thursdays and/or Sundays at 2 p.m. CT.   I’ll read a passage. Afterwards, folks chat about the meaning.

The first selection is from John Pavlovitz. “A Bigger Table.” Disenchanted with the Catholic Church, he ended up serving as a Methodist pastor for 20 years. His book addresses the need for spiritual communities, within our outside of places of worship.. 

Sean Johnson, Virtual Sanghas from New Orleans

Sean Johnson at World Bhakti Festival, Dallas

Last week, Sean Johnson launched virtual classes from his studios in New Orleans. “Here we go, entering uncharted territory together,” he said. “If yoga prepares us for anything, it’s for change, and we’re looking forward to supporting each other and seeking the gifts inside this challenging time together.” His next virtual class is Thursday March 26, while his instructors will lead asana and meditation sessions on other dayparts.

For those unfamiliar with Johnson, he’s a favorite among many yoga teachers. He performs, and teaches his unique style of Bhakti on the Mat, across the U.S.  For first timers, his classes may seem unusual. They may start with storytelling, Students sit close together on the floor around him. Not unlike kids huddled in a pre-school.

Like storytelling with the kiddos, Johnson isn’t reading bland words. He is a cross between a poet and an actor. Using animated gestures, vocal and facial expression, he incites the listener to join in with sound effects. Animal noises. Pounding the floor. Howling with scary animal or nature sounds. In essence, he pulls the kid out of the adult. Making his sessions not only fun, but memorable.

 

Considering that Johnson’s stories all connect to the ancient Scriptures, his ability to make those learnings relevant to modern day American city folk is remarkable.  

The son of a former nun, and father who was studying to be a Jesuit priest, he has an expansive vision of what’s holy. Johnson considers himself an educator that builds bridges between the physical and devotional aspects of yoga. Furthermore, he makes an effort to cross cultural and religious divides.

All the while, he expresses his New Orleans roots. Somehow, the Cajun spice mixes well with his reverence for the traditional mantras and vedas. He encapsulates the spirit and knowledge of the ancient sages through music that makes you want to rock and roll —and chant along. Regardless of whether it be via concerts, storytelling time or yoga classes.  Consistently.

Bhakti House Band’s Virtual Sanghas Radiate from Fort Worth

Bhakti House Band now with virtual sanghasAs soon as people started to tuck themselves into their homes, Bhakti House Band began daily FaceTime Live satsang (gathering of truth). Not only Monday through Friday. But every day. Good thing, as weekday and weekend is now blurred for many. 

Randall and Kristin Brooks of Bhakti House Band call their sessions Bhakti House Cafe. However, I call it chat and chant. 

First, beyond the virtual Bhakti satsang, what makes their sessions so beautiful is the simple lessons they teach. Yes, they share their knowledge of Sanskrit and mantras. But, they connect to every day living — and challenges. Especially those people face in this phase of quarantines and six-foot distancing. 

Second, each day is different in the virtual satsang. Nonetheless, they follow a routine that boosts self-discovery — and community. At 9 a.m. CT they elicit participants to share from their daily gratitude top three list. Close to 10 a.m. CT they chant a song from their latest double CD, “Roots to Revolutions.”  Called “Raise Your Words,” it’s become their anthem to “rise above” Coronavirus. The song blends words from a Rumi poem, with Sanskrit Universal Peace mantra.  After it winds down, they chant a verse from “Let it Be.”

“Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice. It’s the rain that grows the flowers, not the thunder.” ~Rumi 

Roots to Revolutions by Bhakti House BandAdditionally, Bhakti House Band is offering more intimate online classes and workshops Thursday evenings. Via Zoom, it enables them to delve deeper in discussions about the ancient learnings and modern day applications.

I first met Randall and Kristin about six years when they led 108 rounds of the Gayatri mantra in Houston. Now, they’re leading 108 rounds during their Saturday FaceTime Live satsang.

Over the years, I’ve chanted with Bhakti House Band in Houston, California and Madison, Wisconsin.  They are friends, mentors and spiritual guides. To top it off, they’re phenomenal musicians who stay true to their urban Texan roots. 

 

Roots to Revolutions. Indeed, they share their spiritual journey through relevant lyrics and heartfelt musical compositions.  Plus, their love for the yoga of sacred sound and conscious devotion. Over the last few decades, they have criss crossed the country –and beyond–to inspire humanity. To awaken hearts. To live with purpose. And experience a higher sense of freedom and connection with all life.  

While that sounds like a difficult feat, they’re successfully translating those desires to their virtual satsang

Virtual Sanghas for Kids, too, with Stefanie Tovar

Stefanie Tovar at World Bhakti Festival, Dallas

Stefanie is definitely the kind of person that you can tell likes to be in touch with people, person to person. She leads yoga and kirtan sessions to folks of all ages.  Sometimes, in Spanglish. Often times in outdoor public places. Plus, she leads retreats geared toward going within, regardless of where you’re at, spiritually. 

Moreover, The Dallas Observer recognized her kids’ initiative, Hanuman Homies, as The Best Underdog Nonprofit of 2019.

But, as of this week, she’s online. Daily. Most her offerings are on her two YouTube channels.

At the same time, she’s also connecting via Zoom and Instagram. Her new donation-based video classes range from Morning Mantra, to Practice in Your PJs. As part of Hanuman Homies, she leads mindfulness and yoga via shorter online sessions. 

While she recognizes that people need to keep up with sangha, any way they can, she says that this new work is also to helping her to stay connected and committed to her purpose. “I’m honored to be of service, in some way, to as many people as possible.”

Sangha Comes in Many Styles

Additionally, two of the World Bhakti organizers are getting ready to go virtual. Lavanga Latika will lead Sangha With Lavanga. Via Facebook Live, she’ll discuss the Bhagavad Gita. For those wanting a traditional yoga practice, Kirsten Burch will begin those soon. And, I’m offering private virtual Yoga Nidra, as I think it’s more important now for so many,.

Finally, a great way to tune in to the music of Sean Johnson, Bhakti House Band and Stefanie Tovar is through a World Bhakti playlist on Spotify. Tune in to the vibes of that festival, as you do your laundry, cook some healthy food, or drink some tea. 

 

WORLD BHAKTI Festival

World Bhakti Festival: DFW Embraces Strong Yoga Branch

 

Bhakti is big for me. Devotion, often expressed through group chanting, or kirtan, is my favorite of the yoga branches. So, my heart’s humming, knowing World Bhakti Festival is coming up. In Dallas. Feb. 28, 29 and March 1.

World Bhakti Festival is a yoga and wellness festival. However, it features Bhakti leading lights Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band from New Orleans, Stefanie Tovar from Dallas, and Fort Worth-based Bhakti House Band. Orchestrated by three dedicated yogis in Dallas, World Bhakti Festival honors one of the yoga paths that isn’t as ubiquitous as yoga and meditation.

The Past and Present of Bhakti Yoga

Some estimates point to nearly 50 million yoga practitioners in the U.S. Mostly yoga on the mat. However, Bhakti likely predates the ancient hatha postures. Without a doubt, Bhakti was practiced ions before the sun salutations. For example, Bhakti Yoga is described in the Bhagavad Gita, circa 300 BCE. What’s more, the Bhagavad Gita praises Bhakti as the highest form of yoga.

While the asana or meditative forms of yoga are powerful practices for the body and the mind, Bhakti goes right to the soul.  One can argue that heart-focused sincere practices are the seeds of spirituality, around the world, throughout the ages.    

Lavanga Latika, co-founder of World Bhakti Fest in Dallas

Lavanga Latika Devi Das, one of the three co-founders of World Bhakti Festival

For example, one of the World Bhakti Festival co-founders, and kirtan leader, Lavanga Latika Devi Dasi says, “Bhakti is inherent in traditions all over the world…in ALL religious/spiritual traditions.  It’s actually the string that holds them all together.  The heart of Bhakti is learning to see how we are actually more alike than different.” Latika, who was first exposed to Bhakti in 1985, notes, “When we sing in Kirtan, there is no us and them. Separation dissolves.  By awakening our relationship to the Divine, we can then see how we are all children coming from the same source.”

Not surprisingly, Bhakti has been gaining steam across the U.S. as there has been a rise in the spiritual but not religious population. Festivals from the west coast, to the east, and even in Mid-America are now attracting thousands. The Bhakti goers get something here that is amiss in most yoga studios or gyms. It feels good. Deep inside. 

The Texas Bhakti Explosion 

“Now it’s Dallas’ turn,” for a similar Bhakti explosion says Latika. In part, because Bhakti resonates with everyone. Just as everyone has a heartbeat, everyone can feel the connection with Bhakti.

“The time is right because Dallas is ready for the rest of yoga. Those who have been practicing asana for enough time are now hungry for more.  It’s a natural progression no matter why they started their asana practices,” she explains. 

Bhakti House Band to perform at World Bhakti Festival in Dallas

Bhakti House Band will lead Kirtan at World Bhakti Festival

The popularity of Fort Worth-based Bhakti House Band is proof. Husband and wife team, Randall and Kristin Brooks have been leading Kirtan for the two decades that they have been on their own Bhakti journey. 

Brooks says, “The DFW yoga communities, as a whole, may have started out being a little more cautious in adopting the practice of chanting, but resistance has been fading as people experience the peace of mind that comes with yoga and chanting mantra. Since Bhakti is all about powerfully committed devotion to the truth of who you really are, it can be expressed in so many different ways in order to reach the heart.”

“We are all trying to re-connect with our Spiritual Source,” adds Brooks.  “We call upon the many forms of that source…but there is only one Source.”

World Bhakti Festival in Dallas

Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band

From New Orleans, Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band are featured musicians and presenters

Whether one is a longtime Bhakti practitioner like Latika and the Brooks, or a neophyte, World Bhakti Festival is a good fit for all. There’s a free fair featuring local vendors, healers and plant-based food and drinks. And, plenty of free traditional yoga and meditation classes and education workshops. On top of that, Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band will perform. Two nights in a row. Plus, Johnson and his band will lead a workshop for teachers on bringing Bhakti to the mat.

It’s a natural that Wild Lotus and Bhakti House share some of the spotlight. First, both bands share styles that range from funk to country to gospel/soul. Second, both are very high energy, and at the same time, introspective and soulful. Plus, the two bands routinely travel across the country with their Kirtan. From small intimate groups to mega-venues.

Stefanie Tovar, to present at World Bhakti Festival in Dallas

Stefanie Tovar will lead Kirtan at World Bhakti Festival in Dallas

In fact, Bhakti House Band and the Wild Lotus Band have performed together at Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California, Bhakti Fest Midwest, and Floyd Yoga Jam in Virginia.

“Sean and the band are a WONDERFUL way to further expose Dallas to Bhakti and chanting,” exudes Kristin Brooks. “Sean brings a very Southern, soulful vibe to his music. Texas culture is already filled with deep devotion—-it’s simply finding the entry point into the Texas heart–and anything with a little bit of that gospel vibe seems to do the trick. He’s truly an authentic and generous soul on top of his inspiring energy and quality musicianship.”

The Wild Lotus Band, beyond yoga crowds, routinely performs at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.  According to Latika, Sean Johnson was a perfect fit. Many in the community have already been inspired by him she said.

Stefanie Tovar, a Dallasite who has been a presenter at the Sedona Yoga Festival, acknowledges that Johnson “lit the fire in her heart for Bhakti.” Tovar will lead Kirtan on Friday immediately prior to Johnson taking the stage.

Sharing the Love and Devotion

kirstenjoyyogaworldbhakti

Kirsten Joy Burch, one of the co-founders of World Bhakti Festival

Kirsten Joy Burch is another World Bhakti Festival co-founder who will lead tantra yoga and meditation at the festival. She summarizes why she and the others created this event.

“Bhakti blurs the lines of separation and brings the world together through song. The energy of community devotion and song can be healing and nourishing to those suffering grief, loss, and emotional pain.”

A portion of World Bhakti Festival proceeds will benefit The Widows Journey. The non-profit helps women navigate emotional, mental, physical, legal, and technical obstacles after the loss of a spouse.

Burch, herself, recalls experiencing “involuntary reorganization of my home, career, worldview and lifestyle state losing both my father and husband to cancer.” The Bhakti Yoga practice helped her on her path to recovery. “It is my hope and intention to help other widows find their path to recovery, in whatever means fits them.”

Register online for concerts, workshop or the entire weekend.

gratitude:yams and Niyamas for the holidays

Honoring the Yamas and Niyamas at the Holidays

Today is Thanksgiving. I don’t celebrate traditional Thanksgiving. Rather, I try to abide by the age-old Yoga Sutras. The lessons of the Yamas and the Niyamas. No stuffing myself on holiday fare. Not interested in Black Friday or CyberMonday. I don’t need anything. Rather than amassing more, I give. Seva (self-less service) is a part of my long-time I practice.

Following is a rundown of a few of Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas that we can relate to the holidays.

The Yamas: What NOT to do

First off. Ahimsa. Non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi spread the concept of ahimsa, widely. According to the Gandhi Book Centre, “The concept of ahimsa extends to all living beings, and therefore, protection of environment, natural habitats and vegetarianism are its natural derivatives. Buddhism and Jainism impose total non-violence on their followers.”

As a 40-year follower of ahimsa, I don’t like to see a big dead turkey on a table. Or a pig on a plate. I prefer my cows (and other animals) live, roaming about. Not on a spit or BBQ.

Two of the other Yamas respond to the materialism that is rampant in our society. Especially around the holidays. Asteya and Aparigraha. The two, are related. Both, about being content with what you have.

Aparigraha can be translated as non-greediness or non-possessiveness. Non-accumulation. Not pining for what’s not needed. Non-attachment. As I was taught it, it’s ok to enjoy a piece of chocolate. However, to have a deep desire — or addiction — to the chocolate is the problem. Yet, offering one’s favorite chocolates to others represents non-possessiveness and non-attachment.

Among the Yamas and the Niyamas, asteya is often translated as non-stealing. Of course, most of us don’t knowing steal from other people. However, we ARE stealing, if we upset the balance of the universe. For example, overconsumption of gasoline, water, food and natural resources, are forms of stealing. Hence, wanting and taking more than what’s needed is not honoring asteya.

When it comes to material items, most of us have way more than what we need. When I was young, it was common for kids to have one pair of school shoes, and one pair of tennis shoes. Now, I’d guess most kids have closets filled with a wide assortment of footwear. Plus, closets, shelves, dressers and other storage areas filled with clothing, toys, and other non-essential items.

When I recently sold my house, my realtor said everyone want walk-in closets. Clearly, that doesn’t represent the Yamas and Niyamas. When I went to live in Mexico for one year, all I took with me was two duffel bags. Still, I had more than what was necessary.

The Niyamas: What TO do

Moving on to the Niyamas, the first is soucha. Some, translate this as cleanliness. But, as with most Sanskrit words, it means so much more. For example, I was taught to bathe and put on clean clothes before devotional practice. To ready one’s body and mind for the holy. Not unlike wearing your Sunday best.

Soucha can also refer to purity, and a sattvic diet is considered pure and clean. I closely adhere to a sattvic diet. That means no alcohol, no caffeine, no garlic, onions, mushrooms or other foods that upsets the natural constitution. Patanjali, 5,000 years ago, referred to soucha and sattvic, together.

Next on the Niyamas, I see santosha (contentment) as being complementary to asteya and aparigraha. Not surprisingly, a few years ago, the community at Yogaville focused on santosha for the month of November. Swami Ramananda reflected on that practice.

“Of course, we all grow up in a culture of “never enough.” We can easily fall into an unconscious and never-ending effort to acquire, arrange or achieve the things that we feel bring us security and love, our most basic needs. Of course, we all grow up in a culture of ‘never enough.’ We can easily fall into an unconscious and never-ending effort to acquire, arrange or achieve the things that we feel bring us security and love, our most basic needs. Thus, this moment is continually warped by anticipation or anxiety over the next thing to do or get.” He explained that Santosha is about being at “peace with this moment as it is and with ourselves as we are.”

That’s something that I can accept for the holidays.

For more on the Yamas and Niyamas, read the following from the Art of Living.

Note: All images are mine. India 2019.

A Meditation Practice IS Yoga

In the Western world, too often, yoga means physical fitness practice. People focus on mastering a pose, or hope to work up a sweat in a yoga class. But, that’s not what yoga really is. Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras wrote Sthira Sukham Asanam. To me, that means stillness in your seat, or space. Sounds much more like a meditation practice to me.

That’s also, why I tend to encourage Yin, Restorative, and Kundalini styles of yoga to my students. There’s great stillness in the first two, and mantra meditation, mudras and breath work are fundamental in Kundalini.

Likewise, I’m happy to announce a meditation and kundalini retreat at The Namaste Getaway in Wimberley, November 15-17. A few spaces are still available.

Following are personal testimonials from me, and Carrie Edmond, a meditation pro who’s leading the retreat.

My Meditation Practice

meditation

My personal path to “yoga,” began with meditation. Having struggled with digestive issues since childhood, early on, I experienced the benefits of stillness. Stillness of body. And mind.

When I added Hatha asanas to my practice, stillness of body and mind was crucial. Basically, my personal asana practice became a meditation practice. With movement.

Off the mat, I also adhere to a meditation practice. Daily, I practice japa mantra meditation. Plus, I have a labyrinth on my property for walking meditation. And, a creek for sound meditation. Finally, for traditional silent meditation, I switch between my deck, my yoga room, or my tree house.

Over the years, I’ve taken many a meditation class or workshop, across the country. In San Antonio, I found Carrie Edmond. She is unique in the way that she tries to pass the torch. On the one hand, she educates others to lead meditation. At the same time, she is expert at making meditation enjoyable and easy to practice.

Carrie’s Meditation Practice

journaling at The Namaste Getaway in Wimberley

“Meditation is an essential part of my life,” notes Carrie, who has been making meditation accessible to San Antonio public school kids for many years.

“Since I was very young, I have experienced intense anxiety. Before I learned to meditate and developed my own practice, life often felt chaotic, overwhelming and unmanageable. Through meditation practice, I have become more aware. With this awareness, I have found an ever-present ability to notice, and allow, in a way that reduces suffering and confusion.”

“Life still offers all its joys and challenges,” continues Carrie. “But my relationships, especially to those uncomfortable hard moments, are easier to navigate. I have learned to embrace the full human experience. I have also seen first hand how others have found healing, peace and a sense of freedom through their own meditation practice.”

Carrie’s Meditation Retreat

meditation at The Namaste Getaway

Joining Carrie, November 15-17, will be Angela Harper. Angela is a San Antonio-based KRI-certified Kundalini instructor. The retreat is designed to help nurture women. In part, because women, too often, don’t have the bandwidth to nourish themselves. The retreat will help ladies to explore the dynamic energy of the feminine. Plus, nourish the body and mind through Kundalini, meditation, gong, Reiki, journaling, healthy foods, and more.

“I love when women come together in this way to share, explore and learn from one another,” adds Carrie. “By applying what we share and learn from each other, we can go back into our daily lives with inner resources along with the collective wisdom to thrive and be in service to others.”

To register, for more information, or links to articles on Reiki and meditation, visit Carrie’s Facebook event page. Or, read more on the health benefits of meditation on my blog. Note: Photos are from The Namaste Getaway, just an hour from Austin, or San Antonio.

women's empowerment circle at Govardhan EcoVillage in rural India

Women’s Empowerment: In India and the U.S.

The Namaste Counsel is hosting a WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT RETREAT with Sita Devi Dasi, September 21, as well as Community Kirtan September 22. The retreat will focus on sisterly sangha and soaking up the prana in serene Wimberley. Sita Devi Dasi heads the Women’s Empowerment program at Radhanath Swami’s Govardhan Eco Village. The eco-village is an award-winning 100-acre spiritual sanctuary in rural India. The following summarizes her thoughts about women’s empowerment.

The Need for Women’s Empowerment in India

Govardhan Eco Village in India
Govardhan Eco Village

Women’s Empowerment is the need of the hour in today’s world. Not just in India, but all over the world. Obstacles that affect women in India, are many, Sita says. Gender inequality, male domination, institutionalized inequalities, inadequate education and even schoolhouses. In the end, limited job opportunities.

As a result, women need that extra support and encouragement. Therefore, women’s empowerment is often about women coming together. Women helping each other financially, emotionally and socially. In the cities, the women at least have better opportunities, a support system and access to a viable education. However, rural women are the most underprivileged and neglected. Usually, they are not literate. Consequently, there is a greater need in rural communities for women’s empowerment programs.

Women’s Empowerment in the West: Me Too

women's rights are human rights

There is a need for women’s empowerment in the U.S., too. At first glance, women appear more privileged, and have greater resources and opportunities in the States. However, emotionally and socially, women are still exploited. The #MeToo movement calls it out. There is mental, physical and sexual exploitation which American women face at the hands of the opposite sex. Women are not given the merited respect or dignity. In the workplace, they often have to outperform their male counterparts, and then are victimized by sexual harassment. 

This greatly undermines a woman’s confidence and self esteem. She feels lost and discouraged. Therefore, it’s about time for women to come together, support and speak out for each other. Give one another mental and emotional support to fight together and command respect and dignity. 

Women’s Empowerment: Spiritual Too

Govardhan Eco Village in India
Govardhan Eco Village

Furthermore, women, when spiritually enlivened and realized, can become the true leaders and role models of society.

As a case in point, consider Tulsi Gabbard. This 2020 U.S. Presidential candidate served honorably in the military. She was raised in, and continues to lead, a highly spiritual life. All the while, maintaining a high degree of femininity. 

We can all benefit from spiritual women’s empowerment.

Realize one’s true spiritual potential. Use one’s feminine power to come together and create a powerful force that can bring transformation in the world today. Women can support and pacify each other like no other man can ever think of doing. Instead of wasting one’s time competing with men, women should come together, strengthen our true feminine qualities and work productively.

Govardhan Eco Villag
Govardhan Eco Village

All scriptures in the world speak about the exalted position of the woman. Great saints and seers emphasized this.

But, still, women today struggle to get dignity and honor.

Worse, there is a growing trend of crimes against women. Rapes and assaults are common news in every newspaper. This is due to the moral and spiritual degradation. Western culture focuses on exploitation and sense enjoyment. Hence, men see women as objects, and not as people.

The need is to awaken and educate women spiritually. Then, women can impact society and hopefully bring forth a generation of men who respect all women and not see them as objects for enjoyment.

Sita’s Women’s Empowerment Program in India 

Womens empowerment at Govardhan EcoVillage in India
Womens empowerment program teaches sewing at Govardhan EcoVillage

A trained dentist, Sita launched her first free dental clinic six years ago. She was part of the community living and working at Govardhan EcoVillage, several hours outside of Mumbai. Here, she saw the dire need for dentistry— and more. 

Sita met with the village women who were all farmers. First, she chatted with them. She listened to their stories. As a result, she realized that they needed so much help. Both financially and socially. They were a very neglected section of the society. These rural women had minimum means, and resources. She was inspired to make a difference in their lives. That’s how the Women’s Empowerment and Skill Development Program connected to the Govardhan EcoVillage was launched.

Another important aspect was to teach them income-producing skills. Among the areas that took off were sewing, handicrafts, incense and candle making.

Next, Sita established self help groups in each village. Groups of 10 women opened joint bank accounts. More importantly, they learned the importance of saving money, and helping each other financially.

One Village’s Success Story 

Womens empowerment at Govardhan EcoVillage in India
Women’s Empowerment Group painting handcrafted items — most had never before held a pen, pencil or paintbrush

The women of Dhusal Pada village are relegated to work in the fields, and stay at home. The first year, Sita’s program taught them to paint terracotta lamps. Most, were holding brushes for the first time, as they had never gone to school. With practice, they painted with such expertise that their work was so appreciated — and purchased. Now, they have a steady source of income from their handcrafts. 

That has made a great difference among the men of the village, to boot. The men now respect the females as earning members of the home. More importantly, the women feel more confident and encouraged.

While Sita has invested her time and energy with this program for the last six years, she’s also reaping many benefits.  She says she feels blessed and privileged to be part of the women’s empowerment movement. Moreover, she considers she has benefitted far more than them. Now, she has a higher purpose in her life. What’s more, she feels closer to her soul, and God. Sita recalls Mahatma Gandhi’s words. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Power in Unity

Womens empowerment at Govardhan EcoVillage in India
Items made by Women’s Empowerment Group at Govardhan EcoVillage

Americans can reach across the ocean and help empower these women in India. Sita invites Westerners to visit the rural women of India. Connect with these ladies.  Sit with them. Sing with them. Dance together. Encourage them by making them feel valued and appreciated. By doing this you too will feel valued. Perhaps, you, too, will find the real purpose of life.

If traveling to India isn’t on your agenda, support Sita’s initiatives. There will be at least two “trunk shows” in the Austin/Hill Country area September 20-22. Contact Deborah for viewings of the women’s hand crafted items.

Finally, Sita will be coming to Wimberley for a women’s empowerment boost in Texas. Contact Deborah for details, or book the Women’s Empowerment Retreat at The Namaste Getaway September 21, and Kirtan at Orange Moon Yoga on September 22.

“The next generation of women should understand the real power of women. I see them as the leaders of the future. They have the potential to achieve so much, but I feel that can only happen if the women come together in women’s circles and leadership circles. Women gain maximum strength from each other and also the worst enemy of a woman can again be a woman because we let a man come in between. So let us recognize our strength and that lies in our unity.” — Sita Devi Dasi

Plucking petals off flowers at the American Swami's Mumbai Flower Festival

An American Swami: And My Journey to His Home

temple deities in India

There may be a thousand people crammed in a large temple hall. If this were the U.S., it would likely be against fire code. But we are in Mumbai, India. With 26,000 people per square kilometer. This is an oasis of spirituality. A temple filled with love, gratitude, and flowers. A golden altar houses glorious deities, whose dressings and adornments change, daily. Lavish paintings and tapestries line the walls and ceilings. Many correlate to passages in the ancient scriptures. Gold-plated carvings, as intricate as the Italian renaissance palaces, grace the room. All eyes turn to the swami. An American Swami.

An Oasis of Peace and Love Built by an American Swami

ceiling at ISKCON Chowpatty Mumbai temple

This is a Krishna temple, filled with Indian men. Most are dressed in white. There are some tangerine-robed brahmacharyas. Every now and then, you spot someone in Western dress. One middle-aged gentleman sports an H&M bag. 

Despite the many men here, this is definitely a safe place for women of all ages. From grannies to toddlers. Most wear saris. To a lesser extent, younger women wear traditional long dress shirts over baggy pants, or leggings. The salwar kameez.

Radhanath Swami, an American swami in India

Three video cameras point at the American Swami. When he enters, many prostrate themselves in front of him as a sign of respect. Obeisances. The humble swami begins with Sanskrit chants. Then, he gives a lecture on the “Srimad Bhagavatan,” in the lingua franca of English. He drops in Sanskrit words frequently. But, his English reflects his American mid-western roots. The packed room of devotees applauds the swami generously when he’s done.  

It’s a bit incongruous.

At first glance, the man in charge here appears to be an Indian man, in his element. Indeed, he’s in his element. But, he hails from the suburbs of Chicago (like me). Furthermore, the American Swami is of Jewish ancestry (as am I). Thousands of devotees lovingly call this man Radhanath Swami.

Not unlike many of his Vietnam-war generation, he was disenchanted. At age 18, he hitchhiked throughout Europe and Asia. With little more than a harmonica in his pocket. His mission: find truth. Destination: India. He met many a guru before he found the real deal. Srila Prabhupada. That was almost 50 years ago. Now, Radhanath Swami is the sharer of truth. He has written a best-selling book, turned into a screenplay. More importantly, the American Swami has made an indelible mark in India. In the spiritual community and beyond.  

The American Swami’s Wide Reaching Charitable Endeavors

Plucking petals off flowers at the American Swami's Mumbai Flower Festival

This American Swami fostered a long list of charitable initiatives. There’s the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Vrindavan. Sandipani Muni school for 1,500 underprivileged girls in Vrindavan. Mobile eye and dental clinics. Plus, a program serving 1.3 million lunches a day in India. Additionally, he established an award winning eco-village. That initiative includes a rural women’s empowerment program, and systems to boost agricultural outcomes for 900 previously near-starving farmers. 

Today, in Mumbai, however, the attention is all focused on the beauty of the temple adorned in flowers of all different hues. In the morning, women sit on the floor in a large room. They form small group surrounding baskets. We pluck petals off the flowers.  One group is working on marigold-colored flowers. Another, crimson. Others, garden-fresh white blossoms. In my group, I am the only foreigner. We are young, and old. Of diverse socio-economic strata. We have many different mother tongues (there are 22 “constitutional” languages in India).

One ton of flowers are strewn like confetti at the Iskcon Mumbai Flower Festival, the brainchild of the American Swami in India

In the main sanctuary, there is more diversity. The room is about the size of a basketball court, including the sidelines. Here, are the men. Children and some women, too. All are one. All focus on the same repetitive task. Plucking petals. Periodically, a few men with tilak on their foreheads bring out bushels of new, intact, flowers, and they pick up the color-separated baskets of soft feathery petals.

The plucking, in itself, is a bit of a meditation. But, the reason behind this is not revealed until Radhanath Swami returns to his microphone in the evening. In the meantime, we all dutifully perform the petal plucking. 

Our senses are satiated. We are surrounded by the sweet aroma of the flowers. The touch of the soft petals, and sturdier stems, against our fingers. And, a radiant array of colors surrounds us.   In all, more than 2,300 pounds of flowers. Marigolds. Chrysanthemums. Roses from Vrindavan. Jasmines from Coimbatore.

A Ton of Flowers in a Sanctuary

flower garlands fill the sanctuary at the Mumbai Chowpatty Iskcon temple for the Flower Festival

This is the Mumbai Flower Festival. Also the brainchild of the American-born swami.

In the evening ceremony, devotees squeeze into the sanctuary. We line up at least an hour in advance to get prime spots on the floor, eye to eye with Radhanath Swami. Everyone sits knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder. We are the lucky ones. The overflow watches from a large screen in the patio, below. Around the world, others tune in on a live stream.

The evening includes chanting led by Radhanath Swami. Behind me, are recording artists Gaura Vani and Jahnavi Harrison. They provide beautiful subtle background instrumentation and vocals.  Periodically, we all join in the chanting.  

Then, it’s time for the reveal. What, in fact, are we all doing here?

flower garlands fill the sanctuary at the Mumbai Chowpatty Iskcon temple for the Flower Festival

Radhanath Swami explains that we, humans, are like the flowers. All different colors.  Some from Mumbai. Others from Southern India. Still others, from the U.S., Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. We are different sizes, scents, and senses.  Alone, or with our own, we are beautiful. But, when we are all together, mixed like potpourri, it’s an amazing sight. And feeling. Incredible touch on our hair…arms…clothing. There is, perhaps, nothing more beautiful than this. Unity in diversity. Beauty in diversity. Power in diversity. 

A Sea of Multi-colored Petals — The American Swami’s Analogy for Beauty in Diversity

At this point, from the altar, men overturn the individual oversized baskets of petals onto the deities. First, they are bathed in white petals. Then, yellow petals. Next, purple. One color, after another, we see the layers floating on top of the deities. After about two or three dozen huge baskets of uni-colored petals raining onto the deities, we see a slight meshing of colors. Subtle dark red peaking through the oranges. Flecks of white or yellow, underneath or between.

The crowd is in ecstasy. But, the high point is yet to come. 

One ton of flowers are strewn like confetti at the Iskcon Mumbai Flower Festival

Soon, we see a confetti of multi-colored petals. The deities themselves are completely hidden by all the beautiful colored flower parts. Petals form mountains atop the deities. Mountains keep growing, like layers of snow. A landslide is pending. There are so many layers upon layers of different colored flowers. Gold upon orange. Scarlet upon vermillion.  Color-less among the vivid. 

When there are no more petals to pour onto the Mount Everest looking deities, the fun begins. Think Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street. Petals. Not beads. Devotion and spirituality. Not spirits.   

One ton of flowers are strewn like confetti at the Iskcon Mumbai Flower Festival

The mounds of delicate flowers are strewn upon the gazers. We are covered with orange. Pink. White. So many beautiful colors. All together. The confetti of petals. The diversity of our world. Of individuals. When all the petals make their way into the central area, atop the hundreds of fellow worshipers, all become kids. Spry folks bend down and scoop up the piles of petals by our feet. We let the petals fall like rain on those around us. Friends toss handfuls on each others’ heads. Or lightly spray their faces with the multi-colored blessed petals.

“The flower festival is like being on drugs in the 60s. But you’re not,” says Gaura Vani, the musician. In fact, Gaura Vani left the Hollywood scene to re-dedicate his life to Radhanath Swami and the teachings of Srila Prabhupada.

The Petals Remain with us Forever

One ton of flowers are strewn like confetti at the Iskcon Mumbai Flower Festival, the brainchild of the American Swami in India

Five months later, Mark, who works in the financial industry in Chicago, says the petals are still with him. “The pockets of my kurta have an unlimited supply of potpourri. It’s magical.” Lauren, a comedian living in Los Angeles, too, carries the remnants with her nearly half a year later. “Just found ANOTHER flower petal from Mumbai in my purse,” she notes with a laugh.

Just as Mardi Gras may be unforgettable to many, the Mumbai Flower Festival, concepted by a Jewish-turned-Vaishnava man who threw away his blue jeans in favor of an orange robe, is like nothing else. We are all in a state of light-headedness. Bliss. Devotion. Awe. Despite our countries of origin, race, religion, we are flying high. Equal. Respecting one another. And, as is the norm for followers of the ISKCON traditions, drug- and alcohol-free.         

India is a land of spirituality. Siddharta Gautama, the buddha, left India for Asia where he was (and is) considered a Supreme Being. Likewise, many yogis left India to create large followings in the West. Srila Prabhupada, left India, with only a few dollars in his pocket, and created an enormous legacy for spirituality, around the world. But, sometimes it needs a boon in the west to gain more momentum in the homeland. Srila Prabhupada’s work in other lands has only strengthened the following in India. Likewise, it took a kid from Chicago to bring back, replant and nourish the 5000-year-old learnings from India. 

And, thanks to modern-day technology, everyone can connect in the learnings and experiences.

varanasi-sunrise-Ganges

Spiritual Varanasi, India

In my last article, I spoke about finding thousands of Ganeshas in Varanasi. Unexpectedly. Beyond the Ganeshas, almost everywhere in Varanasi spirituality was overflowing.

Pre-dawn puja on the Ganges at Varanasi

“It is the headquarters of the Brahmin faith, and one-eighth of the population are priests of that church.*”

varanasi-sunrise-Ganges

Just as I relished morning arati in Vrindavan, I woke up early each day in Varanasi. Here, mangala arati was on the holy Ganges.

“The Ganges itself and every individual drop of water in it are temples.*” 

Bathing in the Ganges in Varanasi, India

Before arati started, I strolled along the sand. In the pre-dawn hours, people carefully disrobed and blessed themselves by bathing in the river. Despite the fact that people, especially men, took dips into the Ganges under daylight, it seemed more sanctified prior to the first morning rays.

“All India flocks thither on pilgrimage…*”

The mangala prayer services in the two ever-so-holy towns of Vrindavan and Varanasi were very different. In Vrindavan, it was at ISKCON temple. Prayer was filled with music and devotion to the deities. It appeared as if the vast majority of Vrindavan attendees were local residents. Both Indian and non-Indian.

Morning arati at Ganges in Varanasi, India

Varanasi arati, however, attracted visitors. Albeit primarily visitors of Indian ancestry. Second, prayers in Varanasi didn’t begin at 4:15 a.m. like Vrindavan’s arati. It was much closer to the actual sunrise in Varanasi. Around 6:30 a.m. Furthermore, I didn’t notice deities in Varanasi. It was more of a fire ceremony.

Morning arati at the Ganges in Varanasi, India

In Vrindavan, after the main prayers, women and men formed different circles to circumambulate around a tulsi plant. In Varanasi, many stayed to listen to ragas, live, on stage. Next, it was yoga time. Men sat on lines of red carpet. The women clustered together under a canopy. The practice included 30 minutes of pranayama. Then, 20 minutes of asanas. Rather than closing with savasana, each session ended with laughter yoga.

Varanasi-sunset arati on the Ganges

Evening arati was just as magical as the morning’s in Varanasi. I opted out of the touristy river boat barge views of the ceremony, to sit alongside hundreds, or thousands, of Indians at the waterfront. The white smoke, set against the black night sky was beautiful. So was chanting among the enormous crowd of worshippers.

“Where this eternal light intersects the earth, it is known as Kashi.”**

Evening arati on the Ganges in Varanasi, India

In Varanasi, morning and evening arati were like bookeends. In between, I strolled around the innumerable sacred temples. Some, were in a near state of ruins. Others, were hiding behind buildings, or tunnels. Surprisingly, the most visited, Kashi Vishwanath, was hiding behind untold heaps of construction. And, a maze of visitors in queue. Most likely, waiting at least an hour to approach the sacred space. The endless string of people inched toward the temple, barefoot, as slow as turtles.

Once past the security guards and magnetometers, we were rushed through the ancient golden temple. Certainly to ensure that as many people as possible could pass through this holiest of sites dedicated to Lord Shiva.

“Benares is the sacredest of sacred cities. The moment you step across the sharply-defined line which separates it from the rest of the globe, you stand upon ineffably and unspeakably holy ground.*”

Being herded through the masses to catch a mini-darshan didn’t exactly get me to a state of blissful spirituality. Being one of just a handful of people at an ancient temple in Varanasi, did. Set amid grey rubble was a pristine orange pagoda-like temple.

“The journey to sacred places is the most common way that people travel in India.”**

Near Lalita ghat was a Nepali temple

Near Lalita ghat was a Nepali temple. According to one local guide, “This is one of the oldest and unique temple of Varanasi as it is made up of woods. It is also called as the replica of Pasupatinath temple (Kathmandu, Nepal).” Constructed by a former King of Nepal, it is a most peaceful spiritual place.

All in all, Varanasi made an impact on me. Definitely a place I’d like to return.

*excerpts from Mark Twain’s “Following the Equator,”  Chapter 50

** quotes from Diana L. Eck, author of “Bananas: City of Light”

abhyanga: auto masaje ayurvedico

El Masaje Ayurvédico para Protejer tus Huesos

La Salud Ósea y el Masaje Ayurvédico

El cuidado de los huesos, y prevención de la osteoporosis no sólo se trata de levantar pesas u otros ejercicios en los que se carga el peso del cuerpo.  Hay un método ayurvédico que es sencillo, y una forma de mimarse o cuidarte de ti mismo. Se lo puede llamar champi, sneha o abhyanga. Son costumbres tradicionales de masaje a la cabeza, articulaciones o todo el cuerpo. Próximamente, impartiré un taller con una práctica del auto masaje ayurvédico, abhyanga.  Se llevará a cabo a las 13h el 24 de noviembre en Sueños de Maya, San José, Costa Rica.

Tres formas de masaje ayurvédico

abhyanga: auto masaje ayurvedico con aceitesNo importa la palabra, champi, sneha o abhyanga, cada uno es un tratamiento de la medicina tradicional de la India.

  • La palabra champi significa frote o fricción. El libro “Masaje Champi” explica que “este masaje ha evolucionado a partir de las costumbres ancestrales que forman parte de los rituales del cuidado integral en la vida familiar de la India, siendo una de las tradiciones más arraigadas dentro de esta cultura.” Si la palabra sánscrito champi  te suena, es por que la referencia al masaje a la cabeza dio paso a la palabra champú. 
  • Sneha, significa ambos aceite, y amor, en sánscrito. Laura Plumb, autora de un libro de cocina ayurvédica, y anfitriona de un programa de televisión acerca de los vedas explica, “después de los años 40, es oleación, oleación y oleación.” 
  • Abhyanga refiere al auto masaje al cuerpo, especialmente a las articulaciones. La práctica de abhyanga normalmente utiliza aceite de coco o ajonjolí, a menos que tu constitución (dosha) indica un masaje con pólvora como trífala.  Según Laura Plumb, el ajonjolí es alto en antioxidantes y es un anti-inflamatorio. También es recomendable para los de la dosha vata, o en el invierno.

La relación entre el masaje ayurvédico y los huesos

abhyanga: auto masaje ayurvedico para la salud ósea“Masaje Champi” nota que el masaje limpia el sistema linfático para así deshacerse de las toxinas presentes en nuestro organismo. Además:

  • “Estimula el sistema parasimpático: facilitando el descanso corporal e incentivando la relajación y el sueño. 
  • Aumenta el flujo sanguíneo de la cabeza, el cuello y los hombros: favoreciendo la nutrición de los tejidos y la oxigenación a través de la circulación arterial, y contribuyendo a la eliminación de toxinas por vía venosa.
  • Libera los espasmos y las adhesiones en las fibras musculares: calmando las molestias y mejorando la capacidad de movilidad articular.
  • Disminuye la inflamación de los tejidos: aliviando el dolor y reduciendo la sobrecarga en huesos y articulaciones.”

Hay otro beneficio del champi. 

La terapia que yo ejerzo combina mucho la medicina tradicional china y el Ayurveda. Conociendo los puntos claves de la acupresión (estilo chino) se puede hacer un roce o presión suave con los dígitos o las yemas en los puntos apropiados para estimular los meridianos (canales energéticos o nadis en sánscrito) y sus órganos conectados. Por ejemplo, en mi estilo de yin yoga, miramos a los meridianos del riñón y la vesícula para tratar desequilibrios que puedan contribuir a la artritis o la ciática, entre otras enfermedades.   

Contrarrestando la vejez—empezando con los huesos

abhyanga: auto masaje ayurvedico El reconocido médico Deepak Chopra, en su libro “Grow Younger, Live Longer,” hace énfasis de lo dañino de las toxinas ambientales. “Puedes revertir tu edad biológica eliminando las toxinas de tu vida.”

Chopra, quien aprecia ambos la medicina alopática como el Ayurveda, informa: “Cada impulso de la vida se puede considerar en términos de si trae alimento o toxicidad. Los científicos ahora entienden que el daño tóxico a las células y tejidos es la consecuencia de los radicales libres que se forman cada vez que se metaboliza el oxígeno. Estos químicos hambrientos son indiscriminados sobre cómo reemplazan su electrón de misión, y eliminarán uno de cualquier fuente cercana, incluidas las proteínas, las grasas o las moléculas de ADN.

Explica Chopra que entre las enfermedades más comunes que se puede atribuir, en alguna parte, a las toxinas radicales libres son: el cáncer, enfermedades cardíacas, la diabetes, la artritis y la osteoporosis. Para minimizar el contacto con los radicales libres y así proteger los huesos y articulaciones, hay que evitar el tabaco, alcohol, comidas fermentadas o los productos añejos, las carnes ahumadas o cocinadas al carbón, demasiados aceites saturados o hidrogenados, y el estrés. Otras toxinas fuertes, dice Chopra, son la quimioterapia y la radiación. 

De igual manera, se puede hacer una limpiecita de las toxinas agregando antioxidantes a tu dieta. Por ejemplo: comidas con alto contenido de las vitaminas A, C y E, mas frutas y legumbres frescos, granos, legumes y nueces. Además, como se sugiere la medicina Ayurveda, hay que agregar muchas especias a su comida. Las que contienen más antioxidantes son la menta, jengibre, ajo, eneldo, semillas de cilantro, el tomillo, hinojo y la hierba salvia. Finalmente, Chopra recomienda la meditación pare reducir el estrés, y se entiende que el masaje brinde el mismo efecto. 

Algunas técnicas del masaje ayurvédico

kidney massageConsta que hay diferentes formas del masaje ayurvédico. En la mía, fijamos mucha atención a las articulaciones.  El libro “Masaje Champi” detalla algunas técnicas para los hombros y escapulares en particular.

  • Fricción palmar circular en los hombros: hazlo vigorosamente y con ritmo, ejerciendo una presión suave
  • Presión dígito-pulgar en los brazos: En cada una de las presiones, suelta el aire y libera la tensión; mantén cada una de las presiones entre 5-10 segundos
  • Fricción palmar en los brazos
  • Presión dígito-pulgar en los hombros
  • Roce palmar desde hombros hacia las manos
  • Fricción palmar desde hombros hacia los codos
  • Presión con antebrazos en los hombros
  • Presión con pulgares en los hombros
  • Percusión cubital sobre la cima de los trapecios
  • Presión con pulgares sobre los puntos sensibles en el trapecio
  • Deslizamiento palmo-digital en el trapecio
  • Presión con pulgar en el reborde inter-escapular
  • Presión con canto de la mano inter-escapular 
  • Deslizamiento palmo-digital inter-escapular, y en la escápula: 10 veces, subiendo y bajando, o en moción horizontal

Lee acerca del yoga y la artritis. Para participar en el próximo taller, o para concertar uno en tu comunidad, comunícate con The Namaste Counsel.