Category Archives: Festivals & Events

Sound therapy and The Namaste Counsel

Sound Therapy in Joshua Tree: From Contact in the Desert to Shakti Fest

 

Dr. Dream and his Tibetan BowlsIn a recent blog, I wrote about Dr. Dream. This is the sound therapy conductor who uses 333 Tibetan bowls. A big fan of sound therapy, I hope to experience the 333 bowl effect next month. Dr. Dream and his team of “angels” will make magical music at Contact in the Desert

Dr. Dream’s bowl sonata will be somewhat of a postlude to a series of nightly sound baths the prior week at Shakti Fest.

Coincidentally, they are all at the same sacred space. The common venue is the very special Joshua Tree Retreat Center, about 40 minutes from the Palm Springs Airport. A not-for-profit center, it is the oldest and largest of its kind, in the Western U.S. It sits on many acres, above an aquifer, with buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and his son.  Adding to the coincidences, I was born and raised in Frank Lloyd Wright’s hometown, and my brother mowed the lawn at his  studio/home.

Sound Therapy in the Desert

Sound Therapy at Shakti Fest, Joshua Tree CaliforniaSo, for the last five years, I’ve headed to Bhakti Fest without fail. Now, I am headed to Shakti Fest. No typo. S. Not B. Bhakti is held each September.  Shakti Fest is in Springtime.  Actually, May 12-15 this year. Despite the fact that Shakti is a more condensed version than Bhakti, one stage will be dedicated to five hours of sound therapy, nightly. 

Both Bhakti and Shakti Fest bring the best yoga teachers, Kirtan musicians, and workshop leaders to Joshua Tree. Namely, they celebrate the devotional paths of yoga, Kirtan and meditation. Quite a few of the Bhakti/Shakti workshop leaders have influenced my teaching. Many more are staples on my yoga playlists. 

Sridhar Silberfein is the man behind Bhakti and Shakti Fests. Interestingly enough, he was also responsible for getting Swami Satchidananda to Woodstock. So musical extravaganzas and spirituality have been with him most his life.

A sincere bhakta, he has been expanding the festivals to meet the demands of attendees as more and more people head to these festivals. “For years many attendees were asking us for our sound bath programs to be expanded,” Silberfein explains. “For years, we had a small tent where some folks would do gong sessions. Now we have utilized our second stage from 7 p.m. at night to 2 a.m.  Folks can come in, lay down on the carpets, relax, and go into another zone due to the gongs, crystals, and bells surrounding them. It is a very magical environment, and takes each participant into a relaxed, deep, meditative space within.”

Why Sound Therapy?

Sound therapy and The Namaste Counsel As a Certified Yoga Therapist, I have studied many different forms of healing, and try to tap into a colorful palette of modalities when I create lifestyle action plans, homework or protocols for my clients. Sound therapy is most certainly a favorite.

I’m not alone. Dr. Oz is a proponent of sound therapy. On one of his shows, Dr. Oz explained how bi-neural frequencies influence the brain. He displayed brain scans of people listening to crystal sound therapy, to point out the positive effects.

His guest, Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, gave patient testimonials for sound therapy. Gayor is an oncologist, who uses sound in his practice. “It’s critically important,” he responded, saying that it can help everyone. Dr. Gaynor explained that with sonic therapy, you can improve moods and much more. For those that are in good health, it is a proactive measure. For those battling health issues, the differences are more evident. As an oncologist, he incorporated a 15-minute crystal sonic therapy session into his patients’ first visits. Apparently, it was highly effective. Many said they hadn’t felt that relaxed, ever. For Dr. Gaynor, this was especially rewarding. Especially, considering the first visit to an oncologist is often filled with fear and anguish.

Shakti Fest Sound Therapy Lineup 

Bhakti Fest, Joshua Tree, California

Ten different Sound Dome presenters are part of the extended Shakti lineup. Among them is Danny Goldberg.  His Sound Immersion Experience “weaves the restorative vibrations of singing bowls, gongs and chimes to create a blanket of healing sounds. The sound provides a channel for release, opening and transformation; tuning our vibrational frequency.”  In the past, Danny led healing sessions at Wanderlust, Lightning in a Bottle, Lucidity, UC Santa Cruz and Foothill College Music Programs.  

Guy Douglas is a sound therapy practitioner with a longtime interest in the healing power of music. A traveling gongmaster, he performs Sound Circle Ceremonies, Group SoundBaths, Retreats, Gong Workshops, Gong Yoga Flow classes and Gong Invocations. His focus is Eastern sound healing techniques that help clear dormant pathways and open the heart. 

Michelle Berc and her healing bowls and Shakti FestLynda Arnold is a healing sound recording artist and certified sound healer. She taps into the power of sound therapy to help people reduce stress, and transform consciousness.  Lynda was a Sound, Voice and Music Healing student at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Additionally, she studied Tibetan Bowl Sound Healing with master practitioner and educator Suren Shrestha.

Michelle Berc has performed at Bhakti/Shakti fest in the past. She focuses on chakra balancing with Crystal and Tibetan singing bowls, percussion instruments, gong, tuning forks, and other rare instruments. She explains that “sonic experience allows you to; release blocked energy in the body, balance and align the chakra centers for greater energy flow, and elevate your holistic being for expanded awareness. Overall, a vibrational kinship between mind, body, and spirit will take place.” 

She holds a certification from the Sound and Consciousness Institute in San Francisco. 

(As a matter of full disclosure, Bhakti Fest has, at times provided me with complimentary admission. However, that does not in any way affect the content of my blogs.)

Shadows of the Sun Dynasty by Vrinda Sheth

Sita’s Fire: Trilogy Unveiled at Austin Performance

When Vrinda Sheth was 18 years old, an opportunity fell into her lap. Most would have run the other way. Or laughed it off. She toughened up to the challenge. She spent the next 15 years honing her talents, as part of “Sita’s Fire.”

This week, the object of her immense dedication won a prestigious award. “Shadows of Destiny,” was bestowed a Silver Medal by the Independent Book Publishers Association. One of the most influential associations in independent publishing, IBPA awards recognize excellence in book editorial and design.

Book Reading Performance in Austin

Vrinda Sheth, author of Shadows of the Sun DynastyVrinda lives in Central Florida with her husband, Vish.  He’s a kirtan artist about whom I’ve written many an article. April 21, they will perform their mesmerizing and invigorating blend of East vs. West music and dance at Austin’s Sanctuary Church. The visit is to promote what has kept Vrinda on the creative track all these years.  Not just one book. But three.  “Sita’s Fire” Trilogy.  All are published by Mandala/Simon and Schuster,

Well-known yogi, Shiva Rea says Vrinda is an “extraordinarily gifted storyteller” who makes the timeless epic come to life.

Vrinda explains how everything fell into place. 

Annapurna Johansson, Sita's Fire“This project began as a vision by my mother, who is the illustrator. As long as I can remember, she has been fiercely committed to her art, setting up studios for herself even with the most minimal of resources. She began her first Ramayana drawings over 15 years ago and was working with another author. That project came to a halt as that author dropped out. Determined, my mom asked me if I’d like to try my hand at writing. Her request really surprised me, as I was 18 at the time, about to start college, and with no clear idea of my direction. But the publishers loved the draft I wrote and that was the beginning of this joint mom-daughter work.”

The Trilogy: Sita’s Fire

Shadows of the Sun Dynasty by Vrinda ShethVrinda began “Shadows of the Sun Dynasty” from Internet cafes in India.  As she was writing the Sita’s Fire trilogy, she earned a degree in English from the University of Florida. She married Vish. They had a baby, and are expecting their second child this July. Now, she has gained confidence as a prolific writer. “Queen of the Elements” will be available August 8. Then, the third in the series will be released in 2019.  She acknowledges mom was always right.

“I think in some ways she knew me better than I knew myself, because her request really compelled me to start my creative journey as an author. In hindsight, I can see that my mom encouraged me in this direction, because I was always writing something or the other and an avid reader. It took more than 10 years for me to settle into my confidence as a writer, and that journey will perhaps continue lifelong. But I’ve at least grown past paralyzingly self-doubt into a mature ability to even critique and edit my own work.”

Vrinda’s mother, Anna Johansson, exposed Vrinda to the ancient tales of the Ramayana at an early age. Rather than tales of Mickey and Cinderella, her parents raised Vrinda according to Vedic cultures and traditions. Stories of Sita and Rama. She learned Sanskrit and basic Hindi.  For five years, she lived in India. She mastered  traditional Indian dance which guests will appreciate in Austin.  

“It is my personal aim to make these ancient Indian stories accessible to ‘my own people,’ in the sense that I grew up in the West, first Sweden and then America, and I’m quite rooted in the United States. I was raised on these incredible Indian epics from various ancient texts. Good stories are good stories. And we are all hungry for them, no matter where on earth they come from.”

Vrinda and Vish make sacred traditional music hip. Likewise, she hopes to be a cultural translator of the tales from India that date back to fifth century BCE.

The Ramayana is an Epic Tale

Vrinda Sheth, author of Shadows of the Sun Dynasty“The Ramayana is a complex, multi-layered epic that has stood the test of time, and is studied by scholars and is being constantly retold by various authors. In India, for example, there are over 200 regional versions. So I’m officially part of this vast and vibrant storytelling tradition. Knowing this actually eased some of my writer’s anxiety, as it was at times daunting to tackle such a beloved story,” says Vrinda. 

For Vrinda, much of what makes the story so special are the pivotal characters. While Rama is oft-described as a deity, one of the things that endears him to Vrinda is the human struggles he undergoes. “The challenges he faces are ones that any of us can relate to,” she says.

“The story itself has so many of the classic elements that a modern reader craves: palace intrigue, romance, a prince in exile, an abducted princess, a three-dimensional villain, the battle of good vs evil. And perhaps most of all, the question of womanhood is central to the story, as I see it, turning it ultimately from a love-story to a tragedy. This is, at least, one of the most fascinating and admittedly disturbing aspects of the tale: how it treats its women. Our retelling is unique in that it focuses not only on the inner lives and feelings of the characters but also explores the place and personal power of the women.”

Sita as a Heroine

Not surprisingly, the female protagonist is Vrinda’s favorite in the fable.  

“Sita, to me, is the most fascinating of the characters. Despite being a central character around which the plot of the story moves, she has received very little stage time herself.  Isn’t this exactly the position that women across history have faced? In our work, we make an intentional effort to bring Sita into the spotlight.”

Sita in Shadows of the Sun DynastyTo some extent, Vrinda is taking the classic tale and bringing a bit of feminism to the storyline. 

“All over the world there is a rise in the collective consciousness towards elevating women, valuing girls, giving equal opportunity to children, regardless of gender. I was reflecting the other day on the power of our childhood stories (in Sweden). One of my favorite childhood authors is Astrid Lindgren, who wrote Pippi Longstocking and many other stories with strong and powerful female leads. This has impacted the Swedish consciousness, and I think women’s equality is a going strong there. This motivates me to be part of a storytelling effort that pays attention to the women and girls even in stories that already exist.”

Similarly, Madhavi Mangu is a strong female in Texas. Of East Indian ancestry, she was raised in Dubai and works as an IT manager for a major multi-national. In her spare time, she is dedicated to Austin Bhakti Yoga. As such, she is co-host of the book launch performance. “This is a MUST COME cultural event. Vish and Vrinda combine contemporary touch with a classic twist at the beautiful Sanctuary Church in Tarrytown. The book reading is presented through a unique format of Indian classical dance and music that symbolizes honesty, goodness and sacrifice.”

dr. Dream and his 333 bowls

Dr. Dream: Healing Through Sound Vibrations and Higher Frequencies

Dr. Dream led an ordinary life. He worked in marketing. Wore a tie. Jumped into web development. Followed a normal routine. Even had a conventional name — Mark Peebler. Then, he said goodbye. To it all. 

Dr. Dream as a Healer

Dr. Dream and his Tour of Love heads to Joshua Tree for contact in the Desert

Today, he lives out of a 26-foot RV. He’s in a different city, on average, every three days. He’ll be in Dallas May 6. Then, he heads West. I plan to catch him in Joshua Tree, California, May 20, for Contact in the Desert. In his refurbished life, instead of being surrounded by walls, computers and stress, he is enveloped with love. What you put forth, springs back to you. His latest offering is a Tour of Love  which he conceptualized in response to peoples’ needs. He says many are questioning what their life is about. Why are they on earth? 

“People are making changes,” says Dr. Dream. “They are searching for meaning. They’re recommitting and rededicating their lives, and wanting to be more in their hearts.”

He can relate. Dr. Dream was sitting in a million dollar home, with a nice sized bank account. He was living the life most Americans seek.  What society programs and conditions us to do. But, he wasn’t being fulfilled. That’s when he realized something was wrong with the status quo. There was “a void in my being,” he noted 13 years ago. 

That emptiness led to soul searching. As a result, he set out to share his personal truth and the nature of his realities. He recalls, “In this process, I lost my million-dollar home.  I probably sold my company, and exited that part of my existence, too early. But it was the right balance of getting back to what it’s all about. And it’s been amazing.”

dr. Dream and his 333 bowlsHealing Vibrations with 333 Bowls

As a Yoga Therapist, I appreciate sound therapy, including Tibetan bowls. In fact, I’ve met many bowl masters, and am familiar with the many ways in which they can be used therapeutically. Actually, that’s what drew me to Dr. Dream. As part of his Tour of Love, Dr. Dream leads healing bowl sessions like none other.

First, he uses 333 bowls. The number three, he says, is equated with the trinity. For him, that means receiving 1) Devine Perfection, 2) Health and 3) Guidance. “I’m always seeing 3-3-3. In my own experiences that’s been a big number for us.” 

“The wave that we facilitate, by and large, is not a sound bath. We don’t refer to it as a concert. We prefer people are sitting rather than laying down. Normally it’s a two-and-a-half hour experience. We take them through a process of connecting them with each of their chakras (one by one).” Dr. Dream explains, “We bring them a raw formulation of cacao. We put an essential oil on them for each chakra, and then we bring the bowl within inches of that chakra. We go up to the people 21 to 28 times in the experience.”

However, for Contact in the Desert, a mega-festival for people interested in other worlds, he has a different approach, that elicits the same results.

With the Help of Angels

At last year’s Contact in the Desert, 2500 people soaked up Dr. Dream’s sound therapy. To maximize the impact on each of the participants Dr. Dream brought in his band of 59 “angels.” First of all, 17 of the angels carried mister bottles filled with essential oils. Participants were sprayed with a different essential oil correlating to each of the chakras. In addition, surrounding the 2500 attendees in Joshua Tree were 40 root chakra bowls.  The remaining 293 bowls were played to awaken the other chakras. 

“We broke through our own ceiling that night,” he says based on what people told him they experienced.” 

Dr. Dream makes a large monthly donation to two Nepalese towns recovering from the 2015 earthquake. As part of his donation, they supply him with handmade bowls.  Hence, his tour of love is going full circle. “It’s a powerful energetic. That energetic is imbued in the bowls and people feel that. What we’re doing is creating a sacred space where people are just walking in, and normally people are blown away by it. The bowls have an energy that transcends the vibration.”

Plus, the experience is magnified by the use of essential oils.

Essential Oils to Boost Frequencies 

healing power of essential oilsNot surprisingly, I use essential oils, daily. Topically, internally, and aromatically. I have studied the healing properties of the different oils, from a practical standpoint, from an energetic platform and from an Ayurvedic perspective. As such, I recommend them in my Yoga Therapy personalized action plans.  However, Dr. Dream takes healing via essential oils to another level. This fascinates me. Plus, he isn’t just pulling ideas out of the sky.

When I spoke with Dr. Dream, he referred to a study done in conjunction with John Hopkins University. That research identified the different frequencies of essential oils along with the frequencies of the healthy and diseased human body.  

The Hopkins study taps into learnings from another prolific source, that Dr. Dream has been privy to for about 15 years. During the WWII era, Dr. Royal Rife created a device to measure frequencies. “His premise was to identify frequencies of ailments and then heal them with other frequencies. He was able to see what different frequencies did to compromised cells.” 

Bruce Taino, of the Hopkins study, looked at essential oils and identified their frequency levels. For example, Dr. Dream explains that the average human body, during the day, has a frequency that may fluctuate between 62 and 68. Consequently, when someone has a cold, their frequency may drop to 58. Those with Candida will be closer to 55. Cancer patients are at 42. Finally, the onset of death hovers at 25. 

Dr. Dream was intrigued by what needed to be done to maintain a higher frequency. The solution was quite simple. 

Roses to the Rescue

rose essential oils“The study showed rose (essential oil) being the highest frequency. It’s a very very powerful oil. It activates and expands the energy of the heart. As a human, you can’t go wrong with rose.”

No wonder, people are attracted to roses. “It’s always been held in high esteem. Even in our Hallmark culture of holidays, rose has been very big. It takes 60,000 roses to make an ounce of (pure therapeutic grade) rose oil. When you’re looking at that, it starts to make sense. How we feel when we look at roses, and when we smell roses…it’s no surprise. It’s a nice energetic.”

Interestingly, among the essential oils in my personal medicine cabinet is rose, which my Ayurvedic doctor encouraged me to use every night. Especially relevant, I use frankincense and helichrysum for healing, which follow rose at the top of the frequency chart. Internally, I tend to add peppermint to my water. 

helichrysum essential oilPeppermint scores a 78. Frankincense has a frequency level of 147, helichrysum 181, and 320 for Rose. 

Dr. Dream explains that the higher the frequency of the oil, the more it heals the spiritual body, whereas, if the oil has a lower frequency, it heals the physical body.  “I’m big on helping people learn about essential oils, and frankincense is called the king of oils.  Peppermint is a very physical oil. On the surface it gives you energy and a recharge. For a lot of people it lets them let go of stress.”

According to Dr. Dream, everything is connected to frequency. Resonance. Energy. Expansiveness. The auric field. Biofield. “It’s all tied together. Anything that has us constricted, reduces our biofield. Anything that has us expansive, raises our frequency. The most important tool is our minds. How we’re thinking of things — our belief systems. The people that are victims are manifesting more as victims. People that are positive and giving, they are getting validated. I live a very blissful existence. Not that I don’t have challenges. But I’m happy. I look around, and see everything and celebrate. The nature of my reality is that source sees that and says I’ll give you more of that.”

Bowls and essential oils are the why of his existence. “I’ve never met anyone less special than me. If I can find bliss, abundance and peace within…if i can do that, than anyone can do that.  I believe that at this time, for where we are as humanity, that it is very important to find opportunities to expand our knowledge and expand our feeling body and allow ourselves to find those things that we are drawn to.  Anyone that shows up at our experience is ready for an expansive experience.”

Contact in the Desert

Contact in the Desert, Joshua Tree, CAOf course, the energy in your back yard is likely not the same as the venues Dr. Dream frequents. In other words, healing energies can be expected to be heightened in Joshua Tree. Set in the high desert, Joshua Tree is a sacred space where I head every year for Bhakti Fest. 

“Joshua Tree is one of the most special places in the world,” says Dr. Dream. “The energy is so conducive to feeling good. I get to be the beacon of remembrance, and love. I get to be the beta trigger in that sea of information and get them back into their hearts. It’s the most beautiful role for me to be that beacon of love and that reminder of that it all comes back to our heart.”

Joshua Tree, California, one of the most famous UFO sighting areas in America, is the site for the largest UFO conference in the U.S.  In addition to Dr. Dream, Contact in the Desert unites presenters including Chariots of the Gods author Erich von Daniken, “Ancient Aliens” star Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, George Noory host of “Coast to Coast AM,” Fingerprints of the Gods author Graham Hancock, Disclosure Project founder Dr. Steven Greer, and best-selling author of the Communion series, Whitley Strieber.  Also leading workshops or discussions are Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, popular “Ancient Aliens” expert Robert Schoch, Secret Space Program veteran Corey Goode, and Aztec sighting incident authorities Scott and Suzanne Ramsey.

 

Simrit Kaur

Music and Mantra Healing — Simrit Kaur Interview

Invoking the Warrior Within, With Simrit Kaur

Simrit Kaur and Deborah Charnes of the Namaste CounselRecently, I had to heal from a bad dog bite, and deep second degree burn. My daily yoga practice was placed on hold for nearly two months, as I tapped into other modes of yoga needed.  As a result, I chanted for almost three hours a day. Mostly, the Ra Ma Da Sa kundalini healing mantra, including Simrit Kaur’s recording. I invoked the sacred syllables and words that represent life’s elements like the sun and moon. I chanted day and night. In bed. At the beach. On the bus. I shut the outer world out to absorb and retain the prana and healing energies of the universe. 

 Simrit Kaur‘s was one of my favorite renditions.  It was trance-like, rhythmic and celestial. Simrit believes this mantra is great medicine. “(When) we chant this mantra with our own voices…it’s more powerful than even listening to someone else do it.” While there are many ways to interpret Ra Ma Da Sa, she notes its power of providing internal balance which says, “I am that infinite healing that is within me.”

Now that I’m back to normal, it was a real treat to meet up with Simrit, in Miami, as her band was setting up.

Simrit launches her Resilience Global Unity Tour Wednesday, March 15. The world premiere takes place within the zen-like setting at The Sacred Space*  in Miami’s Wynwood district off North Second Avenue. From here, she heads to St. Petersburg on the other side of Florida, Asheville, N.C., with many performances on the way to Canada.

Unity in Sacred Spaces

The Sacred Space, MiamiDespite her accolades on iTunes, World Charts and Billboard Music, Simrit has graced South Florida with her beautiful blend of mantra music only once before. She feels particularly grateful to return to this multi-cultural music mecca. Miami is a good fit, as her new album is about cultural blends, that reflect her own life, growing up Greek in the deep south. “This new album has to do with all of us coming together,” she says. “Diversity is the strength of the community.”

She’s looking forward to people from all backgrounds coming together and having a good time in Miami.

“This space is awesome. It’s rad.  I love that they have Reggae outside. Inside, it’s like a museum space. It’s an oasis,” she says.

Her full band, uniting from other parts of the country, includes world percussion, harmonium, the 21-string West African kora, cello, electronics, and vocals. While some may consider her music mantra meditation, or kirtan, influences from other cultures is clear.  Many of her songs are sung in Gurmukhi, the language of the Sikhs, but she also sings in English, and in her latest album, Resistance, has a subtle global warrior undertone to her tunes  

Tuning Up Intuition with Mantras

Simrit Kaur band at The Sacred Space“People tell me it’s a highly engaging experience. It takes people on a journey,” Simrit says about their dynamic style of music. 

The journey, is knowing oneself. Tuning into the heart. Intuition. 

“Mantra is the projection of the mind,” she says. “It’s not spiritual. It’s practical. It changes the chemistry of the brain…blood…body. It widens our perspective. It acts like a drug. We’re happy (when we practice mantra meditation) because we feel ourself. It has its own rhythmic pulse…and electromagnetic fields…”

She explains that it’s easy to get in touch with who you are. In fact, all mantras  are based on primal universal sounds that take you to that same place. Consequently, they are accessible by all, and empower intuition.

“Intuition has to do with not knowing. Feeling.  I don’t care to know everything,” she adds. 

Most noteworthy, the power of communal versus individual mantra is considerably stronger. Hence, guests at her concerts can expect to leave in a state of bliss. Ananda.  

“When one person is emitting a positive vibration, it affects the whole earth,” she says, talking about the scientifically proven theories about the power of meditation. She likens it to a ripple effect. “If you have a little bit of water, and then 500 times that, it’s so much more powerful. We feel inspired when we’re together. When we come together with music, sound and mantra, it has an exponential effect.”

Heal The World

That’s one of the purposes of her Resilience World Tour, and the name of her latest album, “Songs of Resilience.”   She believes that challenges only make one stronger.

“Songs of Resilience” is about her personal journey. She says her most recent music is about human conditions — and suffering — since the beginning of time. Simrit was born in Greece. An orphan, she was adopted by a Greek-American family. Her younger brother, who was also adopted from Greece, was a special needs child for whom she had to give considerable care and attention. Early on, she questioned the real meaning of life. She recognized the challenges that Greeks have been going through for thousands of years. And, the state of our society today. Especially in light of the intense isolation many of us consider as the norm, nowadays. 

Connecting With Your Roots

Simrit Kaur“That’s a big sickness of our time. Being alone,” she says, alluding to how music can heal. “We can create an incredible experience in tumultuous times. Music is a powerful medium. We feel inspired when we’re together.”

Simrit is saddened by the lack of family unity, and honoring of one’s heritage. Similarly, she says the abandoning of one’s roots is “a disease in America.” Her adoptive family passed on their respect for traditions and family. 

“Our parents were rooted in the Greek culture. They’re like yogis in the truest sense,” she says about her parents. Even though they don’t do yoga on the mat. “They taught us to be loving and kind. We do yoga to be expansive.”

As part of the global tour, Simrit, her husband and child, will spend time in her birthplace. Then, in April, she has two performances in Paros, Greece, before heading north to Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Sweden and Norway.  Finally, the tour ends in Mexico City in October. 

Tickets available at BrightStar.  

*Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Before or after the show, ticket holders receive 10 percent off food and drink at Plant Food Wine, located inside The Sacred Space.   

Chill Out stress reduction therapeutic workshop

Chill Out Therapeutic Stress Reduction Workshop

Aside from my life as a yoga therapist,  I’ve worked my entire adult life in the Public Relations industry. I think I’m pretty chill. However, I just read that Public Relations is ranked the sixth most stressful profession.  Furthermore, event planning (part of PR) is number five. But hey, it’s not as bad as being in the military, a fire fighter or police officer.  Of course, sitting behind a desk, downtown, isn’t as stressful as wearing a flak jacket worried that you’ll be greeted with an uzi. Nonetheless, my fellow PR pros will corroborate our business requires learning stress reduction techniques.
stress reduction workshop with breath work and meditation Stress is a state of mind, and we can be chill, if we put our mind to it. That’s why I will lead Chill Out, one of my signature therapeutic workshops, Sunday, March 19. Chill Out will include breath work, meditation, restorative yoga and yoga nidra. Limited to no more than four participants, register ASAP. 

I can attest that your breath can bring about a powerful emotional change. Once, during a stressful week preparing for a new business pitch with my team, one of the leaders was particularly negative and rude. I wanted to wring her neck. We took a short break to review, on our own. I went into my office, closed the door, and practiced mindfulness. When I returned to the conference room, I wanted to hug this woman who was pushing me to the limits before the meditation. Proof positive that yoga is the antidote for stress.

But since I like facts and figures, here are some reasons why you should Chill Out with therapeutic yoga.

Proof Positive 

1) Stress is a factor in five of the six leading causes of death.stress reduction workshop with breath work and meditation

2) Stress is the trigger for almost nine out of ten doctor visits.

3) Medical Daily, reported on a study among personnel in a surgical intensive care unit. Stress plummeted 40 percent among participants who practiced mindfulness, hatha, meditation, and listening to music (my favorite form of yoga aka kirtan).

4) The Mayo Clinic says, “Yoga can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve heart function. And almost anyone can do it.”

5) MD Anderson incorporates yoga in their programs for cancer patients, to counteract their increased stress. MD Anderson calls yoga “a quintessential mind-body practice combining movement, controlled breathing, and breathing exercises, and meditation.”

6) More western doctors are now prescribing yoga therapy.

See for Yourself

ksepana mudra jupiter mudraOne western doctor who prescribes yoga therapy, and practices the eight limbs of yoga, is Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD. As an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, for decades, he has conducted and analyzed research on the positive side effects of yoga. Study after study, his findings point out the benefits of yoga. Asanas, breathwork, relaxation and meditation can not only lower the blood pressure, but increase brain GABA levels. Studies confirm they lower perceived stress and back pain at work. Plus yoga produces “enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways.” Using brain scanners, he takes before and after images of the brain to see how meditation affects the limbic and paralimbic systems.

While his processes are not simple, the results are. Of meditation, he states, “It turns on genes that are good for us. It’s happening at the very core of our selves…We are changing our brains and our bodies.”

Give it a shot. Do your brain and your body some good.

Chill Out is appropriate for people of all ages, regardless of level of physical fitness. Plus, the Chill Out workshop incorporates tips about easy lifestyle changes and practices to keep cool as a cucumber. Finally, participants will be treated to a fresh “shot”  from Munch On and Beyond, the newest gluten-free, vegan establishment, located in northeast San Antonio.

 

Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band

Bhakti Yoga and The Power of Sound

Bhakti yoga and the tradition of chantingMusic or chanting is integral to all cultures. In traditional societies, chanting (like in Bhakti Yoga) is often a part of a healing ceremony. 

Yet, in today’s world, too few of us practice chanting. Fortunately, for those of us that do, we recognize its healing benefits. 

Sean Johnson is a yoga studio owner in New Orleans. He also has a rockin’ band that plays the New Orleans Jazz Festival every year. His Wild Lotus Band, is also one of my favorites to accompany my yoga classes, or when I chant by myself. Best of all, I’ve been fortunate enough to hear his band play, live, nearly a dozen times. The beats and vocals enter my bones…and my soul. This is part of the bhakti (devotional chanting) experience for me. Based on my yoga heritage, bhakti is one of the eight branches of yoga. At my teacher training camp, we had an in-house bhakti band. Furthermore, at all my ashram stays, we awoke to chanting, and chanted prior to bedtime. As a result, a day doesn’t pass, that bhakti yoga isn’t in my life, somehow. 

An altar is a mirror of the heart to see or reflect what’s inside of us. 

Sean Johnson leads a bhakti yoga intensive at Bhakti Fest MidwestSean, at this year’s Bhakti Fest Midwest, shed some light as to why bhakti yoga may be so powerful. He referred to chanting, or kirtan, as “vocal vinyasa.” He explained that each of the traditional sounds (almost like a Sanskrit Do-Re-Mi) from Sargam is associated with a chakra. In other words, you’re tuning your body and soul when you chant. Additionally, the drone, the recurring  sound underlying much of kirtan, represents the primordial sound of Om. “Our scientists have discovered that most solid matters vibrate to the Om. Bones. Buildings. It’s a never ending canvas of sound. The yoga of sound is the most underrated,” Sean told us Bhaktas at a full-day intensive at Bhakti Fest.

sound therapy and bhakti yogaIn fact, sound is used in surgery to break up kidney stones. So, does it seem far fetched that it can break up your emotional blockages too? 

“When there are disappointments, suffering, we can protect ourselves with sound,” adds Sean. It’s like a mask.  He suggests yogis ”awaken the sense of playfulness” during their practice. By adding the element of bhakti, you can transform the asana (physical postural) practice to a spiritual one. “What I like to emphasize in asana practice is imagination. Try to transform our movement into meaning making motions,” he says. 

Hopefully, his teachings have passed on to me. I make concerted — and instinctual— efforts, to merge body with sound in my classes. For my personal practice, it’s a pure jam. I let it all hang out, and see the beauty of the practice unravel. Even if I’m counting a dozen rounds of surya namaskar, I let the music and the mood mold my movements. No two are identical. I never know what to expect on the mat. I surrender to my spirit soul.

My students know I don’t choreograph my classes, either. Plus, I don’t follow a pattern. That’s too dull, plus, I respond to the energy in the room. 

Bhakti Yoga is to wake up the heat.

Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus BandSean’s explanation makes sense to me. “Bhakti yoga comes from a rebellion against dogma — against a priest, and ruling class. The Bhaktas said ‘we know how to get to God. We don’t need the priests or the castes.”  That’s my kind of talk. I love that. I just read a passage to my students, from Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet.” Your daily life is your temple and your religion

Sean gives historical data to paint his picture.  He tells us that it was the British missionaries that brought the harmonium to India. That squeezable keyboard is a principle drone maker. But, the Indians didn’t welcome the European instrument at first. So, they chopped off the legs, and created a hybrid version. What we know now as the Indian harmonium is a beautiful reflection of the creativity that emerged when the west invaded the east with their culture. The harmonium, is a “hybrid, like us. The harmonium represents that integration,” says Sean.

The sun salutations are examples of East meets West. Same with bhakti on the mat. Sean describes that as an experience of bringing two strings of yoga together. With the yogasana physical practice, we stretch our bodies and our breath. In bhakti, we stretch our heart and our emotions. 

“Bhakti is just a word from the yoga tradition that names something universal. There are so many ways to fire up the heart. One of the best ways to stretch the heart is through art,” Sean explains. Music. Poetry. Culinary arts. Storytelling. Dance. He says instead of doing these arts as enjoyment, we should invoke intentions to serve. Share. Expand an asana practice into an offering. 

Meditation comes naturally to us as human beings. 

Sean Johnson leads a bhakti yoga class at Bhakti Fest MidwestIn meditation, you clear your mind. In bhakti yoga, the mind becomes clear. 

Sean is passionate about finding cross cultural threads.  “One of the things I love about bhakti is it’s an opportunity to let go of dogma and judgement that’s often a part of our culture.” As an example, he says most of us are self-conscious. We may sing In the shower or in our car, or to our children. But, we enclose ourselves in a wall when we are around others. “We are neurotic about our voices,” he says. “A Sufi teacher says the voice is the barometer of the spirit. But, we can also sing to shift our mood.”

Johnson is a master storyteller, who oftentimes meshes East and West, past and present. Finally, he says stories are valuable as they have archetypes. Hence, they create space for us to connect on our own journey. Same as every yoga practice. On, or off, the mat. In other word, we connect our bodies with our souls.

India

Radhanath Swami: The Journey Within, Part 1*

“When you expect things, you are never happy,” says Radhanath Swami, author of The Journey Within.

Yoga teaches us to live in the present. Don’t worry about the future, or dwell on the past. Be content.

Why is there so much arrogance and hate…in the name of religion?— Radhanath Swami

Radhanath Swami  was raised in an affluent spirituality and the journey withinChicago suburb.  He went to Deerfield High School, where pretty much everyone back in the 60s was college bound. The now spiritual leader got a different type of education. He found answers on the journey within.

Growing up, he felt he didn’t fit in. When he was just a young kid, his father filed bankruptcy. As a result, Radhanath worked at a car wash. There, most all his work mates were African-Americans who had witnessed poverty. 

“They all had no way out,” Radhanath Swami told a group of yogis at Chicago’s Bhakti Fest 2016. “I really loved them. I remember thinking, ‘why is it they had no opportunities?’ A lot of things didn’t make sense.”

Richard, as he was called, considered himself part of the counter culture. Early on the journey within, he had long hair, and wore one set of clothes. “I ended up at Grant Park during the Democratic convention, and I am proud to say I got tear gassed by the Chicago Police.” 

He chose to be the change.

“I started doing some yoga and meditation and read different scriptures.  I came to a crossroads.”

He was in a desperate quest to find himself, and the meaning of life. On summer break, he went to Europe. Atop a mountain in Crete, he received a message. Head to India. 

I was homeless but felt so much at home. — Radhanath Swami 

India

“When I arrived at the border it took six months. Now it takes eight hours on British Airways. But it’s not as scenic or life changing. I was emaciated when I arrived. I had 26 cents in five currencies.”

What’s more, he was denied entry to India. He was in a desolate area. There were problems between Pakistan and India. The border agent told him, “We have enough beggars in India.” 

Meanwhile, he pleaded. Begged. Got philosophical. “For six hours I sat under a tree and tried again. Finally, they put their guns in my face and said, ‘If you come back we will kill you.’” 

Those escapades and more make his first autobiography, “The Journey Home,” read like an adventure novel. 

Apparently, this kid from Chicago’s quest for knowledge wasn’t satisfied with school books. The journey within took him through much solitude.

He lived in caves. Under trees. In forests. “There was one baba and he used to sleep under trees too. And there’s a certain collegiate connection between people that live under trees,” he says. 

We lose ourself … with materialism and goals.— Radhanath Swami, author of The Journey Within, and The Journey Home

ISKCON Radhanath SwamiHe kept searching for answers. He came upon many so-called gurus. Finally, in Vrindavan, he found what seemed like the real source.  The journey within led him to Bhakti (devotion) and Srila Prabhupad of ISKCON. “I found a place I never wanted to leave. After about a year, it was discovered that my visa had expired. I was a fugitive and this agent was obsessed with finding me.”

His stories get crazier and crazier. Yet, they’re true.

One day, an animal pulled him into a sewer.  He got rabies. While that’s typically a nightmare, the series of shots required him to be under medical care. As a result, he was given legal medical papers. Especially relevant, he got his visa. 

Despite all his hurdles, he recounts them all with laughter.  Just after he returned back to Chicago, he learned he missed George Harrison and Ravi Shankar at the ashram.  

“When I finally did come home (after several years), I was a hard core ascetic. They (his parents) were confused.” By then, his traditional Jewish parents would have been happy if he had married a Muslim or African-American, he said. It wasn’t until many years later, with their son going back to India, that the gleaned the values of his newfound life. “Finally in 1989, they came to India for the first time and were totally transformed. They loved everything.”

Things can never give fulfillment to the heart — Radhanath Swami

Radhanath Swami, author of The Journey Within“The nature of life is a series of choices and every choice we make affects our destiny. In whatever situation we are in, we always have a choice of how we respond,” he says. His guru, Srila Prabhupad taught that a person’s greatness is not measured by wealth, land, beauty or athletic ability. Rather, greatness is measured by how one responds to challenging situations. 

“In all the great spiritual traditions, the real wealth is in our state of mind,” Radhanath Swami says.  You can tell how rich you are by counting how many things you have that money cannot buy. Peace. Love. These things bring purpose to life.”

In conclusion, we can all have what we need. It’s a state of mind. Hence, the journey within. 

* Part 1 and Part 2 are based on one of Radhanath Swami’s workshops in Chicago at Bhakti Fest. For the past four years, I’ve attended multiple workshops with him at each Bhakti Fest. To read more about his prior remarks, use this blog’s search engine.

Be The Change. Chant4Change.

Chant4Change with Gaura Vani

Chant4Change is a non-partisan, non-sectarian grass roots volunteer-based rally cry to uplift our nation, and put a halt to racism and terrorism. Chant4Change is uniting people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs through song, Saturday, October 8, 30 days prior to the presidential elections. Free, and open to the public, people from all political and religious beliefs are encouraged to come together and make a statement: Our nation is best served through peace and unity.

 Chant4ChangeChant4Change presents a multicultural, multi-denominational 10-hour festival of music and spirit at the Lincoln Memorial. In San Antonio, a three-hour satellite event dedicated to healing and uniting the nation through song, prayer and devotion will take place at The Union Hollywood Park.

At both, artists and spiritual leaders will perform sacred music and give talks countering the messages of hate and division that have dominated the 2016 election season.

In Washington, D.C., 20 musicians from across the country will engage thousands with their mantras and melodies. In San Antonio, Texas-based musicians who have toured extensively, will join local artists to spark renewed energy and positivity prior to the November election.

Gaura Vani and Chant4ChangeChant4Change was born from the visions of Gaura Vani, a master wordsmith and rhythm maker. At the recent Bhakti Fest in Chicago, he shared his goals for Chant4Change, which sparked the San Antonio mini-fest.

In his captivating manner, he told stories, recited poetry, and played the mridonga, harmonium and guitar as his clear booming voice chanted in many languages.

“I was born into his world like a baby with his eyes closed. But through grace, my guru has entered into my life like a magic physician. With the salve of knowledge I’m beginning to see.”

Gaura Vani and his musical partner, Visvambar Sheth (Vish), were ashram babies. They were born into the Vaishnava culture, singing in English and Sanskrit from early years. Equally comfortable in the States or India, and with the music of both continents. That is apparent when they get on stage and get into their music. While they may be defined as Kirtan artists, their repertoire includes a Brazilian samba tune and a Negro spiritual.

Chant4Change“Lord Chaitanya gives us four instructions,” said Gaura Vani at Bhakti Fest. Those rules are just as valid today as they were when he was on earth, many years ago. “One should be more tolerant than a tree. One should be more humble than a blade of grass. To give all respect to others, and not expect any in return.”

Gaura Vani’s chant fest is designed to boost unity in diversity, and stimulate tolerance and love for all humanity. Chanting is the vehicle for expression, for several reasons.

He explains, “Music for me is a gateway to another vision of reality, directly connected to spirit. When I write a song, I feel like it’s coming from another place, like I am channeling it. The purpose of life is to love and to serve all of God’s creatures. I am eager to share that world with my audience, and I am eager to build a community of unity and diversity.”

Chant4Change Breaks the Locks

Vish, who has a way with energizing crowds with his enthusiasm and his drum beats, confided, “I love to go where people don’t do chanting.”  He finds the experiences of newbies with chanting are like the “locks breaking away.”

“When you’re so excited about something, how do you keep it to yourself?” Asked Gaura Vani.

“We come into our lineage through Chaitanya maha prabhu (the great man). Sri Chaitanya broke all the barriers. Of class. Of religion. Chanting and dancing in the streets under Islamic rule. The love of God was being blocked. Like a dam,” he said, recounting the history of when Kirtan (singing and dancing) wasn’t allowed.Be The Change. Chant4Change.

“Whatever background you come from, we share this chanting as the love of God. We have locks like that on the chambers of our hearts and some of these locks have been around for more than one lifetime. We can’t figure out how to open them. We’ve lost the keys several lifetimes ago. This mantra is like WD40. Let’s spray it in there.”

Chant4Change’s rally cries, and hashtags are #RaiseYourVoice and #ManySongsOneVoice. Their ultimate message echoes Gandhi. Be The Change.

“Chant music can be a powerful force for change. To sing together, we have to listen to each other.  Music offers a way to come together and to listen.  Sacred song is such a central part of people’s struggle. The situation we are facing as a globe cannot be solved alone. We have to listen to one another.”

For more information on Gaura Vani, Vish, or Chant4Change, read prior blog posts on The Namaste Counsel.

Chant 4 Change Prior to Presidential Elections

Gaura_Vani_Vish_JaugernautsMany Songs, One Voice

Last October marked the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. The event, which took place at the Mall in Washington, D.C., was inspired to bring about spiritual renewal and empowerment. Organized by the Nation of Islam, an estimated 1.7 million Black men registered to vote as a result of the movement and messages.

This October 8, from 1 to 11 p.m., 30 days prior to what has been called the most important presidential election, another faith-based group is rallying at the nation’s capital, with satellite activities in other areas including San Antonio (read on). Chant 4 Change is non-denominational and non-partisan. The group is uniting voices from all cultures and religions to sing and speak out for the future of our nation.

Unity in Diversity at Chant 4 Change

Gaura Vani and the MayapurisCo-founder, Gaura Vani, wants to channel positive energy and musical vibrations to rewrite the narrative and steer people to a higher consciousness. “Like ringing alarms. The voice of the soul, lifted in song, can lift the tide. And with it all ships,” the poet/kirtaneer said as he invited yogis at Bhakti Fest in Chicago to join his wave.

Chant 4 Change’s seed was the enthusiasm for change in the days leading up to President Obama’s first inauguration.

“There was this movement in D.C.,” says Visvambhar (Vish) Sheth, a Chant 4 Change team member, and Gaura Vani’s recording partner in the Juggernauts and the Hanumen. “There were all these galas, but nothing for conscious communities. This year, we decided to hold Chant 4 Change 30 days before the elections, to empower the people. We all knew it was going to be a dirty fight. You can come from whatever your political inclination, or religious belief, or lack of belief. It’s about coming together and making a statement.”

modi on gandhiChant 4 Change Comes of Age

Eight years ago, the venue was a church. This year, Change 4 Change will be held at the Lincoln Memorial.

“Just the spot itself has so much historical influence. It feels very synchronistic,” says Vish about the monument from which Dr. King gave his indelible “I Have a Dream” speech.

Both Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were conveyors of dreams. Dreams of peace, respect for people from different socio-economic backgrounds, races and religions. Those messages seemed to have immense impact, yet, lately, there has been a shift. A regression.  Intolerance and prejudice are creeping back through the mud.

Vish, who studied religion in college, says music is a great platform to uplift and connect. Chant 4 Change unites artists and leaders from different world views and religions for ten hours, non-stop.

“We all have our call for peace. It’s the way to listen to each other. Hear each other,” he says.

Voices of Chant 4 Change

Vish, of the Mayapuris, leads Chant 4 ChangeGaura Vani and Vish will lead call and response chanting (Kirtan) pulling from their own diverse musical inventory. Their repertoire runs the gamut from Persian poetry, a Bosnian melody, Balinese and Mongolian chants, to reggae, samba, Americana and Negro spirituals.  Interfused with the wide variety of beats and languages, they belt out Indian bhajans and ragas. Both Vish and Gaura Vani are well versed in Sanskrit, and play harmonium and mridonga (Indian clay drum).

“More and more, this group is drinking from the wells of all the different traditions that praise God in their own tongues,” says Vish.

Jai Uttal and MC Yogi, both high profile musicians in the yoga communities, will fly in from California.  MC Yogi may be best known for his music video building off images and words from Gandhi’s “Be The Change” speech. Other Kirtan favorites include The Kirtan Rabbi, David Newman and Ajeet Kaur. Also flying in from the West Coast is guitarist Mikey Pauker, who writes in English, Hebrew and Sanskrit. Returning from a world tour will be Tina Malia, who has performed with India.Arie, Kenny Loggins and Bonnie Raitt.

Bridging to other cultural sounds are traditional Sufi musicians, Cherokee musician and healer Yona French Hawk, a trio led by sarod virtuoso Amjad Ali Khan and Sweet Honey in the Rock, a gospel ensemble that has advocated for social justice for 40 years.

Interfaith Messages at Chant 4 Change

Neem Karoli BabaAlso spreading messages of peace and unity will be religious and community leaders. An imam, buddhist teacher, law enforcement and Black Lives Matter representatives will give inspirational messages.  Radhanath Swami, author of “The Journey Home” and “The Journey Within,” will share words of wisdom about living an enlightened life. The boy from the Chicago suburbs who became a Vaishnava monk, the spiritual leader has written about how the false ego creates deception and misery.

“People acting under the false ego profoundly affect the people around them,” he says. “They divide us…they allow some of us to assume that we are more important than the rest of us…it leads to the desire to dominate and exploit others, and it can find reasons to justify almost anything.”

Vish says all world traditions basically encourage people to give up ego. Love for a higher being, or one’s tribe, is in every tradition. “The false ego is when you’re not willing to listen to anyone else. This event can really bring people to a place of listening to each other, and put the false identity aside. We want everyone to come as they are. Hindu. Jew. Christian. Non-believer. When you come together and chant, you are with everyone.  It’s serving a purpose that’s much higher than just myself.”

Dialogue at Chant 4 Change

The Hanumen lead Chant 4 ChangeChant 4 Change is about dialogue. The goal is to “bring all the community together and chant in their own tongues. We are afraid of each other because we don’t listen to each other. Communication is the key to understanding. What better way than music, which crosses borders, especially sacred music, coming from that place of commonalities.”

Gaura Vani and Vish are great ambassadors for this movement. They are both American born, with one foot deeply rooted in this culture, and another in the heritage, songs and traditions of India and the Vaishnava learnings. Their efforts to improve this nation emanate from their hearts. Their vehicles: music and words.

“Kirtan is chanting God’s name, from any tradition.  How purifying it is. Especially when sung in community. Both Gaura Vani and I grew up on the streets. Singing. Once on the subway in Boston, someone wrote on a piece of paper ‘get a life.’ This was all I know (singing). It’s who we are.  It inspires us. To hear people chant and praise God in their own tradition and language … that’s the beauty of Kirtan. We have so many names for the divine being in Sanskrit, but even more in all other traditions of the world.”

Get Involved with Chant 4 Change

Chant 4 Change is a grass roots volunteer-based rally cry. “We feel that the music and the chanting will really uplift the atmosphere, especially in the heart of this country,” states Vish. Buses of people from across the country will convene in D.C.  For those not able to get to D.C., they can tune in via live stream, hold local watch parties or host local Chant 4 Change events.

The Union Yoga StudiosSan Antonio will host its own event on Saturday, October 8 at The Union Yoga and Strength in at Northwoods Shopping Center, 18130 US-281, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Advaita Acharya Das, one of the local organizers, says, “This is an effort to raise consciousness with the effective way of Kirtan yoga, with no spectators — all participants. Let’s bring our voices as one in the most universal language, the language of the heart, or bhakti. No living entity is a stranger to affection and devotion. The Kirtan experience is home to all, delivering exactly the deepest sense of nurturing connection with all living. Kind of important right before this election of 2016, don’t you think?”

For San Antonio updates, visit my Facebook page. For more on the overall initiative, go to www.chant4change.com, Chant’s Facebook page, and Twitter #ManySongsOneVoice. To help offset expenses, donate at IndiGogo.

Network Tours to India

Spiritual Journeys to Magical India

“I am who I am and that is that.” Spiritual Journeys to the Rescue.

GuruGanesha Singh and Seal repeat that mantra in a song on one of my yoga playlists. I am who I am, in great part, due to my long-distance life experiences and spiritual journeys.

Travel can be life changing.  There’s nothing wrong with visiting family, enjoying a Broadway show, or basking on a beach. But, spiritual journeys can be more penetrating than a Club Med getaway.

Adventure of the Soul

Spiritual Travel to IndiaSome test their limits with skiing, marathons, hiking, biking, surfing or mountain climbing. Not as many stretch themselves  via spiritual journeys and explorations.

Network Tours and RetreaTours  are two go-to sources for the Chicken Soup for the Soul vacation.

James Aram is the North American representative for Network Tours, a company in India that organizes “spiritual adventures of a lifetime.” He says these trips provide for deeper longer-lasting experiences.

“Traditional tours showcase the best places of interest to tourists, locations of natural beauty and intriguing cultures. Spiritual tours are for people seeking to focus on deeper and more profound matters of the heart and soul. A traditional tour creates novel experiences… memories of lovely people, fascinating cultures, and beautiful places.  A spiritual tour leaves soul impressions in the receptive heart of the traveler pilgrim—impressions that transcend people, cultures, and places… soul-stirring impressions that last lifetimes,” explains James.

Life is an Exploration

Lauren Rathvon and her husband, BJ Graf, live wherever they lay down their suitcases. Exploration is the name of their game.  The ex-pats share that love of the world with others via RetreaTours, an enterprise that strives to create itineraries that are authentic, accessible, and affecting.

Spiritual Travel to India“We now explore every single day of the year, living and working in hotels and guesthouses around the world,” says Lauren. She raves about her partner in the gypsy life, saying BJ has “an unparalleled ability to connect to people of different cultures. My life’s work is to help facilitate personal growth and unpack otherwise overwhelming experiences,” she adds about the transformative spiritual journeys they offer.

Every day is a journey to understanding for Lauren and BJ. When they are not hosting a RetreaTour, they’re scoping out attractions, accommodations and meals so that they can act like home town hosts, pretty much anywhere in the world.

“We are passionate about demystifying and de-stressing international travel for our guests. We distill a well-rounded journey. We honor people’s time, energy, and money by consciously creating a meaningful experience for a good value.”

Both Network and RetreaTours specialize in spiritual journeys to India.

“There is no doubt that travel is transformative in and of itself, but traveling in India acts as a fantastic catalyst for rapid growth and change. In India, you experience new sights, sounds, colors, and smells, and it is this beautiful assault on the senses that can help transform mental and spiritual blockages and lead to breakthroughs,” says Lauren.

The Spirit of The Buddha and the Sikh’s Guru Nanak

RetreaTours in India

One of the most powerful spots for her travelers is Ladakh, in northern India. “Ladakh is said to be more Tibetan than Tibet. Steeped in rich and colorful Tibetan Buddhism and set in a high altitude desert moonscape, Ladakh can seem a world away.”

BJ discovered the beauty and soul of Ladakh more than 20 years ago. Furthermore, given his long-standing  relationships with monks here, RetreaTours’ spirit seekers are invited into their monasteries, ancient temples, and even homes and dining tables.
RetreaTours in India

“Because we go slow and get beyond the superficial, guests have a chance to engage the culture and, more importantly, the people,” she says. “You can read books and blogs all day, but it’s only when you engage with a person of different beliefs and value systems that true understanding and compassion can be accomplished.”

Another magical spot for RetreaTourists is Amritsar. About 220 miles from Ladakh, as the crow flies, Amritsar is home of the Golden Temple, a Sikh treasure in the state of Punjab.

“The gentle strength of this religion and people affect our guests profoundly. Many of our guests take advantage of the opportunity to volunteer at the temple, which feeds over 100,000 pilgrims for free on a daily basis. Putting their compassion in action makes for a lasting impression.”

Traveling in the Footsteps of Giants

Visit the Beatles ashram in IndiaNetwork Tours offers a dozen spiritual journeys in India. Adventurers can follow in the footsteps of the Buddha, Yogananda — even the Beatles.  Network’s Magical Mystery Tour takes visitors through the Himalayas from Rishikesh to Jaipur with a stop at The Beatles Ashram, the former Maharishi Mahesh ashram that inspired the White Album, and turned the lives around for the Fab Four and friends.

In addition, there’s a five-day pre-tour that can be combined with the nine-day Magical Mystery Tour in February. The extension includes time at Neem Karoli Baba’s ashram. Babaji was the guru of many kirtan musicians and Ram Dass, the former Harvard professor and author of “Be Here Now.” Led by a musician, this tour offers nightly Beatles concerts to immerse ones senses even more fully.

Spiritual journeys to IndiaJames says that everyone, regardless of their knowledge of yoga or level of devotion, will reap lasting value from an incredible India spiritual journey.

“The attentive and alert traveler will find value and meaning in any well-organized tour,” says James. “To make it truly memorable, however, one must enter into such a tour with open heart, honest mind, and no preconceived expectations—other than to expect the unexpected, especially in India.”

“The essence of India is her spirituality. If one looks beyond the country’s many social and material challenges, the true pilgrim cannot help but be touched by the palpable threads of devotion and reverence for the Divine that are woven through the fabric of the Indian culture. India’s charming, hospitable people and her remarkable art and architecture will captivate the traveler, but it is her spiritual essence that calls the devotee-pilgrim back.”

Saints, Sages and Service

 Spiritual journeys to IndiaA tour of South India’s temples begins November 28 in Chennai with stops in 16 towns in several states. As part of that 20-day exploration, Network Tours’ travelers will visit the ashrams of Ramana Maharishi, Sri and Mother Aurobindo and Amma, the hugging saint. To balance out the spiritual side, there will be time at beaches, tea plantations, river rides on the incredible backwaters and Ayurvedic spa treatments.

“The soul impressions received while on pilgrimage only serve to deepen one’s devotion already brought to the tour. The vibrations of sites-visited and holy ground walked-on inspire the devotee’s greater spiritual growth and understanding,” adds James.

Network supports an NGO which assists in the education of underprivileged children in India. Karma yoga/seva (selfless service) is often woven into tours.

“Travel in new lands inspires a self-confidence that translates to every other facet of life.” — Lauren Rathvon

RetreaTour’s Spiritual Journeys

Among her upcoming spiritual journeys in India is a Cultural Tour, November 6-19, 2016 that spans five classical Indian cities in the north.  Then, The Pulse of RishLadakhikesh, February 5-13, 2017 and Live Beyond Your Borders, March 20-April 2, 2017. Next, two summertime adventures are The Ladakh Experience,  June 26-July 6, 2017, and Highest Self in the Himalayas, July 9-22, 2017.

“People bring their own cultural mindsets and containers on these tours, but inevitably those containers get filled with the bounty of love and wisdom from the local culture and religion. No matter the lens through which they are viewing the trip, our guests are able to receive insight that they can apply to their own lives. Of course, the goal is to drop the lens altogether,” says Lauren.

For more spiritual journeys to India, led by people I know, read https://thenamastecounsel.com/2648-2/ and https://thenamastecounsel.com/spiritual-journey-to-india/.