The eight branches of yoga don’t seem to be growing equally in Texas. Austin is yoga (asana) heaven. I have two spots that I enjoy for group meditation, and there are plenty of organizations and places for karma yoga (selfless service) or seva.
But Bhakti (devotion) hasn’t gotten to Main Street yet. This weekend, March 13-15, Bhakti lovers will be in for a special treat as Jai Uttal, Bhakti Yoga elder and world music pioneer, flies in from California to offer an Awakening Bhakti Retreat and public concert at the beautiful Radha Madhav Dham Temple on Austin’s far southwest side. Accompanying him on mridanga (drums), from Miami, will be Dharma Dev Das.
A fan from Los Angeles, Valli Herman, sums up the bhakti experience with Jai. “Not all musicians can give you a sense that they are part of their music, not just performers. Jai Uttal takes you inside his music and transforms the experience of it from listening to feeling it.”
Jai is an American-born musician who has been leading Kirtans worldwide for more than 30 years. The Grammy nominee combines the sounds, beats and instruments of India with American rock and jazz, in a manner that engages the audience to become participants in the call and response chanting typical of kirtan.
When I was first exposed to the eight branches of yoga, I was told that kirtan was the hardest for people to adopt. And, the hardest to live without.
I usually practice asanas for several hours a day, and try to include breath work and meditation. Those three yoga branches are the ones that I need to “practice.” Kirtan, however, is in my blood. It infuses my life. It beams from my car’s speakers. It’s embedded in each of my 50+ music playlists. I don’t need to turn anything on or off. The mantras are on re-play in my head, and there’s nothing more liberating than belting them out with my eyes open, or closed.
As a yoga therapist, I enjoy including Kirtan’s healing chants in my therapeutic sessions. I recognize the value, especially for those who may be challenged with addictions or lack of self-love or self-confidence. Burdens that so many of us share can be relieved through the sounds of mantra.
“These ancient chants contain a transformative power and healing energy,” says Jai. “By singing these prayers we join a stream of consciousness and devotion that has been flowing for centuries.”
“Kirtan is a vessel that can hold love, longing, union, separation, lust, despair, mourning, anger, hate, sadness, ecstasy, and oneness,” he adds. “Powered by the fire of these emotions … In lightness, in darkness, in despair, in joy we sing the names…Kirtan is food for the spirit, a life raft of song.”
I’ve heard Jai perform, live, multiple times, and I have several of his CDs. His music pulls you in. It’s mesmerizing. Whether it’s the soft sounds of the Twameva prayer, the stirring string vibrations of Nataraj, or a funkier rhythmic version of Govinda Govinda Gopala, even the kirtan novices won’t be able to stop following him. His two latest releases, “Life Line” and “Return to Shiva Station,” are absolutely beautiful, must haves for any music lovers’ collection. http://jaiuttal.com/store/
Jai’s weekend visit to Austin is in conjunction with Bhakti Masala. Retreat coordinator and student, Gabriela Masala comments, “Retreats with Jai are like playdates, rich with laughter, joy, music, devotion, Satsung and remembrance. Kirtan is sanctuary for the soul, and the intimate retreat setting with Jai is among the most potent transmissions of the true heart of Bhakti I have ever experienced.”
While the public concert is almost sold out, there is space at the Retreat (Friday evening through Sunday noon) for both commuters and overnight guests. If you are longing to steep in devotional song and heart centered community, with a Bhakti gem of a mentor, register at http://www.bhaktimasala.com/jai-uttal-in-austin.html http://jaiuttal.com/store/
Bhakti Masala events take place in the Lotus Hall at the Hindu temple located at 400 Barsana Road, in Austin, TX. Established in 1990, Radha Madhav Dham is the largest Hindu temple and ashram in the U.S. It was built to preserve the devotional environment that prevailed in the ancient ashrams of Vrindavan, India.
For more on Jai, visit www.jaiuttal.com; read multiple articles about kirtan, bhakti and chanting on previous posts at http://thenamastecounsel.com/yoga-blog/