What’s so Special About Bhakti Yoga?

Why is Bhakti yoga special? Hidden from the glamour of the modern yoga world, you won’t find it in the insta-famous posts of sexy bendy bods, and it isn’t intelligent or scientific.

Except that it is.

Because all yoga is experimental. And Bhakti lets us experiment with a phenomenon that we’re just waking up to as a species- emotional intelligence.

Bhakti means “attachment” and what is the most sticky thing we deal with as humans? Emotions!

To practice bhakti means tying these emotions to a deep and profound sense of Unconditional Belonging. The god embrace that can hold every raw part of you…it can be romantic but it expands beyond that.

Do you have a relationship with god? What does it look like?
Divine guidance
synchronicities
the heart’s intelligence
grace
the unknown
truth
reality
mystical inner knowing(?)

The tendency is to forget the above, project attachment onto other humans and call it love. It becomes a struggle of tension & release, attach & let go. Bhakti gives a path to transform that.

You still play the game but now it’s with god.

No single human is capable of holding all of another human and no single human can outrun or hide from true belonging. We have it all backwards.

We’re better off being suffocated by the divine embrace and loosening up/ breathing fresh air into the human embrace.

Bhakti lets us study our relationship w/ the divine, not just as observer but as lover, friend, student, teacher, servant, devotee, daughter, son, father, mother, sister, brother- by jumping in and feeling this relationship.

By experiencing it directly through chanting, bhava (devotional mood), contemplation of sacred objects, and sharing stories, symbolism of Indian wisdom tradition, we become scientists of our heart, practitioners of devotion, communicators with spirit, and we access Unconditional Belonging.

If you’d like to explore this heart opening path join me November 23rd for a Bhakti Workshop “Chanting from the Heart” where we’ll dive into bhakti practices & literature. Running a special for folks who register now through Nov 22- bring a friend for free!❤️ link to register: https://www.lotuscounselwellness.com/workshops

It’s All Happening!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign and pre-ordered Nourishment, an album of mantra songs for unity consciousness. We surpassed the goal and the album has been set to be recorded at LaLa Land Studio Dec 6-10! If you missed out on the crowdfunding, pre-orders are still possible! Simply email me at hello@kirtantara.com.

Help Fund a Woman Produced Kirtan Album

Music dissolves barriers.  It gives power to people who feel powerless.  It increases empathy, and allows for safe expression of emotions. I believe we need that more than ever in the world now.

Leading group chanting has put me in a unique position to witness people suddenly feeling safe, trusting each other again, and perceiving the world from a place of love, not fear. 

Through grace, I was able to experience this feeling myself, during a trip to India & London last year. 

Through Nourishment, my vision is to honor India’s ancient tradition of mantra repetition & sonic mysticism in a creative way that’s aligned with a jazz/ rock/ hill country background. You can also think of it as an offering of interactive chanting experiences for anyone who wants to elevate their mood & access unity consciousness through music.  

Oh and did I mention there’s going to be a powerhouse of women creating this record?

It is important to me this album convey to the listener a sense of shared power/ global community that feels safe and loving and transmits universal belonging.

In order to make this happen I need your support.  

For anyone who contributes to the making of ”Nourishment” I’ll reciprocate with these gifts, from my heart to yours:  original lyric/ chant-along books, handcrafted wire wrap pendants, oracle readings, original poetry, and downloads of the album on plantable seed paper bookmarks(!!) All of these you can view here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tarakimes/nourishment-a-kirtan-album

If you believe nourishing music & unity consciousness is a good thing for the world, please donate generously to this modest budget.  The way kickstarter works is all or nothing- either I make the goal and the album gets made or all money is refunded.  Let’s go all in and see this come to fruition!

Can You OD on Kirtan?

This morning I received a message on social media from a man warning me that several of his friends had ‘OD-d’ on kirtan & that I needed to be careful and stay balanced. Although it caught me off guard (I’m pretty confident I’m grounded with this devotional stuff) the urgent tone of his message got me thinking.

It’s true that kirtan, devotional worship, & states of bhakti yoga brings a certain “high.” Some saints in India reached such ecstatic states that their body suddenly started jumping and prancing around with the boundless energy of a child. Others neglected their body altogether, stopped eating and let bugs feed on their arms. These saints had to be looked after by attendants. Still, these are rare cases.

On the other hand, to compare a yogi’s state of devotion to drug overdose is a bit extreme and insensitive to the fact that drug addiction & overdosing is fatal, a serious epidemic in society. The emotional highs of Bhakti/ spirituality ‘addiction’ are generally healthy and certainly not lethal.

Anyone who’s a passionate person knows we get thrown off balance from time to time. If going overboard on bhakti/ devotion does become unhealthy, it can be kept in check…here is a little list of lessons I learned & some grounding/ balancing habits to keep devotion healthy:

  1. Learn the symbology of all the deities and their stories. Figure out what the symbols mean to you & apply the meaning to your life. Be a scientist about it. (Watch Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth”!)
  2. Don’t idolize gurus. Watch their videos, read their books, sure. But don’t project god onto them or worship them as if they’re better than you. So many of these gurus are eventually exposed as power abusive. The question I keep asking is why can’t these supposedly ‘humble’ teacher-rock stars let go of power once they have it, or steer it toward the greater good of everyone, and most of all why can’t they admit their faults and be transparent? The only one I’ve found who does is Matt Kahn.
  3. Go hiking and notice that god is all around you in the trees and wildlife and water. Pray to & give thanks to that.
  4. Listen to your body. Eat meat if your body needs it.
  5. Don’t be celibate unless you feel a lot of support and love in that lifestyle. Do it if you genuinely resonate with it. (Tantric celibacy is a more grounded alternative)
  6. Chant mantras/ do japa meditation because you want to, it feels good to your soul, not because you think you should.
  7. If you travel to India do lots of research first. Have a purpose & some goals, know the details of your itinerary, and if possible go with a group that has decades of experience facilitating group trips to India.
  8. Make peace with money. Don’t go into debt for spiritual ‘trainings’. Instead contemplate the natural abundance of your soul. See material abundance as an extension of that- money is ok and healthy. Compassionately earned & spent money is spiritual. It’s greed that’s bad, not wealth.
  9. Keep a sense of humor about spirituality. (Watch Matt Kahn videos on youtube!)
  10. Read, read, read! Seek out facts and when reading spiritual teachers’ opinions or experiences, choose for yourself what to believe/ how to perceive it. Form your own ideas.
  11. Approach the spiritual path casually. Read a lot of different teachers. Try different paths. Go at it in baby steps. Do 10 min. of daily practice instead of giving your life to an ashram. Casualness is a healthy antidote to extremism.
  12. Be in the modern world. Take breaks from the spiritual life and watch HBO. Hang with your family. Read the news. Listen to mainstream music. Be less perfect, more human. Trade in all the rituals and self-righteousness for some good old self-compassion!

Just the viewpoint of a westerner. Thanks for reading😊

4 Beautiful Reasons To Fall in Love With Chanting

A few days ago while on a job interview my I looked down & noticed my thumb shaking. In the past this would have spiraled me into more anxiety. But this time I had a relaxation tool- japa meditation (silent repetition of a mantra). Quietly to myself I repeated my mantra and I watched in amazement as my thumb went completely still in under 10 seconds.

This got me reflecting on everything that’s happened since kirtan & chanting entered my life 2 decades ago, and what’s possible when you deepen your practice. Here are four reasons to fall in love with chanting:

1) Chanting turns down anxiety & ruminating, turns up relaxation

Science has found one of the benefits of japa/ chanting is it prolongs the exhale breath. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) which triggers our bodies to relax. Relaxing turns down fear & ruminating.

It’s an amazing experience when you watch your thoughts merge with a mantra and transform into subtle energy, then dissolve entirely. It happens to me often and leaves me feeling soothed, sometimes even euphoric.

Repeating mantra can guide the mind to that relaxing place- like the sun after a storm or an island in the ocean- we come to a safe harbor. We keep redirecting scattered, fear-based thoughts back to the mantra & guide the lost/ ego part of ourselves back to the loving, relaxed part of ourselves.

2) Chanting helps us remember our primal connection.

Group chanting grounds us into to our bodies. It restores our sense of togetherness, blurs boundaries and wakes us up to a deep sense of what we’ve forgotten- that we all share this earth.

Kirtan (group call & response chanting of sacred Sanskrit mantras of India) is a doorway to this primal connection, with its hand drumming & beautiful tones of the mridanga, group chanting, clapping & dancing, & collective vocalizing of sounds which themselves are innately divine (filled with god/ the Self/ source/ love.) The repetition of these sounds truly brings us back to earth and each other.

Eternal Health Yoga Studio, Louisville KY

3) Chanting is a way to recharge our vitality

Chanting connects you to the breath & prana. Prana, first mentioned in the ancient Hindu texts the Upanishads, means life force, energy, or vitality. It is said to permeate everything in existence & originate from the sun.

Health professionals agree that being ‘plugged in’ all the time and using the artificial energy of caffeine and sugar is unhealthy for the nervous system. Chanting recharges our energy naturally by aligning us with prana.

It truly is a practice that plugs us back into the true source of our energy- the radiance of stillness/ peace that is often neglected in modern culture.

4) Chanting helps you align with love

One of the most satisfying things I’ve experienced from bhakti yoga has been integrating with a bigger, vast boundless love. This love can soothe an inflamed ego, soften a mind that takes itself too seriously, and shift irritability into comedy. It has held me even when I was in my neediest, raw, unloveable states.

What a game changer to consciously realize you are worthy of love even while feeling unloveable. John Lennon’s lyric from his beautiful song ‘Love’ comes to mind: ‘Love is is wanting to be loved.’

Codependency can actually be channeled toward a higher purpose in chanting. You can direct all your attachment toward god/ your higher self. We so often place that on another human being. When you instead give it over to source/ boundless love it can transform you!

This is the path bhakti offers.

Thanks for reading 😊

Meeting My Inner Parvati

My first night in Mudhuban, India a deep emotion struck me. As everyone entered the room & gathered for kirtan, some people in the group sat far off to the left and a few others together to the right but no one had chosen to sit next to me. It was a familiar theme.

Space. That space all around me that had so often in my life felt symbolic of being unwanted or unlovable.

Just as that feeling was sinking in, the retreat facilitators made an announcement that us women would need to cover our head with a scarf the next day on our hike to meet Babaji, the 99 year old baba who lived in a cave; he had requested it.

Here we go again, another version of being not good enough. Even in a cave, with the most socially detached, free human being, I have to cover up, hide a part of me. Why couldn’t I be free too? I couldn’t contain the tears of frustration.

So I was crying a river quietly to myself hoping no one would notice. I just shut my eyes and kept blowing my nose on my scarf. Then the chanting started. For almost the entire part of the first song I felt restricted at the throat/unable to sing. I decided to just politely listen to everyone else.

I let the mantra sink in…a chant to shiva. Shiva, the all-pervading presence, the space that everything exists in. Shiva…the essence of all the spiritual teachings I’d followed from my youth up to this point- Mooji, Papaji, Ramana, Gangaji- they all begged the question “Who am I?”

Was I this intense tearful choked up state? No, it existed in me. Was I this sense of unworthiness? No, I was something bigger. Suddenly the energy shifted. I silently merged with the bigger me…shiva…that Self, that presence, the witness. I surrendered.

The more I let go the further I expanded as the witness. I lovingly observed my body sitting there, overwhelmed with emotion. To my surprise that little bit of space did it. My voice mystically freed up on its own and sang out.

After the kirtan ended, so did my transcendent moment. During the walk back to our ashram rooms I experienced the group talking in front of me, walking up ahead. There it was– space. This time I smiled and took it in deeply.

The space all around me now felt healthy…the medicine of shiva energy showing up for me. I hadn’t recognized it earlier in my unloveable/ victim-inflamed state.

The one thing nobody tells you about kirtan is it’s not always bliss. Rather, it provides the spaciousness & uplifting energetic current needed to process dark & vulnerable emotions in a healthy, gentle way.

Bhakti doesn’t require you to be all ‘love & light.’ It requires you to have the courage to be vulnerable.

As for covering up my hair with a scarf- doing it ironically ‘uncovered’ some of my arrogance. I had first dramatized and victimized it as ‘oppression.’ Later a more relaxed, wise perspective emerged & I wrote this in my journal:

To cover my head isn’t to be oppressed. Or a victim. It’s to humble myself a little. Be open to another, older, ancient culture that I don’t understand.

I contemplated masculinity and femininity:

A woman covering up her hair is beautification…a ritual to respect/ honor natural femininity, the mystery, which is to be hidden! (Think of how our bodies exist in nature- a woman’s sexual anatomy is hidden whereas a man’s just hangs out there.) Femininity, in its truest form, is hidden, potent, magical. From that perspective, to cover up is self-respect…symbolic of respecting the sacred, divine mystery of womanhood. Covering up is powerful!

I don’t know if it was all that shiva medicine coming through the vibration of the foothills of the Himalayas, or my own optimism, maybe a little of both. But the theme of this initiation had become clear. It was time to drop the outer shell of unworthiness and meet my inner Parvati.

A Chanting Exercise

Here’s a video you can practice along with to get into a a fluid motion of chanting bij mantras (Sanskrit seed syllables) with mudras (hand gestures). It’s peaceful, invigorating & fun to do out in nature! The hand gestures aren’t required…I am just attempting to recreate what I saw a guy do in on a youtube video. At any rate it feels good to feel all that prana flow!

Starting at root:

LAM

VAM

RAM

YAM

HAM

OM

I am chanting each of these seed syllables (bij mantra) with its corresponding chakra (energy centers) in the body. For the last 2 chakras (third eye & crown) you can chant OM.

Try it & feel how your voice, the sound vibrations, the energy & your body interact!

Benefits:

  • access more vitality in the body
  • relieve stress
  • get a sense of peace
  • relief from monkey mind/ obsession/ ruminating
  • strengthens the voice
  • puts you in touch with your unique self-expression
  • liberating
  • can serve as a daily meditation practice

Questions to ask yourself after:

  1. What emotions came up after this practice?
  2. Which sound was I most drawn to?
  3. Where in my body did I feel the sound resonate the most?
  4. How is my speaking voice sounding/ feeling?
  5. What happens if I do this practice right before work? Before I go to bed? In the morning?