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

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!

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.

Why I Love Hindu Deities

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I saw god as an old man in the sky with a white beard & white robe. God didn’t feel safe, fun, or loving. He felt…distant, unknown, scary.

My few attempts at churchgoing were met with ‘Sure you can join us as long as you believe Jesus Christ is THE ONLY way!” That intuitively didn’t feel right. Yeah, Jesus is great but he’s not THE ONLY path.

My inner child needed something that felt playful & magical…something I could relate to, talk to, feel safe with. Because let’s face it, as a kid I got more of a sense of the divine from gazing at the moon & watching The Last Unicorn than I did praying to god.

Luckily I found the Hindu deities.

Imagine if instead of a scary white-bearded old man in the sky you got to hang out with a young, dark haired flute player living in the forest. What if his love was so boundless he encouraged you to feel free, feel joy, dance, always be in the right place at the right time, and constantly follow your bliss? This is Krishna.

Imagine if god was A WOMAN- one with such beauty that you you felt yourself soften and radiate peace while with her…you felt delighted in just being in her presence, and she invited you to sit with her as she lovingly poured coins & flower petals into your lap. This is the Hindu goddess Lakshmi:

What if god was a fiery goddess riding a tiger, who taught you how to stand up for yourself & believe in yourself? A goddess so fearless you could win any battle with her by your side? This is Ma Durga:

Or a pristine, mystical flowing river goddess who played the most beautifully sounding ancient stringed instrument called the veena as she sang to you & revealed to you the purest, most inspired music? Meet Saraswati:

What if god was a yogi with dreadlocks who you met in the forest? While sitting in meditation he welcomed even outcasts and criminals, gave them blessings on their spiritual journey and taught them about transformation & how to not be scared of change? That’s Shiva.

What if god was an elephant who rode a mouse(!) and lovingly helped you overcome obstacles? When I sit at my altar and look at my Ganesh murti I can’t help but feel a solid feeling of joy. Jai Ganesha!

Then there’s Hanuman, the half-monkey half-man who loves you so much he does all kinds of magical things to assist you on your journey.

And then there’s Kali. Ok…she may be seen by some as the villain in this fairytale. She’s the one with the skulls around her neck…but actually those skulls represent the disillusionment & death of our ego. She gives us a compassionate blow to our ego to instantly humble us, which is one of the most motherly & protective acts of love because she simply won’t let you walk the planet deluded.

She is actually in her truest sense, time. So instead of Father Time we have Ma Kali. And time can terrify us because it ages us and will one day take our bodies away. However to come out of denial of that truth is a powerful teaching that can lead us to freedom so we can experience more joy while in these bodies. I have heard her described as “scary to our ego but like air to our true self.”

And the best part about all these deities is they coexist in a unique kind of cosmic harmony. I love watching Hindu movies that show all the deities hanging out together, holding meetings, making decisions about how to save the planet or who will reincarnate as who. It shows that god can be a colorful cast of characters who love us, play with us, are fun to hang out with, and who keep it real.

Just the opinion of a westerner. 🙂

Thanks for reading.

The Power of Chanting

My first time chanting was mystical. I was about 22, had been woken up at 5am and led out in the Arizona desert with 50 women on a white tantra retreat called “Womanheart”. Surrounded by the red rocks & beautiful music playing in the background, we chanted together “wahe guru, wahe guru, wahe guru, wahe jio…”. The sun rose slowly in front of our eyes…every woman around me looked radiant. We all felt so powerful and so loving toward each other. It was incredible. It changed me.

The second time I understood the power of chanting was when, in my 20s, I lived in a community house in Phoenix. We would have Sunday potlucks & a big drum jam out on the land. Some of the women would start chanting Native American prayers like “earth water fire air, we are everywhere!” and “mother I feel you under my feet, mother I feel your heartbeat.” And then the group would chime in. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. It felt like an ancient memory stored deep in my cells was waking up. Like I had done this before.

The third time was when I attended an all night event facilitated by a traveling spiritual teacher from India & her devotees. That was my first introduction to Hindu chanting, Bhakti & kirtan. The sounds of sitar and tablas were completely mesmerizing, the chanting went on all night, and the energy in that room was the most safe, loving & alive energy I’ve ever felt. The kirtan truly nourished my spirit. It was the only time I’ve been able to stay up all night and somehow feel like I was well rested. I’ll never forget it.

Now, after being a kirtan drummer & helping lead kirtan at a local yoga studio for 5 years, doing workshops with kirtan artists Jai Uttal & David Newman, and even taking a trip to India to meet other bhaktas, I’m starting to figure out why I want to teach mantra yoga, chanting & share kirtans.

Chanting opens the heart, brings transformative energy into our lives, makes us feel connected & safe in a sacred space, and that, in my opinion, is what’s missing in our culture. People coming together in a shared space, letting go of their hang ups and ideals that society has imposed on them, & using that sense of shared liberation to experience boundless energy, that they can take into their own lives & apply to themselves and hopefully make the world a better place.

I hope to bring a happy, sattvic vibration to people through kirtan, and to lead them to a place of harmony. Chanting has brought me a happy heart, good health, a joyful life, and at times even liberation. Mostly, it’s made me a better person.

Now it’s time to give back.

Wahe guru, om shanti, Hare Krishna & Jai ma!

Thanks for reading 🙂