Govind Das and Radha are the owners of Bhakti Yoga Shala in Santa Monica, the only yoga center in Southern California that’s centered around bhakti (devotion). They are a husband and wife team that infuses music, heart, and soul, into their yoga practices, and they are forever favorites at the three Bhakti Fest events held each year
From Sept. 10 through 13, at Bhakti Fest West in Joshua Tree, Calif., the pair will lead daily bhakti yoga vinyasa flow sessions. That last day, Govind Das will add on a workshop just for men. As musical partners, they will perform on the main stage Sept. 11, and head the All-Star Jam Sept. 13. If that weren’t enough, on Monday, Sept. 14, Govind Das and Radha will lead a four-hour post-festival intensive.
It’s a yogi’s heaven on earth. One can get overwhelmed with the unlimited choices of yoga instructors and more than 60 “conscious workshops.” Perhaps the biggest draw is the endless parade of live kirtan musicians on two stages, and live music played during many yoga classes.
Steve Rubin, of Sincere Yoga in Orlando, Fla., has traveled several times from Central Florida to Joshua Tree for the yoga/kirtan-a-thon. “It’s an awesome event for sure, perhaps the biggest of its kind with all music being kirtan or closely related,” says Rubin. “It’s just a cool vibe to submerge yourself in, and be deep in the bhav from dancing and singing divine names with such a large group.”
The festival will feature daily yoga classes in three separate areas from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., facilitated by highly recognized teachers including Shiva Rea, Sianna Sherman, Saul David Raye, Yogi Cameron, Mark Whitwell, Kia Miller, Joan Hyman, Derek Beres, Sean Johnson, Bhava Ram, Missy Balsam, Erica Burkhalter, and Govind Das and Radha. Additionally, there are five workshop halls or tents, a family circle area, and a few poolside yoga offerings.
Govind Das and Radha, who are accomplished musicians and kirtan recording artists, will have their full band accompanying them in their daily yoga classes. Their style is a blend of meditation, dance, breathwork, and vinyasa flow strung together in both an invigorating and restorative manner.
“We love kirtan, and we love yoga. We had learned them as separate modalities. And we said, ‘Why can’t we integrate them together?’ We created this format, this adventure, this mandala of what we call kirtan vinyasa. We intentionally hope to give the practitioner an experience of authentic bhakti … devotion and spiritual awakening.”
“They’re very different than what most get (at their home studios). There is so much of a celebration aspect with the divine, live music, dancing, community. Come with an open mind and an open heart and let the magic happen.”
It’s clear that Bhakti Fest is just a much a part of Govind Das and Radha’s essence as is bhakti itself. Govind Das, about Bhakti Fest, says, “I consider Joshua Tree the vortex. Just being there will begin to literally recalibrate your being and reorganize it. Relax and feel your way into the journey. Let yourself flow into a vast ocean of love. A field of unified energy. Let it unwind you. Let it be a tool. An opportunity to come back to your essence.”
He also gives some practical advice, like be prepared for the heat and hydrate yourself in the desert. That’s actually not hard, as Bhakti Fest has watering stations and an outstanding array of vegetarian, vegan, raw, and gluten-free organic food options on-site. The “food court” is set next to one of the music stages, so you don’t have to miss out on the kirtan beat as you nourish yourself. The larger, main stage, which accommodates several thousand, is surrounded by dozens of vendors selling deities, yoga wear, essential oils, henna tattoos, hydrating drinks, and pretty much any kirtan CD produced under the sun.
Speaking of which, dark mesh tenting covers the main stage, to provide shading as people tend to hang out here all day and night. The main stage music begins at 8 a.m. and winds down around 4 a.m.
Shyamdas was one of the souls behind Bhakti Fest. He led the All-Star Jams until he passed away a few years ago. Since then, Govind Das has taken his place, flanked by a sea of kirtan artists and bhaktas.
“It’s the magic where all the Bhakti Fest instructors, kirtan artists, and workers come together, on the stage, and do one final chant together,” says Govind Das. “Each person gets the opportunity to lead the chant. All the musicians play. It’s a celebration of all our efforts. An offering of love and gratitude to all the students and participants that were there. We collectively join in as a big huge team. It’s a beautiful thing. Bhakti Fest is a tremendous amount of collaboration, so we’re celebrating that.”
Once it’s over, it’s not really over. Bhakti Fest offers pre- and post-intensive. Govind Das and Radha are leading an intensive that coincides with a new moon, and Rosh Hashanah. They call it The Bhakti Awakened Heart New Moon Satsang, Kirtan and Practice. The post-festival half-day workshop is designed to incorporate all the positive learnings, and energy, from the festival, and help attendees keep that expression in their daily lives.
Govind Das explains what the new moon and the Jewish New Year have in common. “When we leave Bhakti Fest it’s a new beginning. A doorway into a new life. A rebirth. The community and the spiritual awakenings can be so profound. We come in one person and leave another person. To me, that’s what Rosh Hashanah is all about. We can rewrite the story of our lives.”
Their session will include live music, yoga flow, journaling, walking meditation, affirmations and teachings from the sages.
Govind Das says the workshop is “an opportunity to get really clear and intentionalize who we want to step into this next chapter of our lives as. What does that best version of our life look like? It’s a powerful time of integration. A time to reflect. A little space to very smoothly and intentionally integrate what we felt, heard, and experienced, and find the place of balance.”
Govind Das repeats a quote from Swami Satchidananda: When we reorganize from the inside, the universe reorganizes from the outside. Start anew.