The Namaste Counsel


Kirtan Music for my Soul: Bhakti Fest

Clean, tranquil harmony, with full-throttled energy.

The kirtan music on instant replay in my dreamland is by Sean Johnson and The Wild Lotus Band.  Sean owns a yoga studio in New Orleans but he and Gwendolyn with Alvin on bass and guitar, tour the U.S. to share their spirit and love. Basically, all things bhakti (devotion) is one of the main reasons why I head to Bhakti Fest today. Sean usually gets a packed house there, and tomorrow, I’m attending a full day/night workshop with Sean, that I expect will keep my vata ADHD brain focused.

Traditional yoga doesn’t call for a banjo, but I thrive on beats and vocals meshed with my practice. As a yoga teacher, my music is a big influence on my sequences. The music sets the stage. My backdrop for a gentle yoga class is far different from that of my hot vinyasa, and within each playlist, I have crescendos and cooldowns, not unlike a 20-minute kirtan song.

Surfer girl and world traveler, Liz, always asks me about my music. Sometimes, even when she’s deep in a down dog or pigeon.  “I come as much for the music as for the yoga,” she admits. “It’s the most relaxing thing for me at the end of a hard day.  I look forward to it all day.”  She tells me that I turn her on to new music, from around the globe.

My Eclectic Playlists

I love mixing genres (and languages) in each of my 70+ yoga playlists. I juxtapose Idan Raichel, Nelly Furtado and Latif Bolat. Sade, Ana Moura, and Prem Joshua. Mary J Blige, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Sean Johnson. Last night’s class mixed Enya, Sarah McLachlin, and Krishna Das. This morning’s was Jimmy Cliff, Ziggy Marley, Joan Baez, and the Fugees.

Sean’s music must have been ringing in my head because I have three wild Wild Lotus playlists that energize or challenge my students. I want my yoginis to feel the flow of the enchanting beats and mantras belted out by the band. I weave the tunes together in my sequence structure like Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” Start off nice and easy, then get rough during steamy flows, long-held planks, or floating chaturangas.

Valli says Sean’s music is better than a coffee pick-me-up. She heard this cajun kirtan music at Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree last year. “I’m now completely addicted to his CD,” she says. “It starts my every morning!” She also claims that his music can right her wrong moods, any time.

One of my hot power yoga students, a 20-year yogi mom named Laura, enjoyed the lyrics from a Wild Lotus CD.  “Recognizing some of the mantras allowed me to deepen my practice spiritually…perfect integration for practices rooted in vinyasa.”

Stephanie said “Devaloka” helped her to be present. A mother to what she says “feels like ten kids,” she tries to de-stress at my lunchtime yoga session. The vibrations of the Lotus Band helped to keep her mind from racing.  “Devakinanda Gopala,” with evocative beautiful call and response from Sean and Gwendolyn and tender acoustic strumming by Alvin, was her lullaby during final relaxation.

As a yoga teacher, I try to create special moments and spaces for my students. But I also have a thirst to feed my own body, mind, and soul by participating in a class rather than being on the teaching end. I just use music as the backdrop or the lighting for my classes. Sean integrates it with stories and messages with morals.  Sean takes people on a spiritual journey. Wherever they may be, he can help them get to the next level. Not necessarily by twisting their bodies deeper, but by deepening the stretch in their hearts.

Maybe you can call it fine-tuning for yogis.

For Sean, bhakti (devotion) is all about the heart. “I think that we can all use inspiration and practices that help us to express rather than repress our emotions. We can’t be in tune if we’re not listening. Tuning the heart means developing a resonance and sensitivity to our intuition and the wider Universe. It means feeling the full spectrum of our heart, getting in touch with what we love, and getting clarity about where we want to invest our precious time and energy. When we’re in tune, our actions are aligned with our words and our thoughts. When we’re in tune our life becomes more graceful and requires less effort. We can live with greater purpose and clarity.”

About Bhakti Fest

Bhakti Fest is a festival series that celebrates the devotional path that has its roots in yoga, kirtan, and meditation. It embraces ancient and modern sacred wisdom and traditional and non-traditional spiritual practices. All the artists, presenters, and vendors embody, practice, and share the spirit of bhakti through a variety of ways, including continuous kirtan, yoga classes, meditations and prayer, teachings and workshops, fire ceremonies, an eco-friendly, holistic marketplace, vegetarian cuisine, a wellness sanctuary, and other unique life-enhancing modalities. For more on Bhakti Fest, kirtan music, or Sean Johnson, view previous “festival” or “kirtan” posts.

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