Social distancing and quarantines are no fun. Fortunately, virtual sanghas are forming to keep us sane.
For example, the other day, Gov. Cuomo mentioned an extremely heartfelt talk he had, virtually, with his daughter who was in self-isolation.
Without a doubt, technology is providing us with a welcoming doorway. A bridge to keep us connected. Uplift our energy and spirits in these trying times. For those missing their normal routine, now is an even more important time to soak up the wisdom, creativity, and positivity of others.
Moving in a pinch, all the lead presenters from the recent World Bhakti festival revved up ways to get connected. Opportunities for the homebound to connect with like-minded people. What I call virtual sanghas.
“I’m grateful for live interaction with my circle of support in challenging times,” says Sunshine Kessler Teran. She synchs to Bhakti House Band’s virtual sanghas. Plenty of others are finding solace tapping into the energy, spirit, and talents of their favorite yogis or kirtan artists. Live. From their phone, tablet, or laptop. Following are just post-World Bhakti offerings. (Details follow.) Because I was there. Felt the sangha form. And, recognize the doors to those virtual sanghas are wide open.
While I wasn’t a presenter, I’ve got sangha in mind. Aside from connecting with other yogis in their virtual offerings, I revived my Yoga Book Club from San Antonio. Undeniably, this will be super simple. No need to buy or read anything in advance. Just tune in via Facebook Live Tuesdays, Thursdays, and/or Sundays at 2 p.m. CT. I’ll read a passage. Afterward, folks chat about the meaning.
The first selection is from John Pavlovitz. “A Bigger Table.” Disenchanted with the Catholic Church, he ended up serving as a Methodist pastor for 20 years. His book addresses the need for spiritual communities, within our outside of places of worship..
Last week, Sean Johnson launched virtual classes from his studios in New Orleans. “Here we go, entering uncharted territory together,” he said. “If yoga prepares us for anything, it’s for change, and we’re looking forward to supporting each other and seeking the gifts inside this challenging time together.” His next virtual class is March 26, while his instructors will lead asana and meditation sessions on other dayparts.
For those unfamiliar with Johnson, he’s a favorite among many yoga teachers. He performs, and teaches his unique style of Bhakti on the Mat, across the U.S. For first-timers, his classes may seem unusual. They may start with storytelling, Students sit close together on the floor around him. Not unlike kids huddled in a pre-school.
Like storytelling with the kiddos, Johnson isn’t reading bland words. He is a cross between a poet and an actor. Using animated gestures, vocal and facial expressions, he incites the listener to join in with sound effects. Animal noises. Pounding the floor. Howling with scary animal or nature sounds. In essence, he pulls the kid out of the adult. Making his sessions not only fun but memorable.
Considering that Johnson’s stories all connect to the ancient Scriptures, his ability to make those learnings relevant to modern-day American city folk is remarkable.
The son of a former nun, and father who was studying to be a Jesuit priest, he has an expansive vision of what’s holy. Johnson considers himself an educator that builds bridges between the physical and devotional aspects of yoga. Furthermore, he makes an effort to cross-cultural and religious divides.
All the while, he expresses his New Orleans roots. Somehow, the Cajun spice mixes well with his reverence for the traditional mantras and vedas. He encapsulates the spirit and knowledge of the ancient sages through music that makes you want to rock and roll —and chant along. Regardless of whether it be via concerts, storytelling time, or yoga classes. Consistently.
As soon as people started to tuck themselves into their homes, Bhakti House Band began daily FaceTime Live satsang (gathering of truth). Not only Monday through Friday. But every day. Good thing, as weekday and weekend is now blurred for many.
Randall and Kristin Brooks of Bhakti House Band call their sessions Bhakti House Cafe. However, I call it chat and chant.
First, beyond the virtual Bhakti satsang, what makes their sessions so beautiful is the simple lessons they teach. Yes, they share their knowledge of Sanskrit and mantras. But, they connect to everyday living — and challenges. Perfect in light of quarantines and six-foot distancing.
Second, each day is different in the virtual satsang. Nonetheless, they follow a routine that boosts self-discovery — and community. At 9 a.m. CT, they elicit participants to share from their daily gratitude top three list. Close to 10 a.m. CT they chant a song from their latest double CD, “Roots to Revolutions.” Called “Raise Your Words,” it’s become their anthem to “rise above” Coronavirus. The song blends words from a Rumi poem, with a Sanskrit Universal Peace mantra. After it winds down, they chant a verse from “Let it Be.”
Additionally, Bhakti House Band is offering more intimate online classes and workshops Thursday evenings. Via Zoom, it enables them to delve deeper into discussions about ancient learnings and modern-day applications.
I first met Randall and Kristin about six years when they led 108 rounds of the Gayatri mantra in Houston. Now, they’re leading 108 rounds during their Saturday FaceTime Live satsang.
Over the years, I’ve chanted with Bhakti House Band in Houston, California, and Madison, Wisconsin. They are friends, mentors, and spiritual guides. To top it off, they’re phenomenal musicians who stay true to their urban Texan roots.
Roots to Revolutions. Indeed, they share their spiritual journey through relevant lyrics and heartfelt musical compositions. Plus, their love for the yoga of sacred sound and conscious devotion. Over the last few decades, they have crisscrossed the country –and beyond–to inspire humanity. To awaken hearts. To live with purpose. And experience a higher sense of freedom and connection with all life.
While that sounds like a difficult feat, they’re successfully translating those desires to their virtual satsang.
Stefanie is definitely the kind of person that you can tell likes to be in touch with people, person to person. She leads yoga and kirtan sessions for folks of all ages. Sometimes, in Spanglish. Oftentimes in outdoor public places. Plus, she leads retreats geared toward going within, regardless of where you’re at, spiritually.
Moreover, The Dallas Observer recognized her kids’ initiative, Hanuman Homies, as The Best Underdog Nonprofit of 2019.
At the same time, she’s also connecting via Zoom and Instagram. Her new donation-based video classes range from Morning Mantra, to Practice in Your PJs. As part of Hanuman Homies, she leads mindfulness and yoga via shorter online sessions.
While she recognizes that people need to keep up with sangha, any way they can, she says that this new work is also to help her to stay connected and committed to her purpose. “I’m honored to be of service, in some way, to as many people as possible.”
Additionally, two of the World Bhakti organizers are getting ready to go virtual. Lavanga Latika will lead Sangha With Lavanga. Via Facebook Live, she’ll discuss the Bhagavad Gita. For those wanting a traditional yoga practice, Kirsten Burch will begin soon. And, I’m offering private virtual Yoga Nidra, as I think it’s more important now for so many.
Finally, a great way to tune in to the music of Sean Johnson, Bhakti House Band, and Stefanie Tovar is through a World Bhakti playlist on Spotify. Tune in to the vibes of that festival, as you do your laundry, cook some healthy food, or drink some tea.