Santa Monica: Bhakti in the Asana
Sunday Kirtan Flow class at Bhakti Yoga Shala, Santa Monica–March 6, 2011
Just a block from the Third Street Promenade in downtown Santa Monica, in a super high rent district (with a Barneys New York Co-op–enough said), sits a small studio called Bhakti Yoga Shala. Small, and more Santa Cruz than Santa Monica, this tiny studio has so much heart.
I arrived early for the Sunday 10 a.m. Kirtan Flow class to meet my friend Lo (Y is For Yogini). While waiting for Lo, I watched Govindas and Radha arrive with their cherubic son. Govindas entered the shala, while Radha breast fed their son outside.
I had experienced Kirtan Flow once a year ago, and to this day, it’s my most profound yoga class experience. This second class was even more beautiful than the first.
We started in savasana. Radha strummed the guitar, singing Om Shanti, Shanti Om. Govindas led the class in breathing and connecting, and encouraged us to join her singing. A cute percussionist wearing a t-shirt that says “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” enhanced the vibe through drumming.
Combining breath and movement turns asana into a moving meditation; the addition of voice raises things to another level completely. Adding voice to breath and movement is totally revolutionary.
The class began so slowly. We raised our arms, folded forward, and rose again. Over and over, we chanted lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free.
Chanting Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram, we invoked the devotion of Hanuman. Chanting Om Namah Shivaya together, we destroyed the illusion that we are separate. Govindas led us in a sequence in which we stood in rows, holding each other by the waist, folding over into virabhadrasana three. If one falls, we all fall. Yet we didn’t fall.
In kirtan, we chant the names of Hindu gods and goddesses, invoking their energy. Ganesh is the remover of obstacles; Shiva is the destroyer of illusion. Kali is the goddess energy of creation. We stood and clapped, chanting Jai Ma, Jai Ma, as energy built. I couldn’t help but smile. Despite the slow gentle start, we ended with the windows completely steamed over, ectsatic and connected. We ended again in savasana, chanting lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu again.
After class, Lo and I met Sarah, who sold me my harmonium. She said we needed to meet Govindas and Radha. While introducing us, she mentioned that I had bought her harmonium. Govindas agreed to teach me via Skype. I dream of some day playing my harmonium in class and guiding people toward this kind of devotion.
When I got back to Salt Lake City, I emailed Govindas, asking him about the genesis of Kirtan Flow, since I haven’t heard of or experienced anything like I had that day. “It was a totally organic manifestation that came through both Radha and myself’s love for two things, kirtan and vinyasa yoga, and how we could integrate them together at the same time,” he wrote. What I experienced that day was the product of six or so years of exploration and just “playing around” with the fusion, he explained. “What I love about it is that it really seems to bring the bhakti into the asana.”
“It is such a joyful and celebratory way of doing a yoga practice. As voices are weaving and bodies are moving it becomes a devotional art form and ritual that everyone in the class is collectively creating together.”
I hope this catches on and that more people can experience the joy of mixing chanting and asana to create and experience pure bhakti.