What did we love about the Texas Yoga Conference? The bhakti, baby!
No surprise there, but seriously: these folks “get” that yoga is more than asana. TYC founder Jennifer Buergermeister told us the integration of practitioners from a wide array of yogic and healing arts was by design, a nod to the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Bhakti was weaved seamlessly into the weekend, the way we dream about it being weaved into every yoga conference out there.
For starters, there was Saturday’s Bhakti Bash with Sean Johnson And The Wild Lotus Band, the New Orleans-based trio who are pioneering the integration of kirtan and asana. Johnson told of his own yogic journey, first to hatha yoga, then to bhakti, and finally to a fusion of the two. When he first started teaching yoga 16 years ago, Johnson said, his “physical practice” and his devotional practice were very separate. “Even to ‘Om’ in class was scary for me then,” he shared. But after years of this separation, he said his yoga practice “felt a little dried up.” For the last several years, he has been “experimenting with how to bring these two paths together.”
“We have to figure out ways to keep bringing juice to our practice,” Johnson said. “Bringing bhakti to hatha has helped sustain me.”
Over the next two hours, he brought some juice to the convention center ballroom and proved that his “experimentation” is working. With a rapt audience of a couple hundred yogis huddled close to the stage, he recounted classic tales from Hindu scriptures and mythology, of Radha and Krishna, of Shiva and Shakti, of Kali and Saraswati. He told of Durga Ma’s cursed war with the demons, how each time she slayed one, a hundred more would appear from the drops of blood, until she was overwhelmed and could do nothing more but sit down to meditate; how it was only by going within that she found the strength to slay every last demon and return peace to the land. Then we all joined our voices in praise of Ma, with Gwendolyn Colman’s rich vocals leading the response to Johnson’s call. Jai Jai Ma, Saraswati Ma.
An hour or so into the session, Johnson sent us back to our mats for a bhakti-infused yoga flow to the rhythms of Colman’s percussion and Alvin Young’s bass. It was a side of Sean Johnson we hadn’t experienced before (the yoga teacher) — and one we highly recommend. Very juicy.
The Bhakti House Band proved why they are Texas’ favorite kirtaneers with bookend sets in the morning and evening on Saturday. By the end of their final set, the little crowd gathered in the common area was rockin’ out to the rhythms of Kristin and Randall Brooks and their band of bhaktas, and didn’t want to see them stop. Particularly when Randall, the self-described “kid from the ‘hood,” tried out a freshly devised conscious hip-hop riff on us — look for that one on the upcoming album from this Fort Worth-based group, a charity effort for their Peace Love Om project, which aims to raise cultural awareness and promote diversity among youth around the world and support suffering children, families, and communities in need through donations and seva. Remember this bhakti couple — they are the go-to back-up band for Texas-touring artists and are fast making a name for themselves on the national kirtan scene. Watch this space for videos and more on The Bhakti House Band…
On Sunday, we got to experience the sweetness of new-to-us Aaron Lind and Pratibha Kirtan from New Orleans, with Ashley Beach rockin’ the acoustic bass and Jordan Arey on drums. Lind, whose talents include some pretty impressive acro-yoga, said he was first inspired to lead kirtan thanks to fellow NOLA yogi Sean Johnson. The bhakti trio is currently touring Texas and in the midst of recording their first CD.
Flight School with ex-punk/monk Raghunath Cappo took off in three sessions over the weekend, a testament to the popularity of Cappo’s practically legendary approach to mastering gravity-defying arm balances, for anyone who dares to fly.
What we liked was his down-to-earth, New Yorker style and his keeping-it-real vibe. What we loved was his bhakti; he started each class with satsang and chanting, complete with a little lesson in what kirtan is (“meditation with your voice”) and does (“It’s about uncovering self-knowledge, or ‘atma jnana'”).
“The saints and yogis in India are not performing yoga to get six-pack abs and a nice ass. They’re practicing it to become transcendent,” Cappo said.
Thank you Texas Yoga Conference founder Jennifer Buergermeister and all the teachers and bhaktas at TYC for bringing the bhav to yoga. Wouldn’t it be great if EVERY yoga conference did so?
Kick it up Texas!Also see: http://www.seanjohnsonkirtan.com/ www.thebhaktihouseband.com www.pratibhakirtan.com http://www.raghunath.org/ www.texasyogoconference.com