Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bhakti Fest West Day 4

Shiva Rea flows through Sunday morning
Image by Mitchell Manz Photography

Our Bhakti Tribe breathed in brisk morning air after a stormy night. Thunderous clouds continued to bring life giving water and a strong energy of change. It was all too appropriate given the transformation we all have been experiencing during our days here in Joshua Tree.

Shiva Rea rose early with the Sunday sun, and facilitated a global meditation in the sacred spiral labyrinth. Participants closed the circle in communion by holding hands and chanting “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.” The peaceful energy of the ceremony spread through the festival grounds as others awoke for the final day of Bhakti Fest West.

Bhakti Fest's Producer Mukti Silberfein
sipping on a YogaVeda to stay cool and hydrated
A big beautiful breakfast made with Lundberg Family Farms food and the exotic flavors of YogaVeda help put a spring in our step for the morning. And nothing satisfied our thirsty yoga palettes better than a brimming mug of Pukka Tea. Of course before stepping onto our mats and settling onto meditation cushions, we first nourished ourselves with the essential vitamins offered by HealthForce Nutritionals.

Bhakti Fest's Christina Newman began yoga classes for the day with her early morning yoga practice. She permeated pure joy into her class as they moved through sun salutations. Sianna Sherman guided her class through mythic movements to help them feel the primordial nature of their true selves.

The serene sounds of Amitabhan opened on the morning Main Stage, while Kirtan Soul Revival brought some heart melting harmony to those who were soaking in the music at the Hanuman Stage.

Gopi Kallayil offered practical peace in the Sanctuary. Being an extremely busy person who manages marketing projects for many fortune 500 companies, he shared how simple yoga is essential to succeeding in a fast paced, pressure-cooked work environment. He demonstrated simple asanas that help him get through a hectic day in the hopes that his class could put the the daily practice to use in their own offices.

David Newman (Durga Das) lighting up
the Main Stage
Image by Mitchell Manz Photography
David Newman (Durga Das) took the late morning stage and brought spirits up as the sun reached high noon. In Yoga Hall I, Shiva Rea offered a “Brazilian blow out” no yogi had experienced before. Her class moved the energetic “rivers within” as she guided flow through the heart pounding sounds of Afro-brazilian beats.  In Exhale Yoga Hall III, Saraswati Markus offered Dao Flow, which invigorated the meridians within each and every present person on their mat.

Zat Bakara held space in the Breathwork Hall to help cultivate sacred masculine strength. He worked with an all-male group to help them explore how to create meaning and intention through tapping into their “masculine genius.”

The Breath of Life Tribe brought a balance of upbeat tempo and dreamy keys though their afternoon Main Stage mantra. The prana pulsing the crowd afterward was unmistakable. To battle the humid post-storm heat, our some indulged in the cool creamy scoops of Coconut Bliss.

Midday hunger set in, and happily so since our family of festivalers had so many yummy options to choose from. As always, a loyal line formed from Lydia’s as they served up fresh plates of organic, raw sprouted food love. Tumeric Elixers and Herbal Zap had just the ticket to cooling off desert cottonmouth from so many lion’s breaths and rounds of pranayama. For those of us looking for a quick crunch, Food Should Taste Good chips, and a healthy handful from the Imlak’esh Organics superfoods snack bar hit the spot.

Krishna Das' Sunday Workshop
Image by Mitchell Manz Photography
The highly anticipated workshop held by Krishna Das filled the Sanctuary. For two and a half hours KD shared the simple wisdom he gleaned from his guru Neem Karoli Baba in all the years he spent in India. With high humor and subtle fervor, he made it clear that the purpose of mantra is to “clean the ‘bull’ from our hearts”, and that “we have to drop an anchor deep into those hearts so that the winds of our emotions don’t blow us away from ourselves.”

Fantuzzi funked up the Hanuman Stage with his infectious fun energy and sky-high vibe, while Hemalyaya rode the same playful wave in her class making them wildly smile at each other as they danced a crazed yoga dance.

Hungry tummies spoke loudly to us after so much excitement, and beautiful dinner delights from the Krishna Kitchen and local Joshua Tree Pie for the People answered. We savored explosive flavors--from spicy vegan pizza to crisp, sweet samosas.

In Loving Memory of Shyamdas
The Mayapuris drummed and chanted us into high bliss as they opened up our last act up for the evening. To close our bitter sweet Sunday, we gathered together the core of our Bhakti Family on stage and recalled and recited the Maha mantra with the glowing crowd until our ecstatic energy rose to the starry skies. We once again offered our collective Bhav to one of our fallen founding fathers, Shyamdas, as he was warmly remembered and is still dearly missed in our conscious community.  

Nandhi raged a sacred flame during The Anugraha Closing Fire, symbolizing the blazing beauty we co-created and experienced in our minds, hearts and souls here at Bhakti Fest 2013.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bhakti Fest West Day 3

Divine Harmony packs the Breathwork Hall

A stream of ominous morning clouds brewed above on the third day in our desert yogi oasis. Chilled bottles of Balance Water helped get our Shiva Shakti energies in harmony, while Reeds kombucha gave us a different kind of balance in our bodies for Saturday’s festivities.

Denise Kaufman kicked off early yoga sessions with her wise, playful and powerful practice. The YogaSlackers kept the play going at the Chalice Pond by offering strapline instruction. Saul David Raye dished out sweet juicy morning kirtan, followed by Kanamrita Dasi who kept the sweetness flowing with her robust, beautiful bhajans.

In the Breathwork Hall, Divine Harmony gave a discourse on our relationship to the cosmos though explaining Natal charts, also known as astrological charts. We journeyed to the planets, moons, stars and all cosmic bodies that effect us on both a personal and global level. In the NamasteLight Sanctuary, Manoj and Jyoti Chalam brought the deities to life through an exploration of their epic legends.

Yoga legend Dharma Mittra and Bhakti Fest Executive
Producer Sridhar Silberfein catch up in the hospitality suite
Yogi master Dharma Mittra made light of the pretzel postures that participants attempted to twist themselves into. Phil Goldberg and Joey Lugassy time traveled back to the spiritual days of The Beatles. They delved into the history of world’s most beloved pop rock band and their experience with the ancient Eastern traditions. They unraveled their mission to bring those teachings to the masses, and how that huge drop of wisdom still ripples in the Western world today.

Renown shaman, Renee Baribeau called on the four winds to help guide her class into the direction of their destinies, while pranafied power couple Govind Das and Radha rocked Main Stage. C.C White raised the building energy even further up with her soul soaked praises. Refreshing sips of Runa Tea and La Croix natural soda quenched thirsty yogis after an entire day of expanding their minds, bodies and souls.

Mark Whitwell closed asana practice with his straight-forward sharing of  the Great Tradition of Hatha yoga. He made it very clear to students that a true practice is, “not a fluffy philosophy, nor is it glorified gymnastics on yoga mats. It’s scientific fact that through doing the full work we can clearly see that, we are the extreme intelligence, beauty, function that is the true reality.”

DosaDosa Truck
Right around dinner, the ominous clouds turned into a full force thunderstorm, blessing us with a cleansing rain. A perfect moment to hunker under some shelter and enjoy a luscious sweet or savory crepe from the kitchen of Dosa
“everyone around you fell in love with you, and you fell in love with everyone just by being completely present with each other.”

The only follow-up to match such an explosive vibration was the dynamite duo of the Kirtaniyas and DJ Drez. They activated our Bhakti booty chakras with their bassmantra beats. The sacred sub sonic sound created the best feelings of soft ringing bliss just before bed time.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bhakti Fest West 2013 Day 2

Image by Mitchell Manz Photography

We rose charged from opening day energy here at Joshua Tree Retreat Center. With so many classes and kirtan to catch, nothing could start the day better than a bit of toasty Manna Bread washed down with a brewed blend from Java GoGo. For those who love rich roasted flavors, but curb caffeine, a warm cup of Teecino made the perfect morning fix.

Early day workshops were devoted to a better understanding of deep-rooted, burning issues. One which focused on the turbulent buzz topic of money. Michael Thomas Robinson engaged participants in “Bhakti Yoga: The Path to Peace and Abundance.” The focus for this class revolved around timeless wisdom taught by many masters about how to cultivate a copious life--from the Buddah to Amma.
Michael emphasized that abundance comes to those who truly “believe that they can be masters of attainment.” He opened up the discussion by asking if anyone knew what abundance means. A timid room hesitated to answer. The awkward silence was broken with another question: “How can you attain something if you don’t know what it is?” He explained that through using our spiritual practice as a life compass, we can put ourselves in alignment with the wisdom that brought so much abundance to the greatest teachers in our human history.

On the stages, Philippo Francini’s evocative sound settled, or stirred the inner worlds of yogis who joined him at the Hanuman stage. Meanwhile, Sharanam Anandama shot Main stage goers into a sweet swaying ecstatic dance with his harmonic musical offerings.

Image of Janet Stone by Mitchell Manz Photography
The late morning rolled on with the high vibe teachings of Janet Stone, sweet kundalini of Kia Miller and playful practice of our dear desert-dweller yogini Kristin Olsen. Hint water kept us hydrated into high noon, and E-boost in our canteens helped energy levels stay high under the hot sun.

Legendary visionary artist Paul Heussenstam shed insight into the secrets and powers of mandalas. His workshop held in the NamasteLight sanctuary revealed mandalas as a psychic map to guide one towards a truly open heart. He shared his personal story a about how the sacred designs helped him “see the patterns in reality,” and how in being able to truly see those patterns we can “have courage, seek peace, and understand all that is truly real.” He told us that in “paintings are souls--they’re a magic window through time and space that a artist creates,” that, “we are all artists, and that artists are divine manifestoes.”

In the New Chapter Yoga Hall I, Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band gathered all around for “Bhakti on the Mat.” The class opened with an invitation from Sean to gather around for a story, and began to tell us that “One upon a time there was a yogi...” He continued to tell the tale of the Kali Durga who was conceived out of the need to heal a world where impure thoughts were law, and wild unruly destruction reined. Our asana evolved into a dance that interpreted this battle with our own bodies and minds.

Image of Jai Uttal by
Mitchell Manz  Photography
Micheline Berry wrapped up the yoga classes in Yoga Hall II, while Newton Campbell led yogis through sunset salutations. Big swigs of KeVita probiotic drinks kept yogi tummy happy and revitalized after asana so they could enjoy the music of the evening.

The visceral sounds of Arjun Baba transported the crowd to a suspended moment of time and grace. The crowd danced with delight to the sound of their own collective voices. At the main stage Deva Premal and Miten mesmerized yogis with traditional mantras which raised vibrations to the emerging stars glittering in the royal blue night.

To close the second evening Jai Uttal took on a magic yoga mat ride though time. In classic Jai style he took our souls to sky heights, and we chanted the holy names until bliss bloated every cell. As a whole we floated and danced in the magic desert dust until it was time to tuck in for the next day in yogi paradise.

By Bernadette Lynn Ignacio

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bhakti Fest West 2013 Day 1

Morning Asanas surrounded by Joshua Trees
Image by Mitchell Manz Photography

Cotton white clouds billowed through blue skies over our home on the first day of Bhakti Fest 2013. Excitement blew in the soft breeze gracing our festival family as the lined up for morning classes. After warm sips of revitalizing tea from Organic India and big yummy bites of gluten-free Larabars, we were all ready to take on what wonders would come for Thursday.

David Watts opened the festival on Main Stage with a shamanic ceremony invoking the great spirits to bless our beloved Bhakti Fest. Calling on the four directions of the medicine wheel, we honored the Universe and all of its bounty. All held a space in deep gratitude for the wisdom and transformation which they were to receive.

With rich coat of Desert Essence sun care products, we were set to take on the beaming sun and dry heat. Zach Leary kicked off the festivities on the Hanuman Stage with mantras praising Ganesha, while and LA YOGA Magazine's Felicia Tomasko energized yogis with vigorous vinyasa. Beth Shaw of YogaFit, offered her expert instruction through sun salutations toward early the rising sun.
Kristin Olson mixing yoga with mantras
Image by Mitchell Manz Photography
Urban Yoga's Kristin Olson

In the Sanctuary, Dawn Cartwright offered a delicious Tantra workshop. Participants paired together to explore different levels love and sexuality. Sitting face to face, each pair was guided into each other’s inner universe though focused eye contact. Every curve of each smile was navigated. The unique scape of each person’s beautiful body was blessed by their partner. Even through individuals completely engaged their undivided attention, Dawn explained moving through the exercises was an opportunity to just “let everything go”, and “welcome the pure love from each other without judgement or fear.”

In the Breathwork Hall, divine lovers Moses and Zenia lead a class through chanting simple yet powerful mantras that broke open the hearts of all who came. Paired with the soft, low sounds of the harmonium, they helped people heal deeply by simply singing the words, “I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you.” Afterward, they invited the class to visit their booth where they sell beautiful yoga clothes and handcrafted jewelry from a which portion of profit is dedicated the Amma Foundation.

Sirgun Kaur serves out kirtan on the Hanuman Stage
Image by Bernadette Lynn Ignacio
KIND Healthy Snacks and ZICO Coconut Water kept us nourished and hydrated as morning morphed into afternoon. Our beloved Bhakti sister Sirgun Kaur kept lovely melodies rolling as she offered her sweet heavenly praises to gods and goddesses found within each and every yogi who sat and chanted with her.

Nearby in the food court, Bliss Café filled happy bellies, while Giggle Juice quenched desert thirst. Instead of getting down on organic grub, some spent their mid day shopping around the vendor village at beautiful booths such Gypsy Jenny and Kala Imports who brought one-of-a-kind designs.
The afternoon heat began to drop, as evening approached and classes continued. Michael Brian Baker conducted his world renown mystic magic through breath work during the first of many sessions he would hold here at the fest. Participants took a journey through themselves as the panted heavy breaths that transformed into explosions of laughter for some, and tears for others. He closed the sessions explaining the work we are doing is not only for the benefit of ourselves, but for the future generations of tomorrow who will live in a world that we are creating today.

Dave Stringer kicks off the Opening Evening
Image by Mitchell Manz Photography
After a technicolor sun set into the distant hills, the moving groove of Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda carried us into dusk. The evenings explosive line-up of Donna De LoryDave Stringer, and GuruGanesha Band resounded through the night as the stars twinkled above our heads.

With a full first day behind us. We all drifted into exhausted anticipation for the days ahead.

By Bernadette Lynn Ignacio

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bhakti Fest Midwest Day 3

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati
on stage at Bhakti Fest Midwest

On the third and final day of Bhakti Fest Midwest, the sun rose quicker than festival participants. As tired Bhaktas nursed themselves with the Ayurvedic remedy and immune booster Herbal Zap, artists and teachers prepared for the full day ahead. Special guest Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati kicked off the workshops with a talk on the humanitarian efforts that Ganga Action Parivar is facilitating in support of the recent Ganga flooding. As scenes of the flood were screened, including entire hotels washing down stream, tears filled the room. The scenes were a humbling reminder that we are all at the mercy of Mother Nature.
In the nearby Yoga Hall, over 200 yogis prayed with their bodies as they flowed through Sean Johnson’s “Bhakti on the mat” yoga class. Johnson, from Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band, is just as dynamic leading a yoga class as he is leading a kirtan. Naturally, Johnson was accompanied by his band as they played harmonically along side.
Sean Johnson gets yogis to
practice Bhakti on and off the mat
As yogis tuned in to their bodies and sipped on KeVita’s probiotic drinks, the entire breathwork hall was quickly packed with participants ready to tune in to their breath with the shamanic Michael Brian Baker. Known to have his classes overflow in Joshua Tree, the scene was not much different in Madison.  On day three of Baker’s breathwork series, he led the group focused on “The Responsibility of Prayer and Healing.” Within the workshop, Baker held a sacred space for deep healing where participants entered ecstatic states. Baker led the class that ranged from first timers to Kundalini masters in effortless pranayamas (breathing) practices. Pranayama breathing techniques are excellent tools for easing anxiety, stress, anger, heat, exhaustion, and many more afflictive emotions.
As the ending of Bhakti Fest Midwest’s second annual festival was in sight, the vendor village boomed with commerce. Festival-goers picked up kirtan albums from the White Swan Records booth that sold a
Prabhuji's Gifts decking out the hospitality suite
large range of kirtan album and yoga books. Nearby, the Bhakti Shoppe rapidly ran out of official Bhakti Fest merchandise sourced directly from India. Backstage, artists took home Prabhuji Gift’s incense, perfumes, and goodies.
As evening set in, spirits raised in anticipation of the ever-eventful closing ceremony. Dave Stringer led the final and concluding kirtan in front of a fully-packed audience, sharing that with every great stories there is a beginning, middle, and end... Just not necessarily in that order. Although Bhakti Fest Midwest's time was coming to a close, the level of energy and a packed crowd suggested this was just the beginning for many on the Bhakti path of love and devotion, hungry for more chanting. When Stringer busted out the concluding chant to Goddess Durga, the crowd danced ecstatically, wildly, and freely—dancing off and letting go of all material conditioning and experiences that bind them.

And then, it was time. As 50 some odd artists, teachers, Bhakti Fest staff members, and musicians gathered on stage for the closing ceremony, Govind Das led the affair from honorary spot front and center, often held by the eternally loved and deeply missed Shyamdas who passed on earlier this year in a tragic accident in India. With Shyamdas's noticeable absence, memories of him leading the
Bhakti Fest Midwest Closing Ceremony
Image by Mitchell Manz
closing ceremony the year before softened the hearts of all. The Maha Mantra dedicated to the spirit of Shyamdas gently begun, and only in a matter of moments the stage and crowd was off to blissful states. The mic was passed around getting various artists and interpretations of the beloved chant, but when it hit the hands of Kirtaniya's Vijay Krsna, the chant quickly took a different course as "Radheee Radheee Govinda Radheeeee" exploded from his soul. Those who were present for the recent Shakti Fest saw the same transition take place, inferring that a new tradition has in fact begun. What will the 5th Annual Bhakti Fest West--the largest and grandest affair slated from the Bhakti Fest team--conclude with? Like all things worth waiting for, only time will tell…

By Vanessa Harris

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bhakti Fest Midwest Day 2

Kitchen staff clothed in aprons from
Neem Karoli Baba's Ashram in Taos
“Love all, serve all, remember God” instructed the revered Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? When Ram Dass famously and honestly responded, “but I can’t,” Neem Karoli Baba replied poignantly, “Ram Dass, love everybody.”

Seva, a Sanskrit word that loosely translates to ‘selfless service’ is one of the main principles on which Bhakti Fest was founded. To serve with compassion and patience, we must first have love. Without the service of Bhakti Fest’s Work Exchange Program where attendees can attend the festival for free by putting in hours to help staff, the show would not go on. Hard work indeed, but rewarding nonetheless.

Govind Das from Bhakti Yoga Shala
Image by Lakshmi Grace Designs
Hanuman, the 'Hindu monkey God’ from the Sanskrit epic Ramayana, is considered by many the perfect example of selfless service and unconditional love, both to the Divine and humanity. At Bhakti Fest, it is tradition to start the Workshop Hall off with reciting the Hanuman Chalisa for an hour, a 40 verse devotional hymn in reverence of Hanuman and what it means to be of service. As Pascale from Kirtan Path led Saturday morning’s Hanuman Chalisa, a wave of gratitude polished hearts and refocused minds, preparing festival participants for the day ahead of service, whether it come in the form of work, offering kirtan, or simply interacting with one another respectfully.

Brenda McMorrow & David Newman (Durga Das)
As festival goers trickled in from Canada, the East coast, and places near and far, they were greeted with EBOOSTS, Ola Loa, and ZICO Coconut waters to keep healthy and hydrated for the day ahead filled with yoga and dancing. Back in the yoga hall, Govind Das and Radha, owners of Bhakti Yoga Shala, invoked their Bhaktified Southern California open-hearted ‘Bhav’ (mood) that they are known for into their packed yoga class. Brenda McMorrow represented the Midwest alongside David Newman (Durga Das) on main stage clad in cheese heads, while artists enjoyed the show snacking on KIND bars and drinking Reed's Ginger Beer and Kombuchas. 

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati & Jai Uttal
discuss Ganga Relief Efforts backstage
As the day transitioned to night, an earnest mood drifted over all. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji from Parmarth Niketan was scheduled to lead a meditation, but due to the unfortunate devastation from the recent flooding in India, Swamiji had to stay behind to help in relief efforts with Ganga Action Parivar. Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati came on behalf of Parmarth Niketan, leading a dedicated meditation, reminding us of how truly blessed we are to be happy, healthy, and alive. Every Bhakti Festival, a portion of proceeds goes towards an associated Non-Profit. With an estimated 20,000 civilians either displaced or killed by Ganga’s flooding, it couldn't have been better alignment that Bhakti Fest Midwest's proceeds were already planned to benefit Ganga Action Parivar whose relief efforts are now focused on funding shelter and food to those hit by the recent tragedy. In the spirit of seva, festival sponsor and longtime vendor Coconut Bliss hosted a “Night of Bliss” whose proceeds benefitted Food For Life Vrindavan, a orphanage and school in India that serves over 2,000 children from the poorest community in the Vrindavan area.

Reflective of the need to serve and give thanks, Saul David Raye introduced Jai Uttal, preparing everyone of the mystical evening ahead. As all artists and staff gathered in the hospitality suite for a front row view of the Grammy nominated singer, they were nourished by Tasty Bites--all natural ready-to-eat Indian food--who catered the evening dinner.

Jai Uttal charmed the audience with his charismatic and youthful nature when both singing and explaining the significance behind each chant. Participants were mesmerized not only by Uttal’s talent and devotion, but of the young man accompanying Uttal. An already familiar face to many, the kirtan wallah alongside Jai was none other than the Kirtaniya’s front man Vijay Krsna. Having popped in to sing kirtan and play the harmonium, mrdunga, and anything else you could think of in various yoga classes, workshops, and kirtan sets throughout the weekend, the enthusiasm and devotion ensuing
Jai Uttal & Company
from Vijay is indicative that the youngster will be leading the Bhakti path for generations to come.

At the end of Jai Uttal and company’s three hour performance, everyone in the crowd had either danced, cried, laughed, or all of the above. Wah! closed the main stage with her funky base and fire hooopers, embodying the queen of cool.

Wah! On stage at Bhakti Fest Midwest
Image by Lakhsmi Grace Designs
As midnight struck, Srikalogy--a newbie on the kirtan scene--reinvented the wheel mixing sacred mantras with freestyle raps and beat boxing along side DJ Taz from Club Divine at the late night Devotional Kirtronica Dance Party.  Present Bhaktis danced till they dropped into downward facing dog, winding down for rest and the final day ahead of Bhakti Fest Midwest.

By Vanessa Harris