Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunday at Bhakti Fest Midwest 2014

Walking outside on the final day of Bhakti Fest Midwest, I found the morning to be clear, cool, and bright.  The stillness that occurred the night before after deep-rooted devotional chanting with Krishna Das, clearly carried over through the night, as this morning was very tranquil with a power that held a subtle benevolence.

Feeling vibrationally hungover myself, there was nothing like ‘hair of the dog’ mantra practice to wake up dormant energy that may have remained after slumber.  It was a perfect time to go chant to Hanuman.  The Hanuman Chalisa is a 40-verse devotional hymn, written by Hindu poet, Tulsidas, and honors Hanuman who embodies devotion, service, and faith. We were led by Nina Rao, assistant to Krishna Das, who first started learning chants as a young girl from her grandfather in south India.

With the sweet smells of freshly applied essential oils and morning hot coffee filling the workshop room from my fellow devotees, Nina soon ushered us into the Chalisa by simply saying, “Shall we just sing?” and we were off together warming up our voices and hearts with “Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram.” I chanted a few rounds, but then placed myself in the back of the room for self-led asana and meditation among the community vibrations, letting the mantras wash over me. I could have stayed there all day, but there was still much to absorb and look forward to including returning to the main stage and announcing more amazing artists set to perform.

It was my absolute pleasure to introduce Saul David Raye, although this man needs no introduction. He is certainly a transformational teacher and a Bhakti Fest favorite, but what I enjoy most about Saul, is his kindness as we spoke, and the smile he gave me whenever we passed each other on the festival grounds. Those are the kinds of moments I’m taking home with me.

Watching him on stage I came to recognize another layer of manifesting my weekend’s intention of finding inner power. ‘Inner power’ does not have to mean loud, forceful, or overbearing. In fact, it can be found in restraint and ease, doing simple practices with humble intention.

That in mind I discovered key elements for sustainability and reducing the noise of chaos while attending any event, such as a festival, that has a lot offered to your system in a concentrated amount of time.  You must keep up hydration and nutrients, regulate your immune system, and practice self-care.

For hydration and nutrients my go-to drink is ALOHA Green Powder, a dried green juice filled with potent nutrients. With samples available all weekend at the registration desk, I would grab one for my water bottle whenever I passed by.

Herbal Zap has given my immune system a good swift kick in the butt to get back in action on multiple occasions. It is a hot beverage that works from Ayurvedic principles to boost your own capability of self-healing and resiliency. Being around hundreds of yogis who love to hug, share food, and chant as close together as possible, Herbal Zap is always in my back pocket.

My experience of body work today was probably the most profound I’ve had out of any previous festival, and a real essential gift to practicing self-care.

I was given acupuncture for the very first time at the vendor village with Shane Berquist of Sage Legacy Acupuncture and Healing Medicine in Minneapolis. With it being my first time getting this treatment, Shane was sweet, considerate and attentive to any concern I may have had. He was able to identify imbalances I carried by studying my tongue and feeling my pulse. It was an amazing sensation to feel the energy released from the point of contact with needle down into each part of my body. Then, as a human pin cushion, I laid and relaxed while Rich Logan played live just a few feet away.

Pair that with a massage I received later that evening from Francine Brown, who co-runs the healing sanctuary, and I had everything I needed to rest well tonight after a wonderfully exhausting weekend. Again, being just a few feet from the stage as I received the massage, this time as Govind Das and Radha “gave it to us” Bhakti style, I could tell Francine was using the energy from the stage to guide the rhythm of her work.

I planned strategically a double-dose of Saul David Raye, first hearing him on-stage and now attending his yoga class at night. Saul carries a spiritual message and emotional connection to his work while keeping it all very simple and pure. In fact he even says that simple poses done with breath are more healing than executing a fancy pose without awareness.

His message is tender yet thorough, “The taste of Bhakti is sweet. As Bhaktas, we just want to strengthen love.” It was sometime in between deep navel breathing and dancing and singing our prayers for the safety and freedom of all beings, that I realized what that subtle inner power I had discovered really is. It is prana. Prana is what I had felt during my morning walk to the Hanuman Chalisa and it was the flow of prana we had been cultivating all weekend. I planted the intention for the weekend, it manifested, and I allowed the result to surface. Turns out, the result is simple, I had been looking for prana all along.

My final time to emcee on stage was introducing David Newman aka Durga Das, a well-known and loved chant artist throughout the bhakti yoga community. In addition to his CD’s available at White Swan Records, he will also be headed into the recording studio this summer with members of Paul Simon’s band.

Gearing up for the evening’s All Star Jam, I took one last look through the vendor village, taking more time to have conversations with the owners of some amazing products and hearing their stories that led to their businesses. I found new products I love like Arize Artisan Kombucha, a small-batch artisanal brewing company in Chicago. They provided a lounge to enjoy everything from cold-pressed coffee with raw cashew cream, to ‘Kombucha Shrubs’, draft kombucha mixed with fresh fruit and herbs.

Of course, I had to stop by for a hug from some favorite vendors that have since become festival friends. Brook, owner of Bhakti Chai, has an amazing story of looking to re-discover her adventures in India by creating the beloved chai recipe she had experienced in the north. What resulted is a company that not only has an amazing product that is fair trade, organic, and delicious, but also supports global sustainability incorporating conscious practices into business. They are based out of Boulder, CO which must be filled with this type of consciousness, because it is also the home of our seva partner, Give Back Yoga Foundation.

Finally, I stopped to buy a tank top from my friend Paula at Playful Buddha Designs. We share an interest in not taking our yoga practice or life too seriously, and her products reflect that with sassy and fun phrases to bring a smile to the most austere yogi.

The All Star Jam is where it all really comes together. It’s not just the artists you have seen up on stage throughout the weekend, it also includes all the hands that make the Bhakti Fest dream come true. Instead of being ‘at work’, Bhakti Fest staff also takes the stage singing, dancing and bathing in the bhav. As Amy Dewhurst, the festival’s Consulting Producer says, “Bhav is the new black.”

Being only one person, I don’t get to see and attend every single class and event in the three days we have together. I was looking forward especially to Missy Balsam’s class who combines joyful vinyasa with her original devotional chants. I’ll have to go visit her in Naples, Florida, or wait until next year at Bhakti Fest Midwest 2015, June 26 - 28. Tickets go on sale in October. Even though I missed Radhanath Swami’s workshop here in Wisconsin, he will be first on my list at Bhakti Fest West September 4 - 7.

Until then, I will hold on to my newly discovered inner power (prana) using it to practice devotion in the simplest of ways, maybe even by just showing kindness to a stranger. The wonderful thing about cultivating this energy, is it doesn’t have to leave you once the festival is over; prana quietly stays with you.

See you in September. Haribol!

Olivia Kvitne is serving as Bhakti Fest’s blogger and social media Goddess for all three festivals this year. She is Assistant Editor for LA Yoga Magazine and specializes in teaching trauma-sensitive yoga to veterans/military and first responders in addition to teaching hatha, yin, hot yoga and more. Twitter: @LoisLaneofYoga

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saturday at Bhakti Fest Midwest 2014

If you allow yourself to be aware enough, you may observe that once you set an intention you are magically led to all the right places and through all the obstacles necessary to manifest it. That was day two for me at Bhakti Fest Midwest. The intention I set yesterday to uncover my inner power led me to every class, workshop, and experience I needed to strengthen that intention.

7:15 A.M with Tumeric Alive in hand, I marched my way over to Yoga Hall 2 for morning yoga with Steve Emmerman from Turbo Dog Yoga in Chicago. This class is built on finding strength from the inside out, the deep inner core, and discovering hidden and forgotten muscles such as the Serratus Anterior and Gluteus Medius.

With a unique style that encourages a different approach to our asana practice, Steve took us to our edge physically while addressing what that ‘edge’ means spiritually and mentally.  On hands and knees, with forearms at an outward angle, elbows bent and hovering an inch away from the floor and the rest of the body in downward facing dog, your body begins to tremble, your mind begins to scream, and it is then you have the choice to access the energy you want. Steve asks us, “do you want to suffer? How can you release the suffering without releasing the pose?” This is the power of Turbo Dog for the body and the mind. Steve’s supportive and intuitive assists combined with his encouraging nature makes you want to go through this process, willingly step out of your comfort zone, and free yourself from habitual ways of practicing asana in order to find a relationship with your inner strength.
Thanks to Steve and his gift of a new and more mindful way to practice, my mind and body were set on the right track for the rest of the day.

Having discovered earlier that morning I had forgotten to bring along body lotion, I was thrilled to be able to pick up a couple samples of Desert Essence skin care products at the First Aid table. There you can also try their Tea Tree oil and cleansing towelettes with organic essential oils. My favorite lotion is the Daily Essential Defense Lotion with SPF. It’s a light moisturizer with Jojoba Oil and Aloe Vera. I was so thankful for the SPF under the summer solstice sun.

Before lunch was Rebecca Curland’s workshop with special guest, Pascale La Point of Kirtan Path. This workshop intelligently linked together postures that tapped into each of the chakras one at a time from the bottom up. Pascale accompanied the specific asanas for each chakra with its corresponding mantra and deity, as Rebecca reminded us of each energetic center’s strengths and shadows.

One of the first postures we practiced as we focused attention to Muladhara, the root chakra, was tree pose. I stood there, all my strength rooting firmly into the earth on one leg, chanting with the class the accompanying mantra of “lam”, my mind fixed on its deity, Ganesh, and unexpectedly a wave of chills ran through me. I felt the power of this practice and it all wondrously came from within while under the simple guidance of Rebecca and Pascale, who were vibrating at the necessary and subtle level to escort me there. I found an extraordinary stillness by the time we had journeyed up the energetic highway of the chakra system and experienced the most wonderful and deeply connected meditation and Savasana I had had in a while.

Both morning practices were quite different from each other, Rebecca’s being more rooted in tradition, while Steve’s class brought me into my anatomical body with one straight shot. Both were needed to create that perfect experience and balance out all their benefits.

I grabbed an iced Bhakti Chai coffee blend to get my energy back from yogic bliss and ready to hit the stage to introduce more amazing artists. Among them were The Householders, providing heart-pumping beats that combined conscious rap, traditional mantra, and sweet ballads mixed in between. They start a tour of the Midwest next week with DJ Taz who is back at it again tonight in Yoga Hall 1 at 12AM for late night Club Divine Dance Party with special guests Michael H. Cohen, Jim Beckwith, and Saul David Raye.
Speaking of Saul David Raye, his workshops are known to be packed, so for a more intimate experience practicing with him, sign up for the post-festival intensive on Monday. A few slots are still available for four hours with Saul David Raye as he shares insights into the path of Bhakti yoga and integrating them into your personal practice.

Still in my role as emcee, I had the pleasure of welcoming on stage Brenda McMorrow. She is a Canadian artist with a range of styles in her background that come together through kirtan, which she has been sharing around the world for the past eight years. Brenda has a sweet nature and a great sense of humor, but as she looks you directly and respectfully in the eyes while you speak to her, you know this woman is full of Shakti power. Then, when you hear her perform, that inner Shakti shines outward in a profound way.

It’s difficult to put words to Michael Brian Baker and his work. It is a sincere experience felt on the ethereal level where words no longer exist, or at least lack the capability to be accurately descriptive.  This was my first experience of a breathwork class with Michael Brian Baker, although his reputation preceded him as a Bhakti Fest favorite and a catalyst to deep levels of release and recovery.

Through a simple breath technique combined with sound, chanting, aroma therapy, and simply holding space within a circle of students, Michael showed us how these techniques are like medicine; ending inner conflict and using our own power to wave the “white flag within.”

We gathered close together to end the illuminating quest, sitting in a tight circle with hands on one another’s backs. Closing our eyes as Michael offered one final prayer, I could feel the glimpse of non-duality and transcending the illusion of opposites.

By the time Michael’s class had ended, it was only two hours until the godfather of the modern kirtan world, Krishna Das, would grace the stage. A buzz had been growing since the afternoon and more and more people began to settle in spots as close to the stage as possible. At 7:00 PM, twelve hours after my first powerful yoga experience that day, I got to introduce another powerful force in the music and kirtan world, Hans Christian.

For 20 minutes he took us on a journey with his cello. It was a wonderful and simple picture of a man, his instrument, and music. You may know Hans Christian from his band, Rasa, as well as his body of work with many kirtan artists including being the first to tour with Krishna Das. He is now a resident of the Midwest and was kind enough to offer me many nuggets of wisdom as we chatted backstage. The one I love the most is, “when you’re happy, you’re an asset to the world.”

Seeing Krishna Das perform live stays with you in your cellular make-up. He is the most recognizable voice in the kirtan world. Just hearing his familiar rich and melodic tones reverberating from the stage immediately makes you feel at home and allows you to enjoy a welcomed sigh of release. The room is different when Krishna Das is on stage. While having conversations with new and old friends in the vendor village as he sweetly serenaded those shared moments, everything took on a more compassionate and loving vibe. It is a wonderful, blissful, and promising feeling to actually witness changes and shifts occur due to the power of mantra. Krishna Das reminded us that “by singing these names, we uncover who we really are… Not who we think we are, but who we really are.”

Festival-goers chanted loud and proud with vibrancy in their voices, the way we all wish we could chant but only seems possible when guided by a true Bhakti force like Krishna Das. The beat picked up and the celebration took off! Clapping, smiles, and the experience of oneness we are always hearing our teachers talk about was happening without any effort, simply intention. Then it came to me, one of the most profound reminders of my own inner power is simply watching the power in others naturally emanate through vibrational ascension.

Olivia Kvitne is serving as Bhakti Fest’s blogger and social media Goddess for all three festivals this year. She is Assistant Editor for LA Yoga Magazine and specializes in teaching trauma-sensitive yoga to veterans/military and first responders in addition to teaching hatha, yin, hot yoga and more. Twitter: @LoisLaneofYoga

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Friday at Bhakti Fest Midwest 2014

There is something special about the Midwest. To be practicing yoga with your finger tips on the pulse of America is another reassurance that we truly are in the Aquarian age. While the popularity of yoga in the West was booming on each of our coasts - with the “Mecca” of yoga (outside of India) being in Los Angeles or New York City - the fly-over states have been practicing their own yoga, as well: the yoga of compassion. The number one thing I hear about this part of the country is that the people of the Midwest are kind. Pairing their kindness with traditional Bhakti Yoga practices is a perfect fit, and for the past three years Bhakti Fest has provided a festival for Midwesterners to celebrate bhakti and relish in the bhav without having to travel a great distance. In fact, with its more intimate nature, west and east coasters may find themselves flying inward geographically to experience a more intimately inward experience of their own.

I felt the Midwest charm immediately as I checked-in to the hotel Friday morning. I saw festival-goers, with mats strapped to their backs, greet each other with hugs and smiles. Just as I was feeling a little left out, having never been to the two prior festivals in the Midwest, I was given a hug too and felt that familiarity I know and love about Bhakti Fest gatherings.

First things first, I had to rejuvenate after my five-hour drive from Des Moines. I immediately went to registration to find samples of Aloha Green Powder, one of my favorite products because it immediately hydrates and gives a boost of nutrition. Now, I felt recharged and ready to go.

I familiarized myself with the grounds, especially since everything was moved indoors due to the inclement weather leading up to the weekend, giving us a typical dose of summer in the Midwest. In true yogi fashion, the wonderful staff who make this festival possible swiftly brought our stage and vendor village under a roof easily and efficiently. Although, I’m sure once the bhakti was flowing, no one would have minded dancing in the rain.

My first impression as I took in my surroundings was that this was going to be a unique Bhakti Fest experience. Not only is it a whole new group of regional yogis I had never met before, but it is also taking place over the summer solstice.  All energy this weekend will be amplified due to the sun’s light blanketing our sky the longest it has, and will, all year. Everything manifested this weekend will be heightened even more, and this made me aware of the influence these next three days could truly have on our lives.

I first laid down my mat for class with Katherine Austin, owner of Karma Yoga in Detroit, Michigan and a true example of a smorgasbord of styles living in one teacher. She is certified in Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Kundalini and has studied with a wide variety of top masters. “All yoga does the same thing and takes you to the same place,” she explained. Being a big believer myself that there isn’t just ‘one way’, I was immediately a fan of Katherine. Her class today was mainly a juicy hatha experience, beginning with signature practices from Kundalini and ending with a long, luxurious gong bath. Her other classes over the weekend will be more deeply rooted in the Kundalini tradition.

The simplicity of Katherine’s teachings made it easy to follow her guidance to recognize our own power. She offered us the freedom to practice whatever it was we needed that would bring us into balance and if we were going through something, to use the power of our thoughts and change our thinking to “growing through something.” It was then I had it, my personal theme for the weekend: my own power. If anything was to be sweeter than Katherine’s words, it would be the giggles of the baby playing in between her parent’s yoga mats behind me.

After Katherine’s class I headed for the Main Stage for one of my favorite things: emceeing and introducing upcoming artists. I love this chance to get to look out on all the festival-lovers and have all of them smile back at me as we connect through shared experience. Backstage I got to spend time with some of the artists I introduced. Pascale La Point has a sweet, compelling voice and we share a love for KIND Healthy Snacks. Her band, Kirtan Path, is based in Minneapolis and performed at the inaugural Bhakti Fest Midwest. Their debut album, Samgayati - A Gathering in Song, has just been released.

Michael H. Cohen has a dynamic power in his voice beyond compare, and I could have sworn he made the walls shake with the capacity of his band. Among them were DJ Taz who will be rocking out the late night dance party, and Steve Emmerman, owner of Turbo Dog Yoga studio in Chicago. Steve and his wife Talya will be teaching early morning yoga at 7:30am on Saturday, and you can be sure to find me there.

Kirtan Path and Michael Cohen’s CD’s can be found at the White Swan Records booth in the Vendor Village. I immediately marched over to pick up both their albums after hearing their soul-igniting music on stage. While I was there, I finally got to ask what I have wondered for quite some time, what is the difference between White Swan Records and Black Swan Sounds? The answer: White Swan Records releases traditional kirtan albums, while Black Swan Sounds is reserved for DJ remixes of conscious music.

Staff dinner was a special treat as all the high vibrational food is donated by wonderful companies and put together in a gourmet style by Bhakti Fest’s chefs Andrea and Dietrich of Edible Alchemy.  In addition to gluten-free rice pasta from Lundberg Family Farms and Upton’s Natural Seitan Chicken was my favorite side dish, Farmhouse Culture’s raw organic kraut and kimchi. What kirtan is to our souls, this food is to our senses. The rich and zesty flavors of our dinner also accommodated any food restriction you may find among us yogis. Bhakti Chai also came with dinner as a light and refreshing sweet treat.

After helping myself to seconds of this vegan fare, I almost felt too full for kirtan that night with Ragani, the queen of kirtan in Milwaukee. That quickly changed as I entered the Main Stage for an ecstatic dance party you would not believe.  Lights low, energy high, and dancing yogis with an age range of at least sixty years. Then came the silence, the stillness, the bhav you enter when only vibration remains. This is why we are all here. The only thing that might top this high is the late night dance party held with Club Divine's DJ Taz and special guests. I’ll be holding off on this until tomorrow night as I am headed to bed so I can wake up with sun on summer solstice.
It is a true discovery of how much is out there yet to see and learn when you meet a whole new group of yogis, and experience a whole new group of kirtan artists which you wouldn’t otherwise be aware without venturing out of your bubble of the familiar. For me, that bubble is Los Angeles, and the discovery is that bhav is everywhere. Wherever you are, there lies your inner power.

Olivia Kvitne is serving as Bhakti Fest’s blogger and social media Goddess for all three festivals this year. She is Assistant Editor for LA Yoga Magazine and specializes in teaching trauma-sensitive yoga to veterans/military and first responders in addition to teaching hatha, yin, hot yoga and more. Twitter: @LoisLaneofYoga

Monday, May 19, 2014

Day Three of Shakti Fest 2014

Day three has been the day of dynamic energy and education. It has been filled with informative practice from true masters and experiencing the power of aligned energy. Feeling slightly under the level of stamina that’s required for such a spiritual download, I looked to Tumeric Elixir of Life to save the day. With blends of the finest organic botanicals on the planet, each serving is packed with 16 grams of organic Turmeric from Hawaii. Turmeric is called the “Queen of all Medicinal Herbs” because of its anti-inflammatory, purifying and balancing properties.

Revived and ready for my education, I participated in the daily Hanuman Chalisa recitation led by Govind Das. This 40-verse devotional hymn embodies the principles of service, courage, and devotion. These three fundamentals were planted in the forefront of my mind as the intention for my day.

I spent three hours in Yoga Hall 1 starting with a Bhakti Yoga celebration with Govind Das and Radha, followed by Mark Whitwell offering the basic principles of Krishnamacharya, whom he studied with for more than 20 years.

Govind Das took us through a “Yinyasa”, where we flowed between yummy yin postures softly chanting along with Radha on the exhales. Govind Das encouraged us to look for the right spots, like a massage therapist, exploring the areas that need attention and release. This is true not only for the physical body, but for the emotional and mental bodies as well. Radha’s pure and delicate voice has so many layers placed together with light of consciousness streaming through, that I kept equating it to an image of a stained glass window when I closed by eyes to move inward. Class culminated in a group chant of “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” and I found my gratitude for the day; grateful for my freedom, happiness, and knowing that I hold the ability, even in the smallest way, to contribute to the happiness of all beings. Then, as only Govind Das and Radha can ignite, the ecstatic chanting began. The drums got faster and louder giving me goosebumps. As I danced and sang I directed my prayers to Rama, asking for this creative connection we cultivated during these three days to continue when I return home.

What can one say about Mark Whitwell that would do his teachings justice? He is to the point, giving us the key ingredients of a true yoga practice directly from the teacher of all teachers, Krishnamacharya. By being in his presence you can be in the energy of Krishnamacharya, who left his body many years ago, yet is carried in Mark’s heart. Mark reminds us that we all carry the energy of the cosmos in our own body and to access that understanding is simple: Do your yoga and you will know your truth. 

With a Reed’s Root Beer in hand (calorie free and made from Stevia), I was looking forward to resting my brain and treating myself with some shopping. Each vendor booth is like entering the home of the artist. The owners of the represented businesses were always hospitable, giving me a personal tour of their work and the stories behind it. I took home mementos from the unique collections Yoga Styles and Shanti Hastkala. Susan Lefkowitz-Nichols owner of Yoga Styles fell into her business quite unexpectedly. Unable to find a yoga mat bag to accommodate her large and sturdy Manduka mat, she made one herself and for her yoga teacher. The orders for yoga bags started to flood in and now Susan has expanded to clothes and jewelry and is a favorite in the yoga community.

I was happy to purchase a small handbag, made by a 13 year old girl in India, from the non-profit Shanti Hastkala. Shanti Hastkala is a voluntary development organization with an initiative to bring financial independence to the people of Magod and surrounding villages.

The end of the day crept in quickly, but the all-star kirtan jam did not disappoint when it comes to memorable grand finales. Thus far, we have experienced the artists as forces in their own right, now imagine them on stage sitting together side-by-side. It was powerful to witness them hold space not only for those at the festival, but also via live-streaming so anyone anywhere could join them in the flow of sacred rhythm.

Govind Das sat center and honored Shyamdas, a guiding force in the development of Bhakti Fest, who left his body unexpectedly last year. This remembrance turned in to a massive celebration for those who came before us and continue to light our path. All those who had a hand in the creation and success of Shakti Fest were led on stage to chant and dance, and I was honored to be included in that group. Sridhar Silberfein, founder of the festival, was at the apex and inviting all to share in the spotlight. We danced, sang, and embraced with wild unrestraint. Any obstacles that we endured throughout the weekend became trivial as we let loose in the joy of one spirit. As Govind Das observed once we took in the post-jubilant stillness, “Shyamdas was with us at Shakti Fest 2014”.

So, how do we come down after this high? For me, I plan on taking these teachings and experiences and apply them to daily life; do my yoga and continue to practice devotion. We evolved from friends, to family, and now have become a unified power of consciousness.

Let’s do it again next year. As my friend Shiva Baum says, “not goodbye. To be continued.....”

Olivia Kvitne is Assistant Editor at LA Yoga Magazine and official blogger for Bhakti Fest festivals 2014. She is also a yoga teacher specializing in trauma-sensitive yoga for veterans, military, and first responders.