When I was back in Colorado in January I spent six lovely hours in the Denver, Cherry Creek Mall while the Mac Geniuses tried to fix my ailing laptop. During my time at the Genius Bar I met a Kirtan leader. My meeting with him was the first time I ever heard of Kirtan and he piqued my interest so I started looking for a group to join in with. In Mysore I arrived right as the leader of the weekly Kirtan group was leaving and so I never got to practice there.
Now I know it wasn’t meant to be before, because I was meant to participate in my first Kirtan in Bali, with fifty other people at a benefit for a local orphanage.
My first Kirtan was led by a maverick in the world of chanting, Dave Stringer. Dave looks more like he should be in an Indi Rock band than leading sacred chanting sessions, but he brings that unconventional energy to this ancient tradition and breathes new life into the words which alone serve to inspire and resonate.
Kirtans are basically group-singing events. Mantras are sung in call and response form, Dave calling and the collective ‘We’ responding. We begin timidly, none trusting their voices to not offend, but soon enough we are attuned and we raise the roof with our song, some stand up to dance, no one remains still. It’s like attending a participatory symphony. On this night we sang Om Namo Shivaya, my mantra, and I was hooked immediately. At that moment, I mentally committed to attending every Kirtan I can during my travels.
The teacher training continues and I continue to be expanded in my practice, my understanding and my appreciation of Yoga. Most days we have three practices, and I thank my time in Mysore for preparing me for the rigors of this training. During our limited free hours we sleep, or sunbathe and sometimes we explore.
Our group went rafting down the Ayung river a few days back. The trip began with a long stairway leading down into the gorge and eventually the river. Eight kilometers later the gorge has widened and softened some, making way for rice terraces and high-end resorts along the sides. At the deepest, darkest point the black rock walls are covered in intricate carvings telling the tale of ancient Hindu battles and love stories. Waterfalls and natural springs feed the river from every crack and crevice. The pool-drop rapids are fun and technically challenging, but the warm water makes everything seem easy going.
The next day our group was invited to join in a sunrise chant by Dave and Patrick who are here hosting thier own retreat. The forces that combined to get us all up to the base of a Mt. Batur that morning are far too intricate to map out, but somehow, someway we all found ourselves singing the Gayatri mantra as the sun rose over the volcanoes.
Once the sun took up residence in the sky, we were lead by Maya Fiennes through a Kundalini practice, another first for me, and finally through sun salutations by Shiva. It was the most beautiful practice of my life, and again I know that it required every step along my path to get me to that porch on that morning. The overflow of joy I felt there was enough to sustain me for years in my practice.
After the morning practice we all cycled back to Ubud.
When I was in Bali last year I learned about the Balinese New Year celebration of Nyepi. Here they forgo champagne, poppers and illuminated dropping balls, instead they celebrate complete silence and stillness.
For 24 hours no one leaves home, there are no scooters whizzing by, no offerings are made, no lights are turned on, even the airport closes. 3.3 million people stop what they are doing and stay home, in silent stillness for a day – it is palpably powerful. When I was sailing to Singapore I experienced the same dark calmness, but never before have I experienced it with so many, the sheer magnitude of an entire population pausing is magical.
The morning after Nyepi was the last practice of Shiva’s retreat. We all enjoyed another intensely fluid practice together and now that the course is over I have lots of processing to do. Since I came straight from India into this training I haven’t really had time to imbue the lessons from there and now I have a whole new flow to digest. My body is tired, my mind is swimming in different schools of yoga and my heart can’t wait to get back to my personal practice.
I heart yoga!
Begin at the Beginning
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