Everyone Needs Chillaxing Time, Even Krishna Das

Krishna Das, beloved kirtan singer of many years, put out a message on YouTube last month, saying that he is taking a 6 to 12 month sabbatical in 2016, to “rejuvenate, rest and get some juice back in the system”.

The video startled me a bit, because he does look tired, worn out. His web site team says he’s okay, not to worry, but of course we do worry. Because he’ s Krishna Das; cool kirtan crooner of New York and India, with a velvety voice and all the humor you’d expect from someone who’s lived a full life in those dramatically different destinations.

This “ex-Jewish boy from New York, chanting the name of Jesus” (and holy Hindu deities) has been touring the world pretty much non-stop, for the last 20 years.  He didn’t hit the road until he was 47 years old – “And now, somehow, in 20 years, I’m 147 … I don’t know how that happened. So I have to take some time off.”

Krishna Das at an Anusara Yoga workshop, Feb 2009, Miami
Krishna Das at an Anusara Yoga workshop, Feb 2009

A dude this laid-back and inspirational is not supposed to get tired, right? Isn’t he living a life of bliss, following his dream, living his passion, as he soothes us with his music, his beautiful bhakti stories and life lessons learned from his guru, Neem Karoli Baba?

Truth is, Krishna Das needs a break,  just like the rest of us. He uses his music to perform Seva (selfless service, believed in ancient India to help one’s spiritual growth) and so he’s constantly giving; always sending his energy outward. Yes, he also receives energy and love in return from his fans, from the audience, from every concert, but endless living out of suitcases and traveling from city to city, takes its toll.

Reading about Krishna Das’ sabbatical is a good reminder for us to take stock of our energy levels and notice when they need replenishing. It’s also a reminder that yoga is about balance, and without balance, we can find ourselves depleted. Balanced diet, balanced sleep, balanced exercise, balance in how much we work and how much we rest and play, balance in our personal relationships.

At an Anusara Yoga workshop in 2009, we were delighted to discover that Krishna Das would play his music and lead us into the peace of Savasana. I bumped into him outside, looking a bit frazzled and struggling to carry things from his car to the huge hall where hundreds of yogis and yoginis were waiting. I offered him a hand and carried some bits and pieces upstairs, happy to help the person who had been bringing me musical bliss since 2002, and who was about to give more, singing us towards serenity.

Krishna Das, you’ve given us thousands of hours of uplifting, joyous kirtan music. Now it’s your time. Don’t even think about doing “a couple of local things around New York,” and the Skype sessions you’ve suggested, to stay in touch with your fans! Please, disconnect and do what’s needed; the “healthful recharging” mentioned in your newsletter.

As I reach for my iPod to play some of my favorite Krishna Das tracks (gosh, so MANY! Which one should I pick? The one where he sings Amazing Grace with Sting? The classic Hanuman Chalisa?),  I send him love and gratitude for sharing his extraordinary kirtan talent. And as I listen to his deep and soothing voice, I wish him a healthy and happy sabbatical. We’ll be waiting patiently for you to return to the circuit, once you’ve fully recharged those Bhakti batteries. Jai Jai Hanuman!

Travel, Yoga in India, Yoga Philosophy, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Bhakti Chanting, Sanskrit and Mythology

imageOut of the mountain of our yoga teacher training study materials, I was immediately drawn to the chanting books; Bhakti or devotional chanting, which I love. We sing the invocation to Patanjali every day, and it’s nice to begin asanas with this familiar chant that I know well from many Iyengar yoga classes at Pura Vida Yoga.

For the first week, we have an hour of chanting in the morning, sometimes accompanied by the beat of tabla drums. Our voices are all a bit rusty and querulous to begin with as we get used to the melodies, but Yogi Sivadas‘ rich, deep voice fills the sunny room and we soon let go of our shyness or self judgment as we join in with the ancient chants.

My Sanskrit scribbles!

Repeated chanting improves concentration and is extremely calming, physically and mentally, as your brain focuses only on the words and the tune. Devotional chanting to the deities (and it doesn’t matter which religion or belief system you have; they’re all here, including Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Ganesh, and more), when sung with intention, can create a peaceful mind. I took my blood pressure before this morning’s chanting: 199/97 with a pulse rate of 69. After an hour of chanting: 129/80 and pulse of 59.

Slightly less calming (i.e. challenging!) are our Sanskrit lessons. “Sanskrit” means well written, or purely written, and is an Indo-Persian tree of language that evolved around 30,000 years ago. We start to learn the basics of the sounds and letters – who knew there were so many ways to pronounce the sounds ‘s’ and ‘sh’! We practice lines and lines of squiggles and dots, repeating them out loud as we write.

Yogi Sivadas writes our names in Sanskrit
Yogi Sivadas writes our names in Sanskrit

Yogi Sivadas writes our names on the board in Sanskrit and they look so pretty, it encourages us to keep on squiggling. He tells us that even if we find it difficult, the very act of focusing your mind on something new in an attempt to learn something, is good exercise for the brain, and you will benefit from that, regardless of the results of the studying. And when he tells us that the Sanskrit word, “cittrashalabh” translates as “insect painting” or “insect art”, doesn’t that sound much more beautiful and poetic than the English word, butterfly?

Our daily studies are peppered with colourful analogies, as Yogi Sivadas explains some yoga philosophy concepts through yoga mythology and allegories. I am constantly reminded of how rich and mystical this culture is, making our own Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty seem dull, by comparison!