Guest Written by Jillian Love
I programmed the Krishna Das station into my Pandora, tossed my favorite yoga mat in the back seat, and hit the road, feeling my exhilaration rising as I embarked on the long drive from the Bay Area to Joshua Tree to enjoy another year of Bhakti Fest. For me, the eight-hour-plus drive to Bhakti Fest is like a pilgrimage to a sacred land. It’s like an energetic vortex into the epicenter, the celebration of the devotional path of yoga, sacred music, and conscious living.
This was my second year at Bhakti Fest, so I knew what was in store. I had already spent time perusing the schedule and circling quite a few yoga classes, musical performances and workshops that I wanted to make sure I did not miss. I arrived early Wednesday night so that I could be on site and get an early start Thursday morning when the classes began. You need to understand, these are not just your ordinary yoga classes. These two-hour classes are with epic world-class teachers and typically include live music, mantras, ecstatic dance, and bhakti-focused downloads from the instructors, interwoven with the asanas. (“Bhakti” is Sanskrit for “devotion”.) I had a few favorite teachers from last year that I wanted to see again. Saul David Raye is one of them. He showed up as his usual beautiful embodiment of the divine masculine and dropped one incredible heart-opening nugget of wisdom after another. If I were not so busy in down dog, warrior, pigeon etc., I would have taken out a journal to take notes. Instead, I guess I just need to let all that goodness seep into my psyche and keep coming back for more.
I also made it a point to take class with Govind Das & Radha, a duo of teacher and singer who take you through an easeful flow accompanied by lighthearted bhakti-oriented discourse and occasional interactive asanas which encourage connection with your neighboring classmates, and you literally do connect since the class is so packed that your mats are actually touching, lol. One of my favorite moments was when we all stood in tree pose and put arms over one another’s shoulders and then leaned back into each other’s arms while simultaneously holding one another up. A super cool experience.
Sean Johnson & the Wild Lotus Band’s class “Bhakti on the Mat” is always captivating. The class is invited to come close and circle up while Sean tells a whimsical interactive story about the folklore of one of the Hindu deities whose names are often evoked in many of the kirtan mantras. The story time is accompanied by playful live music and has the class participate by making the accompanying sound effects to the tale being told. The experience called forth a childlike sense of play and ease that, interwoven with asanas, is one of the most unique yoga classes at the festival.
One new teacher that I discovered this year was Kia Miller. Kia is a bright soul who teaches Kundalini yoga, where breathwork is combined with asanas to activate the energetic body in profound and palpable ways. Her grace and ease, combined with the energy I felt vibrating through my body during and after her class had me inspired to come back for more. The second class that I took with her was outside at 8 am on a rainy morning. The fact that the class was still absolutely full is a testimony to her loyal following. Her positive attitude never faltered, the rain eventually stopped, and there was a rainbow. The weather captured the essence of Kia Miller’s class. It was a metaphor for the positive outcome available when you persist through challenges.
A highlight of my experience this year was Sri Prem Baba. Sri Prem Baba is a spiritual master of the Sachcha lineage of India and a Brazilian humanitarian leader. He spoke each of the four days and the room was standing room only each time. His discourses included responses to questions from the audience, based on a method of self-knowledge he developed called The Path of the Heart. I sat in the front row so I could get a good look at him and drop into the experience. His presence was warm and heart opening,- and his words were down to earth yet deeply resonating. Towards the end of one of the discourses, the discussion had gone to the state of the world and the question was raised as to what can we do. His response, in summary, was to stop complaining, as it is a sign your consciousness is draining out, and this is the entry door for evil. Instead, pay attention to the beauty of life and trust that the divine mother is giving birth to a new way of life-based in love. I was fortunate enough to attend two talks with Sri Prem Baba, and I left each time feeling inspired and like my heart had been lifted. I was happy to learn I could listen to his youtube videos on the drive home.
As for music, I watched the headliners on the main stage each night. Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, and MC Yogi were epic, as expected. Plus I made a point to see some great non-mainstage musical acts, like the soulful tunes of up and coming artist Mikey Pauker, and the energetic and inspiring performance of the Ecstatic Latin Reggae Afro-Funk Bhakti Fest veteran Fantuzzi.
All in all, I attended seven yoga classes with epic world-class teachers, two incredible talks with Sri Prem Baba, and watched the headliners on the main stage each night. Plus I spent a bit of time at the pool, did some shopping, and ate some great food. All this and I also had a sweet time connecting with old and new friends, singing, dancing, stretching, breathing and seeing rainbows.
So-yoga, workshops, music, and food. Was it worth 16 hours of driving??
YES! Bhakti Fest not only activates the body and mind but also serves as an accelerator for the expansion of the heart and deepening of one’s connection to the divine. Embracing Bhakti is a revolutionary step. You become initiated into the heart-centered revolution and in so doing become an active contributor to move forward the collective evolution of a more heart-centered human consciousness. Bhakti is not about ideology, it is about the cultivation of unconditional love, and who would not drive 16 hours for that?
I’m already excited about next year!