The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Focus: Gratitude – Inter-Faith & Cultural Fusion November 25, 2010

Around Thanksgiving, some might grunt and gripe about family dynamics (me included) This year I want to offer huge gratitude to my parents. Because Mom and Dad motivated my passion for fusing spiritual and cultural influences.

Mom (rest her soul) was a blue-eyed Church of Christ farm girl born to Irish settlers near Nashville, TN. Her love for singing was rooted in songs from black culture. I have her 1948 “Negro Spirituals” song book and newspaper clippings from talent shows where she performed the jazz standard “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” She converted to Judaism before marrying my father. Dad came from a gypsy-like Russian-Jewish family and grew from adolescence to early adulthood in Phoenix, AZ, where he gravitated toward Mexican culture. To this day, he tries to remember his Spanish vocabulary, brightens up when he hears Mariachi music and takes himself out for enchiladas just to be around Hispanic families.

Both Mom and Dad brought their musical and religious influences into our home; and I grew up with an appreciation of pretty much every aspect of their eclectic tastes and backgrounds. As my cultural interests matured, I traveled right down the middle of Dad’s Spanish-tinged path and Mom’s Afro-centric inspirations to find myself impassioned for Puerto Rico. Spiritually, I’ve presently evolved into a somewhat pagan yogini who religiously observes the Jewish New Year!

So when I recently saw an advertisement for a “Bomba Kirtan” – an event blending yogic devotional chanting and Puerto Rican folkloric “party” music – I was beyond excited!

When I first heard about the event, I asked myself – is it “OK” to fuse a purely spiritual practice with a primarily social activity? The answer for me – particularly after last weekend’s amazing experience – is a hearty “yes!”

The “Bomba Kirtan” at Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio was beyond my dreams. What a beautifully diverse community of yoga teachers, yogis and yoginis, dancers, musicians, artists, parents, children and all! After a meet-n-greet with tea and homemade cacao/fruit balls, we circled up and prepared to pray in the Bhakti Yoga tradition. After Pranayama and meditation – with mellow guitar and drum accompaniment – we transitioned to responsive Sanskrit chanting to various deities. We even included a Native American chant urging each other to “Be Here Now.” Clearly Ganesha heard us because the devotional energy was unobstructed, pure and high!

After a short break the drummers re-directed the room with rhythms rooted in the Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba tradition. People bravely jumped in on instruments, jumped into the middle of the dance floor, jumped into a culture that they were primarily unfamiliar with before those moments. Dancers and drummers played off each others’ movements and hits; chanters offered songs; and singers offered chants. In my tradition of Inter-Faith exploration, I even snuck in a chant to Oshun during a gorgeous 6/8 groove. The freedom! The smiles! When I left to drive home to DC, more drummers were arriving! I heard that the Bomberos carried through into the wee hours.

To me, the seemingly separate traditions of Kirtan and Bomba actually have much in common. The call-response of chanting and singing; the soulful call to sway, move, dance; the conversations between chanter and spirit, dancer and drummer, dancer and dancer, chanter and chanter; the movement toward ecstasy.

To blend Kirtan and Bomba in the sober and sacred space of a yoga studio was ideal for me. I felt 100% comfortable being my Self, and 100% authentic embodying all of my culturally eclectic “selves.” I can’t remember, ever, feeling so loved and loving, accepted and accepting, moved, inspired, true, awake.

Liberated.

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for bringing your spiritual and cultural curiosities, passions, traditions and backgrounds into our home. Also much, much gratitude to those that created and shared the magic of perhaps the world’s 1st (but certainly not last!) Bomba Kirtan: the owners of Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio; the musicians gathered by Michael Harris; my fellow OM-Zoners Kendra and Justina; photographer Monica Sizemore (for these beautiful shots!); and so many more who are now connected by this unique bond.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

To view Monica Sizemore’s complete album of Bomba Kirtan photos, visit http://www.4thchakraphotography.com/. To learn more about Baltimore’s Utkatasana studio, visit http://www.utkatasanayoga.com/live/. For more information about future Bomba Kirtan events, subscribe to my Yoga Update newsletter by e-mailing hmeyers65@yahoo.com or stay tuned to the Events page of this Urban Yoga Den blog.

Advertisements
 

Monthly Focus: November – Gratitude November 23, 2010

Today I feel really, really lucky.

The amount of joy that I get to experience throughout the days is beyond what I might have imagined years ago, when I was stuck in shadows and pain. I dare say, life IS a bowl of cherries – sweet fruit, crunchy pits and all! And because of this intention toward accepting life’s sweetness and crunchiness (a form of Santosha, contentment), my potential for moving through challenges and toward celebrations is greater than ever. I don’t have to be stuck anywhere anymore.

Today I have choices.

This past weekend I tripped and fell and hurt myself – and I see the event as a parallel for my figurative stumbles along life’s path. I get to choose my attitude about that occurrence. I get to choose my reactions and actions. I get to choose whether I will be angry or self-pitying or embarrassed…or, whether I will be concerned and aware and ask for help. I get to choose solutions from a toolbox that has evolved from previous stumbles. And gratefully, I have the opportunity to grow along the journey.

Pratipaksha Bhavana! I resolve to focus on the positive!

I look forward to a true Thanksgiving this year. In the spirit of November trends, I’ve chosen “Gratitude” for our November class focus. It’s been great exploring the theme so far, with uplifting Vinyasa, heart openers and a celebratory energy. We’ve dedicated practices to our appreciation for beings, things and situations.

We’ve even asked ourselves: Can we be grateful for the sweet fruit and the crunchy pits? How about those beings, things and situations that challenge us and make us uncomfortable? What if we saw all as opportunities for growth?

I can easily be thankful for the obvious – health, a roof over my head, teachers, work opportunities, community and so on. When unexpected or even unwanted people or situations affect me negatively, I try (try) to remember that everything is just as it’s meant to be in that moment. There is so much beyond my immediate perception that has caused that interaction; and the range and expansiveness of chain reactions from that interaction will be way beyond my comprehension and knowledge.

In other words, more will be revealed.

This is why I feel so lucky! Yoga teaches me that in a challenging pose, on the mat, I can use breath, intention, alignment cues and more to enhance courage, acceptance and ease. I don’t have to run away from the pose; I don’t have to resent my teacher; I don’t have to suffer. If I stay present with the discomfort, more will be revealed – in some cases, quite literally, I will eventually feel the physical benefits of that particular pose. In other cases, figuratively, the psychological benefits of surrendering to and finding gratitude for the challenge will become obvious.

I am not perfect at this! Coming out of a pose at times simply shows my humanness – and I can practice Santosha toward that beauty, as well. Gratitude for and contentment with my perfectly human imperfection.

Now I’m rambling. As last year, I will end this monthly focus post with a gratitude list. I invite you to join me in the tradition and appreciate the sweet fruit and crunchy pits that grace your bowl of cherries!

OM Shanti.

GRATITUDE LIST – MONDAY, 22 NOVEMBER, 2010
1. Teachers in all guises – ankle-biters, button pushers, mirrors, opposites, soul mates, wise ones, allies and on.
2. Talented, generous and attentive healers and doctors.
3. All spiritual programs, traditions and resources.
4. Opportunities for growth in all forms. Really. Hindsight is 20-20.
5. The CDs that friends loan to introduce me to new music.
6. Music, yoga, baseball, natural health and cuisine. Having passions.
7. Fusing cultures and traditions of devotion, love and spirit – i.e. Bomba Kirtan!
8. Those that lead the way. Elders in age and/or years of experience.
9. Opportunities to teach, mentor and learn from children.
10. My family – of origin and of communities.
11. Second, third, hundredth chances.
12. Infinite beauty and generous gifts of nature.
13. Life, love, higher power.
14. So, so much more – i.e. bedtime. Good night!

(Bowl of Cherries painting by Midwest artist Penelope – http://penelope.mosaicglobe.com/)