Imagine this… You and your friends are at a getaway resort in the mountains of a foreign country for five days. The hotel serves 3 all you can eat meals each day, is on a beautiful lake backdropped by tree covered rolling hills, and the spa has 5 different styles of heated rooms from dry to wet to herb infused. Your group is alongside many other groups from other countries and you are all having this retreat style experience in the context of a Yoga and Music Festival…
Udaya Live 2017 kicked off with a startling and spectacular slam poet who not only captured the room with his confidence and bravado, but with his thoughtfulness and ability to convey manifest reality and the Divine as one. This was just the beginning of the 5 nights of music and entertainment, singing and dancing, laughing and crying; acts ranging from Indian Kirtan to dance club DJ sets.
The Kirtan scene at Udaya Live is diverse. Blues rock, gospel, folk, country, world music, whatever-the-hell Deepak Ramapriyan is, a touch of reggae, to traditional Indian Bhajan singing mixed with jazz and all of it stunning, delightful, engaging, and heartfelt. DJ sets at Udaya Live kept people dancing throughout the festival in Yoga classes, dance classes and to all hours of the night at the downstairs nightclub put together by the amazing crew of the Festival. The crew!
You would not believe the amount of work it takes to build out and keep a festival going for 5 days. The crew is a Bulgarian crew and they work hard! Harder than anyone else at the festival. They build stages, floors, sound stages, light rigs, decor, tents, run sound, strike and rebuild stages do to changes in the schedule, from morning to late night… They even built a floating stage! Yes, a floating stage on the lake!!! These guys are ready, willing, able, and have great attitudes. They are a pleasure to work with and they get stuff done. Each of the 4 stages at Udaya Live had an amazing, top of the line sound system and when the floating stage got rockin, it really got rockin!
All 4 stages were packed with Yoga classes of all types from 7:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. for 4 days straight. Most classes had live music playing at them with a diversity of musicians collaborating from different bands. Udaya Live brings together many different styles of Vinyasa Yoga, Power Yoga, Alignment based Yoga, Acro Yoga, Dance, Kundalini, Yoga Nidra, Contemplative Yoga, Meditation, Yin, Singing, and yes, Yoga Kung Fu is not just a movie with Jackie Chan in it… It’s for real. Each of the teachers at Udaya Live 2017 bring a unique flavor to the Yoga practice and while their online classes are fantastic, being with them live is a special treat.
Your day with your friends might look like this:
7:30 – 8:30 a.m. Meditation with Sunrise overlooking the lake (don’t ask me how you can see the lake during meditation)
8:30 – 9:00 a.m. Small easily digestible breakfast to be ready for kickass class at 10 a.m.
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Get your ass kicked with Powerful Vinyasa Yoga (in a meditative and joyful way)
11:00 – 12:30 p.m. Rest, recover, hydrate and prepare for afternoon of inversions.
12:30 – 2 p.m. Inversions and hand balancing with the masters. Udaya Live brings you some of the best instruction around to keep you safe while having fun.
2 – 3 p.m. Lunch
3 – 4:30 p.m. Rest, digest, and hydrate at the amazing spa!
4:30 – 6 p.m. Soothing and calming Yin class with the angelic sounds of the harp, flute, and voice.
6 – 7 p.m. Relax, enjoy a drink, and clean up for dinner and a great night of music and dancing!
*** Of course, if you and your friends want to really pack it in, there are classes available during the breaks of this imaginary schedule. You could attend 5 classes a day if you could handle it.
7 – 8 p.m. Dinner, drinks, dessert
8 – 9:30 p.m. World music Kirtan and concert
10 – 11:30 p.m. Blues Rock Kirtan and concert
11:30 – 1 a.m. Dance club DJ set
Then… Do it again and again for 4 full days. This festival is made for you and you can tailor your day as full or as spacious as you want. As difficult or as soft as you like. As inside or outside your comfort zone as is your preference. Udaya Live feels like a family affair as much as it does a festival and as laid back as it sincerely difficult Yoga practice. Music is there nearly every step of the way to support, inspire, and bring you deeper into your practice.
I am looking forward to Udaya Live 2018 already and from the rumors it seems like it is going to be even better than this year.
By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.
So you are about to get on a plane and fly. Whether flying 20 min to a nearby town or 20 hours around the world, if you are like me, you think about a few things as the cabin door closes and the plane pulls away from the gate toward the certitude of flight.
“Are the engines attached well? Will they stay attached???”
“Why are these wings so floppy as we roll over bumps?”
“Did the maintenance crew do their job properly?”
“Did the pilot get a full night’s sleep!?”
At some point, in order to remain calm and stay sane, I put my faith in external forces beyond my control and settle in for what is to come. It’s right about this time that I wonder about how my life has gone so far.
“Did I do enough to be satisfied?”
“Have I experienced everything I want to experience?”
“Is Heaven real? And will my pets be there???”
“Will the food on this flight make me wish this was the last flight of my life?”
And though I consider much and deeply, it is always the potential crash that takes over my imagination. As I attempt to think of whether I have fulfilled my destiny or made a difference in the world or the people close to me, I am drawn like a moth to flame toward the terrible consideration of what if feels like to be in a plane crash… Obviously this has happened zero times for I am sitting here writing this now [hopefully for years to come].
Over-thinking leads to self doubt, frustration, non-starting, and the reliance on belief systems for action. The amount of kinetic activity that contributes to ‘flight’ is far too much to be able to think our way through it. At some point we need to be able to turn the thinking off and attempt our efforts, often times despite our dearly held belief of, “I can’t”. Ultimately flight, like faith is felt.
Faith in Self – What is it?
After many years of attempting faith, I have noticed that without experience faith tends to be blind. On the other side of the coin, with experience faith tends to freeze, stagnate, and devolve into a belief system. One key to find faith in one’s self is to see that the Self is not only ‘an experience’. Yoga teaches that The Self, as such, is the experience, the experiencer, and the act of experiencing all at once! These three together are the very substance of Faith. It would be like being the plane, the passenger, and pilot all at once. You are never apart from faith. Faith is as close as your skin and as real as your heart beat. Faith is always already available, in the same way a sunrise is to a sunset. Faith does not depend on a narrow band of experience for validation. Faith frees our experience to be what it is without the need for it to be different. Faith is literally being open to an experience we do not know. In this moment. Faith is being open to all that is present in this moment, especially that which we tend to ignore. Faith includes all the parts of our self; that which we experience on a daily basis and that which we cannot and do not see.
In Yoga we could be asked to fly; to weight-bear on our hands and arms and hop, jump, or balance in mid air. This is not so different psychologically and emotionally from the experience of flying in a plane. Except on the Yoga mat I am the plane, the passenger, the pilot, and the flight. There is a checklist of operations that happen before every flight on a plane and thank God for that! In the body and on the mat it is no different.
Checklist for flight:
Heart and ribcage –
- The center channel of the body is extended from inside from the pelvic floor to the skull.
- Ribcage buoyant and expanded on all sides with full faith that this experience is enough and does not need anything added to it to be perfect.
- All natural curves present in spine.
- Shoulders blades and collar bones wide
- Armpits hollow and firm on all sides
- Head of arm bones pressing out from midline with shoulder muscles firm on all sides
Arms – Together with the shoulders these are as close to wings as we have.
- The arm bones are pressing forward away from heart and toward the earth
- Muscles of biceps, triceps, and forearms firm on all sides
- Elbows neutral (facing each other, without hyperextension and without bend)
Hands – The foundation of all flight is fed by the Heart and connection to the earth. The placement of the hands can create a firm and reliable foundation inspiring greater Faith in the heart.
- Hands in a neutral placement at a supportive width [roughly center of palm to outer shoulder]
- Finger pads pressing without turning the finger tips white ; base of fingers pressing and baring a slight majority of weight
- Center of palm lifting away from floor
With all of this to think about it can be a bit daunting, like over thinking the possibilities of operator error and maintenance malfunction before taking off in a plane. At some point, we can put down all the thinking and take a leap of faith. Flying on our wings and knowing that falling is part of life and does not ultimately define our strength or faith. If we fall to earth once again smashed on the rocks of illusion, we remember our Self. We remember that faith is not only an experience. Faith is experiencing! All of life, the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys. Faith is that substance of Self which experiences – through this body of limited sensation and feeling – and our contact with our Self grows over time. The more we know, the more we let go of the known and open to deeper and deeper contact with Faith as our Self. We eventually learn to have Faith not only in that which we have experienced but that which we have yet to experience and what might be beyond our experience. We stop selling ourselves short and rest in a deep and profound trust in our Self and what is greater. Then when it comes time to fly, we have no need for thought or belief systems. For flight like Faith, is Felt.
By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.
Here we are on the threshold of the second Udaya Live, Yoga and Music Festival. Last year’s festival marks high on the list of memorable experiences for me and I am very excited for this year’s event! So much of the planning and scheduling for this event naturally lends to an amazing experience. I hope that you are attending to see and feel how holding a festival in the mountains of Bulgaria with this crew of people really lends to an amazing experience.
…. What is going to make your festival experience the best it can be?
As the old saying goes, you get out of your experience what you put into it. Udaya Live is an all inclusive retreat style Festival. One of the few of its kind. It is set in a supremely beautiful environment in the mountains of Bulgaria (this year on a lake!). All of your basic needs are taken into account in the planning of Udaya Live and on top of that there is an imagining of the possible ‘wants’ you could have fulfilled by attending. Attendees will experience many styles of world class Yoga teaching, meditation, musical performances, Kirtan, DJ sets, dance parties and more… including a floating stage!
After all is said and done, what you take home is the quality of that which you yourself put into the experience. There is a common pitfall that we can fall into when we treat a festival situation as if it ‘owes us’ something. One sign of maturity on the path of Yoga is the recognition that ‘giving’ is the natural response to seeing who we really are in the context of Life, the path, the practice, and what really matters. When we see the bigger picture, we see that we really only get what we give.
If we are lucky enough to attend any festival on this planet, we fall into a category of humans that is extraordinarily fortunate. Even if we have not a dollar to our name and we are bumming off the generosity of others, it is more rare to attend a festival than we might think. So many humans are forced by position and circumstance to live a life of poverty and survive day to day on little with little opportunity to do anything else.
The essence of the word gratitude is ‘debt’. I know this sounds funny. But think about it… You only give a ‘gratuity’ in a situation where you think you owe something. This is usually done with money though there are other ways of expressing gratitude. Simply holding an attitude of gratitude for your experience goes a long way to shaping what you get out of it. Writing down at the end of each day 5 things you are grateful for affects the way you perceive and feel the events of your day and opens you to a greater possibility of relationship with your environment and with others. Telling someone in a moment of genuine feeling that you appreciate them expresses the tacit recognition of connection and presence.
Another pitfall we can default to is the idea that we actually ‘own’ the space we are in. This belief is rooted in such a deep seated sense of separation and insecurity and it rarely, if ever, renders the feelings and experience we ultimately desire. Even if we get “our space” or take up “our space”, our self-centeredness is eventually due to be exposed and reflected back to us.
Sharing space goes a long way in living inclusivity and acceptance. Sharing physical space and also sharing space in the sense of being with people and not needing them to fulfill your unmet needs. Simply being with people without letting your story get in the way of the relationship. This can look like holding an attitude of interest and regard for others, acknowledging what others have to say and being willing to listen to views other than your own without needing to change theirs. Sharing space tells the Universe that you recognize something deeply important about being human and having a desire for real relationship.
One of the main ways we expand the value of experience, whether it is a festive one that we enjoy or a demanding and stressful one we do not, is by putting our attention on it.
Attentiveness is not just paying attention to where you walk, and how you eat, and if you pick your nose in public. Attentiveness is not just not slamming doors and not littering because it is “someone else’s job” to pick up after you.
Attentiveness is how you hold yourself in space. Attentiveness is being aware of your center of gravity. Attentiveness is staying with the feeling of life in the body you have been gifted with. Attentiveness is noticing your habits of movement, action, reactions, speech, and the unconscious tension you hold in your body. Attentiveness is being at home in the body, as if it were a sacred temple; taking care of and not harming the body.
How do you know you are present?
What do you use to verify it?
How do you prove it to yourself?
Is the presence of your physical body enough to count for being present, like in school when your name was called and you raised your hand to indicate “present”?
Ever since the famous words, “Be Here Now” were printed over half a century ago, Yogis have believed that they should be present and have implemented so many practices and strategies to be here now, ‘present’.
Sensation and Feeling as far as I can tell, the only verifiable evidence that we have of our presence. The struggle to stay present with the moment by moment sensation and feeling of the breath and body is and has been the only tool for humans as long as we have existed. No Facebook post or Instagram “like” is gonna get you there. No imaginationland idea of what presence is will fulfill that unending desire for your “peak experience”. Besides, if you are ever going to get that “peak experience” you are looking for, it would be the highest irony were you to not be present to experience it.
The destination is the present, and it must be renewed with every breath, or the connection is lost.
What is going to make your festival experience be a peak experience?
- Sharing Space
By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.
I just finished teaching a 20 hour module on Kirtan and Mantra singing with Sheela Bringi for a Yoga Teacher Training at Sage Yoga in Boise, ID. The Yoga Teacher Training was headed up by Marisa Weppner who just released her book: Vinyasa Yoga Made Simple which focuses on (among other things) getting you to feel your practice more than make it look a certain way! Our Kirtan training module included Raga singing, listening practices, rhythm training, pronunciation tips, ‘anatomy’ of Kirtan, stories of deities myth and mood, mantra practice, a Concert, a Sonic Yoga experience, historical education, and all in the context of one question:
How do I start a Kirtan Band?
Last November Sheela and I were in Boise at the same venue doing a 10 hour training on the same content. Several months later we got a call from Marisa. She expressed that after the 10 hours of study she felt that people definitely needed more training and she asked us explicitly: what do we need to start a Kirtan band? We planned every section of this module considering this question and came up with a great answer.
One of the Earth’s greatest songwriters once said in response to a question like this:
“All you need is 3 chords and the truth!”
Taking a page from Baba Bob Dylan’s book on music, we boiled down a recipe.
What you need to start a Kirtan band:
- Time [in the form of Rhythm]
- Melody [in the form of notes from a musical scale or Indian Raga]
- The Truth [in the form of Mantra or other text that conveys the mood of Praise]
You need to have time to practice by yourself and in a group. You need to consider that ‘time’ is the essence of music and without it part of the magic of Kirtan is lost. Time is what gives Kirtan it’s mesmerizing quality as the chant is repeated to pulsing rhythms. Time is what refocuses the mind when the tempo in Kirtan speeds up and demands that you stay present to give through your voice and heart what is in you to give. Time is what you experience as disappearing as your temporal identity is challenged and trance like states of consciousness are brought forward through the practice. While trance is not the main aim of Kirtan it certainly happens and many people report how wonderful it is that they lose their normal sense of time for an hour or two while in the practice.
Time in Kirtan is indicated by the singer and marked by the drummer. The singer indicates the time with their voice by how fast they enunciate the words at the start of a sung phrase. The drummer marks the time by playing their instrument at the indicated tempo of the singer. Drumming can be as simple as a repetitive, straight forward, on the beat hand clap and as complicated as the wild sounds of the Indian tabla drum which whirl around the time with off beat, syncopated rhythms. No matter what it looks like, if you want to start a Kirtan band, you need Time.
A melody is a series of musical notes sung together in phrases much like a sentence. Like a sentence, melody has motive and ideas that convey the inner thoughts and feelings of the composer. Melodies in Kirtan can range from very simple utilizing fewer notes – like the folk artists of Bob Dylan’s time – to very complex and greater number of notes as in the melodies of Indian Kirtan informed by Raga.
Raga is the melodic framework of Indian Music. The beauty and appreciation which arises in the mind and heart of the enjoyer of Raga is quite high and ecstatic. Raga is translated as ‘color’ or ‘passion’. Raga is that which colors the mind of the listener bringing about the preexistent qualities of the Raga through feeling and evocation. Ragas are based on ‘parent’ scales and move in particular shapes from note to note to elicit their moods and states of being.
Kirtan is a folk form of music that arose in India as a populist movement that brought the possibility of relationship with the Divine Presence out of priestly exclusivity and into the streets and homes of India. As this happened the melodies while being informed by Raga did not stick to all of the prescriptions and forms of Classical Raga. Melodies were simplified and the strict forms of Ragas broken, yet in many cases, the essence of Raga still left in tact.
You do not need Raga to start a Kirtan band. You can use any melodic framework to convey the essential moods and states of being you experience in Praise of the Divine. What the study of Raga does is put you contact with Tradition and the Roots of Kirtan. You can of course do it any way you like.
I don’t want you to believe me. I want you to find out for yourself. What happens when you sing? What happens when you sing in a foreign language? What happens when you take the time to learn the meaning and purpose of that language and the words you are singing?
We love Bob Dylan’s words because he possessed the ability to contact truth and use English to tell it (not a small feat I must add).
The ‘words’ of Kirtan come from Sanskrit and other Indian Languages. In the last 25 years as Kirtan has spread to the West and been popularized by non-Indian singers, more languages have been introduced. You can for sure use any language to start a Kirtan band. I also think there is a great deal of value in using your native tongue to express moods of praise for, or any considerations you have on the Divine Presence. That said, the language of Sanskrit has the inherent quality of being phenomenological. That means that the ‘word’ or ‘name’ is the ‘form’ of that which it is sounding out. This is a fancy way of saying that the vibrations made by the human voice when speaking Sanskrit are WAY closer (like totally in contact with) the “thing” being spoken or sung. What does this mean and why do you care? I encourage you to find out for yourself.
The ‘words’ of Kirtan are sometimes a mantra and sometimes text from a poem or song about a deity from the Hindu pantheon. Mantras are sets of sounds and words that invoke the presence and power of Deity and magic. The poems and songs which Kirtans arise from are composed by Saints and Sages in the high states of Praise which they found themselves in through living a life of practice and worship. The essence of the mantras and poems or songs sung in Kirtan is ‘Praise’.
Kirtan means Praise. There is a power in singing praise that touches the heart and breaks down boundaries and beliefs. Singing praise challenges us to look into the nature of our identity as separate beings. Singing praise puts us in a tacit knowing that there is a vast and unspeakable intelligence of the Heart that every living thing in creation shares and has access to. Singing praise might just change your life.
At the end of 20 hours of training, each and every participant successfully lead Kirtan in small groups of 3 or 4. It was ecstatic and full of feeling and life. I am ever humbled by the process and gift of music and relationship with the Divine Presence.
By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.
Join us at Udaya Live, Yoga and music festival in 2 weeks! Resort retreat style, all inclusive Yoga Festival with Kirtan every night!
In the Yoga Tradition there is a Tantric philosophy that illuminates how all matter is made of sound vibration, and that we can personally experience this in and through our bodies. The philosophy is carried through the theory of ‘Vac’ which elucidates what is called the ‘4 Levels of Speech’. Some of the most mystical experiences I have had in my life have been working with this practice in mantra repetition, group singing (Kirtan), and enjoying sound in sound baths.
The practice of this philosophy can enhance our lives by helping us to (among other things):
- be more open to ‘intuitive mind’
- say what we mean and mean what we say
- explore and enjoy the depths of sound & silence
Working with the 4 levels of speech is a process. There are NO guarantees in this process and working it is its own reward. The results of your practice are important, and yet unknown and unsure. What is sure is that if you never go through the process, your relationship to sound, words, speech, and intuitive mind will very likely stay the same as it always was throughout this entire life cycle.
Vac is the word in Sanskrit for ‘speech’.
4 levels of Speech/Vac
- Para Vac: Transcendent and Pure Speech
- Pashyanti Vac: Visionary and Intuitive Speech
- Madhyama Vac: Mental and Separative Speech
- Vaikari Vac: Gross and Separative Speech
Para Vac [Pure Speech] is beyond definition, explanation, and truly no words will ever come close to touching it. This principle comes to the Yoga Tradition from several different schools of Tantra. While each Tantric school might teach and utilize this principle differently, the core tenant sounds something like this:
All matter and energy in the Universe is seen as sound vibration at different levels of density emanating from Para Vac. Para Vac is seen as the Supremely Sovereign Creative Source beyond spacetime which manifests this Universe.
Using the analogy of an artist to show Para Vac, we see that the pure desire to put paint to a blank canvas is an example of this state. Before any inkling of what arises to be created, there is a pure heart desire in the living artist. The raw urge to create.
Pashyanti Vac [Visionary Speech] has a quality of manifested presence and yet it is higher than the intellectual mind and beyond personal definition and interpretation. Pashyanti means ‘visionary’ which tells us that this level of speech is ‘seen’ more than ‘heard’. Not that you can’t hear it. Just that you do not ‘hear’ it with your ordinary faculty of hearing.
Using our artist analogy, the intention to paint has started to come into clarity, and yet they cannot describe to you what it is they want to paint. The colors and images which are desiring to manifest onto a blank canvas are taking shape in the artist’s being though there is no certitude in the mind of the artist as to what it is.
Pashyanti Vac is the sound of life as it is. Pashyanti Vac is the story of life, not your interpretation or retelling of the story to yourself. Pashyanti Vac is what we might call ‘Objective Reality’. It is an instant apprehension of the impressions of life without psychological filters.
Try this experiment. Look at the grass and see how long you can see the grass without your mind calling it grass, or green, or any label at all. You can experiment with literally any object in your awareness to try this experiment. When Pashyanti Vac opens up to you, it is as if you are seeing the grass for the first time!
Madhyama Vac is the level of speech you have been using to read this article to yourself. It is also all of the other competing words and sounds in your mind which have been attempting to capture your attention as you read this article. ‘Madhya’ means middle and it is the level of speech that sits between the visionary and gross. Madhyama Vac is where all of our personal story, our judgments, complaints, commentary, and ordinary thinking occur.
At this level in our Artist analogy, the artist has a clear view of what they want to paint and it has taken full form and definition in their mind. They can describe it to you and they have a decisive mental conclusion which will lead to the rendering of the art of the canvas.
Vaikari Vac is what is known as ‘gross speech’. It is the speech of audible communication from one individual to another. It is usually sounded through the vocal apparatus of the human animal. Sign language and body language are also forms of Vaikari Vac though a bit more abstract and in the case of body language, largely unconscious.
In our artist analogy, the painting is now on the canvas for all to enjoy.
Every word or sound that has ever been uttered has arisen toward the event of manifestation from Para Vac, taken shape around intention at the level of Pashyanti Vac, thought about at the level Madhyama Vac, and then and only then been able to be sounded and heard aloud at the level of Vaikari Vac. And as what goes up must come down, all words and sound must return via the same process in the reverse direction.
We as Yogis can leverage this to work with Speech and Sound to gain insight, utility in speech, greater sympathy toward others, and much more. Simply being aware of the process in either direction is useful, though from my experience, the speed with which sound manifests from subtle to gross speech is so fast that if I do not work the reverse direction in practice first, I miss it.
Practice: working backward from gross to subtle
In mantric repetition we get a chance to observe the reverse process of speech as it moves back to the Source. This requires that we sit in a comfortable seat, have some patience and an open attitude.
Steps for working backward:
- Repeat your mantra (any) out loud for several minutes until you are making audible sound in a relaxed posture and not creating unnecessary tension through your vocal apparatus.
- Transition to repeating your mantra in a whisper for several minutes
- Say your mantra in your mind making no audible sound for several minutes. At this stage try to allow your tongue and throat, lower abdomen and pelvic floor to be still and relaxed.
- Discontinue the volitional repetition of your mantra and notice if it ‘says itself’ in your awareness. This is no special attainment. Just notice whether it does or not.
- Attempt to follow the sound of the mantra internally to its complete dissolution into silence.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. If you liked this practice please leave a comment in the comment section and add to the conversation.
By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.
Opportunities abound to explore the depths of sound and silence at Udaya Live this August in Bulgaria.