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Posted on 12-03-2016

Growth of Kirtan Yoga in Houston and the World

A lot of us have experimented with conventional yoga: we’ve sat with eyes closed—in as close to a “lotus position” as our imperfect bodies allow — and we’ve tried breathing techniques or meditated on this or that, patiently (or impatiently) waiting to enter sacred space, to be lifted from our present plane of consciousness to a blissful, nirvanic state. But for many of us, the experience has been like that of a rocket that fails to lift off or doesn’t go very far. The simple but demanding yogic exercises seem to require a discipline that the yogis of old had, but which is not always so easy to muster in ourselves.

Fortunately, however, the ancient yoga masters gave us a helpful tip: different spiritual techniques work better in different world ages. By the time our present age began, some 5,000 years ago, according to India’s traditional wisdom texts, the recommended process was Kirtan Yoga, the power of sacred chanting. Beginning with Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada’s performance of Kirtan Yoga at Tompkins Square Park in New York in the mid-1960s, kirtan — the call-and-response form of devotional singing — has been gaining momentum throughout the world. In Houston it began when a charismatic monk, Vishnujana Swami, hitch-hiked here in 1970, chanted at Hermann Park and performed melodious kirtans on Sundays at the free vegetarian love feasts at the first Hare Krishna center in a dilapidated house on West Gray St.

Now the new Hare Krishna facility is more upscale, a landmark multi-million dollar Vedic style temple on West 34th St., but every Sunday guests can still experience kirtan beginning at 5:30 pm as part of the same love feast program. Yoga studios once known for silent meditation now broadcast tuneful mantras through their loudspeakers, and kirtaneers such as Krishna Das and the Mayapuris frequently visit Houston. And why not? Not everyone has the physical stamina to practice more conventional forms of yoga, but even a child or an elderly person can chant.

For well-known kirtan singer Jai Uttal, chanting with musical accompaniment can be a profound spiritual experience, a connection with the divine through sacred sound. “Kirtan is like a magnet, inviting and begging grace to enter our hearts and our lives. It is a most precious thing, something to be cherished and practiced with total gratitude, and those who learn how to enter into it will feel God’s grace and presence.” According to Steven Rosen, author of The Yoga of Kirtan, “A new kirtan has emerged: Ancient India’s sages have called out to us, and we are answering their call with modern words, rhythms, and beats. Kirtan is a call and response form of yoga, and we are responding, too, as the sages knew we would.”

To experience kirtan in Houston in an intimate setting, Dharma House offers kirtan and a vegetarian dinner (832-294-7503, https://www.facebook.com/dharmahousehouston). Conscious Houston does kirtan at different venues, (http://www.conscioushouston.org). For Hare Krishna programs go to http://www.iskconhouston.org/alpha

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