The sun wakes me for Day 1 of Bhakti Fest. My bed is positioned perfectly for the sunrise glow to gently wake me — which I love. One step out of bed says the pain in my knee from yesterday is not temporary. As my teacher Heide says at home: if the pain lasts for an hour after your practice, it’s probably okay. If it lasts for a day, you did too much.
Thanks, Heide. I did too much.
In some state of denial, I limp down to the Info tent to register for afternoon classes. “I’ll just take it easy,” I think. I meet some delightful yogis from the Denver area. You can tell that it’s not someone’s first Bhakti Fest when they already greet you like family at 6:45am on Day 1. By 6pm on Day 2, everyone is hugging and kissing hello, greeting apparent strangers with “I love you, brother,” – but on Day 1, the newbies look at you a little crazy when you jump right in.
I register for Saul David Raye’s 3pm class — I know better to return to Dharma Mitra’s class which I pre-registered for “Just in case.” Just in case what, who knows? Just in case I wasn’t quite finished “getting enlightened” in six hours on Wednesday.
By 7:12 a.m., my day is fully planned. I buy overpriced coffee just because. Because sometime iced lattes are the only way to go.
I wander down by the main stage, which still isn’t totally set up, just to see what things look like before the bhav takes over.
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At 8am, it’s time for the Hanuman Chalisa. The first time I ever sang the Chalisa was exactly one year ago at Bhakti Fest. It’s a 40 line prayer to a monkey god, but including the opening and closing it’s more like 50 lines of Hindi that takes about 11 minutes to sing. I know that sounds nuts, but I’m okay with it. I think it’s actually a crucial part of why Bhakti Fest last year was the beginning of the end of my old life. I went home, and began to methodically learn the 50 lines — words in a language I don’t know, just sounds strung together. It seemed impossible at first, but I was encouraged that so many other people had clearly learned it before.
This morning, I sit down near the front, and sing all 40 lines without a cheat sheet. My mistakes are covered by the singing of the crowd, led by our dear friend Govin Das of the Bhakti Yoga Shala. I think this is my favorite singing of his the whole weekend.
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9:30 brings class with Mark Whitwell. Back in carpeted Yoga Hall I, it’s very different and yet very similar to Dharma Mitra the day before. I practiced with Mr. Whitwell last year — so I knew it would be a gentle enough practice to not cripple me any further. He spends the first 45 minutes lecturing, cajoling, teasing us a little about the practice in so many western yoga studios. “This is not the real yoga,” he says. This rhetoric is so similar to DM, and I can’t help but chuckle. It becomes a common refrain, almost predictable: “My guru taught me the ‘real yoga,’ and I’m teaching it to you.” We hear it often over the weekend, although not from every teacher.
This may be my favorite thing about being a yoga teacher and practitioner at this moment in time: nobody agrees about what it is. It’s like trying to define philosophy. The old line teachers say their way is the “right way,” but the very nature of the practice makes it impossible to prove their way definitively right or wrong.
But I enjoy Whitwell’s way. It’s very linked to breath, and he even integrates bandhas in the practice. It’s simple, accessible, and transformational. You can’t help but feel great afterwards. It occurs to me that I’ve been brought here in preparation for my upcoming work at Odyssey House in New Orleans — offering yoga to newly recovering addicts. I’m hopeful that simple and accessible will be a helpful tool in their recovery.
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I grab snacks and water and head over to Patrick Shaw’s Chaiyurveda workshop. It’s in the bright, hot, outdoor Workshop Hall II. The sun is high overhead, beating down on us in this white modern yurt, and poor Patrick is standing in front of burners of boiling water and heating milk. He’s using Chai to teach about doshas and the karmic action of food. It’s a sneakily fascinating workshop. I’m sad to have to leave before it’s over to head to my bodywork appointment. Doubly sad to miss the chai, even if it is 97 degrees out.
And now my world is totally rocked by Karin Pine. She’s a Cranio-Sacral therapist and myofascial bodyworker like none I’ve ever met. She fixes my knee. She starts working on a 20 year-old hip injury. All outside, with Gina Sala play in the background on the main stage. Nearly to the end of my appointment, based on the intensity of the work she’s done, I ask, “I should cancel my afternoon classes, huh?”
“Oh, yeah,” she says.
I leave feeling like I have had a truly spiritual experience. I make a second appointment immediately.
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I wander around in a daze, finding my way home. I draw a bath. I haven’t taken a bath in at least 4 years. I pretend to read. I hum kirtan. I finally pull my way out of the tub, make a snack, and wander back out into the desert. I am the bhav.