My Soundtrack Of 2013

At the end of each year I make a playlist encapsulating songs that meant something to me over the course of the past 12 months. Some are new songs, but many are old ones that have re-emerged for me in significance for some reason or another.

I give a CD of my yearly “soundtrack” to my girlfriends and family around the holidays.

But I mostly make this compilation of favorite songs for myself – I love having these yearly playlists on my ipod. It’s fun to go back and see how different each year has been.

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Krishna Das’ One Track Heart

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Today Thaddeus and I spent the afternoon in a tiny independent movie theatre we just discovered here in Denver watching a matinee of a heartfelt new documentary about kirtan-wallah Krishna Das.

If you’ve ever been into a yoga studio in America, you’ve probably heard his soulful voice whether you know his name or not. It is truly distinct, carrying with it a power and depth of emotion that is like no other musician or bhajan singer out there. Krishna Das sings traditional devotional songs, mostly in Sanskrit or Hindi. His music though is not pure traditional Indian music. It is presented in a way that is perhaps more accessible to a Western audience while still maintaining the authenticity of the practice of kirtan. Long before he discovered the Mahamantra, Krishna Das was playing the blues as an emotional outlet and his kirtan is infused with that.

This film, One Track Heart, is his story about how he came to be the musician that he is, all through the grace of his Guru, Neem Karoli Baba. It is a beautiful story; a tale of getting lost, finding real unconditional love and happiness, feeling lost from love and then finding it again only to discover it was never truly lost, merely hidden for decades because of fears and illusion.

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What I’m Listening To…

c03087447b22285d446a87781840c16aThese past few weeks I’ve been listening to the The Great Gatsby soundtrack on repeat. I’m particularly fond of the Gotye song, the Lana del Rey (duh!) and “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-Z and Kanye. The rest is decent, a few songs are about a minute too long given their repetitive nature, in my opinion. And Florence kind of lost her charm I think. I will always be partial to her debut album. Her new stuff is too drama drama.

When I’m not in the mood for technicolor Jazz Age shazam, I’m loving getting lost in these gorgeous devotional songs from the recent film “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” They are in Arabic and so full of emotion. That movie was by far one of the most interesting and thought-provoking things I’ve seen in a while. Highly recommended!

Today in my Kundalini class, I played some beautiful shabd recorded at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I think these hypnotic chants to Guru Ram Das will be circling through my head all weekend. Listening to this kind of music makes me feel like a cobra dancing to the snake-charmer’s melodies.

Angel Eyes. This old torch song (I’ve been listening to an Ella Fitzgerald recording) has been present in my consciousness for over a month now. When I used to sing in a jazz band, my voice coach taught me this song and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s my all-time favorite song to sing all sultry-like in my bathtub. Nothing like a small tiled room to make your voice go boom!

What are you listening to these days?

Love Frances

 

PS – I just got locked out of my back courtyard and had to jump a very high fence in a skirt and flip flops. I’m feeling very ninja right now.

 

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I’m Digging This…

Life is way more fun if you get psyched about it. Sure, some days are hard, but there are way more awesome things about each day than not-awesome.

Here’s what I’m digging on today….

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Doing dropbacks again! When there is no pain involved, these little sprinkles on top of the Ashtanga sundae are just plain fun. Wheee!!!

Lana Del Rey. I’m absolutely obsessed with the first two songs, Ride and American off her most recent EP. Constant playback in my brain right now. Dreamy and languid, seriously soulful.

These sparkly Wizard of Oz-green studs. I’m totally in love with all of Alexis Russell’s jewelry these days.

Masala Dosas. I don’t care if the dosas are apparently better in Mysore – I still love me some spicy crispy South Indian breakfast after a good hard yoga sesh here in Kovalam.

Loving up on Love. This e.e. cummings poem shared on Fete is making me smile today.

I’m finally getting near the end of the epic journey that has been reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. This book is so engrossing and also sometimes crazy boring. It makes me want to go to Paris right now, but I’m still mystified how that musical emerged out of this insanely long and twisted tome.

This blog – NaturallyElla. Such an encyclopedia of healthy, delicious, seasonal vegetarian recipes.

Flowers flowers everywhere! I am so excited about starting floral design school when I get back to the States. I’ve been collecting images of my favorite arrangements on this board. 

This seed and nut bread recipe.  It’s flourless, super healthy and looks amazingly tasty. Can’t wait to make this!

 

That’s just a spattering of things that are getting me going these days.

What’s inspiring and enchanting you today?

 

Love Frances

 

 

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What’s Inspiring Me Today…

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Remembering Shyam Das – a true Bhakta so full of love, devotion and a real gift for sharing this with others. His kirtans at Bhakti Fest were always some of the best. He left his body in India yesterday and he will be very missed. He opened the hearts of so many people with his hilarious yet deep stories and perfectly bhav-bubbling-over kirtans. There are many beautiful words and stories floating around today about Shyam-ji. This post from Krishna Das is especially moving. Haribol!

This video of B.K.S. Iyengar as a young man practicing awe-inducing asana. I find these old silent films of the Krishnamacharya’s devoted students absolutely awesome – way more cool than the groovy tuned, scantily-clad yoga-girl videos so prevalent on the web today.

David Garrigues talking about pain and injury in Ashtanga Yoga. I needed to hear this today. My SI pain has been acting up a bit, so it’s good to have this reminder….still trying to figure out what the lesson inherent is….but no doubt about it, pain is real.

I’ve been into digging through fanciful assorted images of dancers, actresses, antique prints and other oddities on the web recently. I’ve been compiling a board on Pinterest of some of my favorites.

 

What’s been inspiring you recently?

Love and Blessings,

Frances

 

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Highlights from our Bhakti-fied Vacay.

 

I’ve just returned from the dry dusty desert of Joshua Tree, back to sweetly green, crisp and hinting-of-autumn Charlottesville. Our week away filled me with inspiration and excitement. Our wedding is less than 4 weeks away. Yippee! Our move is just 6 weeks away. And I’m feeling so much more drive to dig deeper into my yoga practice and japa (chanting meditation) after being surrounded by so much devotion at Bhakti Fest! I’m also feeling a new found inspiration to blog. I’ve got a list of posts I want to write, now the challenge is simply finding the time to get them out there in the midst of all my personal transition and busy schedule!

California is truly its own world. I absolutely love visiting, though I doubt I w/could ever live there. Our first day in LA we visited New Dwarka, the ISKCON temple for darshan and a tasty vegetarian lunch. Then we shopped, strolled around and made our way down to Santa Monica to smell the ocean. We walked on the pier, took silly pics in a photo booth and rented bikes to cruise down the boardwalk. That evening with dined with Bobbie and Steve of the Confluence Countdown who so graciously hosted us for the night. It was great to actually meet these awesome Ashtanga bloggers in person. We stayed up way past our yogi bedtime talking about the practice, the teachers and everything in between.

The next day FY and I drove inland and up to the high desert for our 3rd Bhakti Fest. We stayed in one of the little “cottages” by the stage so we heard music at all hours of the day. Non-stop kirtan! When we first arrived, we took Kia Miller’s Kundalini class which was the perfect way to drop into the potent energy of the place.

Each day we started out with Scott Blossom’s Shadow Yoga. Although this practice is seemingly so different from my Ashtanga practice, I always come away with this deeper understanding of my body and how to be present with breath and prana in my own personal practice. Shadow Yoga is profound and subtle in the way that Qi Gong is for me. It’s challenging in its simplicity. I have a whole post coming your way inspired by the wisdom shared with us by Scott. Stay tuned!

 

We took Raghunath‘s two classes which provided some fun upside-down playtime. I do not practice a lot of handstands and arm balances regularly (given that I’m only halfway into 2nd series) so they don’t come super easily to me but I still really enjoy trying! Handstands push me up against my comfort zone. I get a little scared of fulling committing (like life, right?). During Joan Hyman’s class I did a handstand and my “spotter” conveniently forgot to spot so I ended up slowly flipping over into Urdhva Dhanurasana much to my surprise. So now I know I can do tic-tocs, which is nice.

 

I really enjoyed Janet Stone’s insights and reflections during her class, although physically I found the entire class to be like a warm-up and then it was just suddenly finished! I guess that’s the thing about Ashtanga…it kind of messes with your perception of what is “challenging” or even what is actual asana. I’ve gotten to this stage that if a class has less than 20 chaturangas/vinyasas I kind of wonder what’s the point. :)

 

I can’t think of one single kirtan moment that blew me away. Of course I loved Krishna Das’ set and his lecture the following day. And it was great to see Jai Uttal’s set (which we’ve missed in the past because it was too late at night). The Hanumen were sweet and The Mayapuris really put on a great show. Other than that, not much to report.

Honestly, there’s a fair amount of not so great music at Bhakti Fest. I guess I’m kind of a snob because I grew up singing in bands and then I originally learned kirtan in an ashram where the focus was obviously entirely on singing to the deities and not performing for an audience.


I tend to like my kirtan either quite traditional (tabla, harmonium etc.) or trancey, beat-driven “kirtranonica” chants (for my vinyasa classes especially). I’m not super down with the really pop or rock and roll kirtan that is so popular on the West Coast these days. A lot of it is pretty corny or it seems to come from a very low-chakra orientation and that turns me off.

The absolute highlight of the whole weekend came as a result of FY’s amazing persistence and selfless service as the Bhakti Ambassador for elephant journal. He engaged in some epic networking and recruiting of contributors for EJ with bhakti content this past weekend. We made lots of awesome connections with leaders in the bhakti community. We spent over an hour “interviewing” Shyam Das at his little festival compound. I put that in quotes because FY never really had the chance to ask any questions, but instead we just put the iphone on “record” and let Shyam Dasji do his thing! He loaded us with prasadam and then talked our ears off, showering us with wisdom, great stories and new ways to look at the world with devotion. He is such a trip!

The creme-de-creme of all this was our opportunity to sit down solo with His Holiness Radhanath Swami. Reading his book The Journey Home a few years ago was one of the biggest turning points in my spiritual evolution. HH Radhanath Swami is a true master of Love, Humility and Devotion. He teaches so humbly and so profoundly. I’ve had the great fortune to attend his programs and lectures numerous times. Each experience opens my heart expansively and takes my devotion to a new level. This trip in particular shifted something within me. For the first time really, I felt true, deep, unshakeable, real love for Krishna. Sitting next to Maharaj’s side as FY so gracefully conducted his interview was such a blessing and a privilege. Being in his amazing presence gives me Faith. It gives me reason to Trust and truly believe in the power of the practice of service, devotion, chanting and love.

Sitting at Maharaj’s feet was overwhelming. My eyes were full to the brim with tears instantaneously. He just kept smiling at me so lovingly and I would smile back. I couldn’t stop smiling with pure joy. My cheeks were sore after the hour! Being in his presence gave me the understanding of what people are talking about when they relate stories of meeting Neem Karoli Baba or Haidakhan Babaji or whoever their guru was. It’s really indescribable, that kind of deep pure unconditional, transcendental love – it has to be experienced to be believed.

I’m eternally grateful for the blessing of spending this beautiful hour with this elevated soul. He is a true teacher. I am already planning up our next trip to India (after our Kerala trip this January) to go to Mumbai to serve at his ashram and many charities.

To close the amazing weekend, Shyam Das led an epic Mahamantra kirtan. All the many kirtan-wallahs and yoga instructors joined him on stage as a wildly windy dust storm rose. The energy was high. We felt like the clouds could open with sheets of rain and lightning at any second so the whole place was frantic with ecstatic chanting. We had to get it in before the power was cut off and the lights blew down! It was a swirling whirling fantastically exciting close to the weekend!

We spent our last afternoon in LA yesterday by going to see Samasara, a beautiful new film by the makers of Baraka. Highly recommended! Then we went into Hollywood for a class at Golden Bridge by Tej who I totally adore. It was one of those classes where it felt like the teacher had planned it specifically for me, my needs and my spirit’s opening. So grateful for those teachings and the meditations through which she guided us.  Red eye back to the East Coast, yuck, and here I am! So sleepy and so amped up simultaneously. Must take a hot shower and go to bed!

Love and Blessings to all.

Haribol!

Frances

PS  – Just a few “Likes” away from the magic 108! Please visit my page on Facebook! I’m going to do my giveaway as soon as that number is reached. Yay!

Bhav-Basking Bhakti Fest Blast-Off!

We leave for Bhakti Fest bright and early Wednesday morning and I’m getting psyched!

This will be our third year in a row attending this kirtan/yoga/bliss-out festival in Joshua Tree, CA.

Bhakti Fest is pretty stellar. It’s kind of a freak-show so you get all sorts of awesome people-watching and non-stop entertainment. The all-vegetarian food tents/trucks are superb. The devotional music rocks (very excited for the Hanumen in particular), the lectures are great (Bhakti Panel is so inspiring) and the yoga is oh-so-California. That means, I can only engage in a controlled selection of the yoga classes before I want to hurl.

But, that’s part of the fun too. :)

This year I’m signed up for a lot of asana classes, as our wedding is fast approaching and I’m trying to get my asana in extra perky shape.

Currently my schedule is full with a variety of classes:

2 Shadow Yoga classes with Scott Blossom (he is truly fantastic, I took 3 of his classes at the last Fest and learned so much about health, healing and balance in yoga practice).

“Finding the Union Within” with Janet Stone (she’s a new one for me, not sure how it will pan out but this is my “going out on a limb” Cali yoga class).

Flight School with Raghunath (lots of fun arm-balances and other tricky stuff I don’t practice often enough!) and another class called “Chant Challenge Change” the next day with him.

Smart FLOW: “Release your Hips” with Annie Carpenter (I learned some good sequencing from her last year. I like her no-nonsense vibe).

Radiant Yoga with Kia Miller (she’s lovely and her classes infuse Kundalini Yoga beautifully – always an uplifting teacher).

“Burning through your Stuff ” with Joan Hyman (I think she’s the only Ashtangis there.  Again, a new one for me but I think I will like this one because I have all sorts of sh*t to burn these days!).

I will try to take some fun photos to share with you (plus stories of course) when we return next week.

We will be popping in and out of LA on either side of the festival. Our plans will be to visit the Krishna temple and eat at Govinda’s and go to the beach and walk along the board walk so we can say howdy to the Pacific. I want to rent cruiser bikes for this. I would love to make it to Golden Bridge for a class with Tej on Monday, but I’m not holding my breath for this one.

We are hoping to practice with Jorgen on Thursday am too.  Gotta throw a little legit Ashtanga into the mix after all.

Any of my readers going to be at Bhakti Fest this year?

Blessings.

Peace out ’til next week so hang tight!

Frances

Non-Stop Mahamantra.

This past weekend we spent 24 hours chanting the Mahamantra:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Hundreds of people gathered in New Vrindaban, a remote (and that’s the nice word for it) community way up in the hills of West Virginia.

Amazing kirtaniyas and musicians such as the Mayapuris,Gaura Vani and Madhava led beautiful chanting.  All sorts of instruments supported the chanting including bass, violin, cello, flutes as well as the traditional mrdanga drum and harmonium.

Every few hours a new leader would take over and so the melodies were always morphing – the energy and mood of the chanting riding the waves of the group dynamic.

It was like a pressure cooker in the temple during the festival.  Dark, loud, warm and buzzing with the potent vibration of the Mahamantra.  I could only stay in for a few hours at time until I needed the quiet calm of the surrounding environment where FY and I would walk, talk, chant japa and just be still.

There are peacocks that stroll (and scream) and swans that swim in the ponds.  It’s a bit surreal really.

Plus there are these incredibly tall statues of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Nityananda presiding over the property.

Don’t forget the cows!  Krishna loves cows.  We visited the goshala one morning to see the cows being milked.

The festival was quite an experience. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all but even so, I’m grateful to have had this unique experience.  I need my sleep (such a mess without it) so I didn’t even try to stay up all night the way many people did.

I’m still getting used to hanging out with Hare Krishnas (more on that another time), but even when the culture of it all is more than I can necessarily handle, I am nevertheless drawn in by the power of the sacred sounds of kirtan.  There is no denying the transcendent vibration that emanates from the mantra.  It pulls me in, strikes my heart, trances me out and lifts me up to a higher plane – and that is a beautiful thing.

Here’s a little video I found on Youtube that captures a bit of the festival.  Enjoy.

Love Frances

Jai Bajrang Bali ki Jai! Hanuman ki Jai!

Happy Friday.  I found this recording/video today of Trevor Hall singing the Hanuman Chalisa and I’m in love with it….so heartfelt…such bhakti!  I love the Chalisa, though I have yet to fully memorize it (on my to-do list – haha…a yogi’s problems).  Trevor Hall is one of my favorite musicians.  He lives at the little Kali ashram in Laguna Beach when not on tour.  He writes the most beautifully poetic devotional songs, but in a very contemporary style.  If you’ve never heard of him, I highly recommend you check him out. Definitely give a listen to his song “My Baba” that he does with Krishna Das – it’s one of my favorites!  He’s actually coming to Charlottesville in July….FY and I very psyched for that show.

Well, enjoy these sacred sounds – the Chalisa is a powerful prayer in praise of the wonderful perfect embodiment of Humility, Service and Devotion, Hanuman.

I’m off to the Barn to practice Mysore with DG who is in town for the weekend, so don’t expect to hear from me until I’m good and recovered, at the earliest, Monday evening!

Blessings.

Love Frances

Celebrating Shakti: Kirtan for the Divine Mother.

You probably know by now how much I love kirtan! We listen to kirtan all the time because it always suits us just right, whether I’m in looking to get excited, calmed down or blissed out, there’s always a bhajan that invokes the right mood.  My favorite chants (other than the ones to Radha-Krishna of course) are always in honor of the Divine Mother, in any of her many beautiful manifestations.

My love for the Divine Mother was brought to life by my experiences at the Haidakhandi Universal Ashram in Crestone CO. To read a little more about my time there, please check out my newest post on elephant journal.

Today I am so excited because this weekend, since I’m far away from Crestone these days, the ashram is coming to me!

Ramloti and other lovely devotees from the ashram are on a kirtan tour of the East Coast.

I did one of these tours with Ramloti (who is like another mother to me) a few years ago.  It was such an amazing experience.  We visited devotees’ homes, yoga centers, schools and ashrams and chanted with lots of wonderful people.

If you are in Virginia or DC, I would highly recommend you treat yourself to some bhakti-filled, shaktified kirtan this weekend!

Ramloti and the gang will start Yogaville on Thursday doing a kirtan and a fire ceremony.

On Friday, they will be at our local shala, at Ashtanga Yoga Charlottesville – 7:30pm!

Saturday night we will be up in DC at Yoga Chai.

Each night, there will be a puja, stories about the Divine Mother and lots of chanting accompanied by harmonium, drums, flute and guitar too.

Come prepared to sing and dance and be immersed in the Love of our beautiful Divine Mother!

Jai Ma!

For all the details, please visit the bhakti tour website.

Hope to see you there!

Love Frances