Southwest Florida’s Growing Kirtan Communities
SW Florida Community Kirtan
Kirtan opens the heart to that kind of deep pregnant silence in which you are joyfully alive to the immediacy of reality: in traditional language, you experience being both lover of and beloved of God. ~The Reverend James Reho
Lately, the joyful and dynamic devotional chants of kirtan have been attracting a large number of practitioners from diverse faith traditions, filling large halls, retreat centers, and yoga studios. It’s even gained enough popularity to warrant an article in the New York Times,“Yoga Enthusiasts Hear the Call of Kirtan.”
In 2008, Naples resident Jai Segal, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, was renting a house with Allowah Lani, a yogi and author of Who Am I? Psychedelics & The Quest for Enlightenment. When Lani suggested that they hold a kirtan in their home, Segal answered, “What’s a kirtan?” Hearing Lani’s explanation, Segal agreed that the idea felt like something fun to do. That impulsive invitation yielded a room filled with Lani’s yoga students that showed up to sing and chant in Sanskrit.
Today, the SW Florida Community Kirtan group is 600 members strong and Segal is not only a kirtan loyalist, has also earned certification as a yoga teacher. On average, the communitykirtan draws 30 to 50 enthusiasts that show up to open their hearts and experience blissful union, which is what the vibrations generated by chanting mantric repetitions of the name of the divine are capable of doing. “We now meet twice a month at Yolanda Beckers’ Innerlight Center, in Naples. Some people bring their own instruments such as a harmonium, flute, guitars and various types of percussion instruments. We also enjoy a vegetarian potluck dinner together,” says Segal, who notes that more recently, Koen Beckers has led the kirtan.
Carla Olla, director of Love Yoga Center, in Naples, is also a kirtan enthusiast. “Kirtan has been a big part of the programming for the past six-plus years that we’ve been open. We’ve hosted world-renowned and local kirtan artists. Personally, I feel that the more kirtan, the better,” she says.
Olla, who is presently booking some of her favorite kirtan artists for 2017, has confirmed: Prema Hara in November, Wah! in January and David Newman in February. Prem Sadasivananda, a classical yoga teacher, will also offer kirtan several times. “We've been incrediblyfortunate to have so many wonderful and talented people leading us in chant. Shyam Das, Vraj Devi, Sri Kirtan, Lee Harrington and Girish have all led kirtan at Love Yoga Center, and I remember every one of those supercharged evenings so well,” says Olla.
On the last Tuesday night of every month at the House of Gaia, in Naples, Missy Balsam, a local yoga teacher and kirtan recording artist, enjoys chanting with her loyal kirtan followers. Balsam unexpectedly fell hard for the sound and vibrations she heard coming from a harmonium and the voice of a kirtan musician at her first Bhakti Fest, a yoga, dance and sacred musical festival. “Much like the ecstatic poetry of Sufi mystics such as Rumi and Hafiz, the words and vibrations of kirtan chants are soothing, reassuring us that the divine is always with us. Kirtan is a yoga practice that few people, even yoga practitioners, recognize as yoga, because it’s joyful, openhearted, easy and fun,” she says. Balsam’s newly released studio album, Revealed, is a potent combination of kirtan and her own lyrics that reflect her personal journey.
Segal and Olla agree that perhaps the main attractor for the growing popularity of kirtan is the beautiful and inspiring experience itself. “Kirtan is bhakti yoga, which is focused on the cultivation of love and devotion toward God. It’s uplifting,” says Segal. “People feel good about building a sense of community and connection with others.”
Olla believes that kirtan takes people away from their problems for a few hours, transporting them to a place of bliss. “Kirtan also creates a space where emotions can surface without stories. Everyone leaves kirtan feeling better because when you chant the Sanskrit language, something special happens. There is power in the vibration of chants that have been repeated for thousands of years. The vibration affects you in a positive way, even if you have no idea what the words mean,” explains Olla.
Students that ask if they can participate in kirtan without knowing the words always receive a resounding yes. “The experience is very individual, which means that you can sing or not sing;dance, sit or lay down. Some artists hand out chant sheets, some have the words projected onto the wall and still others make it even simpler. One of my favorite parts is the afterglow. When the music stops, there is a palpable vibration that continues,” notes Olla.
Cheryl Patton, a member of SW Florida Community Kirtan since 2011, practices yoga and loves to drum at kirtans. “It’s been a journey that began with an experience I had with a shaman that my brother invited to be with him when he was dying. He used sound healing and ceremony, which piqued my interest in sound healing. I started with a drum circle and became very interested in the neurological and therapeutic benefits of drumming. I was truly amazed at what it released in me,” relates Patton.
Patton’s drumming lessons and workshops led her to kirtan, where she felt the greatest resonation. “All of us that chant joke about the kirtan high. There’s so much palpable joy and happiness in the room that it’s impossible not to feel that way,” she says.
To catch the good vibrations, the Hummingbird Wellbeing Center & Boutique in Bonita Springs plans to offer a monthly kirtan.
SW Florida Community Kirtan, Facebook.com/groups/NaplesCommunityKirtan.
[Request to join this closed group]
Innerlight Center, 4810 Hickory Wood Dr., Naples. 239-269-2221 HealingLightNaples.com.
Love Yoga Center, 4949 Tamiami Tr. N., Ste. 204, Naples. 239-692-9747. LoveYogaCenter.com.
Missy Balsam, MissyBalsam.com.
House of Gaia, 1660 Trade Center Way, Naples. 239-272-6152. HouseofGaia.org.
Hummingbird Wellbeing Center & Boutique, 27785 Old 41 Rd., Bonita Springs. 239-494-6983. HummingbirdWellbeingCenter.com.