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Sunday, August 06, 2006

stars in the kirtan sky, part 1

Illumination Yoga
19100 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 11
Tarzana, CA 91356
(818) 758-9808
website: www.illuminationyoga.com

Illumination Yoga is not another yoga studio where people are expected to do Asanas perfectly – which can be another reason to feel stress. Instead of outer perfection, our goal is for you to feel the divine inner perfection regardless of your outer circumstances. We are not human beings striving to have a perfect spiritual experience. We are already divine spiritual beings having a human experience. Through acceptance of our human imperfections, great transformations are possible. Conversely, when we judge ourselves for our imperfections, our learning process is often stifled.

i had first read about the new illumination yoga studio a month or so ago in one of the local yoga magazines. since it was out in the valley (which meant having to put up with the wonderful traffic on the 405 and/or 101 freeways), i decided to wait until i had a legitimate reason for traveling out that way -- a family get-together, a job interview, a visit to a friend. but it seemed like each time i checked their class schedule, something changed. a class was added here, a class was cancelled there. how was i supposed to plan a visit if i wasn't sure if the class i wanted would be held when i got there?

so i held off and continued to check off the other studios still on my to-do list.

eventually, i revisited their website and noticed an announcement:

GIRISH is here in concert this Friday August 4! Girish is sure to rock the house. Come support our first concert of many more to come...

for those of you who are wondering who or what a "girish" is, here's his bio:

Girish Gambhira is an eclectic artist with roots in jazz, world, and sacred music. His music talents find expression in a wide array of instruments - including tablas, world percussion, guitar, harmonium, and voice - and he performs and records with many of the top artists in the world music genre.
Girish's musical gifts find their grounding in sacred music, an art he cultivated during five years as a monk in a Hindu monastery. His talents are featured on some of the most popular recordings in the world music / new age field.

as i later told my sister (who's totally aware of my obsession with all things yoga, but who still can't imagine me chanting "hare krishna"), girish is the equivalent of a rock star in the kirtan (i.e., yoga chant) world. he's up there with the likes of jai uttal, krishna das, deva premal, donna de lory, wah!, and all the rest. of course, if you were to ask me who they were two years ago, i would have been totally clueless. but that's beside the point...

getting back to my story... i knew that a concert wasn't likely to be rescheduled or cancelled, especially if someone like girish was slated to perform, so i marked my calendar and reserved the 4th for a visit to illumination. besides, according to girish's schedule, he wasn't due to perform again in town for the rest of the year (unless i was willing to drive all the way out to ojai or costa mesa).

early that friday afternoon, i called the studio to find out if there were a yoga class scheduled right before the event. yes, there was; it was a hatha flow class with cristina marcu, who co-ran illumination with joa janakaoayas. and because i had signed up earlier to be added to their email list, i could take my first class for only $5. my plans were falling nicely into place.

of course, friday rush hour traffic being the way it always is in the san fernando valley, i arrived at illumination ten minutes late for class. i initially hesitated when i spotted the sign that read "OPEN YOGA"; nevertheless, the address matched what i had jotted down, so i parked my car by the staircase and made my way up to the second floor. luckily, since cristina knew i was on my way there, even if no one else showed up for class, she was waiting patiently in the room when i ran in. it appeared that i was going to have a private lesson, which meant that i was going to be the center of attention. and for some reason, that stressed me out even more.

cristina gave me lots of time to relax, unwind, and get centered. while breathing in and out, i could sense the room around me -- the bright sunshine coming in through the windows, the incense wafting from somewhere in the room, the soothing music she had playing in the background, the smooth wooden floor under my fingers. people pay good money for a one-on-one yoga session, i reminded myself. after releasing whatever anxiety i was feeling, i put my practice in her hands.

we moved slowly through some sun salutations then continued through the poses as she followed along with me. just when we were about to wind things down, joa popped his head in through the door and motioned to cristina that the musicians were there to set up for that evening's performance. so we skipped savasana, did a short meditation instead, then made way for the artists to do their thing.

... fast forward past dinner to the concert later that evening...

the opening act was by their house band, so to speak. every friday night, dharma leads kirtan sessions at the studio. this time, while dharma took care of the vocals and the harmonium, he was accompanied by his sister, maria butterly, on guitar and joa on percussion. his friend josie led the response part of the chanting.

our intimate group of about twenty chanted along with dharma and his group, just long enough to get our vocal cords warmed up for the evening's headline event.

girish's stop at illumination yoga was one of many on his tour to promote his latest album, shiva machine. so most of the music he performed that night was from that album, with a few songs from his previous album, reveal, thrown into the mix.

the performance was an audiovisual delight. with girish on harmonium and guitar (accompanied by a prerecorded backup band), fellow performer mary arden collins beautifully harmonized her voice with girish's as they led the group through the call-and-response while a video depicting the god/goddeses being honored was projected onto the screen behind the performers.

what i liked about the performance is that girish took the time to explain the background of each chant. he talked about the meaning of the words that were being repeated over and over again, and in some cases, he talked about what inspired him to write each song.

at the end of the evening, i asked girish to autograph the copy of reveal that i had been listening to in my car. and he graciously obliged.

i think i'm turning into a kirtan star groupie :)