Kirtan with Russell at Telluride Yoga Fest

Kirtan with Russell at Telluride Yoga Fest

[click “Play” for Susan’s talk with David Russell]

DaveRussell w mic A sound experience –  kirtan – has been added to the schedule of the 2nd annual Telluride Yoga Festival, June 10 – June 12, 2009.

On Friday evening, 7 – 10 p.m., under the stars at the Mountain Village Sunset Stage, just a short walk from Yoga Fest hospitality, attendees and friends are invited to attend two performances of kirtan, one given by Durango’s Prema Shakti, a 12-person energetic kirtan group. The second is led by David Russell and friends.

Plato pondered the powers of music and sound in “The Laws”  and other dialogues. Shakespeare also intuitively understood: several of his most poignant scenes dramatized music’s soothing effects on troubled souls.
Pre-dating Western scholars, the Yoga tradition has known for centuries that sound is the new aspirin or apple –  only more so. Proof positive lies in the bible of Yoga, “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” where the great sage explains that the mystic sound “OM” is not just the name Isvara (a God analog), but is Isvara, the actual form of God. Humming”OM” is a summons: the sound brings God to you.

Kirtan is a group practice of singing Sanskrit mantras that are set to simple melodies. These mantras are sound vibrations which roll and vibrate through the seven energy centers (chakras) of the body creating well-being in body, mind, and spirit. It really doesn’t matter what the words mean because the sound vibrations alone are a direct plug-in to the experience of Source, or God Consciousness, or whatever you choose to call Isvara.

At a more granular level, according to my teacher, Gary Kraftsow, head of the American Viniyoga Institute, mantras give access to signals that abide inside us and can tap into who knows what cosmic google. Chanting mantras has physiological benefits such as increasing circulation to the different parts of the body, balancing heart rhythm, deepening exhalation; emotional benefits, such as inducing relaxation and mood elevation; intellectual benefits such as improving memory function and recharging brain cells. 

Woodstock marked the culmination of the drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll days of the 1960s, when youth culture ruled. The seminal moment at Woodstock was arguably when a young troubadour named Robert Zimmerman took to the stage and plugged in: thanks to Bob Dylan, rock as we know it was born. (And the future of Oticon guaranteed.) But for a 16-year-old Dave Russell, the moment was when Swami Satchidananda opened the festival. Two years later, he moved into Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga Institute (IYI) in Hartford, CT. and immersed himself in Eastern philosophy, lifestyle, and Yoga practices, including Friday night kirtans.

Dave Russell is the real deal. The list of his teachers reads like the Who’s Who of Eastern philosophy. He studied the Bhagavad Gita with Ram Dass, Tibetan Buddhism with Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, kirtans with Krishna Das, Vipassana meditation with Joseph Goldstein, and chanting classes with Bhagavan Das (the kirtan wallah who introduced Ram Dass to Neem Karoli Baba), chants and scales with Bhagavan Das.

For awhile, in the late 1970s and 1980s, Dave Russell seemed to be chasing the American Dream  and turned his back on spiritual practices in general to explore more conventional occupations and start a family. But in 2003, his partner of 30 years, Holly, gave him a harmonium for Christmas/Hanukah. Thirty-seven years later, Russell is offering kirtan at yoga and  personal growth retreats such as the Telluride Yoga Fest.

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