Bhakti - Art of Living Retreat Center

Cookies, Tea, and the Nature of Bhakti

By Jai Uttal
January 16, 2019

Bhakti - Art of Living Retreat Center

Bhakti Yoga brings us into the world of mystery, a realm where the dissecting, discerning qualities of the intellect are powerless next to the vast ocean of feelings. For most practitioners, the goal of Yoga is union, oneness with the Supreme. But in Bhakti Yoga we don’t think about the goal, we only weep, laugh, cry, sing and dance with our Beloved. Bhakti is about relationship; our stormy love affair with God. And Bhakti is about surrender; surrendering our personal heart into the Great Heart, offering our self will and all our efforts and actions to that vast Consciousness, to God. “Not my will but Thy will be done.”


In the holy places of India, towns and villages permeated with devotion, magic is a daily occurrence. Perception shifts like clouds moving across the sun. When the aroma of God’s name wafts down a village street we can suddenly find ourselves walking in the ancient footsteps of Ram and Sita, or Hanuman, or Radha and Krishna… Throughout the day, we hear bells ringing, mantras being uttered from every doorway, kirtans bursting from the primitive loudspeakers. We smell incense and flower offerings. We catch glimpses of Gods and Goddesses around every corner. Doing pilgrimage to the sacred shrines is an invitation to the mystical breath of Bhakti.


The ancient village of Vrindavan, the town that was home to the young Lord Krishna and His beloved Radha, is one of these great sanctuaries, imbued with worship. The lines between the past and the present, the astral and the concrete, are very thin, and pilgrims come from all over India to partake of the nectar of Rasa, or divine emotion, that colors the town. When I first visited Vrindavan in 1971, I was absolutely stunned by the sheer quantity of living temples. It seemed that literally every other building was a holy shrine, and the sound of God’s names reverberated from wall to wall, street to street, crumbling alley to archaic temple.


One day I was walking along Parikrama Road, a path that circumambulates the village. Devotees walk this dusty path (approx. 5 miles) as an act of worship, feeling that they are Radha, circling the body of Her lover, Krishna. Walking around Parikrama you see ancient India, priests chanting the Vedas, pilgrims weeping, sadhus gathered around their “dhunis” swaying to the driving rhythms of a kirtan chant, peacocks, cows, on and on… I used to take this walk every morning before dawn, timing it so I could have my first chai of the day watching the blood red sun rise over the Yamuna river. As the sun climbed into the sky my heart never failed to melt at the passionate cries of “Radhe” or “Hare Krishna” that echoed through the misty morning air.


On this particular day, as I was walking away from the river I heard a horrific racket. A young sadhu, covered with white paste, and wearing a simple cloth around his waist was sitting on a small stone wall, banging cymbals together and screaming “Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam” at the top of his lungs. Instantly my “shanti” was shattered. The cymbals seemed louder than the rock concerts I’d left back home in the States. And his raspy voice was like sandpaper to the inside of my brain. Where was the blissful India that I loved?


I hurried my steps and tried to get past him without being noticed. But just then, an old old man in orange robes, bent with age, sporting long dreadlocks, stepped out of the little hut adjacent to the path. The young sadhu became stunningly silent as his ancient guru offered me tea and cookies. We sat and sipped the steaming chai, watching the brilliant emerald parrots fly from tree to tree, sinking into a deep, heavenly meditation, listening to the distant strains of kirtan floating on the gentle wind. What peace…


But, as all things must pass, the chai was finished, the cookies were gone, and the old man dismissed me with a soft smile. I pranamed, touched his ancient, cracked feet and continued my walk. At that moment the racket began anew. CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG!!! The horrible cymbals!!! The hoarse, screaming voice!!!


Oh God, how quickly my inner peace disappeared…


But as I turned around for a last pained look, the magic descended. This old man, who seemed barely able to walk, was dancing in the doorway of his hut. Suddenly his crooked body was filled with the grace and beauty of a young maiden. His delicate swaying hips, his beatific smile, his long flowing hair; the old sadhu had transformed into Radha, the Goddess of Love! And to complete the mysterious change in awareness, the young sadhu’s kirtan was now the sound of angels singing. His terrible cymbals had transformed into a divine orchestra of tinkling bells and chimes. My heart stopped beating, tears sprung from my eyes. Here was Radha Rani, dancing her love for Krishna, amidst the gardens of Vrindavan….


When it seemed the world would end in an ecstasy of love, the old man simply stepped inside, leaving me to the heat and dust, and the sadhu’s cacophonous song. But my mind was quiet and my heart was full as I continued down the path. I had been given yet another reminder to see beyond the surface reality into what is hidden; to trust the perceptions of the heart before those of the judging mind. I had been given a few drops of grace from the vast ocean of Bhakti.


Jai Uttal hosts Everday Bhakti – Walk in Devotion at the Art of Living Retreat Center from March 15th-17th, 2019.


Jai Uttal is a Grammy-nominated sacred music composer, a recording artist, multi-instrumentalist and ecstatic vocalist. He blends Indian influences with American rock and jazz to create a stimulating and exotic fusion known as world spirit music. For Jai, music and spiritual practice are inextricably linked; earlier in his life he learnt the power of kirtan from the Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba, and he now practices, performs and teaches kirtan and sacred music around the world. Find out more at


This article first appeared on and is reposted with permission from the author.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


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TAGS: bhakti , Jai Uttal , kirtan , spirituality , stories , wisdom
What is Kirtan? - The Art of Living Retreat Center

What is Kirtan?

By Jai Uttal
December 22, 2018

What is Kirtan? - The Art of Living Retreat Center

Kirtan is the calling, the crying, the reaching across infinite space — digging into the heart’s deepest well to touch and be touched by the Divine Presence.


Kirtan is singing over and over the many names of God and the Goddess, the multi-colored rainbow manifestations of the One. It is said that there is no difference between the name and that which is being named, and as the words roll off our lips in song, the Infinite is invoked, invited, made manifest in our hearts.


Kirtan and devotion

Kirtan is part of an ancient form of Yoga known as Bhakti, or the Yoga of Devotion. But in Bhakti we redefine “devotion”, we expand the meaning to include every shade of color in the palette of human emotion, turned towards God through song, dance, and worship. These chants have been sung for millennium by sages, sinners, devotees, and the great primordial yogi alchemists of old. And, as we sing, we touch the spirits of the millions of people across the centuries who have sung the same songs and cried the same tears. As we sing, we immerse ourselves in an endless river of prayer that has been flowing since the birth of the first human beings, longing to know their creator.


Kirtan and release

Kirtan is a vessel that can hold love, longing, union, separation, lust, despair, mourning, anger, hate, sadness, ecstasy, and oneness. Powered by the fire of these emotions, the chants of Bhakti become like a ship, singing us to the other shore. In lightness, in darkness, in despair, in joy we sing the names — The Name — and turn our human hearts toward the One, who is closer to us than our own breath. Kirtan is food for the spirit, a life raft of song.

Kirtan is for all people. There are no masters of kirtan, no experts, no teachers, no advanced students, no beginners. The practice itself is the teacher, guiding us to ourselves. Kirtan teaches itself by allowing us to enter into a mystery world — a world where all the logic of our minds, all the conditioning and learning are left outside — and we allow ourselves to expand into the mystery.


And in this mystery, we create a temple inside of our hearts, a place of refuge, a place of love, a place of being, a place of sanctity… whatever we need.


Kirtan and freedom

There is no right or wrong way to sing kirtan. Kirtan can be breathtakingly beautiful, the music can be stunning and masterful; and it can be cacophonous, dissonant, and almost painful to the ears. Aesthetics don’t matter. All that matters is the spirit, the feeling. Don’t worry about what you sound like, feel whatever you feel, have no expectations, no inhibitions. Kirtan is an oil well digging deeper and deeper into the heart. A power tool of love and longing. A train carrying us home. Make these kirtans your own prayers and use their power to set fire to your own soul. We sing together and each person has a totally unique, individual experience. Yet by singing together we give strength, safety and passion to each other, and give ourselves permission to sing and dance freely, releasing and expressing through our voices and bodies, the emotions tightly locked in our hearts. The pain of separation is one with the bliss of union.


Kirtan as an offering

And finally kirtan is an offering, a gift to the great One who has given us everything, and to whom we can give nothing in return but our loving remembrance.


Come experience the sacred transformative power of Kirtan. Jai Uttal hosts Everday Bhakti – Walk in Devotion at the Art of Living Retreat Center from March 15th-17th, 2019.


Jai Uttal is a Grammy-nominated sacred music composer, a recording artist, multi-instrumentalist and ecstatic vocalist. He blends Indian influences with American rock and jazz to create a stimulating and exotic fusion known as world spirit music. For Jai, music and spiritual practice are inextricably linked; earlier in his life he learnt the power of kirtan from the Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba, and he now practices, performs and teaches kirtan and sacred music around the world. Find out more at


This article first appeared on and is reposted with permission from the author.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


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TAGS: devotion , Jai Uttal , kirtan , music , spirituality

Exploring Wisdom: Chant and Be Happy with Kirtan

By Dr. Harrison Graves, MD
June 26, 2017
Bhaktifest, joshua tree, kirtan
Bhaktifest — Joshua Tree, California

Yoga is on fire in the West, and so it kirtan, or yogic chanting. Kirtan combines music and mantra — words and sounds that vibrate at the highest level of awareness. It is an effortless and joyful way to meditate. You simply let the music and mantra do the work for you.

Kirtan is a different kind of concert-going experience. It’s not so much a performance as it is a journey into the Self — through the practice of listening & singing. While singing along at a kirtan event, you can find your own voice and become one voice with those performing.

For those who find seated meditation difficult, a singing meditation can be just the ticket. Music bypasses the thinking mind, the worried mind, and goes straight to that part of the brain where the emotions reside. The musical meditation of kirtan soothes the nervous system, just like a yoga class. Both are easy and fun. Kirtan calms the mind without struggling to concentrate.

Because kirtan has its roots in India, many of the songs are sung in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India,  the language of mantra. Most often, a singer (kirtan wallah) leads the chant call-and-response style. She or he sings out a line and the audience sings it back. At other times songs are sung in unison. Kirtan is a bit like singing around a yogic campfire – creating feelings of oneness and joy.

As you sing with each other in a group, you may experience a deep connection with the musicians, the other group members and even yourself. This oneness and heart connection is one of the highest goals of yoga.

When the music stops, the mind is silent and calm. You are now ready for deeper meditation.

Kirtan: A Universal Language

OM symbol, kirtan

Devotional singing does not belong to any one spiritual path. It is the universal language of Spirit, the song of the soul.

Christians around the world sing Amazing Grace and Amen (AUM-en) choruses. Buddhists chant OM Mani Padme Hoom (OM to the Jewel in the Lotus.) Here the “jewel” is the gem of loving kindness. It is found in the lotus flower of the heart. Those who follow the path of Shiva, the yogi’s yogi, chant OM Namah Shivaya — I honor the highest part of my-Self, the Supreme.

Many Sanskrit chants, like “Asato Ma Sat-ga-ma-ya” (“Lead Us From the Unreal to the Real”) and Lo-kah Sa-mas-tha Suk-hino Bha-van-tu, (“May All Beings Be Happy and Free”) are energized prayers, suitable for any sincere seeker.


Kirtan began in India centuries ago as a spiritual practice. It served as the layman’s way to connect with the Divine. The simple idea behind kirtan was to sing praise to the divine in its many forms.

Although it’s difficult to trace the history of an oral tradition like kirtan, some scholars believe it began as a popular spiritual practice during the bhakti (devotion) movement that began around the year 700 A.D. Devotional singing then spread like wildfire between the 12th and 17th centuries.

“Much of the kirtan explosion in America is inspired by what happened during that later time, and many of the songs we sing are inspired by music composed in that era,” says Russill Paul, author of The Yoga of Sound. “They used kirtan as a way to get in touch with God’s presence and showed everyday people that they could have the same levels of Self-realization and the same depths of mystical experience as a priest performing a sacred ritual or a yogi in deep meditation.”

Western Bhakti

Deva Premal and Miten and Manose. kirtan
Deva Premal, Miten and Manose in Montreal

Today many American kirtans tend to look and feel more like energized pop concerts than spiritual gatherings. Chants have evolved to include undercurrents of soul, rap, hip-hop, electronica, rock ‘n’ roll, and country. The distinctly American influence on traditional kirtan seems to be attracting crowds of people who wouldn’t typically find themselves hooked on yoga’s sacred chants.

In the last ten years, kirtan has become a phenomenon around the world. The new kirtan revolution has been led by Deva Premal, Krishna Das, Donna De Lory, Jai Uttal and many others. Some, like Bhagavan Das and Larissa Stow, sing with a fervor reminiscent of American gospel music.

In The Shambhala Guide to Yoga, scholar Georg Feuerstein wrote, “The path of bhakti (devotional) yoga is constant remembrance of the Divine. It is the way of the heart, intended to channel and purify emotions through singing, dancing, meditation, and other activities that can help us merge with the Beloved.”

Benefits of Chanting

Chanting is not only the most fun way to meditate (think kirtan karaoke), but, like laughter yoga, it is also good for your health.

Doctors at Cleveland University reported that the rhythmic tones involved in chanting release a cascade of naturally healing chemicals. Imagine feeling good naturally without a pill. They called it the NLE, or Neurolinguistic Effect. Yogis call it a type of samadhi, though usually a lesser samadhi, brought on by yogic chanting and breathing. The end result is a profound sense of peacefulness.

Chanting can be quite therapeutic — complementary medicine — for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and insomnia. French physician Dr. Alfred Tomatis wrote that chanting helps us to control our emotions and eliminate negative thoughts.Unlike Western psychiatry, chanting goes beyond the body-mind to the realm of Spirit. It results in feelings of oneness and connection.

Beyond Words

There is a saint in India named Swami Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, a modern day swami who heads up the Siddha Yoga Centers around the world. She had this to say about the unique benefits of chanting:

At a certain point, ordinary words can no longer take us where we want to go. Through chanting, we use music and sacred mantras to enter into a dialogue with the divine. Chanting is a natural way to tune into the frequency of love. The vibrations emanating from Sanskrit chants have a tangible effect on our own inner being. The sweetness of chanting stills the mind, dissolves worries, and opens the heart. Chanting gives us direct access to the spiritual world, balances our subtle energy system (chakras) and allows for deeper meditation.


Kirtan, or devotional singing, is where yoga and spirituality come together. Krishna Das said that during satsang (company of truth), people gather together “to remember, to turn within and find their own inner path to the One. When we gather together to sing like this we are helping each other find our own paths.”

Start chanting today. Feel more connected with yourself, your Self and with each other.

Free Kirtan/Satsang Every Night

Kirtan happens nightly (7:30 – 8:15pm) at the Center and is a community gathering for all interested guests, staff and volunteers. All you need to bring is yourself. Singing is welcomed, however, if you prefer you can simply come along and soak in the atmosphere. Learn More

Authentic Yoga

Would you like to experience an authentic yoga practice in an immersive environment? Join our Sri Sri School of Yoga Teacher Training program and dive into the transformative power of yoga. Emerge as a confident, heart-centered yoga teacher. Apply today!

New to yoga? Discover the benefits of practice through the Art of Living Retreat Center’s yoga retreats.

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TAGS: art of living retreat center , bhakti , chant , chanting , happiness , harrison graves md , kirtan , sri sri ravi shankar , wellness , yoga

In House: Wah & James Leary Pt. 2

By Paige Reist
June 2, 2017


This April, The Art of Living Retreat Center hosted the transformational Life Qi Renewal Retreat – a four-day journey to learn self-healing and Qi healing protocols headed by the dynamic duo of Dr. James Leary and Wah. We recently spoke to them about their experiences at the Retreat Center, the power of Kirtan, or mantra chanting, and the magic of the mountain. Read Part 1 here.

Teaching Together

AOLRC: You’re both such extraordinary people, who happen to be teachers and great communicators and facilitators yourself – what is the experience of coming and teaching together? What’s it like to fuse each of your energies, your intellects, your spirituality?
Wah: There’s an activation that happens between us. James will open up a certain energy, and I’ll expand upon it. Someone will go through a really intense experience, and I’ll be able to work from that with questions – Where do we take it from here? How do you integrate that experience? What are you going to do? Are you going to take soothing food, soothing energy? I’ll take those questions as far as they can go, and then James will take over from there with particular techniques.


That doesn’t only happen in our teachings, but in our lives as well. It’s an activation, it’s a back-and-forth. It’s like any other good relationship: you do your part, and I’ll do my part, and that’s how community works. If you don’t do your part, then community doesn’t move forward, so it’s as though each person has a chance to add their little piece to the puzzle.

Ancient Knowledge in a Modern World

AOLRC: You have a curriculum you’ve defined, but it also sounds as if within this framework, there’s an enormous expansiveness, an unpredictability, a mystery of the unfolding that you reach – ebb and flow with each other, and get into places that you might otherwise not get to, had you not been there, getting into it together. 


Wah: Well, between us, we have quite the global experience – I’ve got knowledge and experience from India, and James has experience from Mongolia and China. Combining medical practices with Ayurveda and yoga from India is a fascinating thing to explore. These teachings all originated from the same places and became different over time. The foundations of these teachings are the same globally. So we take the things we know, and approach them from different disciplines, and trace them back to the common source. It’s fun! And to see where the development of these practices is going – There’s yoga for scoliosis – that’s not in the vatas. There’s yoga for addiction recovery. We treat autism, downs, et cetera – there are so many modern ways to apply ancient knowledge, and we love to explore that.


James: The basic core of many eastern teachings come from the Northern Himalayas. The teachers spread out to share this knowledge and wealth, to allow this growth of the world. And so, over the millennia, people have taken these things and done what they would with them. There is a lot of culture that we still can’t uncover about that time, but the teachings we do know stand true. Six thousand plus years later, they’re still relevant. What really gets me cracking up in the West is that we refer to it as “alternative” medicine, when modern medicine is really only a few hundred years old.


Wah: Modern medicine, really, is the alternative.


James: Of course, we’ve really increased the ability to save lives with trauma medicine, but for spirituality and natural healing, it’s these ancient practices that seem to be the most transformative for people. I think that it should be more mainstream. With a facility like this and the background of it – I love the fact that there’s no alcohol, smoking, or drug use allowed here. It sets such a beautiful energy for learning, for assimilating, for letting people take it in and make it theirs. In a lot of places you don’t find it.

AOLRC: You mentioned that in Sanskrit there are two separate words for health, and in English we have a hard time translating that because we just don’t think that way. We think of health in the singular. It’s like you used to have these two concepts – one is being alive, and another one is not being sick. The western world is happy to think of health as “not-sickness”.


James: With everything going on in the world right now, people are coming to understand, in the last 20 years especially, what’s been surrounding them. They’re opening themselves up to different spiritual and healing modalities. They’re getting back to where they’re feeling things again for the first time. Not so much just touch, or the physical aspects of healing, but also the spiritual and energetic. In western medicine and science, if you can’t produce empirical evidence; evidence you can see, smell, taste; it’s not real. But we know that there are other things in the world that are tangible that you can work with, and that many, many people, all over the world, can actually see, feel, and manipulate these energies, and use them for good and healing.


Learn more about Dr. James Leary and Wah


Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


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TAGS: art of living , art of living retreat center , James Leary , kirtan , mantra , mindfulness , music , Wah! , wellness , wisdom

In House: Wah & James Leary Pt. 1

By Paige Reist
May 26, 2017


This April, The Art of Living Retreat Center hosted the transformational Life Qi Renewal Retreat – a four-day journey to learn self-healing and Qi healing protocols headed by the dynamic duo of Dr. James Leary and Wah. We recently spoke to them about their experiences at the Retreat Center, the power of Kirtan, or mantra chanting, and the magic of the mountain.  


Letting Go of What Isn’t Yours

AOLRC: What’s the goal that you strive to achieve while teaching?
Wah: Our goal is to generate the highest energy that we can, through the practices that we know, and then hold space for people to experience that energy and heal in that safe, protected space.


James: I try to explore how we connect to spirituality,  and how we connect to nature. Society really drives us away from that kind of reflection these days. Everything is so fast, but coming up here to the Retreat Center is so powerful, because it’s a place where you can let go, regroup, and grasp the spirituality of nature and of the self. With our program, we try to get people to look at themselves, to see what’s truly theirs and what’s not theirs, and learn how to let go of the things that aren’t for them. It’s like any kind of program – it takes time, effort, and space to make it yours.


Being up here, even for the short program, is fantastic. It’s a place where you’re being held by the mountain, by the energy here, and by the wonderful staff and environment. That’s what we do. We hold this space for you to allow that developmental energy to come out in a way that is wholly yours.


AOLRC: Can you speak more about recognizing what is ours and not ours, and letting go of that?
James: Everything we do has an emotional undercurrent to it, whether we like it or not. Whether we’re able to see it or not, everything has emotion attached to it – good, bad, or indifferent. In our practice and in our work, we deal with the energies that our ours. What are the things that we take on, even in the womb, that aren’t ours? We try to take on how these energies are affecting us and what it means to raise your vibration and consciousness above that, how to let go in a way that you can begin to breathe. It’s a powerful thing to identify what truly is yours, and to realize that no one can take that away from you. It’s all about recognizing who you are in any given moment, and your connection to that greater Source.


The Power of Kirtan

AOLRC: Can you speak about the Kirtan, the chanting of mantra? What drew you to this approach?
Wah: It’s a mild engagement of the mind. If you generate a lot of higher energy, things inside of you start to shift, including your beliefs.  In our workshop, people are practically popping with emotion – there are tears and openings and pain, there’s so many realizations that are happening, and it’s very intense.


Mantra chanting can be a nice way to assimilate. In other words, you do your work, and something inside of you transforms, and suddenly you’re like “uh-oh! I have no idea who I am right now. This is not my normal. How do I put myself back together?” But you don’t want to force something back together – you want to allow yourself to float, and to find new, better, healthier ways to connect. The mantra-chanting comes in here – it’s a mild engagement, you just begin chanting, and there’s no storyline to it. It’s just words of praise, a positive affirmation, and so you keep it running through your system. We call it spiritual dialysis.


My own first experience with mantra chanting came at a vulnerable time in my life – I was 16 and traveling all over the world. I’m empathic, so I was feeling all of these feelings that weren’t mine, and then I found mantra and immediately I was like “Ah! This is it! This is good!” I have a lot of longing for God, and I was witnessing people singing to God. I grew up in the South, in a Baptist Church, and you know, singing is how you express wonderment. Mantra was the Indian version of that. Chanting mantra is a way into meditation. I always say to do yoga until you’re tired, and then start singing. Chant mantra and sing, and keep singing until you lose your voice, and then sit in silence.


AOLRC: After you discovered mantra, is that when silence came?
Wah: I’m not a silent person. I love silence, but if it gets too quiet or too somber, I get nervous. I go into cancer wards or into a hospital and people are very careful or fearful or they don’t want to talk too loud or disturb anyone. But my teachers, in mantra, made a lot of noise. And that was vibrant and exciting – this exuberance for God, exuberance for a higher energy, for freedom, for kindness, for compassion, for helping others. I think there should be more enthusiasm for that.


Mantra is for Everyone

AOLRC: Do you feel that there’s an audience that relates more to this approach, or do you feel that it’s a universal approach that anyone can connect to? 
James: There are many ways to look at mantra. I share a lot of mantra in my work, and there are certain words, or ideas of focus. What can we use to bring us to a certain focus? The Kirtan, with music, with mantras, is an idea of focus. You might not understand what the words are, but you’re going to feel them.


It’s a cross-cultural thing – we’ve worked all across the globe and we’ve never really found people who haven’t connected to that in some way. If you’re willing to sit through your preconceived notions and open up a little, it’s a powerful experience. Everyone is searching for a higher level, and trying to find something with truth in it. Something that’s going to be lasting. Mantra is that, for us.


The first mantra is typically “Out with the old, in with the new.” Getting the old out is really not that difficult. It can be a lot of fun, or it can be really intense, but it’s totally doable. What kind of new do we want to replace it with? That’s the exciting part. It makes you want to think about what your dreams really are. What never came to fruition? Allowing this to come through now and get us more into our different paths opens up to the art of personal spirituality with the universe. That’s where the magic happens. There is no such thing as white or black magic – everything is magic in the universe. The only difference is intention.


That thought of “why are we here? why do I exist?” is present in so many people’s minds. We have jobs, lives, families, but we’re always still searching. There’s something else that we’re grasping for. It’s really unique to be able to bring people closer to their dreams and hold space for them. That’s one of the things that I share and that Wah shares with people –  “make it yours”. When you make it yours, that’s when magic really takes off, and it’s so much fun. We call it the Work, and when the Work really happens, it’s magic, because it’s about everybody.


Wah: Everybody. Every person of every age. Everyone has a dream or a hope that they want to come forward, and there’s usually something blocking it. That’s part of being alive. So, when you come and you are part of this retreat, you get support and courage to drop the old way of doing things and learn to move into the new.


AOLRC: How would you guide someone who wanted to set out to learn mantra chanting and to learn to sing, to be part of this practice? What would you say to someone who was sitting at home, who didn’t have this environment around them, on how to get started? 
Wah: One of James’ favourite mantras is “Show me”. It’s a prayer. If you want to go in a certain direction, you know you want to get there, so you ask the universe – “show me.” Show me how to get there. Show me what I need to now. Show me what I can learn next. And then, a door opens. That’s how you start.


The Magic of the Mountain

AOLRC: How is teaching at the Art of Living Retreat Center different from your previous courses?

James: The mountain is very energetic – and that energy is something that anybody can come and experience. The energy of the nature here has this way of bringing people into it and awakening so much inside of you.
Wah: We do teach at a lot of retreat centers. Some are more intellectually-focused, offering a lot of learning materials and nurturing that side of the practice. I found the Art of Living to be a really heart-centered retreat center; it’s a place that welcomes you wholly. The wisdom here doesn’t necessarily come from books or scholarly discussion of spiritual concepts – it comes from the Earth itself. There is magic here. It was used as a meditation center before it’s current incarnation, so you can feel a lot of beautiful meditative energy here, an energy that is easy to tap into for support for transformation.


The Art of Living Retreat Center is a beautiful place to reset and renew. Everybody here is so welcoming, and the food is lovely and Ayurvedic, soothing to the system. People love the spa, too – you can have an oil massage, an Ayurvedic treatment or consultation – pottery, different things you can do. You can come just for R&R or you can come to study with people like us, and the place is big enough to accommodate all of it.


James: It’s a hidden jewel up here, you know. It’s about the mountain – because everything sits on it, there’s an incredible energy here. It’s expansive. There’s just so much life here.


Wah: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar did something very kind and noble with rescuing this place.  By recognizing that this place needed to be saved and rekindled, and putting his glance on this land and his intention, that it should be used to help people.


James: On a fun note, at a recent Kirtan, a number of people were saying that you could actually feel Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s energy. You could feel his presence, and it was something that was incredibly beautiful. It was just great – everyone smiling. People were coming up and giving hugs. It was a blessed event. It’s so beautiful to have a living master that blesses this facility and the people and programs and the future.

Learn more about Dr. James Leary and Wah

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Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: art of living , art of living retreat center , James Leary , kirtan , mindfulness , music , Wah! , wellness , wisdom

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