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Sujantra McKeever: An Interview with Pilgrimage Yoga Online Founder.

Sujantra now owns two Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga studios, in the heart of North Park and Normal Heights, California.  He instructs 5 classes a week at both locations, teaching all 8 aspects of yoga and exploring the relevance of this ancient art in our modern society.

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This piece is written by Molly Flores, a student at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego. 

In a dimly lit foyer, sunlight cascades over potted olive trees and illuminates trails of incense, seemingly swaying to its own Asana.  In the background, gentle flute music resonates in my ears and fills me with a sense of elation. The walls surrounding me are adorned with vivid paintings and inspirational sayings such as “Yoga is union” and the tables display crystals and sweet smelling herbs.  In this space, I am grounded and filled with euphoria. I close my eyes to embody the feeling entirely. I am drawn back earthside as a gentle hand rests on my shoulder but a voice does not disrupt the silence.

I have come to Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio and have already succumb to it’s grace.   Sujantra McKeever, the founder and owner, stands before me with the presence of a redwood tree that has seen many seasons pass before it;  insightful and strong. His salt and pepper hair flows around his face freely and his infectious smile seems to suggest that he holds dear the secrets of the universe.  He wears loose earth-toned clothing and worn oxford loafers; the combination suggests he is a spiritual man with business to conduct. He gestures me to follow him and I am surprised to discover a den tucked away, hidden behind folding French walls in the back of the studio.  

Unlike the foyer, the den is cramped, filled with books on meditation and pictures of a small Indian man with the same infectious smile: Sri Chinmoy, a world famous inspirational leader who mentored Sujantra for 27 years.  The desk across from me is used as an altar; miniature figurines of Buddha and Hindu goddesses are carefully displayed. The desk also showcases many mementos such a group pictures and event flyers, representing a sense of family: a community of people that Sujantra’s passion has united.

As I prepare myself, Sujantra is already seated ready to explain his juourney.  His aura alludes inner-peace and this the very reason I chose to interview this man regarding his journey to self-enlightenment. As I shuffle through my notes, a look of overwhelment is obviously splayed across my face.  “Where do I begin?”, I giggle nervously. This man before me has seen so much…Without a cue, the silence is interrupted by the soft tone of a gong and just like that, his story unfolds before us.

“I was raised a Roman-Catholic, even as a boy, I had a good feeling for going to church…and I really liked that feeling of that shift between the day to day world and the sacred world.”  

Sujantra McKeever, was born in San Francisco in 1962.  As a boy, he attended cataclysm classes which evolved to a Prayer and Contemplative Meditation course while attending Jesuit High School.  During these classes, Sujantra and his peers, were guided by the priest into spiritual visualizations. “On one of those days, I had a very profound experience about my sense of self and sunk to a really deep place within myself- this was very eye opening. I had never felt that dimension before…”

Now awakened to his passion, Sujantra began to nourish his mind, body and spirit; combining physical exercise with the spiritual practice of yoga and meditation.  Running and basketball were essential to his physical routine as they allowed him to practice breath control, referred to as Pranayama. The peaceful postures (Asanas) of yoga nourished his longing for reflection and a higher sense of self.  

“What I was really motivated to deepen was my ability to meditate.”  Sujantra felt a longing to expand his knowledge and practice of meditation.  Unfortunately, the priest who had ignited the passion within Sujantra originally, was limited in his expertise and was unable to satiate Sujantra’s need for more knowledge on the practice.  

After about a year and a half of searching for a teacher, Sujantra met Sri Chinmoy here in San Diego in 1980. He was teaching a class and the feeling Sujantra left with was similar to the bliss he had experienced as a boy.  He then attended a free concert held by Sri Chinmoy in Phoenix, Arizona. A connection was made and a lifetime of mentor ship was established. Sri  Chinmoy became Sujantra’s spiritual teacher and remained so for the duration of his life, until his passing in 2007.

“I shared with Sri Chinmoy that I wanted to create a space that would be a real vehicle to convey love and inspiration for the practice of meditation and yoga and he created the name The Pilgrimage of the Heart.”  This safe space eluding love and spiritual practice started as a new age bookstore in 2006, providing literate on the practices of yoga.  From there a few yoga classes were hosted throughout the week, word then spread and many more yoga classes were being taught, with this the need for more instructors emerged.

Sujantra now owns two Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga studios, in the heart of North Park and Normal Heights, California.  He instructs 5 classes a week at both locations, teaching all 8 aspects of yoga and exploring the relevance of this ancient art in our modern society. His classes include, Beginning/Gentle Yoga, Yoga for children and Hatha levels I and II, as well as guided meditation as well as a musical meditation course. Continently, for those who can’t make it out to the studio, instructional meditation videos are now provided on www.pilgrimageyogaonline.com.

Not only had Sujantra created a platform to bridge the gap of ancient aspects of yoga to a modern group of people through his studios and website; but he has written 5 books and has lectured in more than 25 countries on the practices as well.  “ I find that the hardest job a teacher faces, is connecting with his audience, so what I’ve tried to accomplish with my lectures and writings is making meditation very accessible to people and to demystify yoga in that sense.” His writings include: Learn to Meditate, Paths Are Many Truth Is One: A Journey to the Essence of Spirituality and Religion, Ancient Wisdom for Modern Lives: The Mandukya Upanished, 7 Secrets to Super-Health, and Strategy for Success.  

As I glance down at my notes, realizing I haven’t prepared anymore questions, I am ready to improvise.  I look up, about to impose a question about his own personal practice and finding the time amidst his busy schedule; only to find that Sujantra has taken it upon himself to find the time right then.  Very clearly deep within his practice, I smile, realizing this was the most appropriate cue for the conclusion of our interview. I head for the door, feeling extremely inspired as I turn to exit I hear “I hope our practices emerge one day, Molly.  Be well.”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Molly Flores is originally from New York and has been living in San Diego for the past 10 years. She has a busy life as a mom of two, and is deeply interested in expanding her practice and understanding of yoga and meditation. This piece originated as an interview with Pilgrimage Yoga Online studio founder, Sujantra McKeever. Molly is a student is Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in Normal Heights and North Park in San Diego. 

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Kirtan: A Weekly San Diego Music Event in Normal Heights

If you’ve never been to kirtan before, there’s a few things you should know.

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Every week, Pilgrimage of the Heart yoga studio hosts a musical meditation practice called Kirtan, which is one of the many branches of yoga.

What is Kirtan?

If you’ve never been to kirtan before, there’s a few things you should know. Unlike many other musical events, the audience becomes a very real part of the overall experience by singing with the accompanying band in a call and response format. The band will sing through the chant and then the audience responds by singing the chant in response—back and forth, over and over again.

By repeating lyrics (which are often times in the traditional language of yoga—Sanskrit), the repetition becomes a mental focal point, and this helps to reduce everyday mind clutter. This often leaves participants feeling peaceful, clear and open-minded—which are all traits of a great meditation experience.

Generally, each chant is centered on some divine aspect, like a traditional god or goddess from the Hindu faith, or a story-line from Hindu mythology. At our San Diego kirtan events, it’s important to us that all participants feel included, regardless of religious or spiritual background. We emphasize that there is no right or wrong meaning to the songs, and that the main goal of the practice is to benefit from singing out loud.

As westerners, we might have perhaps lost sight of the importance of singing, but in India, singing is considered a very primal spiritual experience, centered around vibrations. When we sing, we create vibrations within our physical body which move outward into the Universal whole. And when you think about it, singing—vibrating—feels good. Our bodies have this natural, musical engine within us; despite our inhibitions, we are built for singing.

 

Join us every Thursday night at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in Normal Heights for San Diego’s only weekly kirtan event.

What makes kirtan a unique music event?

What is so very special about Kirtan is that everyone in attendance is invited to sing! The audience becomes a communal chorus and very quickly each individual begins to recognize that it’s OK to sing. This can only happen when individuals feel safe from criticism and judgment, and we always do our best to support each participants’ expression of kirtan.

Many of us were raised to believe that the only people who should sing are those with special qualities, and that those who aren’t musically talented should refrain from singing for fear of scorn and ridicule. In a way, our western culture discourages singing.

However, numerous studies point out that choral singing is good for our overall physical, psychological and emotional health.

Being able to sing in public is a rare opportunity. Unlike signing up for a singing group (like a choir or a class), all you have to do with kirtan is show up. After playing weekly kirtans for over 8 years, I’ve had some wonderful experiences with newcomers who tell me that their first experience was so profound, that they love to sing but there’s no place to do so, that they will be back. I’ve watched our regulars participate almost every week for the eight years we have offered the event. It’s very easy to quickly become drawn to the practice. You recognize that your voice is a gift and has meaning.

 

Kirtan FAQ

Question: Is kirtan part of a religion?

Answer: Kirtan originates from the Hindu faith system (and other eastern traditions; Jain, Sikh, Islam, Buddhism…). Hinduism ascribes God and Goddess status to almost everything, but this shouldn’t deter you from practicing! God and Goddess status simply indicates a respect for different aspects of creation, and doesn’t represent or conflict with how God is conceived of in Western traditions. Kirtan is spiritual for spiritual people, religious for religious people, and non-denominational for those who aren’t inclined.

 

Question: What are your songs based on?

Answer: We have chants in our practice that originate from all five major faith systems (Hindu, Hebrew, Buddhist, Islam and Christianity) and also spiritual songs that mesh well with the overall concept of spiritual Self-realization. Yes, Kirtan is a spiritual, devotional practice but should not be confused that it stands for one religion or another.

 

Question: Do participants need to be “spiritual” in order to participate?

Answer: We encourage everyone to consider the divine thoughts of the spiritual traditions in whatever manner they are comfortable with. We are NOT trying to ‘convert’ anyone’s beliefs into something else. We are about celebrating cultural, spiritual diversity and understanding and about being a vehicle for each of our own individual, divine realization.

 

Kirtan Band

Kirtan songs don’t have a set meaning. Rather, participants are encouraged to explore the meaning of each song based on what makes sense to you.

How do I attend?

We invite you to attend kirtan on Thursday evenings at 8:30-9:30 p.m. All you have to do is show up; there is no registration. You can sit in a chair or on the floor as it suits you. We have songbooks to make it very easy for you to follow along and little bells for you to ring and keep rhythm (but only if you want to). The practice is family-friendly and we encourage you to bring friends.

We ask that you contribute $5.00 (minimum) to help offset the cost of live musicians. The event is free for our yoga studio members.

Happy Kirtan!

 

TOM WARNER: Tom came to Pilgrimage of the Heart in 2007 and Sujantra quickly recognized that Tom was both able and willing to organize a kirtan practice. The project changed and grew and changed again until in 2009 when the practice was a viable offering on a weekly basis. Since then Tom as lead over 400 Kirtan events at pilgrimage, only missing three practices in eight years. Tom’s love of kirtan knows no bounds and he is always striving to grow and expand the practice, offering the joy of spiritual chanting to as many people as possible.

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Where Is The Best Kirtan In San Diego?

If you’re looking for a Kirtan practice in San Diego, here’s the scoop on our city’s offerings.

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Kirtan is a meditational practice under the yoga umbrella, set to music.  It involves chanting: participants chant divine words and phrases together as a communal chorus. The basic idea is to clear the clutter of the mind’s attachment to the outer world, replacing that clutter with focused thoughts of creation, Creator and our place in the universe. To be sure, Kirtan is a devotional practice.

 

To me, Kirtan is the easiest form of meditating. Sitting in solitary silence with one-pointed focus, even for short periods of time is quite challenging. It can be daunting and downright discouraging, especially for those new to meditation.  The fact is, many who meditate repeat chants inwardly, silently as the source of focus. Chanting gives you something to do. It focuses the mind on the chant, on the underlying meaning, on the repetition, on the reminder of our higher nature. So for newcomers especially, Kirtan is a good place to start a meditation practice.

 

As old as the tradition is (thousands of years), Kirtan is still relatively unknown as a practice in the west, both within the yoga community and without. In fact, I only know of a few places around my home, San Diego, that offer this magical meditation experience. I feel fortunate to be a part of a weekly Kirtan gathering at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in Normal Heights, which I have led for several years now at our weekly Thursday night gatherings. We’ve had many band members come and go throughout the years, different instrumentation, and different audiences, but what I love the most is that it always feels the same–a community experiencing joy and peace together.

 

If you’re looking for a Kirtan practice in San Diego, here’s the scoop on our city’s offerings:

 

 

Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga

 

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Time: Every Thursday night 8:30 – 9:30p

Location: Normal Heights East Room

Cost: $5 donation

Sign-Up Link

The Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Kirtan Band has been playing weekly Kirtan events for more than 7 years. Each Thursday evening we create a set list of our favorite and seasonal chants to share with the community. Participants are encouraged to sit in chairs, on the floor (with many yoga props, of course), or stand up and dance. We know that Kirtan can be a vulnerable expression for some, as it involves public singing and dancing, and we aim to provide a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere. Prepare to chant, and learn about some major cornerstones of yoga philosophy that are the foundational elements of Kirtan.

For our friends who live outside the San Diego area, we live stream our Kirtans through our Facebook page. Join us every Thursday evening for musical meditation!

 

The San Diego Hare Krishna Community 

 

Time: Every Sunday 5:00-6:00p

Location: Pacific Beach, San Diego

Cost: Donation

Sign-Up Link

 

The San Diego Hare Krishna Community offers weekly festival every Sunday night, featuring a number of events, of which Kirtan is a part. Whereas Pilgrimage’s Kirtan events stand alone, the Hare Krishna Community offers Kirtan as part of a larger schedule of events, including lectures and meals together. Check out their weekly schedule to find out more information!

 

Himalyan Heritage

 

Time: First Friday of the Month (subject to change)

Location: Encinitas, CA 

Time: 7:00-9:00p

Sign-Up Link

 

Led by Sundaram and Hilary, the Hamalyan Heritage Satsang encourages devotees of all paths to attend these Kirtan events. Each Kirtan is led by a variety of local Kirtan musicians and leaders. You can even sign up for their mailing list to stay up to date with new Kirtan events!

 

San Diego County Kirtan

 

Time: 2nd Saturday of the month, 5:00-6:30p

Location: First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego

Cost: FREE

Sign-Up Link

 

This is a monthly Kirtan practice organized on Meetup. Led by Annette Laborte, this group emphasizes the importance of being non-denominational and non-sectarian. Events are held at a local church, and participants are encouraged to feel at ease, no matter what their religious background.

 

 

I invite you to attend a Kirtan practice. It’s very enjoyable and folks depart with a heightened awareness and state of being. I so enjoy hearing comments from attendees about how wonderful they feel and what a wonderful experience they had. I’m also a bit surprised by the number of first timers who ask how long we’ve been doing the Kirtan practice. When I tell them, eight years, they are stunned.

Kirtan is an integral part of the yoga practice. The Bhakti tradition is one of the four paths in yoga to Self-Realization. It has a chapter devoted to it in the Bhagavad Gita. If you are practicing yoga, if you meditate, expand your awareness by including Kirtan into your weekly practice.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom came to Pilgrimage of the Heart in 2007 and Sujantra quickly recognized that Tom was both able and willing to organize a kirtan practice. The project changed and grew and changed again until in 2009 when the practice was a viable offering on a weekly basis. Since then Tom as lead over 400 Kirtan events at pilgrimage, only missing three practices in eight years. Tom’s love of kirtan knows no bounds and he is always striving to grow and expand the practice, offering the joy of spiritual chanting to as many people as possible.

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EP 18 – Danni Pomplun

Danni Pomplun shares his roots, styles and outlook on yoga…

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Enjoy interviews with inspiring and uplifting guests who share their insights into yoga, personal improvement and world transformation. We feature yogis, writers, musicians, teachers and visionaries from many fields who are reaching for the highest in human potential. The program is hosted by Sujantra McKeever, founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, CA.

Ep 18 – Danni Pomplun shares his roots, styles and outlook on yoga. Currently residing in San Francisco, Danni will be the lead-off yoga teacher at the Festival of Yoga in San Diego on June 17th. in conjunction with the third annual United Nations International Day of Yoga.

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