Q & A with Shyama Chapin

Posted on May 29th, 2015


The Yoga Sukhavati: Art of Sound module begins the weekend of June 12 with the very talented Shyama Chapin. Learn more about Shyama and the meditative effects of kirtan.230169_10150237371190943_286387065942_9076706_2645849_n

Where are you originally from? How long have you lived in NYC?

I was born in Elsah, Illinois, where my dad was a college professor. But I mostly grew up in New York City, through high school. Then I went as far away as I could, to New England and then Northern California. I’ve been back living here since 2009. I’m still not quite sure how that happened! 

What is kirtan? What does kirtan mean to you?

Kirtan is a practice that is part of the tradition of Bhakti Yoga from India. It is simply call and response chanting, singing in a group with someone leading and everyone else responding. Namakirtan specifically is the practice of chanting what are called the Divine Names, which are Sanskrit words that have been revealed to a being in a high state of realization. They are considered to be various ways of naming that essential reality which is the ground nature of everything that is, including us of course! One of many paradoxes is that this reality exists beyond name and form, but yet when we call out to it, that invocation gently intensifies our awareness of this reality which is our own true nature—which is Love. You could say that all of these names are simply names of Love.

The practice of chanting the Names is also a method of beginning to release our obsession with the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world that cause us so much pain. For me personally, it has been a huge grace and blessing to be given this amazing boat to rest in in the middle of the wild and confusing ocean of my mind and my life!

How long have you been practicing kirtan? How did you get interested in it?

I always know when I first became aware of this practice, because it was right after 9/11. I didn’t so much get interested in it, which would be sort of a intellectual thing, as find myself completely drawn to it without giving any thought to why. There’s a story about how that came about that is too long for here…maybe I’ll tell it as part of the workshop!

In addition to kirtan, you also play the harmonium.  Have you always been a musician? 

Actually, I play harmonium when I’m chanting, and not really outside of that. So it’s part of kirtan for me. When I started leading kirtan, I was chanting with a folk instrument from India called an ektara, which is a gourd with a skin head and a long neck attached, and one or two strings that are played in a rhythmic drone. I started with that, I guess, because I’ve been a guitar player since I was a kid, and strings seemed natural to me. 

My dad was a choir director and a pianist and organist, and I took piano lessons from him from age 3 to 7, when I quit! He actually gave me a guitar then, and told me he didn’t know how to play it…I basically hid in my room singing and playing it pretty incessantly for a bunch of years after that, and started writing my own songs.

Later I started performing my songs solo with the guitar in New England and California mostly, and recorded a solo CD. And I was in a jam band in the Bay Area with a bunch of friends that did some recording as well.

What would you tell someone who is interested in kirtan, but may not be musically inclined?

The thing is, the practice of kirtan looks like it has to do with music, because there’s music along with it, but it’s actually not fundamentally about the music. It’s about repeating the Names, which is where the juice is. So practicing kirtan as part of the response group doesn’t require any musical ability at all, and in fact if you are inclined to be distracted by how nice your voice is, or how musical you are those things can be distractions to the practice for sure. Of course, if you are inclined to be distracted by how much you dislike your voice, or whatever, that can be distracting too!

If you want to lead kirtan, there is a little bit of musical ability that is called for, just to hold the thing together. But not really that much. You can keep the chant really basic musically and have a fantastic kirtan.

How do yoga asana and kirtan compliment each other?

Both asana practice and kirtan practice require concentration and awareness, and ultimately the reality that is being approached is the same, since it’s the only reality there is! But the vehicles are quite different: the physical body/energy body in asana practice and the heart/mind in kirtan practice. So there is a nice balance energetically when you bring them together I think. The practice in the body supports the mind/heart practice in a really lovely and helpful way, and vice versa.

Has there been one particular kirtan experience that stands out to you? If so, please share.

Chanting directly in front of my guru in India, when I have done that, has been a huge blessing and teaching. It’s another long story (or two!) But many many kirtans have been high points for me…actually any opportunity to chant with others in this way is a high point…I totally mean that. One of my favorite memories is of a kirtan a while ago in Massachusetts at a little yoga studio: my drummer had to bail at the last minute, and only one person came to sing. So it was just the two of us and the harmonium and she had never chanted before! But she wasn’t afraid to sing, and she caught on to the idea of singing back and forth with concentration right away. We sang for a couple of hours and it was amazing! Really beautiful.

What are you most looking forward to about the workshop with Yoga Sukhavati?

Chanting the Names together, of course…it’s the best thing there is! And also exploring the practice together in a way that hopefully empowers everyone who comes to feel confident about bringing it into their personal practices and their yoga asana classes as well. I hope everyone will bring both open minds and a willingness to ask lots of questions.

What can you be found doing when you are not leading kirtans?

I am a New York State licensed massage therapist, seeing clients at Greenhouse Holistic on Bedford and North 7th in Williamsburg from Thursday through Saturday, as well as through Zeel Massage on Demand and privately. I also travel to students’ homes in the NYC metropolitan area to teach private harmonium lessons for chant practice, and I work as a personal assistant one day a week. 

Whenever I can, I love to chant with my friends’ when they are leading kirtans—I’m very lucky to have a lot of friends who are great kirtan walas, including Krishna Das…practice with all of them and especially with him is a huge grace for me. 

When I get a chance, I like to spend time outdoors in the country…woods, mountains, ocean…it’s all good and makes me happy as clams. And occasionally I sleep.

Come practice and learn kirtan with Shyama (and Leigh Evans) at The Art of Sound workshop, June 12-14 at Loom Yoga Center in Bushwick.

Friday, June 12: 6-9p.m. – Kirtan with Shyama & Band
Saturday, June 13 and Sunday, June 14: 9a.m.-12:30p.m. and 2-6p.m.

To learn more about Shyama, visit her website,


6 Steps to Help your Body Detoxify & get Ready for the Summer

Posted on May 28th, 2015


image1Enjoy these great Spring detox tips from Morena Escardo, Holistic Health Coach and author of Detox Juicing: 3-Day, 7-Day, and 14-Day Cleanses for Your Health and Well-Being!

Just as the night is the sacred time when our bodies cleanse and replenish, so is the spring the time of year when the liver is the most active, and hence, when our bodies cleanse and replenish the most. This season awakens the urge in our whole being to cleanse itself from the old, and to make space for the new things that are ready to bloom. The need to do a spring cleanse of our homes, and throw everything that is not useful to us anymore, may in fact be an outward expression of what´s going on inside our bodies and minds.

These past few days the temperature has began to rise and the increased humidity in the air is a clear sign that the summer is quickly approaching (some days it feels like it already has). Luckily, we still have some time to boost our inner cleansing process if we haven’t yet, and to make the most of the following weeks to get our bodies, minds, and souls ready for a joyful transition into the summer.
Yoga and meditation, of course, are two very useful practices to help us detoxify and release that which doesn’t serve us anymore at a very deep level. Juice cleanses or short fasts may also be of help when done with awareness, with great care (and if possible the help of a professional who can guide you), and when you listen to your body and don’t go to unhealthy extremes. Other than these three great options, there are some daily habits you can acquire for the next three weeks of spring (or even better, forever!), which will enhance your health and well-being for the rest of the year, and which you can use during this season again in the future.

1. Dry scrub your skin every morning when you wake up. Move the scrub in upward motion towards the heart, working your way from your feet up through your whole body. Skin is the body´s largest organ, and a large amount of toxins is released through it. By scrubbing it, you will be helping this process, improving circulation, and stimulating the lymphatic system so it does a better job at getting rid of toxins.

2. Use a neti pot for nasal irrigation. This may look and feel weird at first, but with practice and perseverance, it may become as automatic and essential in your daily self care routine as brushing your teeth. The nasal passages can store dirt, bacteria, viruses, and other unfriendly substances, and this practice helps clean them out more easily. Most neti pots come with easy to follow instructions, so I won’t describe the process in detail here.

3. Use a tongue scraper first thing in the morning. That white coating over the tongue after a long night’s sleep is one of your body’s ways to get rid of the toxins it released while you were asleep. If you don’t get rid of it, and you go ahead with your breakfast or drink some water when you wake up, you will be swallowing back many of those toxins. Tongue scrapers are the solution. Like the neti pot and the dry scrubbing, it may take some time to get used to, but once it becomes a part of your daily routine, you will do it as soon a you wake up without even thinking about it.

4.Go to sleep early (if not every day, at least try to do this as often as you can). Just as the liver is more active during the spring, making this the ideal time to cleanse your body deeply, the night is the time of the day when your liver wakes up and does its detoxing shift. Being asleep by 10pm is ideal to help the liver maximize its job. This may be difficult in the spring, when we feel like spending more time outdoors and the days become longer, but at least do it a few times a week and you will greatly enhance your body’s ability to detox. Which takes me to point #5.

5. If possible, have an early dinner. I used to complain about the American habit of having dinner at 6pm, because in Peru we like to eat pretty late. After studying Ayurveda, however, my perception shifted and I realized how good of a habit early eating is. In Ayurveda it’s recommended that we don’t eat after the sun sets, because the energy of the sun (pitta) helps us digest our food. In detox terms, if our body is busy digesting dinner, it won’t put enough energy into the liver’s detoxifying job, which as I mentioned in point #4, starts at around 10pm. The goal should be to have an empty stomach by 10pm, so try to eat at least 2 hours before going to sleep, or earlier if possible.

6. Eat seasonal foods. Each season, nature gifts us with exactly what we need to thrive at that moment of the year. Bitter greens and veggies like arugula and artichokes abound during the spring, because these foods help with the body’ detoxification process. Summer, fall, and winter foods are all excellent too, but contain particular nutrients and qualities that may not be as important for your health right now, or in some cases may even weaken it a bit. For example, if you eat lots of cucumbers and coconut water in the winter, you will feel cold all the time, which is the opposite of what you want then. Stick as much as possible to seasonal produce, and your body will thrive.

Morena yoga picMorena Escardó is the author of Detox Juicing: 3-Day, 7-Day, and 14-Day Cleanses for Your Health and Well BeingDelightful Quinoa Recipes, The Peruvian Kitchen, and The Everything Peruvian Cookbook. Morena studied philosophy and literature, lived in Peru, England, Spain and the US, worked as a book and magazine editor, and managed a home cookie business for 3 years. In 2011, she created the Peruvian food blog Peru Delights together with her mother, where she focuses on the superfoods and healthy dishes of her country’s cuisine, and creates vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and sugar free versions of traditional dishes.

Check out Morena’s website for fabulous healthy recipes and her book Detox Juicing! (@morenaescardo)


Spring Cleanse

Posted on May 13th, 2015


Tara lotus flower
I just made my first batch of Kitchari for my Spring cleanse. It is delicious and I feel ready to detox! Now that the weather is warm, it’s the perfect time to dive in and do your Spring cleanse! In fact every cell in your body is begging you to cleanse the congestion out of your liver and gall bladder organs. Once cleansed, your will feel calm, stress and tension free, decisive, insightful, emotional ease, and in contact with our personal power and capacity for leadership that are the attributes of a balanced liver network. Invite a state of balance and vibrancy into you being!

It is often difficult to slow down our busy lives and take the time to properly do a juice cleanse. Particularly if you are vata dosha, it is more effective do a traditional Indian Kitchari cleanse for 3-5 days. Kitchari is a simple cleansing highly nutritious combination of mung beans and rice. It both cleanses your system and strengthens your memory.

Whether you choose to do a juice cleanse, or a mono diet like kitchari, it is essential to offer ways for the toxins to leave your body. I find it most effective while doing a cleanse to be sure to continue to take plenty of balancing, nourishing and purifying baths. The skin is the largest organ in your body and a large part of our detoxification process. See our Spring Practices post on purifying seaweed baths!

by Annie Kunjappy
chef for Yoga Sukhavati Seasonal self-care workshops

1 cup mung beans (soaked overnight)
1 cup brown basmati rice
1 onion diced
8 cloves garlic chopped
1 cup finely sliced leeks
1” piece ginger chopped
4 Tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 cup chopped scallions
½ cup chopped cilantro/parsley
Sea salt and lime/lemon juice to taste

Cook mung bean in pot with 4 cups of water and a half teaspoon of sea salt until soft.
Cook basmati rice in 2 cups of hot water until done.
In a separate pan, heat coconut oil, sauté onions until soft. Add leek and continue until soft. Add garlic, ginger, coriander and turmeric and sauté for 1 minute.
Mixed together the cooked beans and liquid with the cooked rice, and the sauted ingredients.
Add chopped scallions and cilantro.
Season with lime juice and sea salt to taste.