Braja Raja – “The Dust of Braja”

courtesy of the Shyamdas Foundation

When I was a child growing up Africa,  we called all friends of our parents ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’ (in french ‘tantine’ or ‘‘tonton’) which was an honorific and considered respectful. And among the aunties and uncles, there were those you wanted to be related to: Too cool not to be yours. And they actually didn’t care for honorifics. Heartbreaks, delights, anything: you could call them and they would always be there for you. You would never feel uncomfortable around them.

Shyamdas – affectionately and respectfully called Shyamdasji – belongs to that category, as a spiritual teacher. He had dedicated his life to the music, literature, and people of Braj. He spoke Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, and Brajbhasha. He was a scholar who insightfully translated and commented many of the songs and writings of saints from the Pushti Marg tradition (Shri Vallabhacharya, Govinda Svami, Raskhan, Surdas and others). His immense knowledge was only surpassed by his joy  – ananda.

Shyamdasji lived in the bhav, mad in love with God and in service. He left his body in January of 2013.

Regular students of my classes are familiar with his voice … and his laughter!

Today, I’d like to share Braj Raja with you.

All these sacred and ancient teachings are preserved and distributed through the wonderful work of the Shyamdas Foundation.

As Shyamdasji would say: “It’s all Hari’s grace

Radhe, Radhe!


Sharon Gannon’s Magic Ten Asana Sequence and Why We Must Practice with Love


original article

My practice is something I do for God. Period. In my life, I want to live for God and so I have to make that real. I have to toughen up. I have to discipline myself to do things that I might not feel like doing every day to just get over me. (What do I want to do? What feels good to me?) After sixty-three years, I don’t want to keep that attitude going on. I want to move away from it, at least ease up on it. In bhaktiyoga, everything you do you try to think of God before you do it. As soon as I’m conscious of being awake, I’ve trained myself to remember and talk to God. Make me an instrument of thy will. Allow me to be your servant. Use me today so that I can bring happiness to others; so that I can enhance this world, not just be a selfish taker; so that I can increase your bliss. If God is sat chit, mostly ananda, I’m into increasing that ananda, God’s bliss. That’s what I want to do, that’s what I’m devoted to doing. I have my own personal way of making my offerings to God every morning.

I do asana in the afternoon. Asana is the way to deal with our karmas. Our bodies are made of our karmas. I have to be comfortable in this body in order to be able to let go of my fascination with me as this mortal personality, this ego being. I have to first of all feel at ease with me. Asanas help us to do that. But the body is a conglomerate of the residue of all of our past relationships. So it’s therapy. When I sit in the morning and do my eight rounds of japa (mantra) meditation, I don’t want to be distracted by thoughts about other people and issues that I am dealing with here or there. So doing a short asana practice, some kriyas and pranayama, helps to clear all that out first. And then I can meditate quite directly and keep my mind on God. Why do I do that practice every morning? Because it feels good. When I don’t do it, I don’t feel good and I don’t like to not feel good!

I have to be comfortable in this body in order to be able to let go of my fascination with me as this mortal personality, this ego being.

If I’m rushed for time, I do my practice mentally. If I’ve got to get on an airplane and I’ve overslept and a car is waiting for me and I haven’t done all those pujas (offerings to the deity), I’ll sit in the back of the cab and I’ll do the whole thing in my mind. That’s when you know that the practice has borne fruit. You know exactly what comes next. You don’t really think about it. It’s become part of you. Okay, I wasn’t able to do those eight rounds of japa, so I’ll do it walking down the street, in the subway, in a cab. I have found a way to do that. I can do my magic 10-asana sequence (see below) in about seven minutes! You can find time.

You cannot practice without love. It’s got to have love in it, romance in it. It has to turn you on. It would be stale and boring to me if I were doing it only for myself. I’m doing it for God, for my teachers; the prayers in the practice are integrated with the names of my teachers. There’s magic in the name, in God’s name. When I say the names of my teachers, they are instantly with me and suddenly I’m not just me by myself doing a routine. I’m checking in with those other beings. All the love that I have is rekindled, every single day. From other worlds. Simultaneously. I do a full 90-minute asana practice in the afternoon and I always, always do it with music. The sequence that I do, and have been doing for years, doesn’t vary. Sometimes I’ll spend a longer time in some poses on some days, and other poses on other days, but it’s basically the same.

Sharon’s Practice Advice

You have to want to practice at home, and you have to want to make the practice part of your life wherever you are. You’re not always going to be able to go to your favorite neighborhood yoga studio, so you need to be able to take yoga home with you. Start small! Meditation is daunting to people when they hear that someone meditates for an hour. Oh my! Do I have to do that? No. Just sit, for one minute. Close your eyes, let go. Breathe in, breathe out. Do that for a week. Set a timer. And then the next week, do it for two minutes. The point is, just do it. The key word is doable. Home practice shouldn’t be a huge, goal-oriented thing. Pick something that’s within your means.

Sharon’s Magic 10-Asana Sequence

I’m on the go so much that I needed a practice that was doable, one that could also prepare me for a longer practice, like my meditation practice. I’ve been doing it for about fifteen years now. There are ten pretty simple asanas that anyone can do—in ten minutes or less. Of course, you can modify if you need to.

1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
10 breaths

2. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
10 breaths

3. Malasana (Garland Pose)
10 breaths

4. Teepee Twist
5 breaths each side

5. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
5 breaths each side

6. Ardha Purvottanasana (Half Upward Plank Pose)
10 breaths

7. Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)
25 breaths

8. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) variation
4 breaths

9. Parsva Urdhva Hastasana (Side-Bending Upward Salute)
1 breath each side 4 times

10. Spinal Rolls
12 to 16 breaths

Joshua Greene on Bhakti and Ahimsa

Ahimsa doesn’t mean you don’t have to do anything, it means you do, in a non-aggressive way.
You participate, you take a role. And in fact, the ultimate fulfillment of ahimsa is not just you don’t do harm but you intervene when you see harm being done, in order to that should be stopped. So today, in a world we’re very much dependent on one another, actual non-violence is a very active socially engaged proposition. So that’s kind of the message of the Gita as well. ~ Joshua M. Greene

Guru Kripa

Words fails me to express how I feel…

Today, June 21st, is David Life’s birthday, the first day of summer and the first International Day of Yoga

DLDavidji once said « If you believe in coincidence, then you aren’t paying attention ». And I could quote him again and again; and of course, that’s not the point. It is not about his words but his very presence, his realness and above everything his immense, loving and tender heart.

A few years ago in New-York, as I went to say my goodbyes, I met his eyes filled with tears. He said « already leaving? how I wished we could stay with all of you forever ». Then he cracked a joke. My heart skipped many beats.
And a week after, the doctor looking at my knee MRI’s said « there must be a mistake … » Miracles that even non-believers can witness. 
And the year after, as I was saying my goodbyes, Davidji went « Nothing to fix? boooring » we laughed. His eyes were the same. Pure unconditional love. All embracing. 

During the Wild Woodstock Ashram summer classes, every day there is one hour dedicated to Q&A. Students can ask the teachers any question, about anything : gardening, cooking, art, asana, music, meditation, astronomy, money, relationships, divorce, war, vegetarianism … anything. These moments are unique, precious and indescribable. I always leave Davidji overwhelmed with gratefulness and praying that we could have many more years in his presence. In sanskrit they say « Guru kripa » . The grace-filled ways of the Master.  He cuts right through you. Your intellect is challenged but your resistances melt. You surrender. You experience things that you can’t even imagine even existed. It is beyond intellect and it is not blind-faith. You fall in love again and again….

You awaken to the goodness of your own soul. And you begin to see « it » in others too… 

I am very fortunate to have found a spiritual practice and teachers I trust. Davidji is a living master and a healer. I am blessed beyond belief to have him in my life, to be part of the Jivamukti yoga lineage. 

« Our true power is the power of friendliness, the power of kindness, the power of One, the power of Love » – David Life

It is all Divine Grace,


Remembering My Beloved Teacher Shyamdas

by John Smrtic

My phone battery had died, so after I woke up that morning, I plugged in my cell and found an unusual series of messages.

My head was already spinning as my father had failed precipitously from Alzheimer’s in just over a month’s time and was placed on Hospice care days earlier. But could it really be? Shyamdas had passed away? We sat stunned in my Albany apartment, not sure how to react or what to do. It was a heavy Sunday morning. There was still so much left, I thought, in our lila. And of course, I had to visit him in Vrindavan. Shyamdas was killed in a motorcycle accident in Goa? I couldn’t even wrap my head around this given the rest of my circumstances. Tears paraded consistently down my cheeks for some time and eventually dissipated into a cold silence.

Processing and coming to terms with the loss of Shyamdas has been a long journey. In fact, I miss him more with each passing day. Knowing the intensity of his devotion and the depth of his spiritual life, there was a part of me that knew in my heart that he was going to be OK in his transition.

Dealing with my father’s impending death and the devastation of end stage Alzheimer’s at his very young age of 62 (at the time), had consumed me mentally and emotionally and it was a challenge to keep my head above water while trying to cope with it all, care for him and maintain the rest of my life. Because of this, it wasn’t until months after Shyamdas’s passing that I was able to mourn in a way that I felt was appropriate and to begin to even understand the profundity of the gifts that he had so freely given to me.

Shyamdas Taught Bhakti

Shyamdas was my first bhakti teacher. He didn’t open the doors to Krishna devotion for me, but rather blew them right off the hinges. He taught me the power of a devotional lifestyle and the potency of bhajan and the Holy Names of Hari. In a short amount of time, he gave me direct access to the bhav, as it can be experienced in the presence of those who are like him, rasikas, or nectar connoisseurs. Shyamdas taught me so many important lessons on the yogic path, some that were challenging at the time, and others which brought a chuckle but were deep nonetheless. I recall the first time he came to Heartspace Yoga in Albany to give satsang and kirtan after my class.

As my students emptied out and he entered to set up, he approached, in his unique, swaying gait, belly first, and spoke in his way so familiar to those dear to him: “John, man, slow boat. Asana. Slow Boat. Devotion is where it’s at.” I’m smiling so wide as I type these words and recall this experience.

Shyamdas was a devotee and a scholar, which suited me well, with a devotional constitution and sincere interest in the deep teachings and scriptures. He was the type of person that I could email at any time and ask for the etymology of a Sanskrit word or the “inner meaning” of a mantra – and get a quick, thorough response. I could write him and ask for his translation of Shri Vallabhacharya’s “Nirodah Lakshana” and he would eagerly reply. I could sense a sincere thrill in him that a young Westerner was even slightly interested in these life-changing yogic teachings of non-dual devotion.

Shyamdas was always going to be around. He would always return from his beloved Vraj to bless us in the upstate New York “Bhajan Belt.” We would always get to take a blissful spin down the Hudson once or twice a year on the Bhajan Boat. We would always be able to ask him for his unique tulsi necklaces from Vraj, so they could adorn our necks. We would always have his unique presence at the Omega ecstatic chants. We would forever be greeting each other saying, “Hari Hari,” “Radhe Radhe,” or “Jai Shri Krishna” (JSK for short).

But how truly blessed we were to have even a moment with this rare, ignited soul. His quirkiness was matched and exceeded by his intense devotional sincerity and this made him a “character” to hold dear and treasure. Sometimes my friends and I joked that he was like a “mad scientist” of bhakti – mad for Krishna. Dare I even say (and I will speak for no one but myself here) that because we were around him so much and had such access to him and his teachings and bhajan, that we may have lapsed into the smallest amount of taking him for granted. Shyamdas was always going to be around.

Perhaps this was his final teaching to me, to us. Don’t ever take anything for granted, and don’t ever miss the opportunity to tell someone you love them. We literally have no idea what the next day, yet alone moment, will bring.

I did make it to Shyamdas’ home in Jaitpura, a town in Vraj, at the foot of the sacred Govardhan Hill. However, he was not there, in body anyway.

Just over a year to the day of his passing, I sat on his beloved rooftop overlooking Giriraj Govardhan and the Shri Nathji temple. His passing taught me to indeed, never take anything for granted, and as a result and in the midst of caring for my father in his terminal, devastating condition, I took three weeks to travel to India on pilgrimage with my beloved teachers Sharon Gannon and His Holiness Radhanath Swami Maharaj. Would I ever again have the chance to go India with my two teachers? Thanks to Shyamdas, I knew I had to go, and I finally did make it to his beloved Vraj. Now I know why he called this sacred land home and why it was difficult for him to leave… and why he always kept going back. That’s why I am going back to Vrindavan too, because in his words, “The bhav is too good here to leave.”

Find Good Company

Beloved Shyam. He taught me, us, so much. Once he said to me, “The only thing I really got good at was hanging out.”

This is a very profound teaching. “Seek exalted company,” he would say. And just keep showing up. This is the power of satsang. All can be accomplished in the company of exalted bhaktas. From Neem Karoli Baba to his beloved guru, lineage holder in the Pushti Marg, His Holiness Shri Goswami Prathameshji, Shyamdas sought and found the pure saints and devotees of mystical India and he got really good at hanging out. Through his commitment and curiosity, his direct realization and blazing passion and experiential insight, Shyamdas brought and unraveled the deepest yoga mysteries and revelations to us. Shyamdas’s impact on the Western yoga movement cannot be quantified and he is one of the true pioneers and teachers. He brought India to us.

In so many ways, Shyamdas’s path and teachings are the embodiment of pure yoga and must be exemplary in the burgeoning Western yoga culture. Shyamdas’ life demonstrated that devotion and humility are two of the most, if not the most, quintessential ingredients to spiritual realization and growth. We needn’t look far to see the “follow me” and “look at me” culture of yoga in the West, particularly relating to the physical practices.

The Path of Grace

Shyamdas taught that in the Path of Grace, the highest aspiration, the goal even, of this life is to be a dasa or dasi, “a follower of God”. The goal isn’t to be a famous, popular teacher with lots of “followers,” or a kirtan celebrity, but rather to serve and follow the One.

All grace and realization flows from that divine relationship. In bhakti yoga, the constitutional position of the individual soul, which Shyamdas would say is comprised of sat, chit “but mostly ananda,” to the Source, is one of eternal servitude. Without devotion and humility, the nectar stream of grace runs dry. Grace is the condition, as Shyamdas taught, where through love, God falls under the sway of the devotee. It is through grace that all things are possible. It is the supreme state that leads to bhava, enlightened devotional sentiment. The condition of law is the natural condition and is when the individual soul is under the control of God. It is through this devotion and humility that we enter the lila, or eternal love play of the Lord and his beloved souls, a playful, bliss-filled reality that is beyond reason and is available to experience in this world, in one’s purified heart and beyond.

“All is Hari’s grace,” Shyamdas would frequently say. Stephen Theodore Schaffer is a servant and follower of the Lila Master, Shyam (Krishna who is dark like a rain cloud).

Once in an email, I greeted Shyamdas as “Prabhu,” which means “master,” and it is also a name of Krishna. In certain Krishna devotional communities, but not in his Pushti Marg, prabhu is a greeting for a man. He immediately responded, “I am not Prabhu. Krishna is Prabhu. I am a das.”

Shyamdas taught me that in this age where it seems like everyone wants to be a master, offer “master classes,” have followers, the real movement in our sadhanas must be from the mentality of master to becoming a humble, loving servant.

Shyamdas, my teacher and friend, thank you for letting me hang out with you.