Hello. I hope you are doing wonderfully on this hot summer day. My friends, you are in for a treat. I interviewed my rock star friend John Smrtic because he the awesomest in the land and beyond AND because he is someone who inspires me to shine on a daily basis. When I first met John he was kind of a mess. It was at the music festival Berkfest and if he remembers any of it I would be really surprised. Despite the haze he was under I still saw his shine and could feel his craving for something more out of life. Shortly after Berkfest he hit rock bottom and then thankfully discovered yoga (because of Michael Franti). He came out from his haze and stepped into the light. Today he shines so brightly and when you are in his presence you want whatever he’s having. Here’s a little bit of what he’s having. So John…
TW: Why do you practice yoga?
John: I practice yoga because it allows me to move beyond limitations and to actually believe in infinite possibilities. Yes, we are stretching our physical bodies, but in the truest sense, all of the yoga practices allow us to stretch our ideas of who we think we are and what is possible. Yoga helps to purify our perception to see beyond ego, conditioned mind, negative emotion and the like, and to glimpse the divine essence behind all living entities, including ourselves. We can expand our circles of compassion and love, and learn to think, act and speak in a way that upholds and fosters this enlightened perception. All of the yoga practices (asana, pranayama, meditation, mantra recitation, reading scripture, non-harming lifestyle, satsang) harmonize the body and mind with the soul (that which is eternal and unchanging). Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, allows us to then go even further, providing the technology to yolk the soul to the Source, by means of loving relation. We can tune to the divine frequency and actually become revolutionaries – instruments of grace in the world.
TW: The world would be such a loving place if all the world leaders practiced yoga. The cool part is we are the leaders of our worlds so we can do whatever we want. When I’m finished with this blog I’m going to yoga class. Thank you for the inspiration. Something else that brings massive amounts of love into my life is music. What role does music play in your life and your yoga practice?
John: Music is and has always been an integral part of my life. In fact, I couldn’t imagine my life without music. I started listening to rap music when I was in elementary school in the mid 80’s, and also started exploring reggae music right around that same time. I eventually found my way to the Grateful Dead and Phish, String Cheese Incident and Umphrey’s McGee. More than any other music, reggae has probably remained the most constant. Real roots reggae is talking about love of God and has an incredible revolutionary vision and message of unity, positivity and vital living. Continued sound investigation has led to a deep love of kirtan music and bhajan, traditional devotional music of India, focusing on the chanting of the Holy Names of God (the most potent, transformative and transcendental sound vibration and practice).
I have been making mixtapes to provide the soundtrack for life since the days of “play, record and pause” on cassette decks. This music passion, and mix making, has transferred directly to the yoga I practice and teach – Jivamukti Yoga. The wonderful thing about this method is that it encourages sacred sound exploration. I began making groovy playlists for my yoga classes in keeping with the theme and mood of each class, reflecting my musical interests. I began calling my class playlists Bhakti Groove to convey the idea that music can actually facilitate a deep devotional (bhakti) element to the practice and can also provide the impetus to move from that collective space of elevated intention and consciousness, community, exploration, expansion and timelessness (groove). The name stuck and I now have well over 300+ distinct Bhakti Groove playlists that span many musical genres and yogic themes and topics. It is also the name of my website:bhaktigrooveyoga.com. The music mixes inspire my teaching, my personal practice and my everyday life.
TW: Praise the mix tape! Explain what it feels like to be teaching a class while songs of Phish and the Dead are playing in the background.
One of the great things about bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish in the live setting is that there is this collective consciousness, spontaneity and the space to explore and co-create magic together. There’s community and sweet dancing. It is quite liberating actually, or at least has the potential to be. These exact same qualities are apparent when the music appears in a yoga class. A sublime “Weather Report Suite” in a solstice or equinox class, with a blistering Jerry solo in “Let it Grow” can transport to a sanctified space where we can assist in the turning of the seasons and learn to be fully present for all the moments and transitions in our lives.
Calling out asanas in a class thematically exploring equal vision (sama darshinah – seeing the One behind all forms) from the Bhagavad Gita, while “Eyes of the World” plays in the background, gives me the chills. A nice “Free” in a class about liberation can spark real enthusiasm and inspiration. In short, it feels good – feels like joyful living. Good music and good lyrics can deliver the message, the dharma, better than “I” ever could – these mystic poets and sound pioneers – and can create a mood and vibe conducive to deep exploration… and… gasp… maybe even fun!
TW: Anything that feels like joyful living is a plus in my book. What was the best decision you’ve ever made?
I honestly cannot take credit for the best decisions in my life. I believe in my heart of hearts that all the miracles and decisions that have led me to the “positive day” have been grace. With that said, I do (sort of) answer this question below.
TW: Yoga can be intimidating to someone who has never been to a class. John, if someone wants to try yoga, but is scared, what would you say to them?
In the Bhagavad Gita (2.40), Krishna says: even a little practice of this great dharma protects one from great fear. Yoga actually liberates us from fear. As we connect to our essence (which is said to be pure and eternal, existence, knowledge and bliss) through the practices, and as we connect to the Source of it all, what is there to fear? False identifications and limitations can fall away and we realize we are eternally sustained and sheltered by the Most High. We are vast, expansive beings, joyful by nature, peaceful, and beyond the identification with the body and mind. OK – now for a less esoteric answer.
On the simplest level, one of the biggest fears people give for not trying yoga or going to a class is being sacred they are not flexible enough or that they are not comfortable practicing in public. I was a relatively stiff former football player and struggling with some deep personal things in my life when I started going to yoga classes. If I waited until I was flexible or comfortable with all aspects of my life, I still wouldn’t have gone to a class to this very day and Lord knows where my life and health would be. In reference to the above question, going to that first yoga class may just be one of the best decisions I ever made, as well as continuing to go to classes. Yoga revolutionized my entire existence at all levels when the time was ripe.
Don’t be deceived by pictures in the yoga publications of culturally and media defined “beautiful” people, the “perfect” body, or by the gymnasts and contortionists obsessed with posting yoga “selfies” on social media.
The journey to wellness, wholeness, peace, acceptance, freedom, great love and infinite possibility has to start somewhere.
This gift is available to all of us regardless of flexibility, body type, stories, dramas and our pasts. It is available to us if we walk through that door for our first or 1000th class.
TW: You have something very exciting going on for people who are going to see Phish this weekend. If people want to take your 4th of July yoga class in Saratoga what do they need to know to make it happen?
John: The class will be at Yoga Mandali, 454 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY, on Friday, July 4th, 10:30am – 12pm. The cost of the class is $20. Drop-ins are welcome but we are expecting a packed house so I suggest pre-registering at: https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/ASP/home.asp?studioid=25097
The class coincides with a 3 night Phish run at SPAC and will be an uplifting and phun vinyasa-based holiday practice to a soundtrack of the most carefully selected live versions of some of the greatest Grateful Dead and Phish tunes. Downtown Saratoga will be busy that morning so I also suggest showing up a bit early. Please see the flyer for additional details!
www.bhaktigrooveyoga.com – John’s website
www.yogamandali.com – studio website
The awesome in me sees and bows to the awesome in you.