When one steps into a yoga class with Govindas, most likely his wife Radha will be there, taking the class, and lending her exquisite voice to the Kirtan cries that begin and end each class. In a vinyasa class led by Radha, Govindas will be there, on the mat, or in spirit, supporting and inspiring her song and sequencing.
When a student walks into a class lead by either, he or she experiences that magical, ineffable effect that great teachers wield: hearts so open, so devoted to one another, that to be near them is to experience love. Known for their soulful vinyasa classes and celebrated Saturday evening chants at Bryan Kest’s Santa Monica Power Yoga (Now Closed), Govindas and Radha passionately guide their students with their own unique styles, each radiating the energy of their devoted Bhakti practice at their studio Bhakti Yoga Shala at 207 Arizona Ave in Santa Monica.
Their message echoes the union at the heart of yoga’s philosophy; embodied in their union, they both inspire their students to yoke the masculine and feminine and blend the duality of the outer and inner world to return to a whole heart ready to sing. It is a modern Sita and Ram story, Govind and Radhe; LA’s own and cherished: Govindas and Radha.
YT: Where are you from and how long have you been in LA?
Govindas: I am from Rockville, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. I moved to San Diego in 1993, spent two years there, then moved to LA in ’95 and have been here ever since.
Radha: I am from Mona Vale, Australia… which is a small beach town a half-hour north of Sydney. I moved to LA in the year of 2000.
YT: How/When did you discover yoga?
Govindas: In my first semester as a freshman at University of Maryland, I took an elective course on Stress Reduction. Nine weeks of the course were dedicated to TM (Transcendental Meditation), or mantra meditation. At the age of 18, I had no idea how much influence these nine weeks would have on the course of my life.
Radha: When I was a child, my parents would take my sisters and I to Bali for family vacations.”¯It was there that I visited my first Hindu temples and was introduced to the vast tradition of Hinduism and yoga.
YT: With whom did you train to be a hatha yoga teacher?
Govindas: Bryan Kest has been my main hatha yoga teacher. His wisdom, strength, trust and generosity continues to bless our lives.”¯I took teacher training from him in 1998 and began teaching at his studio soon after. His studios are run on a “donation basis”, which for me feels like it keeps the financial exchange between teacher and student pure. As a teacher there, it requires a trust that the universe will take care of you, which she always does…
Radha: Govindas trained me to be a vinyasa yoga teacher. I have been teaching for one year and love it so much as part of my practice of finding my voice, opening my heart, and contributing to the upliftment through service, or seva.
YT: From whom did you learn Kirtan? What was is it about kirtan which speaks to you?
Govindas and Radha: The whole process of studying Kirtan has been incredibly organic for both of us. All of which we attibute to Neem Karoli Baba as being the guiding force behind it. For both of us there have been a few major chapters. First would be listening to the CDs and going to”¯the live Kirtans of Bhagavan Das, Krishna Das, Jai Uttal and Shyam Das. As well, spending time in India. To sit and chant Kirtan in the temples of India has a way of deepening the understanding of where all of this comes from. To really feel this tradition’s ancient roots and understand the meaning of the mantras.
YT: How did the Kirtan affect your vinyasa teaching?
Govindas: When I began to bring Bhakti into my vinyasa practice, it felt like it shifted the feel of my whole practice. It turned vinyasa into a prayer, the repetitive sequences”¯like surya namaskar, into flowing body mantras. It ultimately helped in being more sensitive with myself in honoring the body as a sacred temple.
YT: What do you hope to bring to your students through your Kirtan?
Govindas and Radha: We began to lead Kirtan together in 2003 to do what we could to bring peace to the planet. In the continuous repetition and passionte singing, a timeless trance state is cultivated. Some people cry, some ecstatically dance, some sit in meditation, others even lie on their back and possibly fall asleep. We hope to create an environment of love and openness where all of us may truly feel whatever it is that is moving through.
YT: A Person of any faith can practice Yoga, can a person of any faith sing Kirtan?
Govindas and Radha: A person of ANY faith can sing Kirtan. Bhakti is not a religion. It is a universal way to connect with the divine. ”¯ It is a key to unlock the doorway to our own individual heart. Traditionally Kirtan uses the Hindu Gods and Goddesses as the symbols and method of practice. The deities represent different energies of the “One” God. Whatever is in you heart, Allah, Shiva, Adonai, Jesus, Universal Spirit or Self; as is said in the Bhakti tradition: “Many Names, One God.”
YT: How would you describe your own spiritual beliefs?
Govindas and Radha: Our relationship is our main spiritual practice. Within it we honor the “Lila”, the divine play of the masculine and feminine as Beloved. Traditionally this “merging” of opposing forces, God/Goddess, Radhe/Govind, Sita/Ram, Shiva/Shakti, Sun/Moon, Individual Soul/Universal Soul creates balance, harmony, and oneness. Simply put, our own individual paths to God lie through the love, devotion, acceptance and commitment to each other. She is my Goddess in form.
YT: If you had to choose one mantra that embodies your path as a man and a teacher, what would it be?
Radha: Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. During these times when there seems to be so much war and violence on this planet could there be a more important mantra to chant? This is the timeless chant and vision of the yogis. May there be peace, peace, everlasting peace…
Govindas: The Hanuman Chaleesa is a long mantra of 40 verses glorifying the qualities of Hanuman, the Monkey God, the absolute embodiment of service and devotion. My name is Govindas. Das means “to be a servant of”. Specifically Govind, or Krishna, which is sometimes described as the energy of love. This is my path, to serve love.