They swayed, they danced, they focused. They soaked in the spiritual leader’s chants and the vibes of the harmonium, a pump organ typically used in the traditional Hindu form of meditation known as kirtan, which has officially landed on the East End, thanks to Romi Sloan.
A kirtan enthusiast for the past five years, Ms. Sloan is spreading her love for the call-and-response meditation by hosting monthly chant sessions at her North Sea home, or at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Southampton. She has hosted dozens of events, drawing as many as 40 practitioners at a time for each two-hour session.
Anyone who has taken yoga has been exposed to kirtan playing softly in the background, she said, but they probably don’t know it.
“You get out of kirtan what you need,” Ms. Sloan said last week. “Not necessarily what you want, but what you need. Our bodies instinctively know what we need. So this is a way of turning off our minds and letting our bodies do what they need to do. … It just calms your mind and brings you to a state of pure joy and euphoria, a state of deep meditation.”
While kirtan was part of ancient Indian culture, that hasn’t stopped Ms. Sloan and other practitioners from incorporating a modern twist—intertwining contemporary music, such as hits by the Beatles, with the traditional chants, accompanied by a range of instruments, from guitar to harmonium.
Up until recently, the closest kirtan events Ms. Sloan could find were often in Manhattan. She would leave feeling free and at peace—a sensation quickly lost during her drive home on the Long Island Expressway.
She took matters into her own hands and reached out to the tightknit kirtan community to gauge interest for hosting sessions in Southampton. The response, she said, was overwhelming.
“My friends and everybody loved it, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, maybe there is more of a calling for it on Long Island,’” she said. “In the city, you can go every night, but there are not a lot of options out here.”
Kirtan is more than what many people may expect, according to Kym Smith, who is Ms. Sloan’s business partner. It clears her mind and focus, she said, even though she is not religious. “I am not spiritual in any way, shape, or form, and I really enjoy it,” she said. “It does not really have to be about that. At the end of the day, you go into it and enjoy yourself. It is more your journey.”
For her next event, on February 27, Ms. Sloan is hosting her longtime friend, spiritual leader—or Wallah—Adam Bauer, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Southampton. A former monk, Mr. Bauer lives in Massachusetts and travels the country practicing kirtan and leading his own sessions after studying under vocalist Krishna Das.
“For me, it was really something that was a calling for me, so I started leading a little bit,” he said last week during a telephone interview. “But it was not until two years ago, when my friend was killed in a road accident, that I somehow got a good blast of inspiration and it drove me into the practice.”
According to Mr. Bauer, his kirtan style is more traditional than others, noting that he does not typically incorporate modern songs into his sessions, though they can stray from traditional Hindu songs. “We add our own twist to it,” he said, “which is reasonable and great.”
The practice of kirtan is not for everybody, he said—but for those it grabs, it can be transformational.
“It is quite different from most of the yogas we know in the States, but we do it together,” he said. “This is not me with my creaky back and tight hamstrings trying to get someplace I am not. It is us gathering together and linking our voices and having a synchronistic experience, where we are getting swept away together in the mantra and energetic healing of the mantra. Before you know it, you have this feeling of, ‘I love these people—I am in love with the universe.’”
The next kirtan event, featuring Wallah Adam Bauer, will be held on February 27 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Southampton. Tickets are $20. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Romi Sloan’s growing animal rescue. For more information, call (631) 287-6538, or visit hamptonskirtan.com.
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