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Interview with Saul David Raye

Bhakti yogi & spiritual activist, Saul David Raye, shares his love, light, and teachings.

Saul kirtan

Moi, (Isabelle): What is bhakti yoga to you, and what was your first experience with this tradition? What drew you into it to begin with?

Saul David Raye: Bhakti is the nature of the heart. It is the deep love that flows through all of existence. yoga is union, bhakti yoga is the path of union thru love. the ancients gave different paths to come home, love is the fastest. God is Love. My first experience of bhakti yoga was thru my first teacher who taught me the different paths of yoga. this was in my early 20’s. Then i read autobiography of a yogi and went to india, where I experienced first hand the deep devotion that is at the heart of the yoga tradition. I have tried many approaches and studied with may teachers, for me bhakti is the deepest and it connects us all together and with all of life.

I: Many who come from a bhakti tradition highlighting kirtan. You are immersed as both a teacher of hatha yoga & bhakti yoga. What role do you see bhakti yoga playing in the future?

SDR: Bhakti yoga and the practice of kirtan are spreading with great speed. When people have a taste of the sweetness of the heart they respond. I see the world transforming only thru love and for this to happen we have to open our hearts, both personally and collectively. There is no other way. Bhakti brings us together, we are one family. I see it happening already, we are coming together. Bhakti is the heart, it is not limited to only the yoga tradition. When we open our hearts, when we share our hearts the world heals. We are the world.

I: What is the role of a guru in the bhakti path? Is it necessary to have a one?

SDR: We definitely need a teacher, but i don’t think one teacher can teach us everything. I do not feel it has to be one person. True bhakti is to live with the heart, with love as the guru. To be guided by the heart. the scriptures say that we all connect to God in different ways or forms. The true guru takes all forms.

I: Besides participating in kirtan, what other work can the yoga community can do to raise awareness around the bigger picture of love and devotion?

SDR: There are many practices of yoga besides kirtan. When we live our yoga, we change ourselves, then our world changes. When we live with love and devotion, it addresses that question. There is no other way. Earth, peace… thru self peace.

I: Do you have a favorite chant? If so, please share?

SDR: They are all my favorite chants. the one in my heart right now is a grandmother chant i learned ….

the river is flowing, flowing and growing.

the river is flowing down to the sea.

oh mother carry me, your child i will always be.

oh mother carry me down to the sea…

aum shanti ….

SDR bioSaul David Raye is an internationally acclaimed teacher, healer and spiritual activist known for his empowering and transformational approach to yoga, healing and spirituality. Saul’s teaching draws on the depth of the Yoga tradition, Bhakti, Tantra and all forms of universal light, love and wisdom. Through the grace of his teachers and guides he is able to bring alive the ancient wisdom teachings for modern seekers.  The depth of Saul’s teaching allows students to connect deeply with their own authentic power, spirit and truth.

A pioneering and inspiring presence in Yoga’s evolution in the west, Saul’s authentic and heart-centered teaching has influenced thousands of students and teachers around the world. He holds certifications in Yoga, bodywork and energy healing and is an ordained minister and musician who infuses his classes with healing music and chants. He has been on the faculty of International and National conferences and festivals for years, and has presented alongside many luminaries in the Spiritual world. Saul shares this work through teacher trainings, workshops, classes, sacred journey’s to ancient power sites and sacred music.

I can’t take credit for Saul David Raye’s shows here in Atlanta, as it was made possible by Stan, ‘the man’, Holt, visionary entrepreneur behind Swaha Productions and who is hands down responsible for selflessly serving the southeastern yoga community by facilitating events that host kirtan gatherings, (such as Krishna Das this past winter). Thank you Stan! Not just for bringing Saul here, but for all your efforts in creating depth, uniting, and spreading the love! This is a collaborative effort between Swaha Productions, the Atlanta Yoga Scene, & Be Yoga, with tons of love and support from the SE Yoga Conference. It takes a village!

Off The Mat & Into The World

In July 2013, I was fortunate enough to experience Off The Mat Into The World training in the insanely beautiful Squaw Valley, California. This round was more like a reunion of Off The Mat Leaders. The emphasis was to action our purpose (cause) and to take a stand for it.

Let me back up for a few moments. For those of you who aren’t familiar, here’s some background on Off The Mat Into The World (OTMITW)… The mission is to use the depth and power of yoga to birth activism and promote social change. This was the initial vision of Seane Corn, Hala Khouri, & Suzanne Sterling who saw an opportunity to develop leaders from the yoga community. These trained leaders are helping to create awareness in a grass roots fashion around issues like sex trafficking, Aids, LBGT, Class, Race, and domestic violence. This is just a glimpse of the many sectors they have devoted their time and effort towards. The other key factor that makes this work is collaboration. All of them acknowledged that they would not be as successful creating movement and social change as individuals. Their strength comes from uniting. It literally takes a village.


The woman responsible for organizing and keeping the entire OTMITW organization moving forward is powerhouse yogi, Kerri Kelly. This woman is simply amazing. She has a work ethic like no one I’ve ever met. She’s bright, talented, and driven. She has a passion to share yoga and educate, in a very organized and thoughtful manner. I was so taken back from her selfless drive and compassion. There were many times I had to check myself as my mouth was wide open- astonished, inspired, and so full of gratitude to be experiencing the gift of this training.

Kerri Kelly

I had a chance to check in with Seane & Suzanne at the Global Action Summit. Check out some snippets from our casual Q&A below:

Q: What inspired you to create OTMITW & where do you see  it in 10 years?

Seane: view here
Suzanne: view here: Part 1 Part 2

Q: And last, a burning question for the ladies… :)

Seane: view here
Suzanne:  view here

My big take away from the Global Action Summit is asking the question, What will I do? What will we do? I think its safe to assume that everyone on the planet is passionate about something and definitely has a purpose. When we know what we stand for, we have to do something about it outside of conversing. How are we serving beyond our practice or teaching. Where does that show up once we leave the comfort of our studio or homes. How is our yoga practice showing up off the mat? Think about it. What is your purpose? What are you doing about it?

For more information about how you can get involved, find your purpose, and take a stand for it visit the OTMITW website. Each of these extraordinary ladies offer many trainings. Get to know them better: Seane Corn,Suzanne Sterling, and Hala Khouri. As well as being leaders of OTMITW, they all lead their own programs, trainings, and workshops.

Global Action Summit, Squaw Valley 2013

OTMITW has partnered with KiraGrace in support of their efforts. Specifically, 100% of the profits from the sale of Warrior T-back tank is donated to the organization. Amazing. You can feel great knowing that your purchase is a contribution towards positive change.

KiraGrace Warrior T-back Tank

Pura Vida

Its been a week an a half since my return from co-leading a wonderful yoga retreat with my friend, Cindy Olah, in the land of ‘Pura Vida’, Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica. I love going on retreats, whether leading or taking them. Its an opportunity to get away and hit the ‘reset’ button: recharge, reboot, be inspired, and return home with a new appreciation for new experiences and deeper appreciation for what you have.

We spent the week eating amazing local cuisine, indulging in fresh, tropical fruits, exploring the rainforest, discovering precious wildlife, playing in the surf, and of course, practicing yoga on and off the mat. The tepid ocean was amazing; strong currents and huge waves reminded me how small we are. Standing in one place, even knee deep, was a work out to not be pulled back into the ocean.

Some of the deliciousness we ate everyday. This is luxury!

The highlight for me was participating in a sweat lodge at the home of Eduardo, friend of Alejandro, resident yogi and owner of Vida Asana Eco Lodge– where we called home for the week. Only a handful of us decided to participate in the sweat lodge, while the rest of the yoga bunch chillaxed back at Playa Hermosa. The ceremonial sauna originates from the native american tradition as a means for purification. There are typically fours sessions where participants go inside an extremely hot and steamy, stick-made dome hut, centered around a fire pit of super hot rocks, and led by a seasoned leader who is well schooled in this tradition. I was down.

We traveled down a long, sandy road paralleling the Pacific Ocean, at the end of Playa Hermosa. We were greeted with welcome barks from dogs who lived at the surrounding neighbors, wanting to say hello and give us some love. Eduardo’s home is my dream home… cozy- maybe 1000 square feet, divided between between 2 modest stories, off the grid, on the beach, surrounded by a nature conservatory and farmland to its rear. He built his home using materials from the land, such as palm: bark for siding and fronds for the palapa roof of his home and outdoor yoga shala. A path to the left side of Eduardo’s home led us to where the sweat lodge was. Behind his home was a small pool, deep enough to sit in so your head could be above water, and large enough to accommodate the nine of us. This is where we would go between our sessions in the sweat lodge.

Playa Hermosa
Playa Hermosa- across from the sweat lodge

Neighboring the pool is the yoga shala, adorned with bean bags and hammocks. Continuing ahead, was the back yard area, complete with a large fire pit, outdoor pizza oven and argentinian grill, last but not least, what we called, ‘a human pizza oven’, the sweat lodge. Connected to this was a beautiful, organic, greenhouse where Eduardo tends to food he eats by hand. Divine.

Back to the human pizza oven… I’ve participated in other sweat lodges, but this one raises the bar for me at least. The types that I’ve been in are made out of large sticks that are structured in a way to create a dome. Not this one. This one actually looked like a pizza oven: huge large dome- concrete foundation, circular rock foundation walls, domed concrete roof, with the bonus of an in ground fire pit in the center of it. The only sticks involved was the driftwood we collected from the beach to build the fire outside the lodge. We could’ve easily had double the number of participants inside. Lastly, the ceremony was conducted in spanish- appropriate considering the locale.

Eduardo nursing some mate tea & copal resin
Eduardo nursing some mate tea & copal resin. The dome shape is the sweat lodge & the green covering is his green-house.

Alejandro took the lead with the fire building. We gathered firewood from the shore and he prepared the fire. Thoughtfully placed in the center of the fire pit, were the ‘abuelita’s’, or ‘grandmothers’- 40 large volcanic rocks that our experience would truly be facilitated.

Alejandro starting the base for the fire with palm bark
Alejandro starting the base for the fire with palm bark


While the fire was building and the abuelitas were heating, we played at the beach, swam, and befriended our costa rican, ‘tico’, canine buddies. The sun began its descent and we went back to check on the fire and watch it die down in sync with the sunset. When the sticks had burned and the abuelitas were glowing, it was time to begin. Showtime.

Sunset beach play time
Beach play time at sunset with Loren, Chris, myself, Melanie, & Alex.


Beached 'Tico' dogs
Beached ‘Tico’ dogs- one of my favorite pictures from the trip

Puerta 1: Alejandro began the escort of the abuelitas, considerably shoveling out the first 10 abuelitas, one by one. For each abuelita, we reciting aloud, ‘Axolotyl’, (Aztec god, invoking a return to our origin and eluding sacrifice), and, ‘piedra caliente’, (hot rock- basically a warning to move out of the way as the abuelitas were carried to the fire pit inside the sweat lodge). Ten times, Alejandro escorted an abuelita in, and ten times we acknowledged them.

We rinsed off in the outdoor shower before entering into the lodge, bowed to our heads to mother earth, then crawled in on hands and knees, in the same direction. We found our ‘seats’ marked by large banana leaves, alternating, female-male. It felt like we were in a steamy oven; it was thick and wet and infused with the frankincense-like resin, copal. I was instantly soaked by my own sweat to the point my swimsuit was just hanging on.

Heating up the 'Abuelitas'
Heating up the ‘Abuelitas’

Eduardo sat inside by the entrance, with a large bucket of water that he would periodically scoop from and add to the pit to make the space hotter and steamier and also ensure that the entrance door stay sealed. There are four rounds, called ‘doors’, or ‘puertas’, (we were in Costa Rica after all). Each puerta took about 20- 30 minutes, length of time determined by the leader as well vibing off the energy of our group.

Eduardo commenced the ceremony by setting a group intention, calling out to the abuelitas. Beginning with him, we all took turns declaring our intentions aloud, and then acknowledged that by saying native american acknowledgment, ‘A Ho’- the equilvalent of saying, ‘I agree’. Once our intentions were set, we chanted in sanskirt, the Peace and Gayatri mantras, and many rounds of powerful guttural, ‘om-ing’, rattling the cement oven walls until the invocations organically concluded. We crawled out in the same order and direction we entered, rinsed off in the outdoor showers, walked slowly and carefully to the cool pool where we assimilated the experience of the first puerta.

Bougainvillea from Eduardo’s garden

Puerta 2: The sun was quickly setting. We acknowledged our abuelitas, ‘Axolotyl, piedra caliente’, rinsed off, bowed, crawled in, found a new seat in alternating order, and began. This puerta was dedicated to letting go of the deep seeded anger inside of us. We did so by screaming at the top of our lungs and for as long as we could. When Eduardo described the puerta, I had a hunch it would be intense. I was right. I was sitting cross-legged about a foot from the wall behind me. I gave it all I had. After the very first ‘grita’, scream, I remember the deep- rooted, trembling that shook my body from my bum up my spine to my head. My eyeballs felt like they were spinning in their sockets. I couldn’t differentiate if I was sitting upright or folded forward into the fire pit. Once I gathered my bearings, I slid back against the wall to reacquaint myself with gravity and my surroundings. I joined back with the group, trying to scream, but I had nothing left. I felt cool inside accompanied by an indescribable pulsing sensation. Once we completed puerta dos, we repeated our exit: crawl out, bow, rinse off, pool acclimation, repeat… This was an epic, kundalini rising for sure. One that I still feel right now. (Sidenote- if you have ever taken a Bryan Kest workshop, you know the quote that comes to mind; if not, take one! Anyway, It kept popping into my head randomly after this throughout the week. Thank you BK for your exclusive quotes!) 🙂 I felt like any hardness that had taken root inside me, was either loosened or freed.

Round 3: It’s dusk and the stars were in position… This time we acknowledged all those we have both given and received ill will and made peace with past relationships that continue to take up real estate in our daily conscience: “Perdoname, Lo Siento, Te amo, Gracias”, (Forgive me, I’m sorry, I love you, Thank you). It was liberating to say the least and left me with the deepest sense of gratitude for anyone who has created an experience of any kind with me. I dedicate this puerta to you.

“Perdoname, Lo Siento, Te Amo, Gracias”

“Forgive Me, I’m Sorry, I Love You, Thank You”

Puerta 4: We entered the final puerta the same way, assumed our final seats. This time, I ended up sitting next to a female, Melanie. Though we were instructed to alternate the female-male seating, we couldn’t see inside the sweat lodge at this point because it was pitch black with exception of the faint amber glow of the abuelitas. We didn’t relocate. This round was the hottest. We were guided to lay down as the ground and the walls are cooler. It felt like by only a couple degrees, but that made a huge difference. The heat didn’t bother me, but I did find comfort in being in this pizza oven; hugging on mother earth. We laid overlapping, sweaty skin on skin, side by side, each other’s limbs as pillows. If you were someone who had personal space issues, you would’ve either freaked or my guess is quickly gotten over it. At that point, nothing mattered because we were all energetically spent, meaning all of our hang ups, holding patterns, and perspectives had been broken down and melted away.

The purpose of a sweat lodge is to rid the physical body of impurities. Um, check. This was the stoniest, stoned I’ve ever felt in my life. No drugs needed or involved- just pure, straight up literal burning tapas. My body felt and still feels physically free. Many things I’ve been working to gain clarity on, clarified. I’ve struggled with mental retention resulting from a head injury I endured over a decade ago. My awareness of retaining information short term is so much better. I would do this again in a heartbeat and plan to… with new intentions, of course. Each sweat lodge experience will never be like the last one. Where you are in your life and what your intention is sets the tone. Cheers to the intention of living the pura vida everyday! Salud!

P.S. For more pictures from the journey, check out my Facebook page, and, ‘like’ it while you’re at it. 🙂

Isabelle Casey


Kula > Community

The summer is almost over and right around the corner is the South East Yoga Conference, formerly known as the Atlanta Yoga Conference. Just as the yoga community has grown, so has the conference, hence the the name change. This year the conference will be held at the W Buckhead. Yogis and teachers traveling from near and far will be in attendance.

I moved here from Seattle in 2005. One of first things that I did was investigate my new community to find out where all the yogis were hiding. Coming from Seattle, I just assumed that there would be a ton of yoga like back home: yoga studios dotted in between coffee shops. (I only slightly exagerate). There definitely was yoga, but very spread out. Today studios all over metro Atlanta are hosting workshops, and city is becoming a regular stop for master teachers from all over. Its amazing! There are yoga studios sprouting up everywhere, as well as teacher training programs. Yoga is taught not only in yoga studios, but cropping up in gyms, dance studios, schools, and the work-place, just as Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda predicted would happen. This year I had the opportunity to teach yoga to the Marietta Highschool Football team as part of their weekly strength and conditioning program. It was such a great experience for me and I’m hoping for them. Besides the obvious benefits of having looser hamstrings and learning how to de-stress, how great is it that yoga is being made available to our youth?

Now with the growth around yoga studios, it’s time to bridge the gap. That’s where the SE Yoga Conference comes in… Nicole Jurovics and Melissa Katz, also local yoga teachers, have made a commitment to the this effort. They are the directors of the conference and key patrons of the yoga community. Their vision is to make yoga accessible to all and to bring more awareness to yoga. Behind the scenes, these ladies work year-round building up the yearly conference and when it’s over, they relentlessly begin again. They humbly and quietly bow out of being ‘seen’ during the conference and make the main focus of highlighting national, regional, and local teachers, as well as local studios. Be sure to say hello to these lovely ladies at the conference and express your gratitude for working their asanas off to make the community feel like one big family.


As I mentioned earlier, the conference has grown and is now hosted by the W, Downtown. There is an awesome line up of teachers who are presenting a variety of topics, (I’m honored to be presenting!). If your focus is on yoga philosophy or you are working on contortions for the upcoming Cirque Du Soleil, the conference presenters won’t disappoint. 🙂
The marketplace will be the go-to place between classes and an exciting event to not miss is the Kick-Off party… catered by the W, music, and a chance to schmooze with your fellow yogis. (A great opportunity for us yogis to wear something other than spandex and we all get to see each other wearing shoes!).

If you are on the fence about going to the conference, here are some things to consider:

1. Check out what your yoga community has to offer.

2. If you’ve never taken a special theme workshop with a yoga ‘expert’, you have the opportunity in your backyard.

3. Support your community!! I know we tend to park our practice at our studios that we cherish, but go check out what else is happening. Us teachers who have home studios won’t care if you take yoga field trips. We just want everyone to practice yoga!

4. For no other reason, it’s going to be a great time to hang out with like-minded yogis who are interested in spreading the message of yoga. This will be one of the few opportunities outside of our day-to-day routines to nerd out on yoga-talk. (My personal fav)!

Hope to see you at this year’s conference, or better yet in the class I will be leading.

Om shanti, om peace! Jai!