John Smrtic is one of my most amazing friends, and I have a lot of amazing friends. He took his passion for yoga and live music and made it into a successful career that's evolving in leaps and bounds every day. Everything that he has every done and experienced in this lifetime is a part of the magic that he creates today. This weekend he is bringing his teachings to the MayFest Music, Art and Yoga Festival in Cold Spring, NY, and I'm looking forward to immersing myself into his world. I felt called to interview John because he is a man that walks his walk and talks his talk, and it's so inspiring. He lifts me up on a daily basis, and I'm sure he will do the same for you if you read on.
Taraleigh: What's your big why for doing what you do?
John: Answering the call and stepping into my dharma is the real "why." If someone told me not all that long ago that I would be a yoga teacher, vegan, aspiring Krishna devotee and into clean living, not only would I have laughed, but I would have thought this to be the most absurd and asinine statement in the history of statements, and a whole bunch of absolute "nevers." But, here I am. I have learned never to say never and I am continually in awe of the beauty of life, the universe and the human experience.
My original impetus to become a yoga teacher was to share this awakening, this ancient technology that leads to great joy and revolution. It is this freedom, connection and belief in infinite possibilities that yoga has given me that perpetually fuels the fire to continue to teach. Also, I feel it is my duty, a joyful one at that, to share what my teachers so freely, fearlessly, passionately and with the deepest, unwavering commitment, share. Teaching yoga encourages me to continue to be a student -- to study, explore, expand and continue on the path -- so that I may better serve.
Taraleigh: I remember the John from not that many years ago and even though you were on a very different path then, I saw the divine in you. I'm not surprised at all by where you are right now. It was always within you. What is lighting you up right now?
John: A 200,000-watt, transcendental, soul glow light bulb called love. I receive it and learned it from my family. I continue to plug in to that divine current that lights the lamp through them and through my spiritual teachers: Sharon Gannon and David Life, the creators of Jivamukti Yoga. Two beings I consider living saints, His Holiness Radhanath Swami Maharaj and His Holiness Sadhu Maharaj (who both live in India) also continually remind me that we are all eternally connected to the Source, and that all the yoga practices are to reawaken and remember that love and connection.
Taraleigh: I love that concept. I know the light bulb was a metaphor, but now whenever I turn on a light in my home, I will feel connected to the Universe and every living being on this planet. It helps you to feel that you're never alone. Thank you for that golden piece of wisdom John. What's one golden piece of advice someone has given you?
John: In July 2007, I was blessed to be in front of an incredible swami (Dhanurdhara Swami) who gave a profound teaching on what to do when tragedy or calamity strikes. The first thing he said was to remember to give thanks and praise. In essence, that reminds us to remember that connection to Source and to possibly even cultivate a mood of gratitude amidst crisis and reverence that puts us in proper mode to handle the circumstance. The second thing to do, "Maharaj" told us, was to consult your teachers.
Days after this lecture, my grandmother, whom I lived with and helped care for, passed away. Amidst the grief, sadness and shock, I recalled the talk and took a private moment to connect with my Higher Power. After the events of the early morning and the acute intensity of the shock and surreal nature of the experience eased a bit, I emailed my teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life. By evening I heard from them both and their words actually led to a series of profound events and experiences (too voluminous to include here). In a way that seemed almost causal to me at the time, Sharon, in her response, wrote a sentence that, amongst the many supportive and uplifting words, stood out boldly: "With great love all is possible." As it turns out, this golden piece of advice has come to be the most important and profound teaching in my life. In fact, all of my teachers are saying this in some way. This sentence is the essence of Bhakti Yoga and of all religions.
"Love is my religion," as Ziggy Marley sings. Bob, his dad, summed it up as well as anyone too, singing, "One Love."
Taraleigh: Yes! Yoga teachers, life coaches, health coaches and motivational speakers are all just undercover agents teaching people to let love guide the way. Everyone eventually figures out that love is the only way and the sooner they figure that out and put it into practice, the more peaceful and joyful their lives will be. What's one big challenge you faced and how did you move past it?
John: A great challenge for me was dealing with my father's disease progression and ultimate passing from Alzheimer's at the age of 64. He was diagnosed at 57. He eventually failed rapidly though, as in literally just over a month's time, he began slurring his words, shuffling his feet and drooling. The following month, he was placed on Hospice care, but my mom and I were able to keep him in our house. Two months later he was unable to walk, talk, use his limbs, became incontinent, and had a vacant look more often than not. This happened simultaneously at a time of massive relationship and job upheaval in my life as well. He lived for 19 months in that state before his passing.
It was only in divine refuge, showing up with love regardless of my "stuff," and the support of family and friends, that I was able to remain present and in a mode of service. I remember in the middle of it all, this feeling of having nothing left to hold on to. So many of the most meaningful "identities" of my life were stripped: son, partner, employee (and a few others).
Sometimes it is only through this fierce grace that we actually remember or attempt to seek divine refuge or shelter -- to hold on to the One. It was through this refuge, continuing to show up with love, and living the Bob Marley teaching, "no matter what the crisis is, give Jah all our thanks and praises," that my father became my greatest teacher. He taught me that soul love sustains, transcends disease and even "forgetting," and is at our essence, who we are and where we come from.
Taraleigh: Thank you for sharing something so simple and so profound with us. Your words are going to help guide so many. I'm so grateful for that. What are you grateful for right now?
John: I try to live by this prayer: "Thank you for this day, this birth, this life, these blessings, these experiences and these opportunities, this abundance, my family and friends, my teachers, the teachings, all of this." I've never shared that publicly or with anyone, but that prayer has the potential to magically transform your mind, heart, vision and life.
Taraleigh: Truth. I'm so grateful all of that and how much of your heart you have shared with us today. What are you looking forward to next?
John: Life and love in the flow! And I have some yoga events happening that I truly thrilled about. This weekend (May 22-24) I will be teaching at an inaugural festival just north of New York City called MAYfest (Music. Arts. Yoga). Music is one of my passions so I am giddy to be linking up there with my dear friends DJ Drez and Marti Nikko to offer our "Soul Shakedown" yoga class after our New Year's retreat together in Belize. I will also be offering a class at MAYfest called "Eyes of the World" about cultivating spiritual vision, to a soundtrack of choice selections of music from the Grateful Dead concert archive.
I will also be leading a group to India in January 2016, Sacred India Pilgrimage 2016: In the Footsteps of the Masters, where we will dive deep into the ocean of bhakti yoga and spend precious time with Radhanath Swami and Sadhu Maharaj. I will also be mentoring at the world renowned Jivamukti Yoga teacher training in Chiemsee, Germany in November later this year. This July at Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks, I will be teaching at a wonderful retreat with The Hanumen, a super music group that includes two of my favorite kirtan artists, Gaura Vani and Visvambhar Sheth. I'm also very much looking forward to attempting to be a more joyful, loving, compassionate, forgiving, devoted, service-oriented being then I was today.
Taraleigh: I am looking forward to participating in all of your amazing classes this weekend at MayFest Music, Art and Yoga Festival in Cold Spring, NY. We are going to share an epic hug! Thank you for your time, your words and sharing your awesome with everyone who reads this.
If you want to learn more about MayFest Music, Art and Yoga Festival go to mayfestny.com
To find out more about John and what he's up to check out Bhakt Groove Yoga
The awesome in me sees and bows to the awesome in you,
John shared with me that his favorite healthy snack is soy latte and some groovy tunes that act as soul snacks. For recipes like those for your body and soul go HERE
A little more about John: John Smrtic is an Advanced Certified Jivamukti Teacher based in Albany, New York. He has spent nearly 1,000 hours studying directly with his teachers and Jivamukti Yoga creators, Sharon Gannon and David Life, in addition to diving deep into the bhakti (devotional yoga) tradition with living masters. Utilizing these teachings and traditional yogic scripture as a foundation, John blends wit, groovy music and challenging, intelligently sequenced asana from a vinyasa format to make each class a lively opportunity for deep spiritual investigation and transformation. His approach supports his belief that a single yoga class holds the potential to be more than a workout, but an actual, unique experience, where devotion, compassion, expansion and revolution can naturally unfold. John is at the cutting edge of incorporating live music into ecstatic class experiences, working intimately with some of the best musicians, kirtan artists and beat makers in the world. He has crafted a unique series of Jivamukti-based extended format classes and workshops which are road tested and in demand. He is a mentor at the acclaimed Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training program and teaches globally, including leading annual international yoga retreats with more exciting plans for the future. Find Your Groove. www.bhaktigrooveyoga.com