A small but growing community of yogis is discovering kirtan, a musical complement to bhakti yoga.
With their eyes closed, about 50 people sat on the grass in Powderhorn Park and swayed their bodies as they listened.
Minneapolis singer Pascale LaPoint called out to them in a clear, though untrained, voice, "Sita Ram, Sita Ram, Sita Ram, Jai Sita Ram." Her expression was calm, but there was an urgency in LaPoint's performance -- as if the words were the most important she had ever spoken.
The crowd repeated the mantra back to LaPoint in just the same melody, "Sita Ram, Sita Ram, Sita Ram, Jai Sita Ram."
They maintained this call-and-response for several minutes, gradually speeding up the tempo to a rousing finish.
The end of the chant is marked by silent contemplation. There is no clapping or talking.
The group gathered in the park was practicing the ancient art of kirtan, a spiritual concert of sorts dating to 15th-century India. Kirtan is integral to the practice of bhakti yoga where you chant or sing mantras -- words and phrases believed to have blissful transcendental effects on those who repeat them.
In the past four years or so, a few professional and amateur musicians have formed kirtan bands to lead bhakti yoga gatherings. The current Twin Cities bhakti movement started at least a decade ago when teachers introduced the practice to their fitness yoga students. Today, this spiritual method is still mostly practiced in yoga studios, but it has taken on a life of its own, creating a distinct musical scene.
"There's a hybrid musical form developing here and around the country," said David Schmit, 57, a longtime Twin Cities folk musician. "Each kirtan group is forging their own path in terms of how pure you remain to the original [Indian] tradition and how you adapt it to the American context."
Schmit's band, the Wild Moon Bhaktas, began playing at kirtans in 2010, but Schmit has sung mantras since the 1980s.
"Kirtans are about love and joy and community," he said. "Chanting occurs in many religions because it has an uplifting quality in and of itself. Many people enjoy the music, which happens to be sacred. For others, chanting is a spiritual practice that happens to be musical."
The Twin Cities kirtan scene is still very small, at about 200 people. There are as many as four kirtans a week attracting up to 60 people. Five years ago, there were maybe four a month. But musician Perry Ehrmann is confident it will grow as more people give it a try.
"You don't have to believe in multiple gods or goddesses or a particular philosophy," said Ehrmann, a self-employed marketer who formed his own band, Kirtan Collective, just months ago. "Kirtan is about a group of people coming together for the love of spirit. This is not about religion."
At Powderhorn, LaPoint sings and plays the harmonium, a traditional Indian hand organ that sounds much like an accordion. Her band, Kirtan Path, includes players on drum and violin.
LaPoint said that before she started chanting regularly at kirtans in 2008, she was always angry and "profoundly unhappy." She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and prescribed medication. Her marriage was falling apart.
"Then kirtan came into my life, and I started singing, and started to feel such peace and calm," explained LaPoint, a 50-year-old marketing professional at a Minneapolis corporation. "These words and melodies made me feel so good, but I had no idea why."
Devotees of bhakti yoga and kirtans say the practice creates undeniable positive energy, and that singing with others is fun.
By repeatedly chanting the names of Hindu gods and goddesses, practitioners of bhakti yoga say they reach blissful states of well-being and find connection with the divine -- even if they don't study Hinduism or understand the words, which are typically in the ancient Indian Sanskrit language.
"For me it's a spiritual connection that I don't get anywhere else," said Theresa Spicer of Shakopee, 44.
Spicer says she's not a religious person but is trying to figure out what spirituality means to her. She discovered kirtans early this year and she and her 7-year-old daughter have attended four of them together.
"It leaves me peaceful and wanting to be kind and good in the world," said Spicer. "I feel some connection to my source, whatever that is for me. I get lost in the music."
Marisa Helms is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.
Poll: Would you let someone turn your yard into an edible landscape?