Who better to interview for our month of INTIMACY than Simrit Kaur, the world-meets-pop musician whose ability to get vulnerable on stage with her audience supersedes the definition of what it means to be intimate. With a new album of live music that came out at the end of 2017, and another one on the way, there’s much for us to learn from the Greek-born American raised singer/Kundalini Yoga instructor who uses music as a portal to what she calls "the divine".
Originally born in Greece and later adopted to Greek-American parents as a baby, Simrit’s unique life story impacts all that she does both sonically and philosophically. From her background in the Greek Orthodox Church, to her later introduction to Eastern Mysticism, her ability to combine genres and traditions speaks both to the universal nature of the human experience and her talent as a multi-instrumentalist with operatic-lineage.
You can learn more about her background in a feature we wrote on her here, before diving into our interview where we discuss Simrit’s definition of intimacy and God, her connection to Eastern Mysticism and Greek Orthodox Church, and why she believes music is the most powerful means of connection and healing.
Fraser Hammersly: What is your definition of “music”? Why do you think it is a powerful means of connection and healing?
Simrit Kaur: Music is the language that describes in feeling what we cannot describe in words. It is the balm for the soul, and it is the sound of the soul. It has the power to bring us all together, no matter where we come from or what language we speak. Music is the most powerful means of connection and healing because it transcends the mind, and goes straight to the heart and soul. It has the power to heal us, empower us, and empathize with us. It has the power to teach us and deliver messages that aren't so easy to deliver by talking. Music uplifts us and heals us beyond what we can conceive. The ancients knew this, but modern science is only just starting to figure it out.
FH: You’re known for cultivating a sense of intimacy and vulnerability during your shows. What is your definition of intimacy? What role does it play in your creative process?
SK: Becoming close with and touching the reality of who we are... not our habits, not our thoughts, not our clothes. Getting intimate with our soul and our heart; that is intimate and vulnerable. Touching the soft heart that is fragile, yet strong, and getting real about the fragility of life, itself. Intimacy and vulnerability are the goal of the music, and when I allow the music to play me, I become every fiber of the music, and the music becomes every fiber of me. Then, I'm not thinking about what I look like or what people think of me. I'm a servant of the muse, and the music is played through me. That is when the melodies and rhythms really stream through me. It's this process that brings about my best writing... dying into the music, and trusting the music.
FH: How were you introduced to Eastern Mysticism? What place in your life were you in when you found it and what drew you to it?
SK: My upbringing and studies in the Greek Orthodox Church really inspired a lot in me in this life. The ancient and mystical Byzantine music I grew up studying and singing really inspired me. I started practicing Reiki when I was a sophomore in college after a friend introduced me to it, and then I started practicing Kundalini Yoga shortly after. It all is so similar to the essence of the Greek Orthodox Church, and whenever I visit the church, I feel the same feeling that I feel when I'm in a temple or when I'm feeling the essence of my yoga practice. There isn't really one thing that drew me to the Eastern mysticism. It just felt natural, like what I'd been doing my whole life.
FH: Where did you learn Kundalini yoga? How have you changed since finding it?
SK: I haven't changed since practicing Kundalini Yoga, thank God! What has happened, though, is I've come more in to my power. I've become a better version of myself. I first learned Kundalini Yoga in Charleston, South Carolina where I went to college. Jai Dev, my husband, was leading the class, and at the time, he was just nineteen years old. I met him in the health food store where we both worked in college, and he invited me to the class. In the first three minutes of class, I realized that I would be practicing Kundalini Yoga for the rest of my life. It's an incredible tool that works quickly to elevate your spirit and clear the mind. There was something really deep I felt in that class that was a reflection of my insides. It felt like home, and it didn't hurt that Jai Dev was an incredible teacher even back then. He's always had that gift... so real, intelligent, and down to earth. No bells and whistles, just the real deal!
FH: You’re associated with Eastern religious traditions, but I’m curious in what way your upbringing in the Greek Orthodox Church influences your musical and spiritual perspective?
SK: Well, I see the traditions that I'm into now a reflection of the Greek Orthodox tradition in its essence. You know, when I think of the Greek Orthodox tradition, my heart is warm. I don't think of the dogma. I feel the essence that I loved since I was a child, and I still love it now. It is the epitome of mysticism, from the music, the ceremonies, and the vibe. It's so awesome to me, and that upbringing led me to the Kundalini Yoga... and they are so similar. So it for me, the influences are there across the board.
FH: You state in an Instagram post that you’ve always had deep faith and a strong connection to God. What is your definition of faith and what is your concept of God?
SK: I don't have a definition or picture of what God is or what God looks like. I simply have a feeling of God. I don't know what God is, and I'm very comfortable with that. All I know is that I feel so intimate with God, and I have since I can remember. I remember talking with God aloud when I was little, and I still do that sometimes. Mostly, I feel God in the music, and in my heart and soul, and the mystery of the unknown becomes more and more comfortable. My faith is the knowing that my connection with God is unshakable and has always been, and I've always felt taken care of and trusting of that. Maybe being adopted gave me that kind of strength... knowing that God has always taken care of me, and I turned out okay. Hahah.
FH: Where does the inspiration for your music come from?
SK: Life. Experience. Longing. Feeling.
FH: What is your writing practice like?
SK: It's different. Most of the time the melodies stream through me in abundance, and I have to be ready to jot them down and record them. Otherwise, they can leave as fast as they come in. Sometimes I'll hear the whole orchestra of the song in my head, and sometimes I'm simply digging around for a good melody. I have to massage it and work with it for days or longer sometimes. All I know is that I'm really grateful when the songs come, from whatever experience they come from and whenever they come. Sometimes the writing process is easier than others, and sometimes I really have to work to get a song. However, I love all the ways in which the music comes through.
FH: In what ways does your Kundalini and Naad Yoga practice benefit your music and vice versa?
SK: They are tremendously helpful. For one, I can tell I sing way better when I practice. That's one of my motivations for doing the practice. It helps me to be more flexible in my mind body. It keeps my naval strong and powerful, and that definitely makes the music more penetrating and powerful. Mostly, it helps me stay very comfortable in my own skin, and that benefits me, my art, and anyone around me.
FH: You teach a class called, “Supreme Sound” where you help people tap into their own voice. How the voice is a healing tool, and what is a simple thing people can do today to tap into it?
SK: Yes, it is one of my favorite things to teach. The ancient sages from thousands of years ago knew that the unique voice of each and every person is useful as a tool to unlock our great potential as humans and our healing power. Becoming intimate with one's own voice is like finding the key to your own incredible treasure chest, and then being able to unlock the chest and experience the jewels. Our unique sound unlocks our healing power. Whether we are using it for singing or not, doesn't matter (although even casual singing around the house, in the car, etc. is very fun and healing). It's not about being a singer or not. It's about intuition; our unique voice. One simple thing that people can do to tap into their own healing function is remembering that our own unique sound was created especially for our body to help unfold and unlock different aspects of ourselves. A quick little exercise is trilling the lips just like a baby does when they blow saliva bubbles (even though we don't need to blow saliva bubbles, hahah!). You just purse the lips together and blow air through them while vocalizing. It actually helps heal TMJ and opens up the throat and jaw areas. It dislodges emotional and physical crud from the body, and helps the energy to flow more smoothly. It also happens to refine the voice's tone all the while warming up and strengthening the vocal chords without damaging them. Wow! So much bang for your buck with this one simple exercise! I have had a few vocal coaches from different traditions around the world use this technique in coaching me (I do my scales this way). It's undeniably helpful!
FH: On your YouTube channel, you have several videos on Kriyas (exercises from Kundalini yoga) that heal physical ailments like hormonal imbalances, pain relief, and addiction. In your opinion, what is the connection between mind and body and how do kriyas play into that?
SK: The body and its tissues are the substratum of the mind. Science is just catching up to this ancient knowledge. So the body and mind are VERY connected. They are one in the same. Therefore, it's very important to keep both the body and mind as healthy as possible. What kriyas do is help us to clean out the subconscious mind by using breath, posture, and sometimes mantra, in order to have a real and practical perspective of ourselves and life. To put it in other words, kriyas help us to speed up our mental metabolism (aka processing time) and sometimes even our physical metabolism, and our electromagnetic field frequency becomes enhanced and elevated. We get into patterns of addiction to some behavior or substance because of the magnetic interlock between our brain wave frequency and the frequency of the object or behavior pattern. The kriyas/meditations helps us to unlock that magnetic interlock so that we don't want do engage in the behavior any more since the brain has now been redirected. The negative behavior simply falls away without us trying so hard. Instead of trying to get rid of the addiction or imbalance, etc., we simply add a meditation or kriya, and the habits change organically. Pretty cool stuff.
FH: Mantra is also a huge part of your practice in both your everyday life and music. How would you explain the purpose and benefits of mantra to someone who is just learning?
SK: Mantra simply means wave of the mind. It's that simple. Mantra points your mind to more supportive thought streams and takes you out of the "me, me me" mind. Mantra literally helps us to clean away the crud on the "windshield" and see through clear glass. Awesome all around.
FH: What do you believe is the purpose of emotional and physical pain? How do you make sense of painful experiences?
SK: Although I don't know what the purpose of everyone's physical and emotional pain is, I do know that for me pain serves as a helpful tool for greater understanding and vitality. My parents taught me at a young age that I can take difficult situations and use them as fuel for bettering myself and brightening myself. Painful experiences are unavoidable. People who think that we can bypass suffering and pain on this earth by doing some yoga and chanting are not tuned in to the human experience. Pain is inevitable. Therefore, when we know that, we don't try to avoid it, which sets us up to be inauthentic and cold. When we embrace the pain with all the feelings that come with it: loneliness, hurt, fear, anger, sadness, frustration, etc., then pain doesn't have a stronghold over us. I have felt much pain in my life, and I see it as a blessing, as it has helped me to grow up and be a more compassionate human being. It has helped me to see that I am not exempt from the lows of the lows, and I am human. It helps me to connect with others. I'm not saying it's easy, but my narrative about it sure does help me to metabolize it in a supportive way. Pain can actually give us energy just like happiness can. It's all dependent on our mental, physical, and emotional digestive strength.
FH: How do you remain grounded and true to yourself while being a participant in the music industry which has historically been associated with greed, materialism, and hedonism?
SK: I'm in the music world, but not of it. I always have and will always continue to walk to the beat of my own drum. I remain grounded through my connection to my soul, my family, and my friends. It keeps me real and unafraid to take chances. I also feel comfortable with people not liking my art. I think when a person feels comfortable with the ups and downs of the business, then they are less likely to do things to try to fit in.
FH: You recently wrote on Instagram about meeting your biological mother, but that you never felt a "void" before meeting her. Can you talk more about what you think contributed to you having this perspective?
SK: My amazing parents and my upbringing in a deeply spiritual and loving family. My parents told me when I was three years old that I was adopted. They were really smart and kind about it. They didn't make a big deal of it and they were very open about it with me and answered any questions I ever had about it and my biological mother, growing up. Don't get me wrong, it was always awkward and challenging for me to bring up the questions to my parents, as I didn't want to hurt their feelings, but that was my stuff. They were always so kind and open with me when I asked. Also, my faith in the Universal force, or whatever you want to call it, has always been so strong; I feel I was simply born this way. I've always felt confident because of that. I've always had such deep and strong communication with my soul, and I've never felt lost because of that. I have to give my parents some credit for that, as we were at the Greek Orthodox church 3-4 days a week growing up for different cultural events... Greek dancing, Greek school, Greek cooking, Sunday school, basketball and also church services on Sunday. Growing up singing and chanting the Byzantine hymns and mantras really rooted me in myself and fostered that sense of mysticism in me from a young age. I simply just never felt that "void" but the longing was always there. Being adopted really fostered my longing for the Universal One.
FH: How has your sense of connection to your biological mother changed since meeting her? What types of changes have occurred within you and do you have a different relationship with yourself since meeting her?
SK: Great question. The answer is... I don't know. I only just met her a month ago. All I know is that I've felt even more sensitive lately (understandably so), and I feel the fragility of life even more since meeting her. My sense of connection with my biological mother is something I cannot describe right now. Honestly, it feels so surreal. I still haven't fully processed this one.
FH: How does being adopted influence your perspective on motherhood and your concept of family?
SK: Being adopted influences all of my perspectives in life, from being grateful to even be alive and grateful for the love of my family. I feel such deep empathy with people, animals, and all of creation. I definitely am influenced by this amazing experience in my life. As far as motherhood, I feel that being adopted has given me the experience of wanting to be close with my son and husband, and clearly letting them know on a daily basis how much I love them. I breastfed my son for two years, and that was really important to me as I was not breastfed. I wanted to give my son the best foundation that I could, and I was willing to make certain sacrifices for that. I really want to be around for my son during his younger years and not be an absent parent because of travel, so I consciously create a schedule that allows for a lot of family time and time at home, while also being very efficient on the road (all over the world) when I tour. I don't just take any gigs that are offered to me. I'm very discerning about where I play and how long I'm gone. Sometimes my son and husband come on the tours for short periods of time, which is really nice.
FH: What are you currently working on and what are you most excited about right now?
SK: My newest album, which was released at the end of 2017, and I'm working on another studio album as well, and another live album to come out in 2018. I'm really excited to go back out on tour, too. I'm also really stoked to be at home for a couple more months with my two guys and our dog. Feels good.