Updated: Apr 23, 2019
If you are a regular #yoga class goer, or have been home practising and learning about Yoga yourself, you will no doubt have heard, and also know of #mantra and #chanting. Possibly the most well known of all being #AUM or OM. But what is it all about? Is everyone a bit loopy sat there saying these strange foreign sounding words and phrases with their eyes closed, some swaying from side to side?!
Mantra is #energy, #vibration, #sound. Simply put, Mantra is chanting of words or a phrase. The definition of Mantra is MANAS (mind) and TRA/TRI (freedom of mind, liberation, conscious change from negativity to positivity). When used, chanting of Mantra can help to focus the #mind and transport it to a new place. It is about moving energy, the #breath, our life force, or as we call it in Yoga- Prana. Studies have in fact shown that chanting Mantra can stabilise the heart rate and lower blood pressure, promoting a #calming effect on the #mind and #body.
My first experience of chanting was when I started my journey into Yoga with #Ashtanga (yep I went straight in at the deep end with the more challenging physical practice)! Back then I didn't really know much about Yoga, I just knew that I really needed something to #focus on and something that would hopefully help both my body and mind. So, I started a local class with my sister, and although it wasn't for her, I felt so strongly that it was helping me that I continued my journey, which led me to where I am today!
So, back to the chanting and my first experience of this. There I was, nervously stood with my eyes closed at the beginning of my first "real" Yoga class. The teacher explained the class would open with the usual chant (I had no idea what this was, but was in a class with others that were obviously more regular practitioners who did). He then went on to say a load of words and phrases that made very little sense to me, and I must be honest I was a bit taken aback and didn't really know what to make of it. The chant was as follows.
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
Which translates to the below.
I bow to the lotus feet of the Supreme Guru
which awaken insight into the happiness of pure Being,
which are the refuge, the jungle physician,
which eliminate the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of Samsara (conditioned existence).
I prostrate before the sage Patanjali
who has thousands of radiant, white heads (as the divine serpent Ananta)
and who has, as far as his arms, assumed the form of a man
holding a conch shell (divine sound), a wheel (discus of light or infinite time) and a sword (discrimination).
So that all makes perfect sense, right? Hmm, not really! In #essence, some of the "translations" may not directly work or make full sense but the idea is there. In addition, when using Mantra and chanting its less about the words and more about the vibration, the #feeling, the #unity that they create. The language of Yoga is Sanskrit, a #language of vibration and sound, and said to be the language of the #heart.
The opening chant of Ashtanga practice is a #blessing of #gratitude to the past and present #teachers and #students who have enabled the ancient practice to continue. It also cleanses the space, creating #positive #energy, and prepares the #mind and #body for the physical element of Yoga #practice. Similarly, there is a closing chant which seals the practice that has been undertaken.
As I attended more classes I #listened more closely to the words, and eventually I plucked up the courage to at least try and join in. I think the one thing that was missing for me was an explanation of the actual words, as this would have potentially helped me to better understand what I was saying and made it more meaningful. (I don't think this happened but as it was some time ago I may well have forgotten the details)! For me as a teacher, I think it's really important to explain certain #elements to students to give them a better #understanding and #meaning.
Teacher: "Lets all chant OM"
It doesn't have to be a lengthy explanation, and there is actually no literal "translation" for OM, but to at least explain to students something like "OM is a #sacred sound in Yoga, a #healing sound, the sound and vibration of the #Universe. Let's #connect to ourselves, to each other, and to the Universal energy by chanting this in unison."
I find it's also important to remember that chanting can be quite a personal thing, and many people may not feel comfortable to do so openly in class. Therefore it's good to ask them to close the eyes and tell people that they are welcome to chant out loud, internally, or just listen to the sound and #feel the vibration.
My second #experience of chanting was when I started going to #Jivamukti classes, and over time I felt a lot more comfortable with the idea of Mantra and chanting, and enjoyed joining in. The teacher would guide us in a call and repeat style, where he would say a word or phrase and we would repeat back. He would also explain the #translation of what we were saying and any other snippets of #information that would go along with this- sometimes even a short #story of the first time he heard this, what it means to him personally, I really enjoyed this.
Eventually, as time went on I stared to recognise chants that were played as background #music in classes, I knew the words to regularly used chants and I started to think more about the meaning of them too. Something that initially had been a little uncomfortable was now something that I enjoyed and wanted to continue learning about. Fortunately part of my Yoga teacher training focused on this.
I've been to Yoga classes where Mantra and chanting have been used, others where it isn't. Some have a big emphasis on this element of Yoga and others a snippet to peak interest here and there. I believe that Mantra and chanting is part of Yoga, and therefore should be incorporated, but I also believe it's extremely important to be comfortable with this as a teacher if you are going to teach it, and also remember to be sensitive to the class and remember that you don't want to alienate or make them feel uncomfortable.
Personally I'm not sure I have the greatest chanting or singing voice, and am still building confidence with this, so I choose to intertwine Mantra and chanting into my lessons in certain ways, which will of course grow and develop over time. I may play something in the background during a class and explain what the word or phrase means and ask students to bring #awareness to the sound and vibration of this.
I often use Mantra such as "Let Go" or relate them to specific #Chakras when working on a certain asana or in line with the theme for the class. For example, I taught a class where we focused on heart opening asana so I encouraged students to repeat a Mantra to themselves based on this, such as "I am #Love" "I give Love" "I receive Love" This is something that can be revisited during a class to bring awareness back if it starts to wander.
Chanting Mantra such as OM, or listening to this sound and vibration can really help to connect students to the #breath, #relax them, and calm down the #energetic body and mind. I personally really enjoy chanting OM out loud in a class at the end, but am aware that others may not, and often as a teacher it may be an idea to introduce Mantra as an internal dialogue or more spoken at first, and as the relationship and familiarity with the class builds, start to introduce chanting out loud bit by bit.
Different teachers have different styles, which is the #beauty of Yoga, but for me the most important thing is to know my class and their energy, and make them feel amazing during and after their practice- after all that's why I became a Yoga teacher!
I have collected a selection of Mantra and chants that can be used for personal or class practice, that I will be sharing very soon! Get in touch with me if you have any that you would like to share, let me know if you are a fan of Mantra and chanting in a Yoga class, and if so let me know your favourites!
For now I leave you with one of my favourites, which you could sing or just say to yourself if you like it.
"Lokah, Samastha, Sukhino, Bhavantu."
How simple yet beautiful is that!
Until next time...