Ommmm, what is Mantra & Chanting all about?
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"
Students (in their head): "What is #Om? Why am I chanting it? What does it mean? Am I supposed to #feel something when I do this? This is a bit weird, is everyone else doing it?"
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.