chant

My first reaction to chanting was discomfort, confusion, rejection. I looked at the other yogis and yoginis who were really into it and I thought it was weird, I just didn’t get it. I felt really out of place and awkward.

But since chanting is included in every yoga class at Yogaville, I found myself in this situation repeatedly for many years. Then, it finally clicked. I stopped thinking and I started experiencing and everything changed.

Chanting is about experience, it is important not to overthink it.

Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion, and through chanting we praise what we love. Sanskrit words are intended to be felt deeply as in onomatopoeia, which is defined as ‘a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.’

One of my favorite examples is the sanskrit word ‘swaha.’ The original definition that I learned years ago was ‘letting go of that which no longer serves you.’ Since then, I’ve heard many other definitions, so I can’t with any precision or confidence tell you what the word means. Yet, it still has meaning for me although it changes each time I use the word.

This is Sanskrit, it’s taught me to let go of definitions but rather try to grasp the vague concept and allow the meaning to grow, change, transform.

The fundamental meaning of most chants is ‘praise the beloved.’ Unlike western schools of thought, the meaning is unique to each person and that’s ok, we do not have to agree in order to share a similar warm feeling deep within our loving hearts.

Chanting is not religious, it is spiritual. In all my years of chanting, no one has ever told me that I need to praise someone or something in particular. Rather, chanting can lead us toward being more spiritual and connected to our limitless, infinite self that existed long before our birth and will exist long after our death.

Chanting offers us the opportunity to focus the mind and enter a state of pure experience that can lead to a bliss state.

As Krishna Das says, “It’s great that we can come together with people we don’t know and chant songs that we don’t know the meaning of and ask questions that we’ll probably never answer and still find all that we need.”

Krishna Das is one of the most well-known kirtan artists in the world. Kirtan is call-and-response chanting, typically performed with instruments such as the harmonium (think table top accordian) and tablas (look almost like bongo drums with a much richer sound).

My first kirtan session at Yogaville took me back to the days as a kid when we’d sing songs around the camp fire that we all knew and loved. It was possible to get so absorbed in the music that you could forget where you were and what day it was and be blissfully lost in the moment. That’s kirtan.

I once joined an informal kirtan gathering at Yogaville, and just as we were really getting into it… the lights went out and we were in complete darkness. No one reacted, we didn’t even miss a beat. We chanted for another 10 minutes or so. This was in my early days of getting into chanting, so I was still trying to get my head around it.

The experience made me realize that this was the real thing, these people weren’t faking it. After the chant ended and we shared a few moments of silence, someone said, “Did anyone else feel us all levitate?” We chuckled, and someone finally got up to check on the breaker.

One of the great benefits of chanting and kirtan is that they can be used as another tool to focus the mind. Long after the experience, you can repeat the chant quietly to yourself and block out all other thoughts.

If I’m having a bad ‘monkey brain’ day and my thoughts are on overdrive, I chant and then repeat it to myself throughout the day and peace and quiet replace chaos and frustration.

Each time I chant, the feelings that I receive are more profound and filled with meaning. Now, I focus on being open and available when I chant… and often cry tears of joy and I am not alone as it’s not unusual to see others break open during kirtan.

David Newman, another one of the world’s most well-known kirtan artists, describes it as moving from broken-hearted to a heart broken open (let’s face it, we all have broken hearts in one way or another). (Note that he is referencing a phrase that is used widely in eastern philosophy, it is not his originally. But it’s a good excuse to reference David Newman as I love his music.)

So, tune in, turn on and chant.

Start with OM.

I will be sharing recorded chants in the future, so follow me and get ready to bliss out. In the meantime, you might want to check out the websites of Krishna Das and David Newman.

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welcome.

I am so happy you are here!

The list of benefits from a regular yoga practice is indeed long, and a few of these benefits are particularly important for runners, including:

• Increased flexibility
• Increased muscle strength
• Improved respiration, energy and vitality
• Greater protection from injury
• Improved mental acuity and concentration
• Improved balance

Perhaps most importantly, yoga can help improve the mind-body-spirit connection, which is so critical for improving athletic performance.

As the name of this blog indicates, you can start with OM to create the foundation of your practice that will lead you to a better, more peaceful life.

OM is the sound of the universe and represents the union of mind-body-spirit, which is the goal of yoga. (Note that there are as many definitions for OM as there are stars in the sky but this is a basic definition for beginning to understand the concept!)

OM is significant as it is often used as part of a centering technique to focus the mind and move into deep relaxation or prepare us for what we are about to do. Experiencing the openness of the “O” sound and the vibration of the “M” sound can be helpful for drawing inward.

As you make the sound either quietly to yourself or out loud, allow it to increase your awareness and presence in the moment. In the words of Ram Dass – Be Here Now.

Ideas for beginning to practice with OM:

  1. First thing in the morning, sit up tall as you rise from bed and breathe in gently and on the exhale quietly voice the sound OM, repeat three times with the breath
  2. If you feel stressed or upset during the day, take a moment to breathe and repeat OM three times to yourself
  3. If you are getting ready for an important moment – such as a job interview, first date, big work presentation – use your OM practice to center yourself before launching in
  4. Before you go to bed, sit up tall and breathe in gently and on the exhale quietly say OM, then repeat three times
  5. Before you run… before you eat… before you speak… before you shop… before you check your mail… before you say, I love you… you get the picture
  6. As you practice with OM, gradually shift your experience to a heightened sense of relaxation with the goal of fully experiencing the sound

We will explore more meanings of OM and additional practices using the sound, but start with this technique to begin a new journey toward strengthening your mind-body-spirit connection through the power of yoga.

If you are uncomfortable with practicing OM, use your breath and focus on the inhale and the exhale as you slow your thoughts. Chanting OM or another mantra can be helpful to tune into your inner world, so over time you may want to try again and focus on the experience of OM without judgement or expectation.

The sound vibrations can be deeply meaningful and bring you closer to a pure experience state, so it may be worthwhile to try again as your relaxation practice deepens. Or it may just not be for you, which is fine as well. I encourage you to follow my blog as there may be other practices that are relevant and helpful to you.

Start with OM is personally relevant for me as this is the practice that I struggle with the most.

In lay terms, I have often run frantically into burning buildings filled with assumptions, fear and negativity rather than taking a moment to clear my mental slate and breathe through my OM practice. I dive into important conversations and meetings before taking a moment to draw inward and focus and clear my mind so that I am fully present and available to the people who need me the most.

Start with OM is a journey for me as well, to remind me to focus on the simple act of empowering my scared, hurt and frustrated inner child using OM.

I am thrilled to be starting this new journey with you, using OM as the light guiding us forward to greater peace, love and joy.

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.