Yoga: Why do we chant?
This term we are chanting one of the sutras in Chapter 1 of the Yoga Sutras. The question of ‘why do we chant?’ has been asked by several of you. I sourced three writings about chanting a couple of years ago and thought it might help to share them again. I have edited them, so they relate to our lessons. And as promised, here is a copy of the yoga sutra chapter 1, sutra 30: YS1 30
The significance of chanting Om:
Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. The mantra is considered to have high spiritual and creative power and can be recited by anyone. It’s both a sound and a symbol rich in meaning and depth and when pronounced correctly it is actually AUM.
- Aum actually consists of four syllables: A, U, M, and the silent syllable.
- The first syllable is A, pronounced as a prolonged “awe.” The sound starts at the back of your throat and you stretch it out. You will start feeling your solar plexus and chest vibrating.
- The second syllable is U, pronounced as a prolonged “oo,” with the sound gradually rolling forward along your upper palate. You’ll feel your throat vibrate.
- The third syllable is M, pronounced as a prolonged “mmmm” with your front teeth gently touching. You will now start to feel the top of your vibrate.
- The last syllable is the deep silence of the Infinite. As intelligence rises from the deep silence, you have to merge your chant from the ‘M’ to the deep silence.
- Symbolically the three letters embody the divine energy and its 3 main characteristics: (1) creation, (2) preservation and (3) liberation.
Everything in the universe is pulsating and vibrating – nothing is really standing still! The sound Om, when chanted, vibrates at the same vibrational frequency found throughout nature.
AUM is the basic sound of the universe; by chanting it we are symbolically and physically tuning in to that sound and acknowledging our connection to all other living beings, nature and the universe.
In addition the vibrations and rhythmic pronunciation also have a physical effect on the body by slowing down the nervous system and calming the mind similar to meditation.
Finally it is also a way to delineate the time of our practice from the rest of our day and signify that this is a special time in which to care for ourselves and practice being mindful
Beginning and/or ending yoga practice with AUM facilitates a deeper connection to our practice
Reasons for chanting
- Conveying the teachings– historically, sacred teachings were passed down orally, chanting aids memory and maintains consistent transmission.
- Continuing traditions– when we chant, we become part of a lineage and tradition and we might feel the support and help of that tradition. Both teachers and students can be mindful of a much wider community.
- Building unity– as with communal singing, when we chant together, every cell in our body begins to vibrate at the same frequency as the people around us, thereby helping us to connect.
- Achieving clarity– giving ourselves permission to make sound is cleansing. We are taking our space in the world. Chanting can be an opportunity to express the sounds we have suppressed – both painful and joyful. If you can allow yourself to chant without self-judgement and enjoy making a noise, you may notice the quality of the sound you produce attains greater clarity
- Confirming intention– if a chant or a set of chants is chanted with intention, it often clarifies that intention. For example, yogena yogo, is extolling the virtue and benefits of a committed yoga practice …
- Balancing emotions– as with music, chanting has the power to uplift and energise or to calm. You have experienced the effect of sound and music on emotions.
- Focusing attention– Chanting helps to focus and concentrate the mind. In fact, it is, in itself, a concentration/meditation technique, a vehicle that can help us eventually achieve a state of concentration and meditation.
Another view on chanting
Chanting mantras is the yoga of sound. Chanting has been used for centuries as an aid to humans who seek to communicate with the divine spirit within themselves and the universe. Chanting has the effect of raising the level of vibration of the individual practicing the chant, and it can help the practitioner to be filled with peace, and feel calm and centred.
There have been medical studies that have shown that performing yoga chants can have positive benefits for the body. These studies have shown that when a person chants it can stabilize their heart rate, lower blood pressure, produce beneficial endorphins in the body and boost metabolic processes. Chanting causes the body and mind to relax which helps us both physically, mentally and emotionally in countless ways.
An opening chant can be used at the start of a yoga class, or the beginning of a meditation session. Using an opening chant is an effective way to help participants lower their stress and set the proper spiritual tone for the yoga class.
Chanting can be practiced at any time of the day. You can chant quietly to yourself, chant out loud, or listen to recorded chants. Listening to chants can help to soothe your spirit and energize you as you face the challenges of the day.
Closing chants are used to bring a meditation session or a yoga class to a peaceful end. A chant can be the thread that ties the positive benefits of the work done on the yoga mat, or the meditation session to the rest of the practitioner’s life.
Chants are usually written and performed in Sanskrit. Chanting or listening to chants while performing yoga poses can help to bring a sense of calm to your mind and it can open your heart which will enhance your enjoyment of your āsana. Chanting is invigorating and energizing to the mind, body and spirit, and it reminds us of our deep and abiding connection to the divine and to our fellow human beings when it’s done in unison