There was not a tsunami of enthusiasm for online chanting. Here is a post to explain some of the reasons why chanting practice is a thing. For those of you who were interested, I have added an option to the system to book an individual session for 30 minutes to touch base, chant selected parts of the yoga sutra, sit with the breath and have a moment to reflect and notice the effect of your chanting practice. If a few like-minded people book in, I will suggest a group practice.
I was in shock when I went to my first yoga teacher training weekend. We were given chant sheets written in Sanskrit for the yoga sutras. There was no discussion. We were going to chant. It was a first for me and even though my tone was uneven and the words belonged to another time in some incomprehensible language, I loved it! When you chant in a group there is a shared harmonious rhythm and group meditation and I felt that from the first time – even with the presence of dissonance. In oral traditions, texts are chanted so that the original words and meaning of a text are preserved. I was told to consider the difference between a story told in nursery rhyme (eg Jack and Jill went up the hill …) and a story told in prose (Jack and the Beanstalk for example). If you start saying the nursery rhyme, people join in, word for word but reciting a story in prose allows the words to change with each telling and different nuances will develop over time.
In chanting the yoga sutras (passed down from teacher to student over 2000 years) we embody a lineage and a tradition. The act of chanting is a reverent practice but not necessarily religious. Patanjali’s yoga sutras teaches the theory and practice of yoga. It teaches us the nature of the mind and how, through the practice of yoga, we can understand the mind – our mind – and move from a place of constant mental fluctuation and confusion to stillness and ultimately liberation (ie a state of yoga).
The sound of chanting helps to heal our body and mind and regulate our breathing. If you’ve not chanted before, have you sung to an infant or child or someone you love when they have been upset? Have you noticed how you also relax and settle and your breath deepens? Chanting releases tension and lets go of unhelpful emotions. Shouting can do the same but chanting is less exhausting, less confrontational and creates an internal space of calm. The quality of my voice is a reflection of my state of being. It is honest. Chanting is said to use our intuitive mind setting aside analysis and logic.
Making sound is important. I went to a funeral pre-Covid where there was no singing. I was unable to give voice to my grief and my body did not know how to express my emotion. There was no shared moment of vocalising how we felt. It would not have mattered what we sang. I remember feeling that the ceremony was incomplete for me, I had not been able to give my gratitude and love a voice.
Yoga chants are written in Sanskrit; a language of philosophical practice and technique. Words written in Sanskrit carry more than one meaning and there is rarely a direct translation into English. I was told that the sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet start at the back of the throat, fill the roof of the mouth and end at the lips. You can feel this when you chant OM. There are three sounds A-U-M. Open the mouth wide to start with aaah … move to ooouu as the mouth begins to close … ending with mmmm on the lips. Can you feel the resonance in the mouth? I understand the wariness of chanting words that you do not understand or are unfamiliar with. My instinct has been to trust my teachers when chanting as I do when they teach me other aspects of yoga. I have no reason to believe that their intention is to mislead or to indoctrinate. A bit more information about Sanskrit:
[Sanskrit is …] believed to have been generated by observing the natural progression of sounds created in the human mouth, thus considering sound as an important element of language formation. This is one of the prime reasons why Sanskrit has been rich in poetry and its expressive quality of bringing out the best meaning through perfect sounds that are soothing to the human ear. Vedic Sanskrit also contains abstract nouns and philosophical terms which are not to be found in any other language. The consonants and vowels are flexible enough to be grouped together to express nuanced ideas. In all, the language is like an endless ocean without a base due to its reach, complexity, and hundreds of words to express a single meaning or object.Sanskrit – Ancient History Encyclopedia
I am not the most proficient chant-er but I do understand the spirit of practice and for me it is this: I do not do these things to become expert, it is not always planned, I am called to celebrate a moment in time, to connect to something that is difficult to describe but it feels right, it is beyond me, I give myself to the moment and let go of the need to be doing it right, I enter a space to be and to connect.
We can talk about this more or you can book in if you want or you can lie back and just enjoy listening to me chanting in class or you can join in (chant sheets are available). I also have some CDs by Ranju and Dave: Learning the Yoga Sutra Chapter 1 and so on …
Let me know what your response.