Chanting 101: Letting your voice soar
Are you ready to let your voice soar?
Chanting is common in yoga studios across the nation. Over nearly 3 decades of teaching yoga, I’ve received many questions and enjoyed great conversations about why we chant. For beginning students, it is not uncommon to wonder: “What are we chanting and what does it mean? What language is that? Is it ok to chant if I am Christian, Jewish, or any other religion?”
To Chant or Not to Chant
Everyone is welcome to chant – and I always tell my students that it is completely voluntary! Some don’t participate in chanting, for religious or personal reasons, and often students are just shy about chanting aloud. Around 70% of my students identify themselves as Judeo-Christian or at least grew up in the Jewish or Christian faith. Most students identify themselves as spiritual, whether they consider the Divine as God, supreme Consciousness, boundless Love, or an extraordinary mystery.
So what are we chanting? The most common and foundational chant is the Sanskrit word om.
The Maha (great) Mantra: Om
Om is the most sacred sanskrit syllable from the Indian tradition and symbolizes the primordial vibration from which everything manifests.
If you have ever been in a yoga class and felt the resonant inner vibration from a group om, you know that vocalizing this sound can bring forth a deep sense of grounding, calmness, and connection. Whether you say om aloud, in a whisper, or silent repetition, the mantra om is a way to connect to the sound of your innermost Divine Consciousness. And it’s just calming.
In this way, the ability to create an experiential dance between thinking and feeling, while moving and breathing, is beautifully supported by the ritual of chanting. When we sit quietly after centering and chanting, the instrument of the body/mind feels tuned in, present, and clear. You can take that into your life off the mat. We all need a moment to just feel clarity.
A Christian Perspective
As many of my yoga students identify with Christianity, I appreciate the thoughtful writings of Fr. Tom Ryan (http://www.christianspracticingyoga.com) on a broad array of yoga topics. On the subject of chanting om, he writes, “There is a very long tradition of monologistic (literally: one word) prayer in Christian spirituality, and it flows precisely out of the experience of God as ineffable Mystery. Thus Christians have historically prayed with a short word or phrase in recognition that, ultimately, all words and concepts break apart and fall short of capturing the full reality of who and what God is. That recognition is basically what the mantra OM was intended to express. OM stands for God the essential Beyond, to whom everyone who has had even a glimpse of that Presence is insistently called and irresistibly tends.”
Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences of chanting om. And join me again next month when I delve into the meaning behind the symbol of om.