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Chanting 101: Guide to Kirtan and the Power of Devotion

Emma Morrison
Chanting 101 Guide to Kirtan and the Power of Devotion

Chanting can greatly enhance your yoga practice. But it can certainly be intimidating as well.

Bhakti Yoga, or yoga of devotion, was formed over 500 years ago in India. It was created with the intention to give its practitioners the tools to utilize their energy through devotion.

The essence of bhakti yoga is surrender. It offers the individual to a greater Being of pure consciousness. Bhakti yoga brings us into a realm where the discerning qualities of intellect are powerless. Instead, there is a vast ocean of emotions and feelings to explore.

Bhakti Yoga is about the relationship with the universe. It embraces every color on the emotional spectrum and asks us to lead with our hearts. Kirtan, the practice of chanting names or mantras, is used in bhakti yoga to enhance one’s practice.

Although the practice may seem simple, the internal process of chanting allows us to stimulate a vast and mysterious openness within ourselves.

Through chanting, we try to channel our emotions into our external voice. We allow wounds to heal and submerged emotions to surface. We immerse ourselves in a river of prayer and move into its meditative state.

Kirtan is essentially devotional chanting. It includes layers of music, singing, and rhythm in order to permeate vibrations throughout the universe.

The vibration itself is Kirtan, and it is described as the beating of the heart and soul.

Chanting in a group allows for all voices to become one. Each person in the room has a different story. But through chanting, we can become a unified voice and be reminded of our humanity. Kirtan removes boundaries and differences, acknowledging its futile division.

For thousands of years, people and cultures have used sounds and vibrations to relax. They can access deeper states of consciousness while healing our bodies. You may be familiar with Tibetan singing bowls or Chinese meditation gongs.

Perhaps you are even familiar with nada yoga which is yoga of sound. The human voice and classical Indian instruments are used as a path to self-realization. Nada yoga opens up the spiritual channels and harmonizes the physical body.

Its ultimate goal is self-realization through connecting with the inner sound of your true Being.

So if you’re new to chanting and Kirtan, here are a couple of things you should know.

#1 Chanting Has Multiple Meanings

Chanting Has Multiple Meanings
Chanting Has Multiple Meanings

“Chant” is often used interchangeably with “mantra.” “Man” is the root of the Sanskrit word meaning mind while “tra” is the root of the word instrument. Many have described the meaning of mantra as an instrument to train the mind. It brings a greater concentration to the present moment and lessens our attention to the continuous stream of thoughts.

Mantra allows us to fall in love with the now.

To repeat these words or phrases is to engage in Kirtan. It may have various meanings to various people, but its unifying power cannot be denied. As you chant, allow the words and feelings to become unique to you. Here, you will access what no one else can.

#2 It’s Okay to Feel Uncomfortable Singing in a Group

It’s Okay to Feel Uncomfortable Singing in a Group
It’s Okay to Feel Uncomfortable Singing in a Group

Singing in a group can be uncomfortable. But it’s better to know that you’re not alone in your discomfort. Once you get past these concerns, you can experience something beyond your being.

Some call it samavesha, or the power to be immersed in something and have that something immersed in you.

It is a mutual relationship between the chant and you.

You influence it as it influences you. In this way, it is a dialogue. And it requires active participation from both sides.

#3 You Don’t Have to Get the Words Right

You Don’t Have to Get the Words Right
You Don’t Have to Get the Words Right

Many of us who are familiar with Western practices of yoga are not as familiar with Sanskrit. It is an entirely different language with various sounds and phrases we are not accustomed to. So go easy on yourself when you’re first beginning to chant.

Sanskrit is a sacred language that carries meaning in each syllable. But the correct pronunciation won’t hinder you from your ability to connect with its devotional teachings.

The words will mean something unique to you. You do not have to follow the prescribed path. Rather, use the words as a vehicle to get you focused on your body and mind. They are tools to be used, not standards to uphold.

#4 Practice Chanting Like You Practice Asana

Practice Chanting Like You Practice Asana
Practice Chanting Like You Practice Asana

When you first started your asana practice, you likely had to find the right teacher. With chanting, it is important to find someone you feel comfortable following along.

Make sure that their chants feel accessible to you. They should be simple enough for you to repeat over and over again. Ultimately, it is a matter of practice. Make yourself more comfortable by becoming familiar with the words and the space around you. Attune yourself to what’s possible in your chanting practice.

#5 Don’t Worry if You Don’t Have Any Musical Talent

Don’t Worry if You Don’t Have Any Musical Talent
Don’t Worry if You Don’t Have Any Musical Talent

In Kirtan, it doesn’t matter if you have a good voice or not. The point of group chanting is that you’re a group. No one voice stands out from another. Instead, your voice adds to the textures and sounds within the space. It reverberates with others throughout the room and is not the sole focus of those around you.

If anything, chanting is about our voices finding one another until our focus becomes unified.

Again, the chants and mantras are tools used to access what is deeper and possible. Let your focus be the beneficiary of your practice.

#6 You Don’t Have to Understand What You’re Saying

You Don’t Have to Understand What You’re Saying
You Don’t Have to Understand What You’re Saying

If you don’t know what words you’re chanting, that’s okay. The point is to focus on how you feel when you chant. The words are vehicles to derive a connection between you and the others in the room.

Kirtan allows you to forget yourself and surrender to something greater.

As with any surrender, it can be scary. It can be hard to let go of your control. But Kirtan teaches us to lean into our discomfort. There are many lessons to be learned from what we fear.

Final Tips for Kirtan and the Power of Devotion

Final Tips for Kirtan and the Power of Devotion
Final Tips for Kirtan and the Power of Devotion

Kirtan and chanting is ultimately about surrender. Once you surrender your embarrassment and ego, you can give in to the collective. A group chant is meant to access a deeper spiritual connection with yourself and within the others around you. It is an alternative way to access and heal through vibrations, sounds, and breathing.

You don’t have to know everything about what you’re chanting. The most important thing is to be open enough to recognize how you feel during it.

By giving over to your senses, you can enter a meditative and blissful state. Some people get up and dance along to the music. Others clap. And some just close their eyes and focus on the chant.

It is a deeply personal experience that manages to connect you with everyone else in the room. It is both of the self and abandoned by it. It is personal and global simultaneously.

Give Kirtan a try and see if you experience a “yoga high.” You may feel this as an expansion within your Being or you may discover new insights you previously did not consider.

Kirtan urges us to be open. There is no one end goal that we are taught to strive for. Your bliss is unique to you. And no one else can access it. Discover more of what is possible and access that which already resides within you.

You are much more than you know.

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