Image for 6/8/15 Blog

Image for 6/8/15 Blog

Whenever I go to study at my Vedic Chant workshops I learn something new – something that will not only help me to move forward in my chanting, but something that also can help me live my life with greater focus, peace, and self-confidence.

Before our workshop ended, Sonia Nelson, our “guru” of Vedic Chant, explained how we might approach our own chanting study once we were home and on our own. She did this by focusing on how we might behave when we see we are making a mistake in our chanting practice.

The first way she called the “OMG” reaction. We hear ourselves stumbling in our chanting, and we react as if our mistake is a crisis – “oh, my god.” As Sonia explained, this reaction creates fertile ground for the antarayas or obstacles, as described in Yoga Sutra I.30-31, to grow. Thoughts of self-doubt can arise about our ability to chant or what our teacher might think. As the reaction plays out, we may feel defeated in our endeavor, the mind is disturbed, we feel anxious, and we suffer. As this unfolds, we lose any opportunity to determine how we might proceed to deal with the mistake, itself.

The second way she called the “OOPS” response. We hear a mistake in our chanting and stop with “oops, what happened here?” Then we look more closely at the mistake to see how we might deal with it. Perhaps we need to break a phrase into syllables – small chunks – to practice and correct the error. Then we can rebuild the phrase by focusing on the syllable, adding another, chanting it several times, and adding another until we can chant the entire line correctly.

What we do not do with the “OOPS” response is trigger a crisis in our bodies and minds. Instead, our minds remain clear so we can move forward rather than staying stuck.

By now you can probably see how this model can help us in our everyday lives. We free ourselves from having to anxiously try to make every endeavor “perfect,” which, of course, we never can do. Nor do we have to pillory ourselves for every mistake. Instead, we can determine calmly the best action to take.

Chapter II of the Yoga Sutra gives us the eight limbs of yoga as a path to “discernment and clear perception.” The first limb or yama prescribes five principles to guide our relationships. The first principle is ahimsa, which is considered the most important. Ahimsa is the practice of “nonhurtfulness toward others and ourselves,” according to Nicolai Bachman in The Path of the Yoga Sutras. He goes on to say, “A nonjudgmental and forgiving attitude is essential to practicing ahimsa.”

I ask you to reflect: if you wish to make ahimsa a principle you practice, how are you going to respond to your mistakes – “OMG” or “OOPS?”

Frequently Asked Questions:
What Does “om” Mean?

What is "Om" blog image

This question comes up repeatedly in classes, especially when “om” is part of a mantra being chanted. Many people associate “om” with Hinduism, which can be disturbing to non-Hindus who are asked to chant “om” in a yoga class.

But there is not one simple translation for “om” or any of the other mantras in the Sanskrit language. Sanskrit, itself, has deeply ancient origins and may be the oldest language in the world. Unlike English, in which the communication of meaning is paramount, Sanskrit gives sound the highest priority. Sound carries the meaning, and meaning is in the sound. Each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet has its own energetic quality.

But what exactly is a “mantra”, you might ask. David Frawley explains in Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound, “Mantra in Sanskrit means tool ‘tra’ of the mind ‘manas.’ It is the primary tool of Yoga for calming the mind…”

Mantra has the deeper meaning of “that which protects or supports.” Often a teacher gives a student a “mantra” to help support him or her. The mantra unfolds itself to the student as it touches all parts of his or her system.

“Om” has a place in Indian mythology. As the story goes, the universe resounded with the sound and vibration of “om” at the moment of creation. Often people recognize a power in the vibrational quality of the sound as they chant it. Many experience a quieting of the mind and a calming energy when chanting “om.”

The mantra “om” comes from the sounds of “a+u+m+silence.” When chanted, the “au” or “o” has three counts, the “m” has one-half count, and then momentary silence. “Om” represents everything in creation; the silence after “om” represents that which is beyond words. Other meanings are attributed to the mantra as well. For example, “a” can represent the teacher; “u” the student; “m” their relationship. The letter “a” can stand for creation; “u” for that which sustains; “m” for dissolution. The mantra can represent the states of consciousness: “a” representing waking; “u” representing dreaming; “m,” deep sleep.

“Om” also represents a higher force. It can be the highest within you, a heart quality, love. It is a force above or beyond the mind. And, yes, when Hindus chant “Om,” it represents God.

“Om” has a mystery to it, even when we hear it without chanting ourselves. This mystery comes from the power of the vibration and sound, which is able to touch us deeply. The effect can be profound and even healing. But, let me be clear: there is no requirement in yoga to chant “om” or anything else. It is another modality to explore and to see from that exploration what might be discovered.

Prana and the Snow Drop

Prana and the Snow Drop
Stabilizing and refining prana, our life force, is the centerpiece of yoga practice.

…Nicolai Bachman in The Path of the Yoga Sutras

Prana is nothing less than life itself. The steady of flow of prana is necessary to support our physical, mental and emotional health. In the course of life, blocks or obstacles may develop in our system, inhibiting the movement of prana. When that happens dis-ease and illness set in. As we approach the end of life prana becomes diminished until it can no longer support life. With the last breath, prana leaves the body.

As critical as prana is to our health and our life, what can we do to support it?

The eight limbs of yoga support prana, but the tool of yoga most connected with maintaining the flow of prana is pranayama, which means “extending life force energy” or prana. When we practice pranayama we use techniques to develop a smooth, steady breath. Because the breath and mind so intimately affect one another, the smooth steady breath calms the mind, and so the body. Pranayama has the potential to remove blocks and obstacles in our system, supporting our overall well-being.

Sometimes an image comes to me that I feel compelled to share with my yoga class because it illustrates a teaching of yoga. Last week the image was a snow drop. They are small, modest, white flowers on delicate green stalks. But they can bring joy far outsized to their height and beauty as they are usually the first flowers to appear in late winter. This year, with the snow covering much of the ground, snow drops have remained hidden.

But what can a snow drop teach us about prana?

In class we began by visualizing a snow drop as the breath deepened. We stood and began to move on inhale lifting the arms and heels, and lowering them on exhale. We paused, coming back to the image of the snow drop, visualizing the first tiny shoot emerging from the bulb beneath the earth, its life force energy pushing it upward. We moved into a posture we call “triangle twist,” connecting with the shoot’s flexibility to push around obstacles and our own spine’s need for flexibility.

In honor of the life force of the snow drop and our own, we chanted a little Sanskrit chant acknowledging prana’s power and our reverence. In meditation we visualized the snow drop, its life force energy supporting its growth and blossoming.

Each day now as the snow melts, I look in my garden just outside the backdoor for the snow drops. Waiting, I think of its life force – its prana – pushing it upward through the cold earth to emerge into the light and blossom. Grateful for the life force that supports the snow drop, that sustains me and all beings, I am nourished.

You can hear the chant we used in class, honoring prana, by clicking the arrow below.


Here Comes the Sun

Horizon imageVisualization can be a powerful tool of yoga, especially when the visualization focuses on an object in nature. One of the most revered objects of visualization and meditation in yoga is the sun.

It is no wonder. The sun is the source of life. All that grows is sunlight transformed. The sun warms the earth, the air, the water and provides light. The light of the sun in yoga is also associated with the qualities of clarity, healing, protection, courage, and health. When we link to the light of the sun in our practice, we may grow in that quality we desire in our life.

If a student comes to a yoga teacher needing more clarity on her life path, the teacher might suggest a practice that incorporates both a visualization and a mantra or chant focusing on sunlight. The practice then would incorporate “sight,” and sound, all with the intention of linking to the clarity the light of the sun brings.

Mantra, like visualization, is another powerful tool of yoga. The translation for mantra is “that which protects.” A mantra focusing on sunlight can help the student move toward clarity not only because of the word or words, but also because of the vibrational quality of the letters of Sanskrit. It is believed the Sanskrit language has the ability to touch and affect our entire system.

The bija mantra or seed sounds of the sun is a powerful mantra connected to the sun. The bija mantra is a relatively simple series of seven syllables in Sanskrit that denote the colors of the light of the sun: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

It is even possible to use the bija mantra with the sun salutation or other postures, which can intensify their effect. You can imagine how the layers of movement, sound, and visualization can focus the mind, and, if practiced over time with consistency, could help bring greater clarity to the student.

I know because I have worked with such practices myself and found they helped me to achieve greater clarity, courage, and healing.

Bija mantra:
Bija Mantra
You can hear the bija mantra by clicking below:

Discovery Yoga and Yoga 4 Wise Women often include visualization and chant. If you would like to explore these tools check the class calendar or contact me to schedule a private session.


Vedic Chant: Sound, Beauty, Healing

Vedic ChantsIf you attended my yoga classes, you probably have had the experience of chanting a word or words in Sanskrit. The words I would have chosen for us to chant would have supported the focus for the class. For example, if we were focusing on the concept of “peace,” we would chant the Sanskrit word for peace, “shanti,” and allow that sound to help create a sense of peace in our bodies, our breath, our minds, and our hearts.

Because of my love of chanting and my desire to learn more, I spent ten days in May, 2013 in the 2nd module of a two year training in Santa Fe, New Mexico, focusing on Vedic Chant. The word “Vedic” comes from the noun “Veda,” meaning “knowledge” in the Sanskrit language. The Vedas, which are about 4,000 to 5,000 years old, are a collection of chants, poems, rituals, hymns, and mantras in Sanskrit passed generation to generation through chanting. What we chant from the Vedas is Vedic Chant, learned with attention to rhythm, meter, and pronunciation. The chants are pleasant to hear and chant. The sound of the chants has the potential to influence our entire system. Many of the chants are about Nature, health, and healing and can help bring about positive change for us.

Press to hear an example of a vedic chant.

In our ten days of Vedic Chant training, we chant a lot in small and large groups, receiving instruction and feedback from chanting teachers. We also study the Sanskrit language and the context and meaning of chants. When we finish the ten days, we chant and study on our own, seeking others who might also study Vedic Chant or requesting help from a teacher, often via Skype or phone.

I can’t tell you how many times I am asked why I am studying Vedic Chant or what I want to do with it. The answer to the first question is that I love the sound of the chants. I love the focus on Nature. I love that I am part of a group seeking to assure that Vedic Chant will continue to be passed on. I know the sound of the chants are special: they move energy; they support health; they heal.

The answer to the second question is that I hope to create a community of people who want to learn, experience, enjoy, and benefit from Vedic Chant. As I complete my training next year, I look forward to sharing my love of chant with you.