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Go Bhakti Basics: How to Incorporate Chanting Into Your Yoga Practice

September 25, 2015

yoga, clothing, chanting, shirts

By Barbie Levasseur

Chanting has been an integral part of the practice of yoga since the tradition began many hundreds of years ago. This practice is a key component of Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion. So much of the kirtan and mantra chants presented in some yoga classes call upon Hindu deities. These chants are inspiring and evocative for those they resonate with, but they may exclude yogis committed to different religions or to non-religion. In the spirit of inclusion, here are five traditional chants that don’t refer to specific deities:

  1. Om shanti shanti shanti

This basic sanskrit mantra simply means “peace,” a uniting ideal that aligns with most philosophies, ideologies, and religious beliefs. It may be chanted as a personal or global intention at the beginning, middle, or end of a yoga class.

  1. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

Even the most physically-oriented yogis can connect to this chant. It translates to “may all beings be happy and free.” It is a powerful chant to perform at the end of practice when yogis may wish their clear, balanced, blissed-out state upon other beings. They may follow up by setting a concrete intention to go out into the world and share the energy they cultivated in class.

  1. Om mani padme hum

One of the many interpretations of this chant is “the jewel is in the lotus,” which represents a yogi’s path to enlightenment. Much as one could peel back the hundreds of petals of a lotus flower to reach its center, as we peel away the ephemeral layers of our identity (e.g. job titles, gender stereotypes, special skills, etc.), we discover the jewel within: our true self that has no identity. We realize that superficial traits aside, all beings are not only interconnected, we are the same. We are one.

  1. Lam vam ram yam ham om

While these seed sounds represent ethereal chakras, which may alienate some yogis, most can get on board to chanting these mantras as a commitment to cultivating the traits each chakra represents. Here’s a summary:

  1. Lam : Survival (root chakra)
  2. Vam : Pleasure (sacral chakra)
  3. Ram : Self-Esteem (solar plexus chakra)
  4. Yam : Love (heart chakra)
  5. Ham : Communication (throat chakra)
  6. Om : Wisdom and intuition (third eye chakra)
  7. Silence : Enlightenment (crown chakra)

All six seed sounds may be chanted in sequence, or each may be chanted repeatedly in its own right. If you really want to get into the vibrations, MC Yogi does a great beatbox with all these sounds!

  1. Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya

Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya

Mrityor-Maa Amritam Gamaya

Appropriate for yogis who can handle some more intricate sanskrit, this intention-directing practice-opener may be interpreted as follows:

Lead me from untruth to truth

Lead me from darkness to light

Lead me from the fear of death to the knowledge of immortality

There is an implied deity here, but unlike many other chants, this one may be directed to a yogi’s deity of choice. Non-religious yogis may direct this chant to The Universe or even to their own intuition. Even the spiritual concept immortality may accessible to matter-of-fact yogis who consider the legacy they leave behind as a form of existence beyond death.

Try some of these chants out in your next practice. They serve as a powerful way to bring clarity, focus and attention to the present moment.

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