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Everything You Need to Know About Chanting and Kirtan

Danielle Phillips
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Have you been to a yoga class where the yoga instructor offered chanting? Were you a little uncomfortable because you didn’t know what exactly was going on?
 
Chanting became a popular practice in Europe and the United States in the 1960’s mainly due to the Beatles. Chanting and kirtan have become more common recently in yoga festivals and yoga classes in the U.S. This beautiful practice adds a deeper spiritual connection for the practitioner during yoga, meditation or daily life.
 

What is chanting?

Chanting originated in ancient Indian culture and has been described as a spiritual practice that includes a rhythmic repetition of a song, prayer, word or sound to unite the practitioner with the divine.
 
Chanting may sound similar to repeating a mantra, but chanting your mantra brings a song-like, vibratory energy that can further connect your body and mind. The vibrations created from chanting also stimulate various chakras in the body.
 
For more information about the impact of sound, check out How Sound Impacts Our Yoga Practice + State of Being.
 

What is OM and why do we chant it?

OM or AUM is from the Sanskrit language which originated in India. OM has symbolic ties to the sound of creation, the manifestation of the divine and the connection of soul to the body. It is often referred to as the universal vibration that connects us all. OM can be sung, chanted or used similar to a mantra.
 

OM is a universal vibration that connects us all

 
Many yoga instructors begin and/or end their class with the chanting of OM. Chanting before class invites a spiritual connection to the body, and you can feel the physical connection as well. For example, you may notice a strong vibration from your root chakra to your crown chakra during and after chanting OM. This allows you to physically feel the benefits of sound vibration. Chanting OM at the end of your yoga practice helps to seal your intention, as well as the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of your practice.
 
To learn more about OM and it’s meaning, check out OM: The Meaning Behind the Sacred Chant.
 

How chanting became popular in the U.S.

As we mentioned before, chanting first gained mainstream popularity in the U.S. from The Beatles. George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono became devoted practitioners of chanting and encouraged mantras and chanting throughout the Western world.
 
Harrison was a huge fan of japa (the recitation of a mantra) and often practiced this method during his yoga practice. Japa is said to connect the individual or the group with God. Songs like “Awaiting on You All” and “My Sweet Lord” are great examples of the influence chanting had on Harrison.
 
To learn more about The Beatles and their deeply spiritual relationship with chanting, we definitely recommend reading their book Chant and Be Happy.
 

Why should I practice chanting?

The use of chanting divinely symbolic words, Sanskrit or not, has a huge impact on your yoga practice and your life overall. Chanting incorporates a spiritual component that can heavily strengthen your yoga practice, and like a mantra, chanting can add intention to whatever you’re doing.
 
Chanting with a group of people can be life-changing experience. When you include a group chant to begin or complete your yoga practice (or meditation, etc), you unite the souls of those involved and set a spiritual intention for your yoga practice.
 
Chanting is extremely powerful and beneficial to your evolution as a yogi and as a spiritual being. Chanting can make way for connecting with your higher and divine self. It’s something we all should at least try – you may be surprised by your experience.
 

So how is Kirtan different?

Kirtan is a Sanskrit word meaning “praise.” Similar to chanting, kirtan repeats mantras in a rhythmic manner and seeks to tie the physical world with the spiritual world.
 
The difference between chanting and kirtan is music. Kirtan incorporates instruments and a call and response method between the vocalist and the attendees.
 
As George Harrison said, going to a temple or chanting with a group of other people makes the vibration that much stronger
 
Practicing kirtan with a large group is just as powerful as chanting, and the added sound vibration from the instruments makes this practice unforgettable. Kirtan unifies the group on a spiritual level and ties us all together to the divine within ourselves as individuals and as a collective, just like chanting.
 

As George Harrison said, going to a temple or chanting with a group of other people makes the vibration that much stronger

 

 

How can I begin a chanting and kirtan practice?

No need for a class – you can begin chanting now. Below are examples of frequently used Sanskrit mantras for chanting and kirtan. Recite, chant or sing these during your yoga practice, your meditation practice or even driving in your car:
 
Mantra: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
Meaning: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
 
Mantra: OM, shanti shanti, shanti
Meaning: OM, peace peace peace. Chanting OM, the universal vibration of creation, and following it with “shanti” creates a powerful vibration of peace.
 
Mantra: Hari OM
Meaning: Hari OM is a mantra used to remove hardship and suffering. “Hari” in Sanskrit is “the remover,” and when this word is chanted, it is believed to erase past karmic implications that result in suffering.
 
Mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare – Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
Meaning: This mantra is also known as the “Great Mantra” from the Upanishads and refers to the Supreme Being in three names (Hare, Krishna, and Rama). In the process of chanting this powerful mantra, one can spiritually and directly connect with God. George Harrison and John Lennon regularly chanted this mantra.
 
 
Chanting and kirtan have made their reemergence in popularity for one reason: they are extremely powerful. They add a strong component of spirituality to anything and everything you do. Chanting allows a yoga practice, a meditation session, or a moment of stillness to become a uniting power to the divine.
 

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Danielle Phillips

Danielle is a fun-loving California girl. She currently does legislative and marketing work for a Legislative Advocacy firm in downtown Sacramento. She enjoys yoga, meditation, cooking for the ones she loves, drinking wine and reading anything that provokes inner-reflection. Her new yoga ventures have taught her to live more mindfully, on and off the mat. Danielle has made it her mission to explore ways to keep a sense of zen and balance in a hectic life and wishes to share her lessons with those on the same journey.

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