Why Do We Chant in Yoga Class?
Chanting is a part of the traditional ashtanga or eight limbs of yoga. It falls under svadhyaya which means self-study and reflection. I will be completely honest with you here when I say that when I began practicing yoga I wasn’t comfortable with the chanting. I didn’t understand what it was all about and I thought it was all a bunch of spiritual mumbo jumbo. I just wanted to do the poses and try to breathe. It kind of makes sense because asana (the poses), and pranayama (the breathing) are also part of the eight limbs of yoga and they prepare the body and mind for deeper states of consciousness and meditation. Chanting was a little too advanced spiritually for me in the beginning.
Luckily, I found my way to India in 1991 and met my teacher Sri K Pattabhi Jois. He began every practice every day with a chant to Patanjali. He also gave these great Saturday afternoon darshan talks and in those he would teach us about the limbs of yoga and the importance of Sanskrit. When you chant in yoga class you are always doing it in Sanskrit which is the original language of yoga. As my studies deepened I learned that Sanskrit is a language of internal response and that it is also a vibratory language. It creates a certain high vibration when spoken or chanted. That vibration not only resonates within your body but it also projects that high vibe out into the world.
Chanting as Pranayama
Chanting is a form of Pranayama as well because each line is chanted on an exhale. It is also a form of internal medicine in that it is a very healing practice. Chanting in yoga class is a way for us to tap into the deeper parts of our being and to connect with spirit and connect with God. As yogis we believe that all people are rooted in the divine and that chanting is a way to connect with that divinity. When we chant AUM in yoga class we are clearing the energy both within and without and we are called on the sacred as we begin our practice.
The Power of Chanting
When I chant at the beginning of class I always begin by chanting AUM together 3 Times. Then I share the Shanti Pat Mantra which is a prayer for peace. Sometimes we chant some yoga sutras which are little nuggets of yoga philosophy. The ancient language of Sanskrit chanted together is a powerful way to connect the class and center ourselves. Now I cannot imagine yoga without chanting. It has become an integral part of both my practice and my teaching. I love chanting!!!