Your Home Chanting Practice: How To

April 30, 2014

In my last post I explained some of the wellness benefits of chant as a personal and group practice. Today, I’m following up with some suggestions for How To begin your own chant practice and incorporate it into daily living.

To recap why this might be a good idea: chant is one of the most powerful practices available to us for bringing the whole brain and body online, accessing our innate creativity, and falling into a meditative state of calm alertness.

As you begin to explore chant, you will almost inevitably come across the term mantra.

Mantras are common lyrics, or words, paired with the simple melodies of chants.  Often, they are a syllable, word or phrase used as a focus of intention and believed to embody certain positive states of being.

Many mantras are expressed in languages like ancient Sanskrit, Hebrew, Gurmukhi, or languages of the First Nations peoples of the world. For some, the unfamiliar language is a deterrent for incorporating chant into their asana or meditation practice. However, the wonderful thing about mantra is that we don’t necessarily have to know what the words mean for them to have an effect.

In her article, ‘My Journey with the Gayatri Mantra,’ world-renowned chant artist Deva Premal notes, “. . . the meaning of the [Sanskrit] words isn’t as important as the effect the vibrations of the words have on the body and energy centers.”

Chanting is ultimately a body-centered practice, and with breath as the hearthstone.  The meanings of words—while interesting –is secondary.

The other myth about chanting mantra is that you need to be a ‘good singer.’ You don’t.  One note—whatever note you pick today—is all it takes in many cases. The classic Sanskrit mantra Om, or the seed sounds series Lam,Vam, Ram,Yam, Hum, Om, So-Hum are examples of powerful healing mantras that can be chanted on a single pitch, chosen by you to match your own unique voice.

Ideas to Get You Started in a Personal Practice

Chanting is surprisingly easy to incorporate into your lifestyle and will become like a road map that guides you to specific, nourishing states of being, whatever situation you find yourself in. Each new chant or mantra you open to will only deepen and expand over time.  Here are some suggestions for getting started and keeping it going:

The Chant.  Listen deeply and gently to a few chants and choose one that resonates with you.  There are many resources available but here are some simple ideas:

Om is an example of a simple yet profound mantric sound.   Imagine the sound emerging out of your ‘third eye’ (the space between your eyebrows).

-Or, try ‘toning’ simple vowel sounds such as ‘AHHHH’ and ‘OHHHH.’ These can have powerful effects on the body through the harmonics they create.

-Humming “MMMM” or exaggerating that sound at the end of mantra words like Om can clear sinuses, support your immune system, and increase the production of nitric oxide.

-You can also sing along to your favorite mantra from a CD.

Pronunciation. Some chant artists or chant resources will provide words and pronunciation. You can also look up correct pronunciations on Google or YouTube.  Do your best to sound mantras correctly, yet don’t get caught up in being ‘perfect.’  Correct sounds will come with practice.  Focus on your intention.

The Tune.  Don’t worry about copying a tune exactly. This is a wellness practice, not American Idol, so there are no wrong notes! Give it your best and remember that your ability to hear and produce the pitch will develop with regular practice.

Rhythm. Chant or sing in a steady, fixed rhythm to maximize benefits.

Repetition.  Repeat the mantra in your morning or evening practice, and then also practice integrating it into the mundane tasks of life: repeat the mantra silently in the grocery line, while gardening or doing a repetitive task, or quietly to yourself at work or in your car.

Noticing.  Notice when you feel called to a specific chant, and then what impact it has on your state of being.  It may challenge, frustrate, enliven or surprise you.  Be open.

Silence.  Listen for, and cultivate, the spaces “in-between” the chants, when sound ceases and silence remains.

Group Practice. Kick-start or advance your practice by attending a local chanting group, kirtan event or a yoga class that includes chant along with asana practice (e.g. Kundalini Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, Community Singing Circles). The group resonance can amplify your sounding to a whole new layer of experience.

In my one-to-one voice work at Compassionate Community Voice, I utilize chant as a teaching practice and an “un-technical” way to support good technique.  You can find more info on one-to-one work here.

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