November 3, 2013

Sacred Sound: Application (Part 3). ~ Laura Vanderberg

Change is inevitable.

The world and everything in it is continuously evolving.

We learn through yoga philosophy that the only thing we actually control is our attitude. If our attitude and intention is to adopt one or more sacred sound approaches to access the Divine inside, then wonderful and miraculous things can happen. We can live our lives more fully and more peacefully by making mantra japa, kirtan, vedic chanting or hymnal singing a part of svadyaya (self-study) and abhyasa (practice).

The easiest way to begin a sacred sound practice is to listen. Find a quiet time to listen to each of the example approaches here:

Does any one (or more) of these appeal to you? If so, you now have a place to begin.

Sacred sound can be obtained from almost any source of digital media; you can try out any one of an amazing array of voices in these different traditions and select one(s) that most appeal. The key to gaining benefit from any sacred sound approach is in repetition. So pick one and work with it for at least six weeks.

With mantra japa and Vedic chanting, you can simply incorporate quiet listening time into your existing spiritual practice, or it can become the basis of a new practice. Five minutes is a great place to start, and we can usually find that much time somewhere in our day. Kirtan and bhujans, which can be much more ebullient, may evoke movement along with chanting, so you might consider when and how you’ll listen to them.

Many of us are a little shy about beginning to chant ourselves. I was that kid in second grade, whose teacher said, “Honey don’t sing. Just mouth the words.” That one little incident affected me profoundly!

Chanting (which is not singing) has been a way for me to find my voice and bring about profound change in my life. It is a part of my daily practice.

In my years of teaching yoga, and introducing chanting, I’ve found that beginning to chant can be a daunting experience for those who haven’t done much sounding. So I’ll offer an approach and some pointers about how to grow your practice.

To begin, find a comfortable seated position in a chair: rest hands on knees, spine long. We chant only on exhales. As we exhale, round the spine, tucking the chin inward and at the same time, say hummmmmmm… Inhale and uncurl, coming back to upright seated and repeat. Maybe you’ll start with a whisper, but let yourself get louder. The more we do this, the more comfortable we become hearing ourselves. In time, we don’t have to curl inward as we chant. Just let the “hummmmm” come out on the exhale as you sit.

From there, we can begin vocalizing any time and, well, almost anywhere, but it’s often easiest to do when we’re alone. I like to chant when I’m hiking with my dogs; letting my voice grow while I’m out in the mountains of New Mexico just feels right.

Another way I incorporate chanting into my daily practice is to chant while I practice yoga asana. For people who already have an established home yoga practice, bringing in chant increases the complexity of the practice. It requires that much more attention is paid to what one is doing. Not convinced? Try one round of a sun salutation (whichever version you do) with a simple chant like “om surya namah” on the exhale. See what happens.

Once sounding becomes comfortable, you can begin to shift what you chant. I’m a fan of chanting “lam”, a simple bija mantra. It corresponds to the root chakra and is associated with grounding and stability. You can say it once on each exhale, or repeat it several times during a single exhale. You can do this as a seated practice or you can incorporate it with movement such as I’ve described with yoga asana.

All of the chakras have bija mantras associated with them, and, with repetition, they can facilitate balancing of the entire system. Repetition of one particular bija mantra is most helpful if you know you need to balance one certain chakra.

Sacred sound can have many benefits, including an increased sense of peacefulness, opening up to opportunity, increasing creativity, energizing the body/mind and so on.

Specific chants can affect these varied objectives. I recommend you connect with a qualified teacher or yoga therapist to begin incorporating mantra in a way that manifests a specific need.

If you want to keep it simple, you can look online for assistance with pronunciation of many different mantras. You can also find local or online classes for additional instruction or attend a festival or kirtan, which may be offered through yoga studios or wellness centers in your town.

I started this series with the hypothesis that one’s intention and belief are more powerful than the actual means by which one chooses to access the Divine inside. I hope that I’ve convinced you and I encourage you to explore your own path and perhaps experience sound as a means to that end.

(Read part one here and part two here.)

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Assist Ed: Renee Picard/Ed: Sara Crolick



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Laura Vanderberg