“When you sing, you pray twice.” Saint Augustine
As yoga has grown and spread throughout the West, chanting the sacred Sanskrit words has spread right along with it. For many the uncertainty of the strange words and meaning of those words can cause one to hesitate before opening wide and letting the sound vibrations escape the mouth; for others it can be shyness to sing in the presence of other people. Chanting or singing your prayers, has been a vital part of worship in every religion world wide and it is done to soothe and quiet the mind, awaken spiritual energy and to heal the body.
The beauty of chanting is that there is not just one way, or one rhythm, but a broad spectrum of rhythmic patterns combining the sounds of the human voice with traditional instruments of a particular culture. The range of rhythms are as diverse as the chants of a Catholic mass to the tribal drums of the Native American Indians, the deep drone of Buddhist monks or the keening wail of women mourning the dead. Opening the mouth to chant allows us to open our heart and speak to Spirit in worship, in prayer or as a form of meditation.
Whether you are chanting in an ashram, yoga class, church, temple or mosque, you are affecting your body-mind by the sound vibrations that resonate throughout your body. According to research done by Alfred Tomatis of the French Academy of Science and Medicine chanting has a therapeutic effect on the individual by activating the body’s natural healing process. He recommends chanting as an aid for overcoming addictions such as smoking, drugs and alcohol.
Other research conducted by Dr. Alan Watkins of the Imperial College London, reveals that while chanting the heart rate slows and blood pressure lowers; and while just listening to other voices chanting the adrenalin and cholesterol levels in the body begin to normalize.
Living in a stress filled world many people are conditioned to seek release in mind altering substances or activities when the simple act of chanting can calm the nervous system relieving stress in the body-mind and replacing them with feelings of well-being and often times pure bliss.
A simple and effective way to begin your practice is to chant the sound of Om. Often times a yoga class may begin or end with this chant, believed to be the primordial vibration from which the universe came into being. According to one of the earliest sacred yoga texts, the Yajur-Veda, Om represents all of our past, present and future; and chanting this sacred sound brings calm and quiet to the mind allowing one to enter the deep silence that represents pure consciousness.
To begin sit comfortably on a chair or cushion with straight back and hands resting on your thighs or knees. Close your eyes and listen to the rhythm of your breath. This allows you a moment to internalize your awareness and begin the act of listening while becoming sensitive to vibrations. The sound of OM has four syllables and is heard as AUM, or when chanted it appears more like AAUUUMMMM.
The A is spoken as an “awe” sound; the U is drawn out into a long “oooo” and ends with the lips coming together in a prolonged hum of “mmmmm”. When you hold the final M, stay present and you will feel the vibration move up through the crown of your head. It is important to take a few seconds between each chant to sit in the silence that follows, thus connecting you to the pure intelligence that arises from the merging of sound into silence.
In time your Aum’s will lengthen as your breath capacity increases and the silences may grow longer, as you find the silence encourages a deeper meditation. The sound itself will guide you, but you must practice, alone or with a group of people; daily or several times a day; for it is in the doing that we benefit fully from the experience.
The Healing Power of Sound