I boldly offered my teacher some unsolicited thoughts recently about how to chant the mantra we’re working with in class at the moment. I should probably refrain from doing that, but it was interesting to receive a comment back about how the mantra changes with time, as he repeats the chant. I wonder how much chanting is part of his own practice? I’d somehow imagined it was an in-class only thing. But why would it be? Would he offer something in class that he hadn’t worked with himself?
I’m reassured to think maybe I’m not the only person in this small town who sits at home chanting these foreign words, these sound patterns passed down from a teacher, that I’m not the only person turning the syllables round during the day, feeling the vibrations, wondering at the meanings, exploring how to become one with the mantra, how to be absorbed into the meaning.
It’s strangely comforting. A nice antidote to Hubby’s constant (mostly amused) refrain that I’m a weirdo.
For some reason I’ve been chanting a lot recently, at home after āsana practice, as I walk to work or to yoga class, in the shower. I should be spending more time reciting Sanskrit verb lists and noun tables but they don’t get into my head so easily.
I’ve also spent some time chanting with a small group led by a teacher. Daunting to be in a room full of singers and musicians. I offer up my untrained voice, out-of-tune amidst their accomplished musicianship. It’s the same challenge as āsana practice in a room full of athletes, dancers and one-time gymnasts. I observe the beauty of what they have but I also learn to appreciate the sincerity of what I offer. That too is beautiful. If I can move within, carried along by the breath and the rhythms, I am transported, and everything else fades away.
By the end of an afternoon of chanting together my heart is full of peace and joy, the technicalities of chord sequences and harmonics no longer relevant. I am in that place where the universe offers its own harmony and somehow I too am part of that. I feel so small, insignificant, not worthy, but my heart is expansive.
I am starting to sense how āsana and mantra exist along a continuum of practice, how the ebb and flow of vocalised notes is akin to a vinyasa, the vibrational sounds like the echoes in the body after flowing movement. Each practice fills me up and empties me out over and over again. Guru brahma, guru vishnu… Cycles of generation and release, a rhythm that builds to a crescendo verging on performance with generous volume or strong, expansive postures, and finally ebbs away with softer, lingering notes or longer holds in centripetal postures.
I used to get very irritated by yogis talking about the almost magical quality of the Sanskrit language and the potency of the healing vibrations (all the while liberally espousing that technically correct pronunciation wasn’t important!). This is a far cry from my irregular verbs. But what then is it that I experience in chanting mantras?
Perhaps my Sanskrit classes and formal grammar learning are to chanting what my bunny-hopping on blocks is to my āsana practice — essential building blocks, a dissection of basic elements, which sometimes coalesces into something just on the right frequency, something that connects and shakes everything gently into just the right alignment.