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Yoga Monday - The Yoga of Chant

The Sanskrit Symbol for Om
I spent the weekend immersed in a powerful yoga practice. To a casual observer, it may not have looked like we were doing yoga. I would guess that it looked more like a rock concert than a yoga class -- lots of music and musicians, lots of singing and clapping and dancing, and lots and lots of joy. We were, in fact, singing and dancing, but we were also doing yoga - bhakti yoga, to be precise.

Bhakti is the yoga of devotion and although there are several types of bhakti practices, all focused on expressing devotion, the one we practiced this weekend is chanting.

A typical bhakti chant will feature the name of one or another of the many names of the divine, repeated over and over, as a mantra. The chanting can be done to music, with melodies and rhythms and with the help of musical instruments. This is what leads to the rock concert atmosphere.

The difference is, that while it might look like a concert, it feels like yoga - because it is yoga. The repetition of the holy names is thought to open energy channels in the body the same way asana practice clears blocks to the flow of energy. Chanting can clear these blocks too, and often in a much more powerful, and speedier, fashion than practicing yoga poses.

Many students of yoga will be familiar with chanting, since it is a very common practice to chant the single syllable Om either at the beginning or end of class. Ironically, although the chanting of Om is one of the oldest and most widely practiced techniques of yoga, it is often never really explained, particularly to beginning yoga students.

So, why do we do this? Why do we chant this single syllable at the beginning and end of our yoga practice? There are many ways to answer this question, but I like to look at it as a small amount of bhakti practice inserted into every yoga class. In bhakti practice, we chant the divine names to increase our awareness and understanding of that particular aspect of the divine, especially as that particular aspect of divinity is manifested in our own bodies. We chant Om for the same reason - to bring this symbol of the perfection of ultimate reality into our hearts and minds, so we are fully conscious of it.

Although Om is a very simple mantra, just a single syllable, it holds within it the entire universe. The yoga sutras explain that we chant Om repeatedly because this leads us to the contemplation of the meaning of Isvara, the ultimate reality, pure perfection. This, in fact, is our true nature, so by chanting its name, we raise our consciousness of this fact.

One way to think of Om is as the original primordial sound, the single sound which brought forth everything that is, the entire Universe. When we chant Om it is a way to remind ourselves of our true nature, but it is also a way to increase the likelihood that we will remember this important fact: we are that sound which brought everything that is into existence - even after we walk out of our yoga class and into our everyday life.

It's very likely that we will forget this essential fact as soon as we roll up our mat. And that is why we chant it again, and again, and again. Om Om Om



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