“Bhakti Yoga isn’t something you join, it’s love. It means falling in love. It is about channeling an emotional experience into a love affair with life itself.”
1. How and when did you first ‘discover’ Bhakti Yoga and chanting?
Well it started with a strong feeling or a ‘calling’ to go to India. I had been teaching a slower style of Mindful Yoga in my own business for about a year when I started to become curious about chanting. It came from a place of wanting to experience chanting in a culture where it is celebrated and not feared or shyed away from. So I enrolled myself into a 50 hour Bhakti Yoga Teacher Training. ‘Bhakti’ in Sanskrit translates to ‘Love and Devotion’ which is basically practicing a spiritual connection through cultural traditional rituals and everything to do with devoting yourself to having an experience with ‘oneness’. I guess as my own practice developed I desired to deepen the connection with myself and learn the skills to be able to share it with my clients. I also have a chronic pain condition and read that it has therapeutic benefits which are healing for persistent pain both physically and emotionally.
2. What drew you to it initially, and what made you want to become a teacher?
I wanted to become a yoga teacher because I hate seeing people suffer. Especially women who are trying their hardest to work, raise a family and give their energy to so many other things except themselves. I developed a chronic pain condition from pushing myself too hard so ended up changing careers as a result. Yin Yoga was the only thing that truly took my pain away. So it became my focus and passion to serve others. I really wanted to create a space where the community could come and feel safe and relaxed. It was important that my message of slowing down was communicated to anyone who came to class. I hope to share what I have learnt through my own ‘health crisis’ so I can hopefully support others in their journey.
3. What did your teacher training involve?
The teacher training was a 50 hour course spaced over five days in Rishikesh. We started each day at 7am with a one hour meditation down at the banks of the Ganga river. This was followed by hot chai and breakfast before the formal day started at 9am. We would chant for an hour on arrival. Usually a set of eight different chants all in Sanskrit. Our two teachers would lead them while playing their harmoniums. This was then followed by a yoga class and an afternoon somewhere offsite including more chanting and story telling about the Hindu deities or Gods which the chants are versed around. At 5pm we would attend the traditional Arttea ceremony at the local Ashram. This is a fire ceremony of chanting led by the locals which would be followed by Satasang. Satsang is a talk you attend sitting at the feet of a guru or enlightened person who may give a short speech and answers questions around a particular theme of the day. Overall, it was an incredibly rich experience. I want to go back!
4. In layman’s terms, how does chanting therapy work? What might a typical session involve?
Music has the capacity to heal, to take us on a journey inwards, and to vibrate energetically in our tissues. Chanting works through vibration of the subtle energy body. Similar to singing except the words are repeated over and over and have a meditative element to them.
A typical session usually involves a teacher leading the chant. Most are in sanskrit language which actually can make it easier to focus on just the sounds than the actual meaning of the words. An example may be as simple as chanting ‘Om’ before and after a yoga class or something like ‘Lokah samasta sukhino bhavanthu’ which translates to May this world be established with a sense of well-being and happiness.
The teacher will usually instruct a ‘call and response’ where they will sing a line and then you will repeat it. The teacher may use a harmonium or musicical instrument to support the sound. After a few rounds everyone starts to chant together.
5. What types of issues can chanting be useful in addressing? Can it be of help with physical problems, or is it most beneficial for emotional issues?
Chanting can help to heal a range of conditions both physical and psychological. Particularly chronic pain which is very much a mind body issue. There has been a lot of research into sound therapy and in particular vibrational healing. Personally, I found it very helpful with improving pain and overall mood. It’s very uplifting in a group and is an experience from the soul rather than the head.
6. Is chanting suitable for everyone, or are there specific groups or types of people who will get the greatest benefit? Is there anyone you would NOT recommend try the technique?
No, I think anyone can chant anywhere from kids to 100 years. As long as you have a voice and some breath.
7. What do you feel are the main benefits of chanting?
You will feel a greater spiritual connection with yourself. This is fulfilling as we tend to focus alot on the physical body’s health as a culture.
8. In your experience, are there any drawbacks or side effects of the technique?
Not that I can think of.
9. Please tell me a little about one of your most memorable experiences chanting
A memorable moment was when we chanted at the Maharishi Ashram in Rishikesh where the Beatles lived for some time. We sat in a circle on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Himalayas and the Ganga river in the sunshine. Probably in the same spot they wrote songs when John Lennon and George Harrison took some time out on their spiritual journey. It was stunning!
10. Finally, what advice would you give someone else considering trying chanting for the first time?
Don’t worry if you think you can’t sing or are self conscious about your voice. Close your eyes and shut out the external world. We had a saying that we would belt it out ‘strong and wrong’. It’s not about how it sounds but how it feels inside. Super amazing!