Sunday, August 17, 2008
Reader Query: Chanting
Dear Om Gal,
I am interested in learning the Sanskrit chants I often hear my teachers recite in class. Do you know of a resource, such as a CD, that would chant the words and provide the translation? I would really appreciate any suggestions.
Admittedly, my chanting acumen is limited, relegated mostly to om-ing before and after asana practice and cheering at Red Sox games. So, when your inquiry came into the email@example.com account not too long ago, I needed to do a little research before answering you in an effective and honest capacity. Faking it isn’t my forte, so I set out and culled my available yogi resources to make a few informed recommendations.
First, I attempted to incorporate more chanting into my own daily routine. At home, I began bellowing at the TV in a fervently spiritual manner, but instead of singing “om namah shivaya,” I’d say “ommmMichael Phelps-yee-haaa!” Okay, maybe not.
However, I did delve into my slightly overstuffed closet (how many pairs of Crocs does one gal need!) in search of my favorite CDs by kirtan king Krishna Das. It's been a while since I've listened to them- what, with all that gangster rap on my iPod and all- but for any om guy or gal, CDs from "KD's" prolific collection are great resources to have on hand. I have often integrated certain songs into yoga classes and workshops or my own home practice. With contemporary and catchy beats (he does a duet with Sting on Pilgrim Heart), even the most hesitant chanters will easily find themselves belting out the accessible choruses of these devotional hymns with a Western influence.
For a more traditional perspective, I attended a workshop with Patricia Walden on pranayama, preceded by a chanting session with Leslie Freyberg, who received her extensive training through the American Sanskrit Institute. Leslie, along with the assistance of Patricia’s staff, including Jarvis Chen, led students through a series of chants. In addition to the conventional call-and-response method of teaching, I enjoyed Leslie’s translation and interpretation of each verse that we learned. From my experience of her teaching, in person, I imagine that her CD, Learning with Leslie (available on her website), is just the type of resource you seek. When and if you decide to take your Sanskrit to the next level, she also teaches immersion courses throughout the year, wherein a weekend-long workshop breaks down the Sanskrit alphabet, pronunciation, and eventually words, verses, and their meanings.
Finally, you mentioned that your current yoga teachers often chant before or after the asana practice. Perhaps you could request a printout of one of your favorite verses so that you can practice at home or inquire about any local kirtan groups that practice together (maybe you could join them)? My students often request copies of certain readings or quotes that I incorporate into class, and I am always happy to oblige. Teachers enjoy knowing that a student is actively committed to his/her spiritual path.
Above all, remember that your good intentions (which it’s clear you have!) far exceed the importance of perfect pronunciation or pitch. A verse that resonated deeply with me at the session last week was Ksama Prarthana, which translates to mean:
I dedicate everything to the Supreme Lord.
Whatever I perform with my body, speech, mind, limbs, intellect
Or my inner self- either intentionally or unintentionally.
In other words, even when we botch the pronunciation of a mantra or feel unfocused and distracted during a yoga practice, our good intentions maintain their significance. The Lord, the universe- whatever higher power you subscribe to- is accessed through your efforts. The sacred place within each of us doesn’t discriminate. It’s always available to enhance our yoga and our lives.
Good luck. Happy chanting!