Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 4.08.07 PMFive years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  On the eve of my surgery, the owner of the Vinyasa yoga studio where I had recently begun practicing, arrived on my doorstep.

“I want to share something with you,” she said, taking my hand. She then showed me how to press my thumbs to my index fingers, middle fingers, ring fingers, and pinkie fingers, repeating the words, “Sa, Ta, Na, Ma.”

She didn’t tell me what the words meant. She just advised, “Do this when you are afraid, and it will help calm you.”

In the following weeks and months, I used  “Sa, Ta, Na, Ma” on numerous occasions. I used the words before my surgery. I used them often while awaiting radiation, on an examining table, with my arm twisted above my head in a “mold”–an immobilization device–unable to wiggle even an inch for at least twenty minutes as I awaited and received treatment. I used the words while waiting for the results of mammograms, MRI’s, and blood tests. I used them at night, before I fell asleep, after many hours of tossing and turning with worry and fear.

And my fellow yogini was right.  The words—powerful, even though I didn’t comprehend their meaning—did make me feel better. Though I didn’t know why.

Months later, after I had survived my treatments and graduated to “survivor” status, I decided to look up the meaning of Sa, Ta, Na, Ma.

I found out that the words meant: Birth, Life, Death, Rebirth.

I found out that this was a mantra.

I found out that pressing the fingers together created a pressure that sent specific messages to the brain.

I thought about it and decided that the words Sa, Ta, Na, Ma spoke to my situation. I had been born, I was happily (if not exactly consciously) living my life, and then I was faced with the possibility of death. But through faith, love, hope, friendship, modern medicine, and trust in the universe, I was reborn. My life, after breast cancer, was better than it had ever been.  Not that I would wish the disease upon anyone, but it opened my eyes: I became awake.

My journey with the transformative words Sa, Ta, Na, Ma, however, was not over.

Four years after my breast cancer experience, I stumbled upon a Kundalini Yoga class. I had been aching for a more spiritual practice. I had been wishing I could connect to God and the universe again the way that I had while going through cancer (but without the cancer!). I had been wondering how I could find a path that would provide that acute awareness I felt when I feared that my life was ending, without actually having to “go there” again.

At my first Kundalini yoga class, the teacher, Akalsukh, said that we would now practice Kirtan Kriya.

I didn’t know what the word kriya meant, and I certainly didn’t know what Kirtan Kriya was.

Until he explained: “You press your thumb to your index or Jupiter finger with a light pressure, then to the middle or Saturn finger (wisdom and patience), then to the ring finger or Sun finger (vitality), then to the little finger or Mercury finger (communication). As you chant this mantra you will envision energy in an L shape moving from your crown chakra and out through your forehead.” This mantra, he revealed, brings mental balance and enhances creativity, concentration and intuition.

And much, much more. The mantra brought me full circle—back to the diagnosis, the surgery, the fear, the treatment, and the survival. Back to my self. Back to trust. Back to belief, and connection to the Infinite.

After that first Kundalini yoga class, I realized I could never be separate—or separated from—God again.

Months later, when I decided to commit to a daily spiritual practice (sadhana), I was not surprised that my teacher included Kirtan Kriya in the practice he offered for me to follow.

He didn’t know what it meant to me. I hadn’t told Akalsukh the details of my relationship with the mantra, but “somehow” he knew it was the mantra I should recite.

And I do, to this day. Kirtan Kriya is a sacred part of my daily practice. And even though I am not facing cancer now, and hope to never have to face it again, that same sense of peace, trust, and wonder that I felt in that frightening but awakening time of my life, returns as I say the words each morning.

For me, and for so many others, Kirtan Kriya brings peace to the heart, the soul and the mind. The words connect us to calmness–whether facing the ups and downs of daily life, or the depths of our most profound fears.

“Sa, Ta, Na, Ma.” Birth, Life, Death, Rebirth. Again. And again. And Again.


(Click HERE to learn the Sa Ta Na Ma meditation.)

Mirabai Ceiba’s version of “Sa Ta Na Ma” is breathtaking.

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