For those with a mantra chanting practice, feeling the vibration of the sound current is a sacred and profound experience. Whether we are deep in morning sadhana or driving a car to work, the vibrations leave us in a more peaceful and meditative frame of mind for the rest of our day. We chant because it makes us feel wonderful, but also, we chant because when we are not chanting, we act from a more tranquil frame of mind.
Mantra chanting makes your life flow, simply put. If you are feeling stuck in life, whether you cannot seem to get the job you want or find a satisfying relationship, the energy of your life and your spirit is too stagnant. Mantra chanting and yoga help move energy in the body and heart so that the energy flowing to and through the spirit is more fluid.
If you are just starting a chanting practice, give yourself a gentle assessment. Are you nervous when you chant? Quiet? Loud? Do not attack yourself and convince yourself that you cannot sing and therefore should not be chanting (and certainly not, gasp!, where anyone else could hear you). That is not the purpose of the exercise. Simply notice with a neutral state of mind where you are in the process of chanting. Is your throat tight? When you chant, is the sound coming from your navel or from your head? The answers to these questions are clues to what may be blocking you in your life.
If your voice is so quiet you can hardly hear yourself, you may be living a life where you are afraid to be seen and heard. Are you really living your truth and being all you can be?
If you are nervous when you chant and your throat feels tight, fear may be a problem in your life. Are you ready to let go of the fears that hold you back and step into a life of faith and love in action?
If your voice seems to vibrate more from your head than your navel, you may not be fully living from your heart. Are you centered, grounded and balancing the needs of your heart with the needs of your head?
Chanting is an amazing form of meditation that teaches you by showing rather than telling you what may be restraining you from fully living the life of your dreams. Be gentle and easy on yourself as you are beginning. It is a form of yoga after all, and when you are just starting yoga, you can’t expect your body to twist into a pretzel shape right away! Slow and steady progress is made through commitment and self-nurturing. The more you do it, the more you shine.
Chanting really is a process of connecting with your own heart and soul. While you develop a relationship with the Divine, you end up learning more about yourself through the conversation. In pursuit of the Infinite, you develop your own infinity.
After you have completed an assessment of your own chanting practice, consider the following five tips for improvement and identify at least one area where you could use some improvement. Then put together a simple plan of action and go for it! Keep it fun and enjoyable, just like chanting. Remember that you cannot do it wrong. Every voice is a beautiful voice to the ears of the Divine!
Here are five tips to enhance your chanting:
Too often in our stressed out lives running here and there, we don’t focus on our own breath. It is an automatic process most of the time, and we take it for granted. But when you are chanting, control of your breathing goes a long way to improve the quality of the sound. Do some simple pranayama to start. Try this: Sit quietly and close your eyes. Inhale slowly and deeply for 10 seconds. Hold the breath for ten seconds. Then exhale slowly and deeply for 10 seconds. Continue for at least 3 minutes. Gradually build up until you can hold each portion of the breathe for 20 seconds.
2) Yoga and Diet
As a chanter, your body is a temple and an instrument, so you have to take care of it as both. The best way to do this is through consciously relaxing and moving your body through yoga and through nourishing your body with rich, whole foods. Be aware that spicy foods can make it more difficult for some people to sing, as can cold drinks. Treat yourself to some warm yogi tea and put a few drops of almond oil or honey into it to soothe your throat. Then limber up before singing with some gentle stretching, some neck rolls, and an asana such as Camel Pose, which will open your heart and your throat chakra. For a more elaborate Kundalini yoga practice, why not try the Waheguru Kriya? It will open your throat and balance your chakras at the same time.
3) Silent Meditation
There is no way around this one. Meditation is key. Stilling our minds becomes the most important tool for developing a conscious heart. There are hundreds of forms of meditation, and certainly chanting is one. But try to turn the chant inwards for a change. If you are practicing a certain mantra, such as Guru Guru Waheguru, Guru Ram Das Guru, and want to develop your skill chanting it outwardly, go into the silence of your own heart and develop a relationship with the mantra internally. Silent repetition of a mantra leads to a deep and profound understanding of its meaning, which is an irreplaceable boost to the spirit behind your chanting.
You cannot hide your feelings when you chant. This leads to an immediate emotional response when you are listening to a beautiful mantra chanted by an experienced practitioner. If you have a favorite musician of mantra whose songs you love, consider why. More likely than not, at least part of the reason will be because of the emotion in the music and how it makes you feel. The mantras strip our layers of concealment away and we are exposed as pure souls. If we are nervous or fearful or angry, it shows in our voice. So in speaking, so in singing. A shaky voice means shaky self-confidence. Develop a habit of self-encouragement. Commit to saying a positive affirmation to yourself with as much belief as you can muster (and if you have to, fake it until you make it!). Select something that feels right to you. Try something like: “I have a unique and powerful voice, and I share its special beauty with the world.” Or “With every note and every word, I open my heart to the universe, accepting healing and strength.”
5) Heart Opening
At its heart, chanting is about your heart. To open your voice, you have to open your heart. Do whatever it takes to heal your heart; there is no more important work in your life. What makes your soul sing? Were you that girl who dreamed of being a ballerina, but felt too conscious of your body to put on a leotard? Maybe take a ballet class as an adult. Did you have dreams of being Mick Jagger, but your parents wouldn’t give you guitar lessons? Take them now and jam it up. If you are a painter, go crazy with swirls of color. All of this will help your chanting. And if at your heart, what makes your soul sing is chanting, then sing, sing, sing. Never stop. Play the mantras as often as you can, while cooking, while driving, while walking. Sing along with the happy abandon you would see from a kindergarten class singing Twinkle, Twinkle. Consider attending a chanting workshop with your favorite singer. Snatam Kaur and Guruganesha Singh, for example, offer transformational workshops where you do yoga and chanting in a sacred space with a group of like-minded souls who share your love for the music. You can also attend a festival such as Sat Nam Fest to immerse yourself in an experience of the power of chanting.