Recitation meditations are wonderful. Letting the beautiful and poetic words flow from your tongue, and the vibrations subtly shift things in your psyche is a wonderful experience. But when you’re just starting a recitation practice, staring down a passage in a different language can be daunting. Your eyes may start crossing, your tongue may tie, and you might start asking yourself why you thought recitation meditation was a good idea to begin with. Have no fear though, there are ways to make the practice easier, so you can stop worrying and start enjoying the practice sooner.
Find a good recording. Recordings are something I personally cannot do without when it comes to learning the recitations I practice. Not only can they help you learn the pronunciation and pacing of the words you are reciting, but listening to them throughout the day can help you memorize the words faster. A wonderful tip I got from Ramdesh Kaur of Spirit Voyage about longer recitations like Japji is to find recordings of the different pauris individually. That way you can learn smaller portions, and have an easier time doing the entire recitation. Her “Mantra For...” series is a great resource for that! There are so many fantastic recordings of different shabads and sacred scriptures available, recorded by beloved artists like Snatam Kaur and Nirinjan Kaur, that you’re sure to find something you like!
Write it down. When I did 40 days of So Purkh, I had a small notebook that I used to write down the shabad 11 times. Writing down the words is a great way to practice your recitation several ways at once. You can slowly recite it to yourself as you write, and at the same time your eyes are reading the words and putting them into your memory. If you are doing a longer practice, such as Japji, writing it out multiple times might not be realistic. But taking the time to write it out once in a special notebook can still be a helpful way to spend time with the words.
Take Notes. If you have a copy of the text, it can also be helpful to listen to the recording separately from your meditation time, and make notes about the recording. You can develop your own system for keeping track of tempo changes, pronunciation notes, and the way words connect with one another. You can also make a note of lines or passages that are especially tricky, and then practice them separately. Out of respect for sacred texts, I’d recommend doing this only if you have a hand-written copy, or have a copy printed out from the internet.
Practice! This may seem a bit too obvious, but devoting time to the practice is the best way to learn. Particularly with long recitations, in the beginning it can feel like you’ll never get it. But if you try some of the tips above and put your whole heart into the recitation, it will come. Patanjali said in the Yoga Sutras that we must practice consistently and with devotion if we want to have a well-grounded and stable practice. So don’t give up! Enjoy the practice, mistakes and all, until one day you find yourself reciting your chosen text as easily as you’d say the alphabet.