Chanting or mantra are mostly spoken in Sanskrit. The translation of ‘Sanskrit’ meaning ‘refined’ or ‘sanctified’, therefore signifying this ancient and sacred language’s intended purpose. Sanskrit is a highly ceremonial, artistic and scientific language that was designed so that each letter consisted of a sound relating to each one of our chakras (or energy centres of the body). The force of these sounds connecting to the chakras means that chanting in Sanskrit has the capacity to activate these energy centres to open, soothe, purify and energise.
Chanting is carried out through sound and sound is a vibration - as is everything in the universe, contributing to our connectivity and oneness. These vibrations - when combined with the rhythmic intent and pronunciation of the Sanskrit language - have the ability to calm the mind like meditation and we know that when the mind is calm the Parasympathetic Nervous System response of ‘rest and digest’ is stimulated. So, the nervous system is slowed when the mind is calm, then the body relaxes and displays the following physiological responses: a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration; the endocrine system regulates and releases hormones responsible for homoeostasis: metabolism, reproduction, sleep cycles, growth and mood; oxygen-rich blood returns to all organs for nourishment.
Performing chanting and mantra also passes on the pertinent concept of mindfulness to one's students, in hopes of developing mindful habits. Whether practiced in a group setting, like kirtan, or as a solo pursuit, it is training the student to delineate this special time used for chanting from every other moment of their day. It is a time to nurture themselves, and therefore build a practice of mindfulness in order to equip them with a rational mental arena to make conscious, healthy choices about their life and well being.
Personally, I deeply understand the purpose and beauty of the Sanskrit language and the effect mispronunciation has on chanting and mantra. However for my future beginner students, I would like to emphasise the importance of connecting to the experience of letting go during their first few tries, rather than freaking out about perfecting pronunciation. I would prefer them to tap into the ‘rest and digest’ response and feel the spiritual release and connection as they are easing into and building strength in their practice. I will leave you with the words of Janet Stone, who explains my sentiment so clearly:
“Sanskrit is an ancient and sacred language, science, art, that carries meaning in every single syllable and yet, we’re us, most of us born in the West and adopting this practice out of a desire to connect with something vital and alive within. So, first, I would say to go easy on yourself, the calling out alone is enough. Thinking we have to have exactly correct pronunciation to be heard by God / the divine is like thinking that a baby must cry in just the right pronunciation to be heard by its mother.”
By Alyssa McLeod
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VishwaAmara » Creation Part 2 – The Sacred Mantra – OM. 2016. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.vishwaamara.com/higher-realities/the-sacred-mantra-om/. [Accessed 22 August 2016].
Yoga and Chanting | Yoga Chants and Mantras | The Art Of Living Global. 2016. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.artofliving.org/yoga/off-yoga-mat/yoga-and-chanting. [Accessed 20 August 2016].