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April 27, 2015
The practice of kirtan or devotional singing complements a Yoga asana practice in profoundly beautiful ways. Many of the kirtan chants that are sung today have arisen out of India's devotional Hindu traditions. Hindu kirtans are often based on the names of Gods and Goddesses as well as hymns in praise of these various Hindu deities and their exploits. Other Hindu kirtans are comprised of sacred mantras or sound syllables that are intended to quiet the vrittis or thought-waves of the mind. The inner stillness generated by the call and response chanting of the divines names and hymns allows us to enter the peace and divinity of our own hearts.
Kirtan singers or lead chanters will usually be accompanied by musicians who play traditional Indian instruments such as the harmonium, karatal cymbals and pakawaj drum. The lead chanters will call out to the group at large to respond to the musical couplet they have just sung. The group will then respond and sing back the same couplet. This form of call and response chanting may go on for either a brief or extended period of time. A kirtan is often sung for ten to twenty minutes at a time in order to let the vibrations of the sacred mantras and names of the divine penetrate all those who are present. In honor of a traditional Hindu holiday, a kirtan may even be sung without pause for twenty-four hours or longer.
Kirtan or call-and-response chanting is particularly beneficial for Yoga asana practitioners who have a difficult time quieting their minds through the practice of meditation alone. This ancient form of participatory music is fun, enlivening, restorative and uplifting. It also has the effect of quieting the mind so that we can rest in the awareness of our own inner divinity unimpeded by the thoughts of our daily "to-do" list. One of the primary ways that kirtan carries us into the heart of our own divinity is through the vibrations of the mantras and words themselves.
As we participate in a kirtan, we are ensconced by divine vibrations. After some time, our beings become entrained by these vibrations and begin to vibrate at the same frequency. The experience of aligning with this numinous frequency leaves a Yogi or Yogini with a profound feeling of well-being, energy and peace. This peaceful, energized state lends itself easily to meditation. Incorporating a regular practice of kirtan into your Yoga asana practice will imbue your practice with quietude, divinity and inspiration.
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