chanting

Class Recordings, March 20 and 22, 2018

This week I taught students the chant "oṃ śāntīḥ" for our meditation. The yoga practice emphasized forward bending postures and exhale technique for a lightening, relaxing effect. The classes were similar, with the evening option being a little more relaxing to prepare students for winding down at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 10:30 am, 3/20/2018

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 3/22/2018

These recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you can find many free class recordings, as well as full video routines and tutorials. I hope you find them useful!

Moving Inward: Meditation and Breathing for Balance in Winter

One of the things that surprised me most when I started a daily yoga practice was how effectively breathing, meditation, and chanting balance my mood and energy level, and how much more deeply the effect went than a sequence of yoga poses. An added bonus is that the inner practices are often more accessible practices for students, since there are no bendy or strenuous poses to do, and the practices themselves ask very little time to have a powerful effect.

Since they do have a powerful effect, though, it's very helpful to work with a teacher first hand to receive practices that will be appropriate. Different bodies, constitutions and minds have different responses to some of these practices. The practices I've outlined below are generally well-received, but pay attention to how you feel just after practicing and for the next day or so to know if they work for you.

These "inner" practices usually work best if they are preceded by some asana, as linking movement with breath will prepare you for the mental work of prāṇayāma and meditation. See my post on āsana in the winter for ideas on how to build a supportive physical practice.

Here are the breathing, meditation and chanting exercises I most often use in class during the cold months of the year.  In fact, I have two sets of practices, so that the practices respond to and support students when the seasons change. I encourage you to give each of these a try for a few days and see what happens.

Early Winter

I often teach and practice this general type of breathing and meditation from around Thanksgiving or the first hard frost to early January, after the holidays. Early winter season is dry and windy and cold, with a lot of holiday busy-ness and stress, and these practices are intended to be stabilizing and nourishing.

1. Prāṇayāma

Breathing practices in this time of year are almost always long exhale practices to bring some relief and calm into the system. For some students, a pause after inhale and exhale could also be steadying without causing agitation.

2. Meditation

I like to lead meditations on objects that are soft and steady this time of year. Like peaceful water, or warm light, and sometimes a dawn sun for morning classes. The goal of many meditation practices this time of year is to help students feel less frazzled by holiday stress.

3. Chanting

I usually find myself chanting Srisuktam this time of year, as the sounds and meaning are soothing and fill me with a sense of reassurance and contentment. I haven't written a blog post on Srisuktam yet, but here's a snippet you can hear.

Late Winter

Mid to late winter (mid January to mid March) is wet and dark and cold, and feels slow and heavy. To balance this, most physical practices I give have a mobilizing, warming effect, and the breathing and meditation practices are more energizing and focusing.

1. Prāṇayāma

Depending on student needs on the day of practice, I like to teach breathing with an even inhale or exhale and teach a ratio with a long exhale and short pause after inhale. However, most students attending yoga classes are there because they are looking for relief from stress, and challenging breathing practices will only be agitating, so I play it by ear with breathing.

2. Meditation

Light is a favorite object for me this time of year. Sunlight, moonlight, candlelight--it's all warming and uplifting. I also like to use a vibrant tree or other green living plants to help students feel a sense of vitality and energy. Especially around mid-February when students are so ready for winter to be over, connecting with the idea of newly-emerging buds and leaves can be very powerful.

3. Chanting

The Medha Mantra is my favorite chant when I'm feeling lethargic or lifeless, as can happen when the skies are gray for days on end. You can read about the Medha Mantra and listen to it here.

I hope you find these practice ideas helpful and supportive during the winter! You are welcome to listen to my classes to see how these sorts of practices work out in real life.

Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri mantra, also referred to is the Savitri mantra, is one of the oldest known Vedic mantras, and seems to be the most well-known among yoga and meditation students.

This chant was given to me to build my "repertoire" when I wanted to teach others to chant, as it holds a significant place in the Vedic chanting tradition. I practiced it daily at the beginning of my yoga practice for a period of time, and found it had a wonderful brightening effect. For me, chanting the Gayatri is like creating an inner sunrise that illuminates all the dark, uncertain places within me. It's light and warming, and it gives me the feeling of assurance.

The Gayatri mantra is traditionally preceded by an invocation to the three qualities of creation (called vyahriti or the “great utterance") which you can listen to here.

From Mantravalli (rev. ): "This is a significant and popular hymn from the Taittiriya-upanisat that honors the Sun in feminine form. The mantra is a request to the Sun to dispel the darkness of ignorance and provide clarity and strength. The daily recitation of the mantra is considered a pre-requisite for many vedic rituals." 

Listen to the Gayatri Mantra:

Word List:

  • om - auspicious sound (begins many mantras)
  • tat - that
  • savitur/savita - the Sun (feminine deity); the source of all things; power to distinguish right from wrong, discernment
  • varenyam - the highest, best, most worthy
  • bhargo - light; illumination
  • devasya -divine
  • dhimahi - let us meditate
  • dhiyo - thought(s); intellect
  • yo - which
  • nah - our
  • pracodayat - may it inspire/motivate/guide us

Medha Mantra

The Medha Mantra is a powerful chant that builds drive, determination and vigor in the chanter. It was given to me by my teacher to practice during a period when I was feeling unmotivated and directionless, and needed a little oomph to get me moving. And it certainly works! Whenever I notice myself getting lethargic and unproductive, I add this chant to my daily routine, and it perks me up within a day or two.

I find this chant especially helpful when the weather gets cold outside during the winter, or if something happens in my life to upset my usual can-do attitude. If I notice myself feeling stuck or powerless, I know it's time to get back to Medha Mantra, so I can remember the feeling of having a fire and power within.

Here is the introduction given in the Mantravalli (rev. 2012): "This chant is addressed to Agni (the fire deity), Indra (the lord of heaven), and Surya (the sun deity) seeking clarity, abundance, radiance and good progeny. Deference to these powers will free one of dullness and despair and bring refinement to the intellect."

Listen to the Medha Mantra

Word List

  • mayi - me; (the good) in me
  • medha - mental vigour or power, intelligence, prudence, wisdom (pl. products of intelligence, thoughts, opinions); Intelligence personified
  • prajā- bringing forth, bearing
  • agni - fire; the god of fire
  • tejas - fiery energy, ardour, vital power, spirit, efficacy, essence
  • dadhatu- put, set, lay; put upon, bring to, direct towards, fix (the mind) upon, think of; resolve, determine to
  • indra - king of the gods, the god of the atmosphere and sky ("he fights against and conquers with his thunder-bolt the demons of darkness, and is in general a symbol of generous heroism; indra was not originally lord of the gods of the sky, but his deeds were most useful to mankind, and he was therefore addressed in prayers and hymns more than any other deity")
  • indriya - power, force, the quality which belongs especially to the mighty; bodily power, the power of the senses; faculty of sense, sense, organ of sense
  • suryo - sun
  • bhrajo cloudless; fire