From Emotion to Devotion

What is chanting?

Yoga teaches us about chanting and we know that there are many different mantras and that most yogi’s carry a special one through life – but what is this chanting business really all about?

Let’s start with the term mantra…

Mantra is actually two words – man and tra. Man means mind; Tra means trajectory, or better yet, projection. So put it together and mantra means mind-projection.  In the words of Descartes – “I think therefore I Am”.  The understanding here is that we are focusing the mind and that focus will help us direct our intentions, actions, and beliefs.  Yogi’s believe that the mind is a muscle like any other part of the body, and it needs to be exercised and trained to have both a clear understanding of and the ability to navigate through – the spiritual journey.  So we sharpen the mind using tools – and one of the best tools is called mantra.

Japa mantra is the practice of recitation. Sacred teachings, poems, and other important concepts are recited continuously so that the mind has no room for other thoughts – just remembering. Japa mantras are often long and intricate and require lots of practice.  Because the mind is so busy remembering what to recite, this practice has made popular use of the Mala – an object used for counting during Japa Mantra practice.

Kirtan mantra brings in the element of emotion. Yogi Bhajan once said that our emotion becomes either commotion or devotion depending on how you handle it.  In this call-and-response style of chanting, the live music can draw out a wide range of responses from its participating audience. In this style of mantra practice, the heart gets involved – it get struck by the vibration of emotional stimulus. And, it reacts. The process creates a deep internal meditative space in which each participant is reconciling the pairs of opposites, the dualities and polarities of life and living.  This ‘divine praise’ is said to be so beautiful that God himself crosses the cosmos to listen to our prayers.

Traditionally, all forms of mantra fall under the Bhakti category in yogic study. The concept of devotion or Bhakti has been developed throughout India for thousands of years and is vibrantly alive there today. Practices of all kinds – from the most obtuse to the most fundamental – have evolved from this seemingly simple concept of Devotion.

Yogi Bhajan put it this way – “Vibrate the Cosmos and the Cosmos shall clear the Path.”

Mata Mandir

YwN invites you to take some time vibrating the cosmos – with Yoga of Sound or Naad Yoga master Mata Mandir Singh this November. He’ll be performing a LIVE CONCERT & KIRTAN (Nov 4) and also hosting a follow-up Naad Yoga Workshop (Nov 12). Two great opportunities to dive in deeper to sound, vibration, and mantra magic.

Mata Mandir has dedicated his life to the practice and teaching of Naad Yoga and is a pioneer of the yoga music genre. He is passionate about teaching the science of Kundalini Yoga and continues to teach and play mantra concerts around North America, Canada, Europe and China. You can read more about his work at www.yogaofsound.com.

To register or buy tickets, please click here: Website Registration

Scripture, Texts, and Manuals

Every yogi has their favorite scripture, texts, and manuals. From the Yoga Sūtras to the Bhagavad Gītā and more, there is no lack of information out there for the modern yogi to discover.

The one book all yogis agree upon as fundamental to the practice, no matter the path – is the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali. Bryant’s version is the one I have used the most. It is thorough and detailed as well as easy to use. I highly recommend picking up a copy. This academic piece is an introduction to meditation and a MANUAL for practice.  Not to be confused with scripture, manuals are great – especially for the beginning practitioner, but let’s not stop there…

The Bhagavad Gītā (a different kind of text) is considered SCRIPTURE. Its long story details the “human catastrophe” (as I like to put it) with the narrative taking readers through ethical confrontations and moral conundrums to a place of personal reflection. The Mahabarata, from which the Gītā is taken, is the larger story around the heart of the Gītā ‘s teachings – and is also considered scripture.  Although the Gītā has always been one of my personal favorites, not everyone enjoys this bloody and descript tale – so prepare yourself!

While the Sūtra is a manual, the Gītā is considered scripture.  What’s the difference between a manual and a scripture? Manuals and scripture can sometimes be hard to distinguish between.  Although most scripture comes in the form of verse and poem, manuals such as the Yoga Sūtras can be written in this style as well.  Whereas a manual describes the HOW, a scripture reveals the WHY. Both are important in navigating our spiritual experience and so BOTH are recommended for the devoted yogi.

Manuals and other yogic texts do not teach the spiritual/religious components and are therefore not sufficient as a sole means of self-study among practitioners. Yoga always includes reverence for the divine.  And so, scripture  in one form or another is usually introduced.  One thing is clear about scripture – it ALWAYS expresses the basic TRUTHS held by ALL religions ON EARTH:

  • peace/non-violence
  • all of humanity is united
  • morals
  • compassion
  • spiritual knowledge is within humanity’s reach
  • I AM as the name for GOD
  • God resides within us
  • God is always light
  • God is omnipresent
  • God is One

So here’s the game!! Good luck!!

Try to guess which of the following is a MANUAL, SCRIPTURE, or some other form of yogic TEXT:

  • Bhagavad Gita
  • Yoga Sutras
  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika
  • Sadhana Guidelines
  • Kama Sutra
  • Light on Yoga
  • Dhammadpada
  • Guru Granth Sahib

Community and Togetherness – the concept of Sangat

In Sanskrit, the root word ‘Sangh‘ means “company” and refers to a gathering of devotees – typically for spiritual practice, chanting, ceremony, even social and political matters.

The concept of Sangat is one that I believe is especially relevant to the journey of the American Yogi today.  The idea of creating intentional community gives rise to so many aspects of personal growth, such as: an opportunity to spend time with like-minded spiritually-oriented people; the chance synchronize in vibration and elevate ourselves through group practice; a place in which to realign our inner moral compass; and a space to practice peaceful coexistence, simply comforting and caring for each other.

As a student, as a teacher – you are often an inspiration to others.  In our America today, high levels of depression, anxiety, and violence are intimately linked with isolation and what i call ‘the loss of the village’.  Separation on every level then has a profound effect on our self image and ultimately becomes a driving force in our behavior.  As Guru Nanak put it, “Deprived of sangat, one’s self remains begrimed.” (GG, 96).

Beyond our individual needs, the Sangat concept also models a social group where common yogic values – such as community, equality and selfless service – can be cultivated in order to serve the greater community.  For example, the YwN Sadhana Sangat has raised and donated over $300 to local charities – all by donation. In this way, we have been able to serve the greater community as well as ourselves.

As spiritual warriors and as modern yogis – I believe it is important that we live and serve in this world and not isolate ourselves from it. Creating sacred space IS what we do!  Whether it be through langar (eating together), seva (selfless service), kirtan (divine praise), or sadhana (daily practice) – bringing people together through yoga has a healing force that uplifts and heals us.  “As one lost in a thick jungle rediscovers one’s path, so will one be enlightened in the company of the holy.” (GG, 282).  I’ve been blessed to participate in Sangat (spiritual community) and am very grateful for the opportunities I have had to experience hundreds (sometimes thousands) of yogis practicing, chanting, living, and being together.  The vibration is tangible to say the least. So keep creating sacred space – for yourself and for others. Continue to find ways to bring people together, and know that it helps treat and prevent depression, anxiety, and all of those things linked with isolation and separatism.

BE the company of the holy.

LIVE FOR each other.

BE the light.

BE the lighthouse…

I am reminded every day of my teacher who spoke these words of inspiration.

Our collective power can do everything from raise funds to forts!!  Every kirtan, every donation, every cup of tea or golden milk, and every meal we provide for another is a testimony to the human spirit. The YwN Sangat is growing every day. Every age, every angle of human diversity – we are practicing, learning, growing, and serving together…and rebuilding a sense of SPIRIT in COMMUNITY.

For more great opportunities to participate in our YwN spiritual community, sign up for a WORKSHOP today!!

Sadhana, Seva, and Simran

Whether we are centered on surviving or thriving – each day we cultivate a certain skill-set as we go about living. That skill-set includes everything from going to the bathroom (ask my 3yr old) to spirituality and/or religion.  We are what we practice. Simple as that.

In yoga, this concept is referred to as Sadhana. Think about what you do in just the first 3 minutes alone of your day. What is your attitude, your pace, and your breath like? How does this set the tone for the rest of your day. This is where your true Sadhana begins…. at the moment of awakening. Yogi Bhajan spoke about waking up once, saying he would allow himself to awake and go back to sleep 3 times – each time paying gratitude upon awakening in some way… such as ‘Thank You God for the opportunity to serve again today’…

LIFE is a daily practice, and bringing the concept of sacredness into YOUR life doesn’t have to be an overwhelming 2 and 1/2 hrs of excruciating physical exercise and mental restraint. In fact, it can be more fun if you GO SLOW.  Cultivating the physical aspects of our daily practice (like diet and exercise) is what we often think of when we are ready to begin a formal Sadhana practice. However, there is work to be done EACH DAY on cultivating the emotional and spiritual aspects of life as well. Kindness, Compassion, Love, and Gratitude… each and every day…. for not only ourselves, but also FOR EACH OTHER… is part of the work! And that is why Seva, the concept of selfless service, is so important to the Yogi. As Yogiji would say – “Live FOR each other, not at or with each other.”

The great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has been quoted as saying “if the next Buddha is a Sangha, then facilitative leaders will be its convenors.” As modern yogis, I believe it is important to serve this moment in time and not isolate as ascetics or outsiders. In fact, our community may give birth to the next great Buddha!!  Selflessly lending a hand not only elevates us as spiritual beings, it takes the yogi outside themselves and into the community.

Seva is so fundamental in Kundalini Yoga, that it’s included in our Summer and Winter Solstice Celebration programs. Each participant is given the opportunity to selflessly serve in some part of the camp as a way to build community and keep in mind that we are all in this together!!

Remember, Everything  is Sacred. Easy enough to read on a bumper sticker, hard to accomplish in each and every moment of each and every day. Sometimes I get lost, sometimes you get lost, sometimes we get lost together. And that brings us to our third concept of the day – Simran. Because remembering the divine in every moment is HARD WORK. That’s why they call it a practice and have a name for it. It is called Simran.

Having said that, many of us are lost – a lot of the time. It is hard to navigate the spiritual waters. So we get angry, lash out, hurt and kill others. Or we are victim to, oppressed, subjugated, and addicted. And that’s why life is a meditation… and “Meditation is Navigation” is what i always say!! Simran helps us to navigate the waters by providing us with a sort of spiritual map. Until we see everything as Sacred, we cannot see the spiritual terrain of life. “See God in All, or Not at All” Yogiji said.

And that, my friends, are 3 more reasons why I chant – Sadhana, Seva, and Simran. Chanting helps me to regulate my mind and breath, keep my heart open, and remember the divine as I navigate this life. Hope you’ll join me sometime.

Stay blessed, Stay Grateful, All Ways.

Life is a garden, dig it!

Sadhana

Ego Eradicator

As students become proficient in yoga technology, we as yoga teachers, encourage a daily spiritual practice – what is called a Sadhana. It is the foundation of yogic practice, and the opportunity we give ourselves each day to connect with source and center. This daily connection cultivates the wisdom of the inner teacher, referred to as the ‘Guru dev’ in Kundalini Yoga.

Every lineage has it’s suggested Sadhana’s – such as Ashtanga-Vinyasa’s ‘Primary Series’ or the basic ‘Sun Saluation’ common in Hatha Yoga classes…  In Kundalini Yoga, the practice is often referred to as the ‘Aquarian Sadhana’. Whatever practice you choose, it is always wonderful to get the opportunity to practice in a group!!

Every 3rd Sunday of the month, Nicole Ward/Guru Karam Kaur offers a FREE SADHANA in the lineage of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.

Nicole Ward (Guru Karam Kaur) is a Level 1 Kundalini Yoga Instructor with 3HO and has been leading Sadhana’s for over a decade in Petaluma. All Sadhana’s are by donation and all proceeds are donated annually to the Petaluma Community Foundation. To date, we have donated over $300.

For more information, please visit us online at www.yogawithnicole.org or join us for class every Friday evening from 5:30pm – 6:45pm for a class in Kundalini Yoga.