Friday, January 18, 2013

chanting: good vibrations

Pre-chant chatter. Students taking coconut after yogasana practice,
while others wait for chanting...
Again, a sea of faces. The shala is not as full as during conference, but it's not in any way roomy--an indication of how many people are here. Anxious of Sharath's occasional peeks into the shala, Lakshmish continues to scold us (in his gentle way, of course) to come closer to the stage, where he sits and leads the half-hour session of compulsory chanting, so there's room for people crowd at the lobby doors.

The start time for chanting has been changing over the last couple of weeks, from 11:30, to 11:45, to now 11:55am to accommodate the swelling numbers at the shala and the new comers finishing close to midday. Imran is still outside, hacking into coconuts for the late-finishers, who will most likely go straight back into the shala to chant. During the class, a few practitioners come out from the locker-rooms, a little disoriented to open the doors to the packed room chanting Sanskrit verses. I'm not really sure, but there must be at least two hundred of us. Possibly more.

The energy of having so many students chanting together is hard to explain. Before chanting, as people mill about the steps, the around the gate, the coconut truck across the street, there's a lot of chatter, so many little conversations amplified by number. It's a little intense--as is everything around the practice here. Then, once Prakash, allows us, we file in slowly, find our bit of carpet or marble floor. The chatter escalates until Lakshmish starts, and we suddenly all fall into step with each other: "Vakratunda mahakaya..."

The chant to Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, does the trick. And the room harmonizes. And our large number with all our voices, which seemed chaotic and dispersed only minutes before, are now sounding and feeling more cohesive. Ganesha, the god that unites, has formed us into a group, all with one agenda: to chant together for a half hour.

The years of chanting have refined our "group-ness" it seems. In 2010, during my first trip to Mysore, I remember discord, Lakshmish wincing politely as we butchered this sacred language. Then, there were two levels. Level 1 was for "new friends" while Level 2 was for "old friends," meaning only that old friends had been registered for at least a month, Level 2 mouths were a little looser and somewhat more adept at forming the Sanskrit syllables. Still, struggle was there. It was seemed one chant would take forever to get--if not right, at least--good enough.

January 2013 and the difference is quite significant. We're in no way proficient, far from it, but the improvement is significant. We're all in one group now and the vibrations from the chanting Shantihmantra, Mahisasuramardini Stotram, Bhagavad Gita, opening and closing chants, even the asana names and numbers is quite indescribable. This, too, is yoga.

Conference two weeks ago, someone asked about why was chanting made compulsory at the shala. Sharath answered that chanting is for: "self-transformation. Our mind also will be calm, which will help also for our spiritual development."

And while there is still a significant amount of people skipping the compulsory chanting classes (and some for good reasons too, some have children--though kids are welcome to run around and be kids as far as Lakshmish is concerned--while some study chanting with other teachers), it is plain to see that many more are taking the chanting classes seriously. And there's something to reciting these mantras, it vibrates deep down, and like the transformation of these chanting sessions themselves, something somehow shifts.


Monday, January 14, 2013

aditya hrdayam (heart of the sun) in the house of light

First Kirtan at James' Saraswathipuram home and teaching space,
which vibrates with so much bhakti.
Tomorrow, I'll be singing to the sun--easily part of a typical day here in Mysore, where yoga practice takes all sorts of shapes outside the primary series. Part of what I love about being here is how some oddball yoga-related activities, which seem totally strange outside any yoga-context, seems totally pedestrian.

Classes resume at what I like to call the "house of light," James Boag's residence and teaching space. Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 15, James starts a series of lectures and chanting classes having to do with the Ramayana, particularly the Aditya Hrdayam, a hymn given to Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, to vanquish the 10-headed demon Ravana.

The Aditya Hrdayam has figured somewhat prominently in my life since my first trip to Mysore, over 2 years ago, starting when Lakshmish introduced the chant during the new compulsory chanting classes. Without understanding a word of it, I resonated with the sound of it immediately. My friend Momo was chanting it in his borrowed Mysore home, where I noticed his copy of Guruji's book on Surya Namaskara. I bought my own copy immediately.

The heart of the sun continued to come into my life in varied forms. There was a beautiful animated live storytelling of the Ramayana and a modernized retelling by Ramesh Menon (a great read! He makes the epic so lively!). The way James chanted the hymn sank deep into my memory. I had last-song syndrome of a very different kind. On mornings, when I had time, I would recite it on my own, occasionally sharing it at the start of classes.

And over that time, the heart of the sun was shining its rays on my own life, blasting away darkness, helping me to see things clearly. There has been so much change over the last two years, some serious upheavals, as well as some amazing opportunities.

Though, this will be the first time for me to properly study it, I feel like it has done its job just the way ashtanga works as a practice. Without knowing much about its particulars, I simply embraced the chant, I surrendered to its magic, I let it do its work. Energetically, I feel the benefits of it, how it vibrates when I sing it, how its lessons have somehow been absorbed into my person.

Now, however, time has come to go deeper, to develop a deeper understanding of the text and what it means to my own life.

Between now and end of March, James teaches Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30-12:30. The Aditya Classes will then be followed by classes on the Bhagavad Gita, chapters 4, 5 and 6. More details and directions to the house of light can be found on