There are many schools of yoga, different ways in which a student can devote themselves in order to practice the techniques of yoga and live a life with less emotional disturbance. One of the paths of yoga is bhakti, and one of the components of bhakti is kirtan. The call and response chanting, accompanied by music, can be a form of meditation. Certainly the community energy instigates a quieting of the mind and may elicit a meditative space.
Because the purpose of yoga is the union of mind, body, and spirit, which can be brought about by quieting the thoughts in the mind, kirtan can be used. The songs are usually mantras, which are sacred words. Kirtan has roots in India, so the words are usually sung on Sanskrit. It’s important to note that mantras aren’t only based in Hindu, which has influenced yoga, but that sacred words can be sung in any religious language or place of worship.
Singing kirtan can be a practice for allowing kriya, which are spontaneous movements driven by prana. No one cares what we sound like when we sing kirtan. If our voices are off key, it is simply absorbed within the group and adds to they dynamic of the whole. Maybe, eventually, we’ll allow prana to direct our postures, on and off the mat.
Some kirtan songs can last as long as forty minutes. There is usually great fluctuations in the volume, tone, and intonation. Because they are mantras, we sing to deities. As long as we approach kirtan the same as we would any other yogic practice, working to our edge then relaxing with the results, we offer ourselves to the Divine. Thus the reason why kirtan is a major component of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, where everything we do is to honor the Divine. And what better way to do that, than to sing, to send our voices through the air to the ether, feel our heart fill, and connect with that peace that always resides within us.
Here is an example of a mantra to honor Krishna:
hare krishna hare krishna
krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama
rama rama hare hare
The translation is: “Oh energy of the Lord, please engage me in the loving service of Lord Krishna”.
Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation, Volume I contains a poem that I wrote about my kirtan practice during my teacher training, and can be viewed on my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com I’ve attended a couple of concerts featuring Jai Uttal, a Bhakti Yoga practitioner, and was completely delighted by the energy of my fellow yogis, voices raised in unison. Have you every experienced kirtan? Is it part of your regular yoga practice?