The saturation of yoga teacher trainings today has created a multitude of styles and yoga brands across the world. This expansion has allowed yoga to become accessible to a wide range of people, allowing everyone to find a yoga style and teacher that resonates with them. However, I have found that as the commercial possibilities for yoga teacher trainings grow, so do the numbers of newly trained teachers who leave feeling ill prepared and without the confidence to teach from their own voice. Creating confidence comes from knowing and practice, an understanding that an authentic voice as a teacher is one that is grounded in not just a felt personal experience of yoga, but also in the traditions of this spiritual practice. Through exploring the roots of yoga beyond the asana — that is, by practicing and learning to teach mantra, pranayama and meditation, teachers are able to create classes that have depth, are sacred, and demonstrate how all encompassing and life changing yoga really is. As a teacher who aims to create classes that incorporate all of these elements, I have found that some of the most powerful and positive experiences for those I teach have come through the chanting of mantra.
The ability to use mantra in yoga classes enables a vibrational connection between the teacher, their students and the ancient yogic sages of India. Mantra moves beyond the transliteration of each word’s modern day meaning and instead connects us to the primordial and divine sounds of the entire Universe, working to shift us at the deepest of levels. These sacred sounds have been the primary mode of transmission for our tradition for thousands of years and yet chanting mantra is very often described as being the most fear-inducing and challenging aspect of teaching and the one I find, most often missing in public classes today.
The expressive qualities of chanting are closely connected to the throat centre, known as Vishuddha Chakra. How many of us have felt, at one time or another, restricted in expressing ourselves, courageously, articulately and truthfully? When we experience trauma, are told as children by our parents or teachers that we can’t sing, or that we should be quieter, we start to shut down at the throat centre, energetically blocking our ability to express ourselves freely.
Finding the confidence to bring mantra into classes has the two-fold effect of healing that expressive aspect of ourselves and connecting us to the tradition, for both teachers and students. It also requires a certain bravery for teachers to move beyond the need to sanitise and secularise the practice of yoga, and to have trust in the desire of the student to experience more than just the asana.
Allowing teachers to feel confident in chanting (and in fact any other practice) is simply about providing them with a strong belief that they will be able to accomplish the task ahead. Repetitive practice, a safe and relaxed space for learning mantra and an open attitude all support the learning process. Also, reminding teachers that chanting is just another aspect of breathing can be very helpful. When we allow the breath to flow over the vocal cords we begin to create sounds and our ability to chant mantra can be used as a tool towards a greater capacity in our pranayama techniques and an indicator of how deep our breath is in that moment. So take the pressure off everyone — after all it’s just breathing!
There are many different methods for chanting mantra, including:
- Japa Mantra, the repetitive singing of one sound or verse. Very often this is done in blocks of 108 with the use of a mala (yes these necklaces are more than just a cute accessory!).
- The Singing of Sloka and Mantra, using Vedic or harmonic tones to recite the songs or verses from ancient texts such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana and other Vedic texts.
- Kirtan, devotional singing with the use of instruments such as the harmonium.
- Bija Mantra, the use of sacred (and once secret) seed sounds that awaken the energetic body.
From the multitude of mantras and styles, the simplest, most efficient and effective mantra of them all, is Om. Om is the original sound of the creator, Brahma. It is said to be the vibration that created the entire Universe, it is the sound heard by all yogis in deep meditation as it is the sound vibrating through the natural world — when we stop for long enough to listen. For this reason it is said to be the most powerful sound and the root of all sounds. The chanting of Om at the start of the practise is an energetic dedication to the beginning of all things and to Source Energy in it’s most primal form. It has the ability to open and close a class with ritual, making every practice a sacred act.
“Let the wise practitioner of Yoga destroy the multitude of Karmas by the Mantra OM; let him mystically rearrange his body functions. Thus, he will cease to participate in the consequences of action and need no longer to be reborn again”Shiva Samhita
Om requires no practice, no written notes and no ability to find the perfect pitch. The ease with which it can be incorporated into classes belies its powers. Om has the ability to purify the emotional, physical, mental and subtle aspects of the self just through its recitation. Its power is potent, calming and becomes a prayer for the devotees safety and protection — deriving from the root sound ‘av,’ which means to protect, its energetic power is much like ‘white light’ in sonic form. It is part of all other longer sacred mantras and invokes a pure and supreme vibration.
There are so many applications for using mantra, and, in particular Om in classes, it’s simply a matter of having the space to experiment and the time to observe and feel for yourself the responses in the body and mind created with each method. For example:
- Encourage the chanting of 1 or 3 rounds of Om at the start and end of each class.
- Use a mala and chant 108 rounds during workshops and when you have time.
- Try rolling rounds of Om, that is, rather than students waiting for you to chant Om in order to begin, encourage them to begin and end each Om when their natural breath allows it. In this way the sound resonates consistently without pause. This can be done for a certain number of rounds, or completed without count using the sound of chimes or a bell.
- Try the above rolling rounds of Om and lower the chanting volume with each round, eventually fading into a silent Om meditation.
- Incorporate Om into postures and movements.
Mantra has the power to transform your classes into a soulful experience. When we learn to teach them from a place of felt awareness, from experience, we are able to transmit expansive states of being to our students with a clarity and a depth of understanding that is sincere and integrated.
Allowing teachers during their trainings to have the time and space to practice and feel the powerful effects of mantra and mantra meditation, is key to creating teachers who are confident to pass down this sacred tradition.