Yogis, I have a confession to make: I’m a mantraholic. But you already knew that.
Years ago when packing for the first retreat I ever led, I decided to leave my harmonium behind. If you know me, you know that this would never happen now. Where she goes, I go. Most people coming on the retreat were coming for the other teacher and I was nervous about asking them to sing with me. I had just started adding some chants into my classes. They were beautiful, but in those early days, merely a garnish. I felt insecure about it because I had almost gotten fired from a yoga studio for chanting (true story- haters, yo!) and back then people used to walk out of my classes all the time when I’d start singing.
Who would have thought singing made me such a renegade? But I guess most people don’t sing at the top of their lungs that often in life. I have personally confirmed this when I am belting the hanuman chalisa going over the 59th street bridge on my motorcycle. I get some good looks. Maybe it’s obvious looking back. Singing has kept many oppressed groups alive in the worst of times historically, and music has been banned and censored because it brings out people’s raw power, heart and fierceness. It is a force to be reckoned with. That makes it unnerving.
I justified leaving the harmonium: it was heavy; I didn’t want anyone to think I was asking them to join a cult; it looked like a weapon of mass destruction, making it uncomfortable to travel with; and really they weren’t there for me, they had come for the other teacher. My reasoning went on and on.
I mused about this a couple of weeks ago as I was on my way to New Orleans to study with Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band. It was the first time in years, that once again I had decided to leave my harmonium behind. This time because I was going to dedicate the week to drumming. The only thing that made it bearable was knowing that about twenty people would have harmoniums, so if I was jonezing, all I had to do was ask. I also knew I would be singing the whole week.
This past month has felt like one intense mantra session. It started on the retreat in Colombia. We chanted every day. People liked it so much that we learned a bunch of the chants and the singing got longer and longer each day. We chanted on surf boards, while swimming in the ocean, in the mineral baths, you know, wherever we could… We chanted so loud and so strong that at some point I opened my eyes to see sweet Colombian kitchen staff, “sita ramming” with us while they prepped breakfast. (Insert tears here. Seriously!) Music can bring the world together, I no longer have doubts about that. This continued in heaps in New Orleans- I mean, it is the capital of music!
It clarified something for me: this little thing I do and have done, that seemed like nothing, like this weird thing, has become one of the strongest, steadiest practices in my life. You may think I sound dramatic, but I don’t think I would still teach today if singing weren’t such a part of it. I also don’t think I could live without it at this point. I have been singing, sometimes five or ten times a day for the past five years. Every. Day. It is no longer this cute, nice thing I do. It is the thing itself. The true teacher. It keeps my heart healthy, like vitamins. Without it I would be unwell.
People ask me all the time what my practice looks like when left to my own devices. In the past I would have said, (in yoga teacher voice), “Well, I practice asana almost every day, sometimes on my own and sometimes I take class.” But now I realize that my practices, the things I do every day that support me and make me a better person, the ones I’ve truly built into my day, are the ones I cannot live without. Don’t get me wrong, I move almost every day and love it, there’s nothing like it and there is a world of practice there, but the things that have changed me the most over time and that have really chipped away at my spirit to make me me, are chanting mantra and the gratitude practice, thanking my teachers. I go a few days without those and I start to feel physically crummy and emotionally overwhelmed. They are so simple, exposed and vulnerable that they are what keeps me most aligned with myself. Sometimes it is the smallest things that keep us going, you know? Not the big, broad movements. I always used to joke that I made it through grad school only because I was able to sit with my chai for half an hour every morning and stare at the wall. It seems so small, but I’m not kidding. On many days I didn’t think I could do it and this small ritual made it possible. (I wasn’t a mantraholic yet.)
I felt the need to share yogis because sometimes you think you are doing one thing when it turns out you are doing something totally different. Yoga is all about relationship and nothing affects relationship as much as sound. It is one of the biggest ways we connect with each other and it alters the way you feel. If you say something nice to someone or someone says something sweet to you, doesn’t it feel amazing? If you say something injurious, you also feel that. When your person says your name and it gives you butterflies because you can hear all their love in one word, your heart knows a deep truth, just from the sound of their voice… It makes sense to take time and cultivate a good connection to your sound, your voice, your self. Cultivating clarity in the intention behind it is the very core of relationship- yoga. If you add mantra into the mix, the vibrations are so clean in these words and how they are put together that it is truly like taking a luffa to your spirit and scrubbing the self. The yamas become easier after that, coming from a sense of compassion (ahimsa), speaking your truth (satya), and so it goes… If there were more singing and more music, the world would be a nicer place and we would all be sweeter in it. So Miles says: next time you are thinking about writing that nasty email, go to SoundCloud, sing one of our chants and then write it. See how it goes.
Thank you for singing with me yogis, you make life amazing and spring is the best time to let your mammal song out! Truly! Prema Yoga in Brooklyn, I see you on Saturday! Cannot wait! You’ve got till May 1st to sign up for India on the Early Bird price and one more month to apply for the teacher’s scholarship. The group is starting to shape up really nicely. Also, for those of you who want to take the Advanced TT at Living Yoga, the Early Bird for that is April 15th! Enjoy as this cold starts to thaw… Love, from my own mantra madness.