The chants

Lesson 4 Module 1

The opening chant. 

The first section of the Ashtanga Yoga opening chant, which is recited by groups of yoga students each morning, is taken from the first sloka of the Sanskrit text called Yoga Taravali. It is an invocation to acknowledge the contribution of all those preceding us, and to aspire to grow and remember our ideals.

When we chant we are reminding ourselves to commit to our ideals, using the physical practice of stretching and expanding as a vehicle of positive reinforcement that builds upon itself exponentially.

vande gurūnam caranāravinde
sandarśita svātma sukhāva bodhe
nih śreyase jangalikāyamāne
samsāra hālāhala mohaśāntyai

I bow at the lotus feet of the higher self
and behold the awakened joy of my own soul
the ultimate refuge, the jungle doctor
pacifying the poisonous delusion of repetitive existence.

ābāhu purushākāram
śankhacakrāsi dhārinam
sahasra śirasam śvetam
pranamāmi patanjalim

I bow to Patanjali who has assumed the form of a brilliantly luminous
man with thousands of snakeheads and
who bears a conch, discus and a sword

By chanting this invocation, we remind ourselves to invest time and effort and concentration to stretch ourselves reactive mind to pause and be open to greater perspectives.

Taken in the Western context, words like surrender and devotion can imply weakness and gullibility. In the context of yoga however, surrender is an intelligent quality, encompassing fearlessness, trust, and confidence.

The closing chant. 

svastiprajābhyah paripālayantām
nyāyena mārgena mahim mahīśah
gobrāhmanebhyah śubhamastu nityam
lokāh samastāh sukhinobhavantu
om shanti shanti shantih

May all be well with mankind.
May the leaders of the earth protect it and all beings by keeping the right path.
May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred.
May all the worlds be happy.
Om peace peace peace

In the culture of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga we have opening and closing chants, we have deities on an altar at the front of the room, many such things to act as reminders in this way. 

Even the prayer-hands and the namaste gesture. The word namaste means that I understand and acknowledge that you exist in me and I exist in you, that we are functionally separate and yet also exist as one unified being, on a planet, in space.

When you have finished your yoga practice, take a moment to remember your ideals, or even sing the closing chant. Let the novelty and power of that gesture enliven you and the students around you. Recall the feeling of innocent curiosity and playfulness that has accompanied you throughout your life. It's right there. It gently taps you on the shoulder.

To remember these positive feelings, and your power to choose them, is the purpose of spiritual poetry, mementos, photos, trinkets, souvenirs, chants, gestures, and rituals. They help orient you towards a desired state.