Sacred Chanting: The Yoga of Sound

For the past fifteen years, I have immersed myself in the study and practice of sacred sound, a form of yoga in the Hindu tradition. Chanting, or the yoga of sound, is the very fabric of Hinduism. It developed alongside Hatha yoga and Tantra. Yoga has gained tremendous popularity among Westerners as a system of health. Chant, too, developed as (and continues to be) a method of preserving health and well-being in the Hindu community. With each of my recordings I have tried to make Hindu chanting accessible and enjoyable for both yoga practitioners and for people drawn to the nuances and rhythms of Indian music.

Chanting has many health benefits: it slows our heart rate, lowers blood pressure, produces natural painkillers, and much more. Medical research validates the power of chant to assist in the treatment of disease. When coupled with yoga or stress reduction techniques, chant can benefit overall well-being. It is highly recommended that you sing along with these easy-to-learn chants at least occasionally. Every variation is done twice: listen once, then sing along.

Based on a form of repetitive chanting known in North India as kirtan and in South India as bhajan, these chants are a simple form of call and response, a dynamic that can be interpreted in various ways—the deepest and most basic being the heart’s response to love.

I recently returned from a chanting pilgrimage to India, where many pilgrims practiced kirtan chanting. We chanted in the forests, by the ocean, and in the halls of ancient temples. How wonderful to simply sing out our devotion to the beloved!

Kirtan chanting is simple yet elegant, easy yet demanding. It is liberating, allowing our spirits to soar in the heights of subtle awareness, and yet it is grounding, compelling us to pay attention to the now.

How to Use Chant Recordings

Here are three ways to use chants for your daily spiritual life:

1. Chant Along as a Form of Meditation You can chant as a form of personal prayer and meditation to put you in touch with your own sense of deep knowing and inner awareness. As you chant, you will find yourself transported to another realm, giving you respite from the normal activities of your mind and activating your body’s natural healing processes. To prepare your chanting space, light incense, a candle, or oil lamp; place flowers before your favorite sacred object or in a vase before you; and then chant along with the CD.

2. For Yoga or Exercising

Use chants to practice yoga or movement-type meditations such as Tai Chi or Chi Gong. You may also use the music when you exercise: the chanting will facilitate movement and flow.

The music, specially designed not distract you from your body, will instead stimulate an emotional component that will greatly enhance your yoga or exercising.

3. For Spiritual Listening

Enjoy chants for spiritual listening, or to create an ambience while you work, relax, or pray. You will also find them stimulating when used in the garden or in the kitchen while you cook: they will enhance the vibrancy of the plants and gather spiritual energy into your food. Listen on headphones while you relax in your favorite chair or play the music on your stereo while you do other things. You may even lie flat on the floor or the bed, allowing the music to course through your body, stimulating or soothing your energy circuits as needed.

Yoga chanting has many layers. The more you listen and chant along, the more these layers will reveal themselves to you and facilitate shifts in your consciousness. Be aware of these shifts: they can help move your energy to another level or clear obstructions in the flow of your energy.

About the Author...

RUSSILL PAUL grew up in India among a family of musicians and artists. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he began playing stringed instruments at the early age of four, and later developed skills as a vocalist and composer. He has been involved with the music industry for over two decades and his diverse background includes working with film music and numerous international performances.

A close friend and student of the late Dom Bede Griffiths, he lived as a monk for almost five years at a Benedictine monastery in South India studying yoga, philosophy, and Sanskrit. For the past decade, he has taught academic courses and presented workshops on chant, music, and culture in the United States. He presently teaches in the graduate program of Naropa Institute of Oakland, California, and in the Doctorate in Ministry program at Matthew Fox's University of Creation Spirituality, also in Oakland. Russill has also been featured at music and spirituality conferences around the world.

Russill lives with his wife, Asha, in California and travels widely in the United States and abroad to present workshops, retreats, and concerts. Together they lead chanting pilgrimages to South India in January each year.

Russill Paul

Russill Paul Return to top of page

A native of Chennai, South India, Russill Paul began playing stringed instruments from the age of four. In his teens, he was already playing music professionally. Although he was born and brought up i...

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