LR_JeffZweig0483Chanting and Sanskrit

The use of sound in ritual practice is as old as mankind. Virtually every culture, religion, ethnic group, and/or community uses some form of chanting practice. Chanting may also be the simplest and most universal expression of yoga.

Sanskrit is the language of yoga. It is the language of the classical sacred yoga texts, or shastras including the Upanishads, the Vedas, the Yoga Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita. A few of the many definitions of Sanskrit include: polished, purified, or refined speech.  A language made perfect for sacred literature.

Here are a couple of the chants you may encounter in yoga classes, or at least in my yoga classes.


Om is my favorite chant, because I never forget the words.”
~ Richard Freeman

Even the most casual practitioners of yoga exercises have heard or been invited to make the sound OM (or AUM, as it is sometimes written) at the beginning and end of a class.

AUM is pure sound vibration. The Sanskrit word for AUM is pranavah, which translates literally as “humming.” The Yoga Sutras (1.21) of Patanjali suggests chanting the mantra AUM as a technique for experiencing pure consciousness.

OK, that got pretty heavy. Here’s another way of looking at it: AUM is a short cut. It clears the obstacles between the constructed idea of “self” and universal pure awareness.

Just for the fun of it, try a little experiment. Right here, right now. Turn off your iPhone, iPad…i-Whatever. Close your eyes and inhale. Visualize OM in your mind, silently. Pause briefly at the top of your inhale, then exhale and again silently: OM. Pause briefly at the bottom or your exhale.
Try this 5 times. Don’t overextend yourself. If it was easy to do 5 times, try 10 times. Observe your breathing and allow thoughts to enter and pass through your consciousness. Go ahead, try it!

Ashtanga Yoga
Opening Chant

vande gurunam charanaravinde
sandarshita svatma sukhava bodhe
nishreyase jangalikayamane
samsara hala hala mohashantyai
abahu purushakaram
shankachakrasi dharinam
sahasra shirasam shvetam
pranamami patanjalim

I bow to the lotus feet of the
(plurality of) Gurus, which awaken insight
into the happiness of pure Being,
which are the complete absorption into joy,
the jungle physician, eliminating the delusion caused by the poison of Samsara (conditioned existence).

I prostrate before the sage Patanjali
who has thousands of radiant,
white heads (as the divine serpent, Ananta) and who has, as far as his arms,
assumed a human form
holding a conch shell ( divine sound),
a wheel (discus of light or time)
and a sword (discrimination).

Watch and Listen

Ashtanga Yoga
Closing Chant

svasthi praja bhyaha pari pala yantam
nya yena margena mahim mahishaha
go brahmanebhyaha shubamastu nityam
lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
Om shanti shanti shantihi

May all be well with mankind
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.
May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred
May the worlds be happy.
OM Peace, Peace, Peace

Watch and Listen

Sahanavavatu Mantra

Sahanavavatu is a shanti or peace mantra from the Taittiriya Upanisad.  Saha means: “together” and is the essence of this chant.  It is offered as a universal prayer, to send the message of peace, prosperity and for God’s blessings for harmony between teacher and student.

saha navavatu, saha nau bhunaktu
saha veeryam karvaavahai
tejasvi naa vadhita mastu
maa vid vishaa va hai
OM shantih, shantih, shantih

May we together be protected
May we together be nourished by God’s blessings
May our efforts together be luminous and filled with joy
May we never quarrel or hate one another
OM Peace, Peace, Peace  (Let there be peace in all three universes)