Why do we chant at the beginning and closing of our Astanga practice?
I love to chant. I like the way the ancient sounds form in my mouth and the unfamiliar tones that resonate in different areas of my body. I imagine these ancient prayers coming into sonic form before rising out of my body and connecting with the energy that surrounds my physical being and beyond. All of these actions combine to make me feel at peace when I chant.
Studies have shown that chanting, with its rhythmic vibrations, has a physically calming response on the body. Chanting calms our mind, which has the knock-on effect of stabilising our heart rate. Blood pressure decreases, slowing down the nervous system and producing beneficial endorphins that boost our metabolic system.
Astanga literally means ‘eight limbs’. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Niyamas are the second limb of the eight limbs of Yoga. They are divided into five. The fifth Niyama is Isvarapranidhana, which translates to contemplation of God, the true self and attainment to supreme consciousness.We chant in Sanskrit, which is said to be the language of the heart (perhaps that’s why it has such a healthy affect on it); opening our consciousness onto a higher plane and bringing us closer to the higher self.
We know, through physics, that everything in the universe is vibrating. The sound Om, when chanted, vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz — the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature.
The opening chant is also a blessing of gratitude offered to the lineage of teachers before us. It energetically cleanses the space, as well as preparing us for the practice ahead.
The closing chant seals a peaceful end — but not only to our practice. The last line ‘Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu’ literally translates as ‘May all sentient beings everywhere be happy and free and may my own words, thoughts and actions contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.’ Leaving us on a note that helps us to stay mindful throughout the day.