Ashtanga Yoga – Traditional Opening and Closing Chant

In Ashtanga yoga there are two traditional chants. One at the start of the class and one at the end.  In my classes I only do this chant in my non-beginners classes.  I do this because I think chanting can be a bit intimidating to some people.  This can be especially when they are just beginning their yoga journey.  People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons and I think that is fine, yoga has many benefits.

 

When I do teach the chant, it is is optional.  I know many of my students love it and some people just listen for whatever reason and that’s fine. I would hate someone to miss out on the many benefits of yoga because they don’t feel comfortable chanting.

Why do the chant?

I think the chant is really useful as a way to seperate your yoga practice from day to day life. If you don’t want to to chant you could take a moment to connect with your breathing.

What language is the chant and what does it mean?

The chant is in Sanskrit – an ancient language of India. The opening chant gives thanks to Patanjali, who wrote the yoga Sutras.  This ancient text can be considered the philosophical underpinnings of yoga.  If you are interested in deepening your understanding of yoga, you should definately read the yoga sutras. It was written approximately 200 years BC and has amazing relevance to our lives today.  In my mind when we say this chant we are also giving thanks to all the yoga teachers who have passed on the yoga tradition so that we can practice today.  The closing chant is more about taking the benefits of our yoga practice and putting them out into the world. You can find a  full translation of the chants here.

 

Religion and the Chant

Some people may not want to chant because they feel it is religious.  Yoga is not a religion.  It has a philosophy and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of whether they have a religious faith or not.

 

Pronunciation of the chant

This post came about because some of my students said they struggled to pronounce the chant when they are practing by themselves.  Last week I came across this wonderful video on yoga mammas blog.  The video shows Sharath and his grandfather Pattabhi Jois, saying the opening chant.  Pattabhi Jois was the founder of ashtanga yoga, he is no longer with us and the current head of the lineage is his grandson Sharath.  I feel very grateful for having had the opportunity to study with both of them.  This video shows a beautiful transmission of the tradition.

 

Here is another video of Sharath chanting the closing chant.

 

Do you like chanting?  What do you like or dislike about it? Do you have any questions about the chants?

About Helen Aldred

Helen Aldred practices and teaches ashtanga yoga in Liverpool. She loves to share and discuss yoga, as well as health and wellbeing. Follow her on twitter and join Ashtanga yoga Liverpool’s Facebook community .

Comments

  1. I agree, for me the opening chant is about the separation and leaving behind of my daily life and my practice beginning. I also enjoy doing the closing chant, it feels like a celebration of the practice I have just done.

    I have missed doing the chants as part of the class, it can be an amazing feeling being part of 20+ students chanting together. When I enter the Mysore room with people already well in to their practice I tend to chant quietly, partly because I don’t want to disturb and partly because of feeling self conscious chanting on my own.

    It’s interesting how different teachers chant in different ways, some are very monotone and some quite lyrical, some fast, some slow.

  2. Yes I agree, chanting with a big group is wonderful. Thanks for sharing Kevin.

  3. Ragdoll says:

    I love the chanting and find not chanting in the shorter classes very strange indeed. I don’t feel ‘ready’ until halfway through the first surya. As the geek I am, I can’t help pointing out that this is testament to the power of the conditioned response. I also like the mark of respect. I think of them both as being one big namaste to everyone who has practised, or is practising, or (for that matter) can’t practice or never will.

    That’s not to say I don’t see why you choose not to use it in the shorter sessions, I’d have definitely found it off putting in my first class!

  4. I agree with R about how chanting at the start of the yoga journey can feel off putting, mumbo jumbo as I once thought of it. That was until one Sunday as I sat waiting for my class to begin while a Chanting workshop was happening. I sat there thinking what the hell is that? This wonderful resonant, vibrating sound emanating from behind the closed door had me trying to peek in to see who was making this incredible sound. That was the day I met Dena Kingsberg for the first time, I had never heard of her, but unknown to me over the next 12 years she was to have a massive impact on my practice and life.

    As for the Yoga Sutra’s I’ve tried I really have, but every time I give up after a chapter or less. I think I need a class or at least someone to make it make sense, in language I can understand as Laksmish did in Mysore with his interpretation of the Hatha
    Yoga Pradipika.

  5. Hi Ragdoll,
    thanks for your comment. I love that you say it’s like a massive namaste to everyone 🙂 You make me think that maybe we should take more of a moment to watch the breath before beginning the beginners class. I will think about that…

    Thanks for recounting your meeting with Dena, Kevin. It really does sound and feel incredible when there is a group chanting. Which version of the yoga sutras have you got?

  6. I’ve got Iyengar’s Light on the yoga Sutra’s, I won it at The Yoga Show a couple of years ago, though it still makes no sense to me. Ruth did some Sutra based workshops at AYL a couple of years ago, alas I missed them being in Hospital .

    I had no idea how life changing and inspirational that 30 minutes listening to chanting would turn out to be. The Receptionist actually said I could go in and sit at the back, but the room was packed and I stayed outside. It was still too “out there” for me back then.

  7. Hi Kevin,

    I recommend you read the Heart of Yoga by Desikachar. It has a copy of the yoga sutras at the back. Such a great book and an easier read than Iyenagar’s book, I think.

  8. Hi Helen,

    I just checked out the Desikachar book on Amazon, it seems very broad ranging, are the Sutras actually explained or just listed at the back?

  9. Hi Kevin,

    There is a commentary of the yoga sutras at the back. It is brief compared to the Iyengar book. I prefer that though, I like to think about them for myself. The rest of the book is a great introduction to yoga philosophy and will also help you understand the yoga sutras better.

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