White Tara Mantra during Hurricane Sandy

White Tara Thangka, Chautauqua County, NY (c) 2012 barefoot photos

After a mass request from Garchen Rinpoche to recite the White Tara Mantra for all those who are suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I created this video, so that you may join me and learn the chant too.

 Please sing along or recite silently as you learn the phrases. Listen to the sounds of the syllables mindfully as you utter them.  And feel the vibration of each part in your body.

If you prefer to recite a prayer to Tara, here it is, from His Eminence Garchen Triptrul Rinpoche: Lord Atisha’s Homage and Supplication to Tara

Homage to she who protects from the eight perils!
Homage to she who blazes with auspicious splendor!
Homage to she who blocks the door to evil destinies!
Homage to she who guides on the path to the higher realms!
You have continually accompanied me.
Pray protect me evermore with compassion!

Community in Sound

This morning in class after we chanted OM ~ and the class is becoming less self-conscious and more vibrational as they grow accustomed to chanting ~ a student remarked how “good we sounded” as we had reached that exquisite blending of voices ~ that community of OMs.The experience reminded him of the Virtual Choir he’d seen on You Tube.  Eric Whitacre, the composer and conductor speaks in the following TED video of what the process of group singing meant to him. He said that the first time he sang in a choir he realized that he was part of something bigger than himself.

In yoga, we’d say that we ARE something bigger than our conception of our individual selves. This is the beauty of chanting before class. We acknowledge and surrender to that energy, that grace, that love.

It is from that space that we twist and turn ourselves in the poses and that we sit quietly in breath work or in meditation or savasana. This is true whether we have chanted in a hall with hundreds of yogis or if we chant silently to ourselves while practicing. This is the sound of the universe. Of the primal energy that flows everywhere. The vibration that is.

In class at Panterra on Tuesday night, we were fortunate to have sitar player, Justin Scarimbola strumming his instrument while we fell deeply into savasana. As one note fell away, another appeared, then another and another. The evening raga grew a little “on edge” as daylight was fading to dusk and the notes picked up steam, coming faster, more insistent and then sliding back into quietude. The music took my mind along on its journey. Afterwards, I felt that somehow, I saw the world a bit differently. Time and space shifting in their tides just as the Indian raga grew louder, softer, faster, slower, smoother, rougher.

Today is windy and hot. Yesterday was hot and still. It’s all labile, change, flux, even when it seems to be static. Do not stay stuck, the music, the chanting, like our practice tell us.

We are capable of so much more love than we realize.

MANTRA for today: May I open to unknown capabilities within myself today.

Niyama 1, Clean Up Your Act with Shauca

Yoga Sutra 2.40: saucat svanga jugupsa parairh asamsargah

Purity protects one’s body and brings nonphysical relationships with others. (trans. B. Bouanchaud)

Yoga Sutra 2.41: sattva suddhi saumanasya ekagrya inddriyajaya atma darsana yogyatvani ca

Then, purity, clarity, and well-being of the spirit come to flower, as well as concentration, mastery of the eleven sense organs, and perception of the inner being. (trans. B. Bouanchaud)

Is cleanliness next to Godliness? Before I began studying the Yoga Niyamas I would have been scoffing in cynicism, eyebrows raised in disbelief at the *ancient* saying. That was something our mothers said that was soooo not relevant to the twenty-first century.

The yoga sutras push the whole cleanliness concept a whole lot further than, say keeping your room picked up. Patanjali links purity of body with purity of mind. No surprise there for anyone who has practiced yoga for even a month or two.

I am reminded of my Catholic school education. When preparing for the sacrament of First Confession, or Penance as it is called now we learned many ways that we can break our relationship with God. It is not only the body that can sin, but the mind as well, Sister Mary Grace would tell us. Though at times I have pooh-poohed this teaching as one that carried a truckload of guilt in its big flat bed, I now understand from my practice that pretty much EVERYTHING I do starts in my cantankerous MIND. Clearing my mind with a hard physical practice, or focused pranayama, or chanting a mantra can have amazing results with removing toxic thoughts and feelings. My body glows when my mind shines! This is shauca, or existing in a state of purity.

And no sense getting all bogged down in guilt either; shit happens as they say, and life is all about accumulating stress. A definition of life might just be that which acquires STRESS. Our job as yogins is to reduce and cleanse our systems so that pure energy can flow and energize us.

Taking another approach: everything starts with the BODY. If I clean and honor my body, my thoughts begin to flow purely and positively. Mike and I are turning our diets to the vegan side (ahh, it’s harder than I thought it would be, but more about that later). Only a couple of weeks in though, and we both notice a growing mental clarity and wakefulness. My insides feel cleaner than ever! My thoughts grow more gentle.

Amy Weintraub writes, in Yoga for Depression, that the Yamas and Niyamas (yogic ethics and observances) constitute a program for positive mental health. She suggests mantra for attaining a state of mental purity. Tat tvam asi, or You are that, a mantra from the Advaita vedanta tradition she uses, repeating the words, You are with me. Recognizing the nondual notion that there is no difference between You and That, the practitioner can settle into a state of equilibrium, if not ecstatic bliss.

Can you take one step today toward cleaning up your life? Making a committment to do it is the first step.


compressedDuring the workshop at Studio Panterra last weekend, a question surfaced regarding mantra. Since Francois Raoult is an ethnomusicologist by training, it is perhaps natural that mantra and sound are components of his practice and study. Here is some of his discussion:

    We are interested in how the sound is embodied and how it flows through you. We’re not so interested in simply repeating the sounds for the sake of saying them.

    The mantra doesn’t need to be polished; there is often a rough quality to it. It is not a song. Kirtan is somewhere between mantra and songs.

    In old Indian temples mantra is alive and intense with old people chanting in crackling voices, sweating, etc.

    Mantra of sound is a bindu or seed form. We’re not interested in meaning of word, but in the SOUND itself, such as Alleluia or Amen. Early Gregorian chant (in Latin) was very mantric.

    Mantra is a shamanic power tool – don’t mess around with it foolishly.

    When to begin mantra practice: Don’t do something too esoteric until you have some mastery of the exoteric. For example, if your trikonasana really stinks, don’t add jnana mudra! Side note: Mudras can devolve into gimmickry, but if you are aware and use them sensitively, they may be a powerful addition to your practice. Interestingly, most mudras Westerners can’t do because our fingers are too tight.

    When chanting mantra, your voice has to be free of any gripping or holding. The sound has to well from deep within.

    The Iyengar take is that ASANA IS THE MUDRA and BREATH IS THE MANTRA.

You should not repeat a mantra audibly without responsibility; you have to feel it deep inside. First you have to project your voice – there has to be some juice. Then you shape the sound, and then go introverted.

Every sound is a mantra, even the rain.

The percussion of acorns falling on skylights and a steady beat of rain augmented the continuous brahmari humming of a roomful of yogis stretched individually upon blankets, palms turned skyward.

F. played the singing bowl as we relaxed, healing our grief and stress. Ahh, savasana!

Mourning Elisabeth Glorianne

rice ceilingI’m still wheeling over the sudden and tragic death of this young woman, my almost daughter-in-law. We expected wedding bells to ring this spring and to officially welcome her into our tribe. Instead, I am looking for a vessel for my grief and tonight I found one in an ancient Vedic mantra.

Since there was no service held while I was in Houston, and I needed to return home to prepare for the upcoming semester, I held my own service by lighting incense, chanting the Gayatri mantra and visualizing peaceful rest for her.

Earlier on the blog I posted Deva Premal singing the gayatri mantra to some teenage girls. That seems oddly appropriate now, none the less I wanted to branch out. Here is a version by Lenise, with South American artwork. The style is not so dissimilar from Deva Premal. 108 repetitions is the classic number to repeat to complete a mala.

Elisabeth, I pray you are finally enjoying the peace that was so elusive during your days among us. May we use your death as a catalyst to nourish and bring peace to all we meet.

Gayatri Mantra

I was sooo excited about the poetry collection I began organizing Wednesday that I entirely forgot about posting a Thursday video. So sorry to those of you who have been enjoying the Thursday visual infusions.

I’ve been receiving questions from students regarding mantra, which I’ll try to field in more detail in later posts.In the meanwhile, here is a lovely video of mantra with one of my fav chanters, Deva Premal.

This is a beautiful rendition of the Gayatri Mantra — Though I’d be hard pressed to find ANYTHING by Deva Premal that was NOT beautiful. Here she explains a bit about her unusual growing up experiences to a group of girls at the cusp of womanhood.

Parents, you may find this supportive and inspiring because if you are reading this, you probably are already a bit out of the mainstream in your child-rearing practices.

If you would like to learn more about the Gayatri Mantra, wahidudden provides several other versions as well as several more translations. Here is a translation by Krishnamurti that he cites:

We meditate upon the radiant Divine Light

of that adorable Sun of Spiritual Consciousness;

May it awaken our intuitional consciousness.

May you find blessings in this powerful and sacred prayer!

Ringing, Chanting om

It’s ironic that at a workshop titled Inner and Outer Strength, chanting made the strongest impression. Well, maybe not; maybe the hard asana work prepared the channels and enabled an opening as never heretofore experienced? Chanting does require inner strength of the vocal chords and deep release of the diaphragm.

In the white studio, thirty voices intoned OM in thirty different intonations. I, too, opened my mouth and a sound welled from deep in my torso. Gradually it grew louder and pitched higher as I traveled with it:

A – O – U – M.

Up from the belly, into the solar plexus, through the heart center, rising in the throat, finally vibrating between my eyebrows. Then a deep inbreath, opening my mouth – and as I find the deep inner place from which om begins – the sound is released, flying into the flock of oms in the room. Some large and deep, some resonant and harmonic, some high and sweet. All one energy.

Over and over the oms played louder, softer, faster, deeper. Over and over I let them go; I let sound happen through me as if releasing a long pent-up voice.

chautauqua secret garden bridge

The primordial voice that existed before “I” was, before the universe existed rang outward and inward. Becoming transparent to sound, I tried to hold it, though it never stayed. Without my thinking or expecting, the energy carried me across another bridge.

Eventually there were no more students, or teachers, or moms, professors, midwives, writers, bloggers, musicians, Techies, yogis, gardeners, poets, grammas. The sound erased personas as each voice moved on its own, emanating from ever-deepening channels within.

The vibration filled the room. I was aware of it and not aware of it. Eventually there were no individuals at all. Just sound. A flight of harmonics and energy. There was nothing to do, just keep sounding OOOOooooommmmm.

Like a lover after the fact, the chant eventually would wind down – the vibration still there, though softer. I opened my mouth to receive the sensation which became a fine humming – a string vibrating inside me and in the room. Then the sound was no longer present; sound gave way to silence and I became aware of a vibrant ringing, maybe my body was rocking, but I am not sure. Waves of energy throbbed and passed through me. All was vibration and nothing else. My body had become a bell and in all directions there was ringing.

Panterra garden buddha

Existence made sense. There was no denying that I was alive and that being alive equaled this bliss.