The Benefits of Singing in a Group: How Kirtan Affects the Immune System

Did you know that singing, especially in a choral setting like Kirtan, boosts the immune system?…

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Did you know that singing, especially in a choral setting like Kirtan, boosts the immune system? Numerous resent studies (also: google, singing+immune) suggest that singing in a group setting reduces the body’s production of the hormone cortisol, a hormone released during periods of stress or anxiety and which can cause systemic inflammations, effecting the optimal function of the body’s natural immune system and overall health. Further, studies show that singing promotes increases in cytokines, proteins of the immune system which enhance the body’s ability to fight serious disease.

Most of the studies revolve around cancer patients who are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety coping with their ailments. Researchers found a number of changes in hormones, immune proteins, neuropeptides and receptors. Those with the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression were seen to have the greatest overall benefits from singing in a group setting.

But let’s not think that only someone who is seriously infirm will benefit from choral singing (Kirtan). Taking good care of our immune systems will have long-term benefits for our overall health. In fact, biological evidence suggests that choral singing can have a whole range of social, emotional and psychological advantages to health.

The Icebreaker Effect

On a social level, studies have shown that singing in a group setting (vs. non-singing creative group activities like crafts or creative writing) produced the quickest social bonding among participants. The other non-singing groups eventually caught up in terms of bonding, but singing tended to bond the participants more quickly. The created connection through singing in a group is quick and strong. We can draw on each other’s energy in the choral setting to amplify our positive immune response more quickly.

Smilin Tom

I find this interesting because singing is considered somewhat extraordinary in our culture, whereby only those with talent, training or some ‘gift’ should participate. It seems to be socially acceptable, ‘not to sing.’ In fact, those who claim to be non-singers are the majority. So it might be said that our culture is somewhat ‘anti-singing.’ We even ridicule ‘average’ singers who express themselves (think karaoke). Not very good for our immune systems.

The emotions invoked through singing and music are as numerous as there are musicians. Exposure to a range of emotions through singing and music can enable us to seek out the pleasurable and beneficial emotions and to build on them within: compassion, joy, peace, generosity, forgiveness… immune system builders.

Psychologically, people listen to music to regulate arousal and mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness. All of these motivations are valid immune system builders. Controlling our mind and emotions, uplifting our awareness and being connected to one another surely benefits our overall health.

A Musical Vitamin

Choral singing (Kirtan) has been demonstrated to have positive benefits on our overall psychological and physical wellbeing. But don’t think that you have to be sick to benefit. On the contrary, singing in a group is like taking a vitamin.

Give yourself an immune system boost! Come sing with us.

Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan. San Diego’s ONLY weekly Kirtan practice. Thursday’s at 8:30pm at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio. 3301 Adams Avenue, 92116

See the master schedule for Kirtan, Mindfulness, Meditation and Pranayama classes, and of course, over 80 yoga classes each week.

Here is one of our favorite videos from last year, the traditional Om Asatoma Sadgamaya. You can also find this and many others on our album Jai Ram Sita Ram available on iTunes and CDBaby.

Happy Holidays.

Tom

 

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Kirtan and Dance

Just as a person who is extremely happy may spontaneously sing and dance to express their special pleasure…

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Kirtan and Dance are Intertwined

The Bhakti tradition in Hinduism is very clear about dance. Dance is a part of the spiritual experience. Dance is an integral part of the overall Kirtan experience.

“Just as a person who is extremely happy may spontaneously sing and dance to express their special pleasure, in the same way the Supreme Lord performs all actions to express His consciousness, which is perpetually in a state of Supreme Bliss.” ~Brahma Vaisnava Sampradaya

When We Dance, We Embody the Supreme State

In the Dvārakā-māhātmya (Skanda-Purana) the importance of dancing before the Deity is stated by Lord Krishna as follows: “A person who is in a jubilant spirit, who feels profound devotional ecstasy while dancing before Me, and who manifests different features of bodily expression can burn away all the accumulated sinful reactions he has stocked up for many, many thousands of years.”

In the same book there is a statement by Narada wherein he asserts, “From the body of any person who claps and dances before the Deity, showing manifestations of ecstasy, all the birds of sinful activities fly away upward.”

Just as by clapping the hands one can cause many birds to fly away, similarly the birds of all sinful activities which are sitting on the body can be made to fly away simply by dancing and clapping before the Deity of Krishna. – Quotes and Commentary from Nectar of Devotion

https://www.amazon.com/Nectar-Devotion-Complete-Science-Bhakti-Yoga/dp/0912776056

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Body, Mind, Spirit Align

Embodied cognition, the theory that the body reveals the nature of the mind can be seen in the following: Consider the mosh-pit verses an intentional, spiritual expression of dance. The former involves chaos with no spatial awareness, no empathy for others and no attempt to mirror or unite with a common awareness. Conversely, dance of a spiritual nature involves complete awareness, resembling a verbal language with vocabulary (dance movements) and grammar (system for combining movements) where each moment becomes a supreme expression of mind/body/spirit Unity.

Karen Pechelis states that the word Bhakti should not be understood as uncritical emotion, but as committed engagement. She adds that, in the concept of Bhakti in Hinduism, the engagement involves a simultaneous tension between emotion and intellection, “emotion to reaffirm the social context and temporal freedom, intellection to ground the experience in a thoughtful, conscious approach”.

~Karen Pechelis (2014), The Embodiment of Bhakti, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195351903, page 3

In any form of meditation the way involves awareness. Meditation is not mindlessness; it’s not emptiness, save that we empty ourselves of the extraneous. We fill our spirit with our Creator. We express our devotion through our bodies, our minds and emotions and we realize the bliss that is the perpetual state of the Supreme. Ecstatic dance becomes a spontaneous expression with a singular platform: Complete, joyful, blissful, unifying awareness.

Consider also the output. When we dance we create vibrations. Just as with everything else, the ‘quality’ of our vibration is our own. Do we wreak havoc in the mosh-pit bringing chaos to the universe? Or do we create beauty and joy by our physical expressions, dedicating them devotionally to the whole? What do we contribute by our dance?

We are Musical Instruments!

Dance is as music is. Each is a language. Each can only be an individual expression (even in a group setting). Each is sublime. When we combine song and dance we open ourselves further to a greater unifying principle. Dance is the letting go of inhibitions so we can more fully express our gratitude, our joy and our freedom.

There’s a fun little saying and it goes like this: ‘When we are old enough to talk, we are old enough to sing. When we are old enough to walk, we are old enough to dance.’

Bring your best dance (and your voice)… and a friend to Kirtan on Thursday nights at 8:30pm. We are made to dance and sing.

Additional reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology_of_dance

Check the schedule here for Kirtan, Meditation, Mindfulness and Pranayama classes.

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Invocation: Call it Forth

Take invocation to a higher level. If we want something in our world…

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Take invocation to a higher level. If we want something in our world, our lives, we must become what we want.

What is an invocation? What does it mean: to invoke? All spiritual traditions have invocation in their practices. How can the act of invocation deepen our spiritual practice and bring more joy and happiness into our lives?

As a Kirtan practitioner we recite, invoke the divine names, set to music. Through this invocation practice we replace the clutter of random mind chatter with a singular thought, a divine thought. We bring our attention and concentration to that thought. Yet at this level of invocation there is still a sense of separation between us and that which we are invoking. The next step is an actual merging with that divinity. We become that. Like a drop of rain falling into the ocean of singularity, we are our invocation. This type of becoming is central to deepening our practices and also in actually manifesting what we want in our lives.

If we want more love… practical applications:

If we want more love in our lives, we must first become more loving. We must manifest that desired quality from within. We must show more love to ourselves… first. If we want more peace in our lives, we must first find more peace in ourselves. If we want more affection, we must become more affectionate… first. It really doesn’t work the other way around. It can’t be demanded. These divine ‘heart qualities’ do not come from outside of us. We can’t buy them. They are within our hearts and are longing to come forth. Invoke them.

“…In My Name.”

In the Bible, Jesus uses the expression, “…in My Name,” many times. Pray in My Name. Gather in My Name, etc. What does He mean by that expression? I believe He means for us to invoke His spirit and become as He became.

The dictionary defines invocation as a calling upon of some agent for assistance. We can expand that definition more spiritually by saying that an invocation is to seek greater connection to the divine: to become One, to merge.

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What would Jesus do?

(This phrase has been used rather commercially by Christian variants but the underlying essence of the question is sound.)

I often ask myself this contemplative, self-reflective question. It helps me to deepen my awareness.

How would Jesus pray or meditate if He were I, in my given situation? Consider this! What would be his thoughts were my immediate circumstances His? I challenge myself to pray as if I am Jesus. I try to meditate with His knowledge, His understanding, His discernment, His compassion and love, His closeness… I pray as I feel He would pray. I try to absorb His perspective. This is what I believe is meant by His expression, “…in My Name.” I invoke the spirit of Jesus to guide me in my meditation of becoming. I try to become Christ-like.

So, when we invoke, the ideal is to become that which we invoke. We can invoke the Supreme or an aspect thereof. We become a divine trait.

Wikipedia categorizes invocation with ‘Self-identification,’ “…the taking on of the qualities being invoked.” Webster’s defines it like empathy; “The feeling that you share and understand the problems or experiences of someone else,” in our case, the Divine. Self-realization might be a more familiar term.

Invocation is also described as a form of possession, where (perhaps) psychologically one’s personality is replaced with that which is invoked. I like to think of this more as a merging, a union, rather than a replacing. Nothing can be replaced, where one thing no longer exists. We transform into our invocation. We reunite with the Whole.

Invocation calls up from within ones-self that which is already there, veiled as it were, the subject of our invocation. Our meditations are designed to thin or strip away the veils of maya, forgetfulness, our delusions so that we can develop a rapport with our invocation, or perhaps ultimately an oneness, a lasting Oneness… we become One in the Name.

We can take our meditations another leap forward by becoming the nature of our invocations.

Happy meditating!

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Devotion and our Existence

When we meditate, when we chant Kirtans, one of the things we are doing is expressing our devotion…

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When we meditate, when we chant Kirtans, one of the things we are doing is expressing our devotion to our Creator. Devotion might be the supreme aspect of our meditation practice. There’s a longing. We want to experience our existence fully. We work towards a Oneness. We strive devotedly, lovingly, longingly to be nearer to our Creator.

Creator is an ineffable concept. So each of us will consider the concept in our own way. But just like a parent/child relationship, we have a child relationship to that Creator. And we want that relationship, even if we don’t realize it. We want that love. We long for it.

Devote yourself to your practice

As I have said before, I practice (meditate) first thing in the morning. In my first waking moments my thoughts are of my practice. I’m drawn to it. I want that closeness; I build and nurture that relationship out of love for my life, my experience and my place in the grander scheme. I devote my practice to my loving Parent. I give thanks. I grow love.

Life is a miracle!

Devotion to this concept is perhaps only possible when we set aside our limited physical selves and recognize our relationship in the bigger picture. We are a part of Creation. We are able to view the past and see into the future more precisely than at any time in recorded history. And yet we often feel an emptiness with this greater knowledge. It seems that the deeper we explore our physicality, the further we move away from our true source.

Tom

Consider sitting quietly with your beloved, just holding each other. No other intentions or activities; just BEING together, becoming as one. Consider wanting that closeness daily, being fully in love, without reservation, without expectation, without condition, completely absorbed in the devotion. Now, consider that relationship experience with your beloved Creator. We have to make this happen. We must sit together, wrapped in each-others arms… Our separateness conditioning continually turns our attentions away from our true oneness-self. Devotion, love takes resolve. It requires practice. It’s easy to be separate…

Uncertainty?

Consider the very nature of the universe.

There is a concept in physics called the ‘uncertainty principle.’ Simply put, it means that when you observe something in motion (everything is in motion), the more closely you observe the objects position, the less you will know about the objects speed and visa versa. But you can never know exactly both.

The science behind the concept is deep and permeates the entirety of physics. Philosophically speaking, the idea can relate to our concept of duality. Despite the advance of our instruments and our ability to closely observe, we still have no cut and dry explanation of the nature of our universe or why we are in it. There is an uncertainty. It might be said that the universe both is and isn’t. It seems to me that the more closely we observe the universe, rather than disproving Creator, Creator simply gets bigger. Love grows!

Uniting the dual qualities is a fantastic spiritual (and mental) challenge. On a physical science basis I will never understand the math. But I can relate to the concept. We are separate from AND also connected to our Creator. Devote yourself to the recognition of this miracle-Oneness. Devote yourself to your practice. Develop certainty.

Check the schedule for Meditation, Kirtan, Mindfulness and Pranayama classes offered each week at Pilgrimage of the Heart.

Join me at Kirtan on Thursday’s at 8:30pm

Tom

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Bhakti Yoga at Pilgrimage of the Heart

Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of emotion, bliss and devotion; devotion to Creator, creation and our place in It…

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Bhakti Yoga at Pilgrimage of the Heart

Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of emotion, bliss and devotion; devotion to Creator, creation and our place in It. Bhakti is one of the four major aspects of the yoga path, the others being Jhana spiritual self-study, Karma, the yoga of (selfless) service, and Raja or Royal Yoga the mystical reunion with the Creator thru meditation practices and lifestyle. All are paths to enlightenment (see the Bhagavad Gita (I personally recommend the Arnold translation). These four traditions have each their own chapters. Any or all of these paths are available to the practitioner.

Pilgrimage Audience

Kirtan at Pilgrimage of the Heart

Kirtan is a legitimate and valid part of the Bhakti tradition. It is a chanting, devotional practice centered around the singing of the Names of the Creator. As a practice it reminds us of our origin and ‘Maker.’ The distractions of our lives often will veer us away from higher truth and firmly root us in a purely physical mindset. Kirtan elevates us to the more spiritual realm as we sing and chant devotions to our Creator. It reminds and motivates us to look more frequently at the subtleties of our existence. It’s truly an avenue to a higher mindset.

I’ve looked at the demographic of our Kirtan practice. I find it interesting that most of our participants do not practice yoga (Hatha, Asana, etc.) nor are they members of the Pilgrimage of the Heart yoga studio. We have attracted a large following from outside, some of who have been attending regularly for years, which to me is fantastic. I am inspired by the high level of awareness of our participants and I am committed to bringing relevance and meaning to our practice for them.

But I also find it interesting that we draw less that 1% of the members of our studio to our Kirtan practice on any given week. That’s a little troubling. Not that I am complaining… our Kirtan is in the top 10% of all classes attended at Pilgrimage and has been for years! I just wonder why our members don’t take greater advantage of this incredible offering.

A few years ago an anonymous, lovely soul posted this comment about her first Kirtan experience. It brings a tear of joy to my eyes that we can bring such a joyous and meaningful experience to someone from our humble practice. Truly, my hope is to have Kirtan generate this type of experience for all who attend, every week. So I repost this in hopes that I might motivate our members to join with us. We want you. We need you. We are here for you! Kirtan is a heart-opening experience… and an eye-opener, too. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts!

Join us on Thursdays at 8:30pm in the East Room.

“I will never forget my first week at Pilgrimage of the Heart. I was immersing myself in yoga – I took a week off work and had a “stay-cation”. . . practiced 2-3 times a day, meditated, hiked; basically created my own little yoga retreat on the cheap. Of course I had to try out the Thursday night yoga philosophy class and musical meditation double header. What I learned that night has been a foundation for many of the decisions I have made over the past two years.

I couldn’t even tell you exactly what ancient text we were reading from in the philosophy discussion. However, the main point being made was this . . . Life (or the universe, or God — put in your entity of choice) will ALWAYS give you what you ask for. However, many times it will be presented to you in a way you don’t recognize at first, and often in a form which is scary. So, do you run away from what you want because it scares you, or do you accept what life/the universe/God is offering?

This idea stuck with me as I shuffled my way into the east room for music meditation. I was expecting an hour of gentle music as I breathed in inner silence. Ha! Instead, I got an hour of chanting. Drums, harmoniums, a guitar? It was fantastic. And kind of weird. A whole room full of people shaking noisemakers and chanting “Hare Krishna!” This was pretty far outside my comfort zone. I mean, come on. . . what would all the non-yoga people in my life think if they saw me now? And then it hit me. I had been looking for a place to sing for a long time. I love to sing. I mean, this is a love the runs deep to the core of my being. It’s a visceral love that I’ve felt my whole life. For a while I had toyed with the idea of joining a church choir, even though I don’t follow any particular religion, just to sing with a group. And there I was. Singing with a group. I felt a joy I hadn’t experienced in years. And it was scary.

I almost cried when I realized how immediately this lesson was being presented to me. It was a big moment. I decided then and there that I would keep going to music meditation. I have to keep singing, and I also have to investigate why I was so scared of such an amazing group of people. Why was I so concerned with what others thought? Where had I picked up all of these judgments, and why the heck would I keep holding on to them?

That lesson has come back to me many times, guiding me to make decisions that have clearly changed my life. Each time I actively choose to take what life has to offer, no matter what it looks like, I find myself deeply grateful for the way things unfold. It’s funny how sometimes we think life just isn’t working out the way we want it to, but it always seems to end up exactly how it should be.”

— Author unknown

 

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Karma

“My own gratitude heart is all that matters.” — Sri Chinmoy

When we meditate we create a surface upon which we can build…

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Karma

“My own gratitude heart is all that matters.” — Sri Chinmoy

When we meditate we create a surface upon which we can build a platform of stability, where gratitude and compassion can be the grounding sources of our causalities.

I’ve been thinking about Karma and it’s meaning. In simple terms, Karma is the law of cause and effect. Our causes (thought, word, deed) have effects on others (positively or negatively). Those causes we create are ‘recorded’ on our personal ledgers, so to speak, and we are responsible for the effects.

What we do after we create a cause is important.

But Karma should not be regarded only by the effect our causes have on others. More importantly perhaps, karma should be regarded as the effect our causes have on ourselves. Common references to this concept include: ‘An eye for an eye,’ ‘Live by the sword, die by the sword,’ ‘What goes around comes around.’

Dominos

I’ve developed a personal mantra:

The only thing in the entire universe that truly matters is my own personal ledger.

Karma is what we have done to ourselves. Karma is ‘Life-Lesson’. Every day we have to deal with the effects created by others. How we deal is our own. Our response creates good or bad Karma for ourselves. But the causality belongs to someone else, in this case.

But when we create a ‘cause’ the responsibility is all on us. It goes on our ledger.
(Our response to the effects of other’s causalities goes on our ledger, too.) Our ledger contains our causes and our response to causes created by others.

Wayne Dyer Quote

50,000 years from now the only thing that will have mattered is our own life’s record. Everyone that we have ever helped or hurt will be dead. Nothing will have mattered to anyone. Only your own life’s record will matter. And it only matters to you.

What’s on your ledger?

Is your record black… or red… or is it the purity of white? I’ve found that in this life there are but a few lines, which once crossed, cannot be uncrossed. We have the capacity to fix our wrongs. We can correct the karmic influence. We can rewrite our ledger… mostly. We can take responsibility. We can do better. We can learn and grow. We can create the causality of repair. We can move forward in a positive, compassionate manner from this point forward, while we work on our past discrepancies. We can apologize. We can forgive… We can forgive ourselves!

It can be rightfully said that we are in control of our life experiences. We have the capacity to choose: to choose to create with compassion and gratitude and to respond with compassion and gratitude. No one can influence our choice. It’s up to us. We may find ourselves in less than desirable circumstances; circumstance beyond our control. But how we respond affects our karma, our ledger.

I try to consciously remember the truly miraculous nature of life. We are so distracted by the attraction to form, to stuff. We literally identify ourselves with our possessions, rather than our heart, the place where discernment lives. Our lives are true miracles. We’ve lost sight of the miracle. We are more than just the memory of our bygone possessions. We are miracles beyond the capacity of our language to define. Life is a miracle! It’s not commonplace! We are still the ONLY life that we have positively identified in the universe (conspiracy theories, not withstanding). That realization should generate a degree of gratitude. In fact,

“My own gratitude heart is ALL that matters.” —Sri Chinmoy

Coming from a place of gratitude and compassion for our miracle-life enables us to create peaceful, loving causes. Gratitude enables us to respond positively even to negative causality. And it gives us the insight to go within ourselves and correct our causal mistakes.

Open your ledger. Look carefully… and be constantly aware…

Pilgrimage of the Heart offers Pranayama with Lauren, Mindfulness with Joe, Meditation with Sujantra, Papaha and Astika and Kirtan (chanting) with Tom, Sujantra, Sita Rose and ‘Fast Heart Mart’ every week. Check the schedule for times and dates.

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The Diaphragm: A Link the Conscious and the Subconscious

Last week I discussed the link between breath and heart and I gave you an exercise to gain greater awareness…

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Last week I discussed the link between breath and heart and I gave you an exercise to gain greater awareness and control of this subtle correspondence. This exercise can be utilized during a variety of meditation practices.

Here is another link in the chain.

 Consider the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is a muscle and a membrane, which separates the lower abdominal region of our bodies (intestines, kidneys, liver, etc.) from the upper thoracic region, the area with our heart and lungs. The diaphragm is the main motor mechanism of the breath.

Inhale. Exhale.

Simply, when we inhale the diaphragm moves downward, decreasing the pressure inside the lungs compared to the outside air pressure. It creates a vacuum: air rushes in.

When we exhale the diaphragm moves upward, putting pressure on the lungs; increasing the pressure inside the lungs compared to the outside. Air rushes out.

And so, as you know, our subconscious, autonomics control the diaphragm… mostly. When we control our breathing through our practices we are consciously taking control of our subconscious diaphragm. The idea is to be able to recognize and feel the diaphragm as the mechanism you are controlling.

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Everything you do with your breath centers around the diaphragm.

And to me, here’s the cool part: When we consciously recognize the diaphragm as we meditate and control it, the diaphragm becomes a bridge between the conscious and the subconscious: a very powerful meditation! It’s like having one foot in each world.

Sit and breathe. Feel your heartbeat. Then add the diaphragm link. Connect your conscious and subconscious. This creates an atmosphere of mindfulness which permeates into your overall life experience. And that’s what we want: More mindful, more of the time.

Sit down. Be still. Take a deep breath and feel your diaphragm descend!

Pilgrimage of the Heart offers Pranayama with Lauren, Mindfulness with Joe, Meditation with Sujantra, Papaha and Astika and Kirtan (chanting) with Tom, Sujantra, Sita Rose and ‘Fast Heart Mart’ every week. Check the schedule for times and dates.

Happy breath, one and all!

Tom

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The Foundation is Breath and Heart

Let’s develop breath/heart awareness!…

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With each and every breath I live on my heart’s God-altar.” — Sri Chinmoy

 

Let’s develop breath/heart awareness!

We take fore granted this thing called breath. We inhale and exhale a substance called air. The mechanics of this breath process are almost entirely autonomic: controlled by the subconscious. In fact, until we slow down, stop and direct our awareness directly at our breath, we don’t even know we are doing it.

Here is an exercise that helps focus our awareness, our consciousness, on our breath and heart. You don’t have to be a yogi for this to work for you. Very briefly:

As you sit, bring your attention to your breath. Notice yourself breathing. Let your body breath… FEEL it. Then, consciously slow your breath down a bit: Breathe a little more deeply, exhale a little more fully, don’t strain… take control of your breath process. Direct your consciousness, your awareness on your breath. Stay focused. Stay steady.

igor

Then when you are ready, inhale nicely and hold your breath… don’t strain, try and feel your heartbeat. You might have to do this a few times. Once you get a feel for your heartbeat by holding your breath, begin your controlled breathing again as you continue to feel your pulse. Feel both. Stay focused!

As you continue to breathe, feel your pulse. Notice that you can feel it radiating out from your heart to your extremities. Feel your pulse in your belly, under your arms, in your hands, your legs, your feet. Then feel your pulse down to the cellular level. Every cell, every corpuscle pulsates. Feel it!

This technique is useful in all of the above practices. I wrote about it very briefly. Take your time. Slow down. To feel this subtle process requires stillness… and repetition. Inevitably, you will be able to feel the link between heart and breath, continuously. Have patience, my friends and practice.

Pilgrimage of the Heart offers Pranayama with Lauren, Mindfulness with Joe, Meditation with Sujantra, Papaha and Astika and Kirtan (chanting) with Tom, Sujantra, Sita Rose and ‘Fast Heart Mart’ every week. Check the schedule for times and dates.

Happiness, one and all!

Tom

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Kirtan as Meditation

Kirtan is a singing, chanting practice that is part of the Bhakti* (devotion to your creator) tradition in yoga. While it might appear on the surface…

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Kirtan is a singing, chanting practice that is part of the Bhakti* (devotion to your creator) tradition in yoga. While it might appear on the surface that it is an entertainment, the reality is that Kirtan is a profound meditation practice.

Meditation is often thought of as the elimination of thought from the consciousness. True enough, if not an oversimplification, but a difficult task. Sometimes it’s easier to replace the random, spontaneous thoughts with a single, repetitive thought that has meaning and loft, and to concentrate and focus on that, assisting stillness, resting on a single thought.

 Tablas
 

The Mantra:  Mantra means ‘Mind Tool’

Kirtan uses mantra, simple (not always), repetitive devotional phrases which the practitioner swaps with the random spontaneous thoughts streaming from the mind. The mind takes up the mantra and its meaning, or at least its implication and becomes a center of Self-awareness. We work on that divine inner place that we know is there but that we cannot touch. The mantra is repeated over and over until it becomes something like a background object, there reminding you of your particular quest. A single syllable or phrase, a long, involved invocation; to chant is enough. This is the basics, except for one thing. One should cultivate a supreme purity about this practice. It is nothing less than a celebration of life, creation, existence and a personal expression of heart-centered gratitude for your existence.

Kirtan turns what would ordinarily be a solitary, personal offering into a musical celebration among friends. People gather and chant together. Musical instruments are played. A Kirtan leader sings the chant and the participating audience sings it back in response, over and over… It creates a sort of rapture. It entrains vibrational energies. It becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. You realize that your participation was essential to that event. It couldn’t have happened the way it did without your (and everyone else’s) being there… Being present. It really can be extraordinarily profound.

 Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan Band
 

A solitary, personal offering:

To chant is the object. Our personal, heart offering is the object. The mantra guides, focuses your inner path, either by meaning or by melody/rhythm. It keeps us attuned, sharp, aware. It is a drishti, a center, which holds us to our path. It’s a technique that enables us to explore by choice. The moment you start to chant, your practice begins. One begets the other. It requires no one but you.

And yet, we gather for Kirtan with like-minded (and the curious) folks with the intention to participate in each other’s experience. Our personal experience both radiates and absorbs energy. It becomes a oneness of individual AND a oneness of multitude. As your practice grows it becomes a part of your makeup. You look forward to the mantra, the Kirtan. You realize that your voice has meaning and that it’s worth sharing. You become part of a community. Kirtan is a place of being. It becomes a group home.

 Kirtan Collage

A Universal offering:

Kirtan comes from the east, from India. But it was never intended to be exclusively Hindu or Buddhist. All faith-based systems have both singing and invocation in their traditions. Singing, music and devotion to creation are universal expressions. They span all traditions.

Pilgrimage of the Heart hosts Kirtan every Thursday evening at 8:30pm in the East Room. No experience necessary. Free and open to all.

 

* For further reading about Bhakti see Sir Edwin Arnold’s Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 8. This is the most beautiful translation of the Gita I know of. It is said that Ghandi carried this translation with him for the majority of his life. Read this book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Journey of the Heart to Weight Loss

Difficulty is an opportunity for a depth of growth that is not present when everything is flowing easily. Difficulties have the ability to show us our inner reserves…

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By Nagesh

Personal Growth Through Weight Loss

 Difficulty is an opportunity for a depth of growth that is not present when everything is flowing easily. Difficulties have the ability to show us our inner reserves-depths, which we have yet to tap into. Not that I go looking for difficulties, mind you, but life does have a way of giving us ‘opportunities for growth.’

In June of 2014, I was offered such an opportunity. My profession is a tennis teaching professional in San Francisco. Early in that month, I sustained 3 unrelated injuries, though all related to tennis. I tore the rotator cuff in my left shoulder, tore the meniscus in my right knee, and fractured my right hand. I needed to make it through the summer before I would have the surgeries, so I grinded my way until the end of August.

Nagesh still 3

Before

Unwanted Weight

During this time, partly because of these injuries, a general depression set in and I put on weight. This was all new territory for me as I had always prided myself on being in great shape, spending many years as a competitive tennis player. I played 3 years of college tennis followed by many years of semi-professional tournaments in California and Europe, driven to become the best tennis player I could be.

Fitness was always a huge part of ‘my game’ because I came to tennis very late in life and I was always competing against players far more experienced than me. Being super fit gave me a key advantage that helped me overcome my lack of tennis experience. When my body began to break down and my weight ballooned up to 225 lbs. (my playing weight was always around 170-175lbs), it is not difficult to understand how depression began to take hold of my psyche.

I had my first surgery in August 2014 (shoulder) and waited until December to have my knee done-Surgery was not needed for my hand. From the end of August until April I was off work. Though I was very happy to have my shoulder and knee repaired, the weight remained, as I was not able to do much but sit around.

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Trip to San Diego

For months, I had been ‘knowing’ that it was time to “lose it” and get my body back to a more normal weight for me, however, it wasn’t until my trip to San Diego, to perform a music concert at the Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio, that the vehicle to embody my ‘knowing’ formulated. While in San Diego, someone mentioned the Atkins diet to me. After some research on the philosophy behind the diet, I decided to give it a try. On April 1st 2015 I jumped head first into my new way of eating, inspired that I had found my ‘way’ to embody my ‘knowing’ to ‘lose it’.

Meet the Atkins Diet

As per the instructions of the Atkins plan, I brought my carbs down to about 20 grams per day, increased my fat intake (up to about 60-70%), along with a moderate amount of protein. This flew in the face of everything I had learned about nutrition up to this point. The conventional wisdom was that a low fat, high carb diet was the best and healthiest. The results of my low carb, high fat diet, however, countered this conventional wisdom. I started to drop pounds immediately (about 4-5 pounds per week). Not only that but I began to feel much better. Gone were the energy spikes and mood swings and, in their place, was a steady energy level all day long-with no hunger cravings!

Nagesh After

After

This fascinated me and had me studying everything I could find about this way of eating, often referred to High Fat Low Carb (also known as HFLC), because I wanted to understand how this could be happening to me and if this was also happening for others as well. What I discovered was that, ‘Yes, it IS happening for others’, but also, that Atkins was not the only one recommending this way (HFLC) of eating.

It’s so awesome to, once again, be reminded that difficulties do indeed offer us ‘opportunities for growth’, along with opportunities for incredible life changes!

In upcoming posts I’ll explore some of the other HFLC plans out there and the wonderful world of weight loss that is available to everyone willing to put in the effort.

 

Nagesh is a musician and tennis professional living in San Francisco. He writes and performs original kirtan and bhajans inspired by his spiritual studies and journeys to India. You can find his music on Google Play Music store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gayatri Mantra – An Ancient Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence…

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The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence.

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya dhimahi

Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat

 

I lead a weekly Kirtan practice at Pilgrimage of the Heart yoga studio in San Diego. We’ve been practicing as a community for over five years and the Gayatri Mantra has become one of our staple chants.

As a Kirtan leader I enjoy exploring the deep meanings of the chants, which allows me to enter more deeply into the spirit and intent behind these beautiful utterances.

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The Gayatri Mantra first appeared in the Rig Veda, which was written in Sanskrit about 2500 to 3500 years ago. It is said that the sage Vishwamitra was given the Gayatri Mantra by the Supreme Being for his many years of reverence and meditation, to be shared with all humanity, so there is considered no earthly author.

It has also been said that Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself recited this mantra. (See The Light of Asia – Arnold, Book the First, page 7, Routledge)

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Chanted through the Ages…

The Gayatri Mantra has been chanted by trillions of people over the course of eons. Quite literally it is likely sung by a billion people every day, even today.

There is a wealth of commentary and opinion as to good translations of the chant. Googling Gayatri Mantra will generate numerous interpretations. The basic gist follows:

The word Gayatri refers to the meter of the verse. The mantra consists of three lines of eight syllables each. But wait. There are four lines! That’s because the first line isn’t actually a part of the mantra itself. Its a prefix.

The Great Utterance.

The first line is a mantra unto itself and is known as, “The Great (spiritual) Utterance” (mahāvyāhṛti).

It precedes many other mantras, is used universally or can be recited by itself. It is a great aligning and centering phrase and can be interpreted as aligning oneself to the earth, heavens and what lies beyond… Or, aligning with the material world, the world of mind and with the supreme spirit… The important idea is the alignment of one’s Self with the purest Unity.

The meaning…

The mantra itself begins with the word, ‘Tat’ which means ‘That’ and refers to the Supreme that defies any earthly description…

Savitur means Sun, but not the physical sun. More like the divine light of knowledge and discernment, the animating impetus for everything.

Varen(i)yam means adoration.

Next line: Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi means contemplation of the Divine, Illuminated Grace.

Last Line: Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat means loosely, whose divine intellect/illumination our prayers/meditations are for/about…

As a leader of a kirtan practice, I found the original meter (three lines of eight syllables) to be somewhat cumbersome to arrange musically/lyrically for western interpretation. So, I broke from the original meter and formed lines as follows:

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya

Dhimahi dhiyo yo

Nah prachodayat

 

This arrangement allows for a chant that musically simple and beautiful, and easy to play and sing.

Here’s our version and a link to another version with the classic meter:

Our arrangement: Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan band

Classic arrangement: This is a beautiful version by Deva Premal.

It actually maintains the classic meter while running each ‘measure’

as 5 – 6 – 6 – 7 beats per line. Beautiful, but challenging for most to follow and sing with.

 

A must have…

What is important is that the mantra be chanted with the utmost of pure intentions and an appreciation for the profound implications of the scope of this chant. It is an outpouring of one’s heart to the Supreme and a recognition of the Divine Grace bestowed upon all creation and beyond.

If you have a chanting practice, The Gayatri Mantra is a ‘must have’ in your repertories.

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Review: Tina Malia: Bridge to Vallabha

Bridge to Vallabha, a collection of eleven sacred songs and mantras, is the fifth recording from singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, sound engineer…

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by Kathy Parsons

Bridge to Vallabha, a collection of eleven sacred songs and mantras, is the fifth recording from singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, sound engineer, and producer Tina Malia.

From the Heart

Considered a visionary in the world, dream pop and sacred chant musical communities, Malia’s voice is warm, clear and lyrical. The songs are sung in a variety of languages from around the world including Sanskrit, Hebrew, Gurmukhi, and English, but Malia communicates from the heart no matter which language she is singing. 

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Classically-trained as a child, Malia discovered many female folk singers in her mid-teens when she started writing her own music. After the release of her first album, Shores of Avalon, Malia met pioneering world chant artist Jai Uttal, who recruited her to sing in his Pagan Love Orchestra. He also introduced her to the rich spiritual tradition of Sanskrit mantras.

Love of Mantra

Malia’s love of mantra is reflected on her 2005 album, Jaya Bhagavan, as well as on this new release. Her voice is the lead instrument on all of the tracks, accompanied by nylon string guitar, Rhodes piano, charangon, vibraphone, lap steel guitar, and/or cello. Singers Donna DeLory, Heather Wertheimer of Shantala, Karnamrita Das, Jai-Jagdeesh, Peia and Sasha Rose lend their talents to the mix as do Grammy-nominated pianist Peter Kater and cellist Hans Christian.

Peaceful and Smooth

All of the songs are smooth, peaceful, and soothing and Malia’s gentle voice is hypnotic. Bridge to Vallabha  is a beautiful album whether you use mantras in your daily life or simply enjoy relaxing, heartfelt music. Bridge to Vallabha is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Check it out!

Tina’s Website     Amazon     iTunes     CD Baby

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Tonight: Kirtan Band Streaming Live!

Join us online for an evening of music, community and joyful fun! Every Thursday night Pilgrimage Yoga Online…

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Join us online for an evening of KIRTAN: music, community and joyful fun!

Every Thursday night the Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan Band streams Kirtan music live.  WATCH LIVE at 8:15pm (Pacific) using the FREE Stre.am app for iOS and Android. Download the app, sign in and search for pilgrimagekirtan to connect with us. Become part of our world-wide Kirtan community.

Kirtan is a music and chanting meditation practice with its origin in the bhakti tradition of yoga; the practice of devotion to the creator. By singing and chanting we vibrate our bodies and resonate with good energy.  And by occupying our minds with a ‘Mantra,” a meaningful devotional phrase, we are better able to focus our attention on devotion to our creator, creation and our place in it. At its very best kirtan is a deeply profound and moving meditation practice. At its least its a fun, entertaining hour.

Sign-up for membership

Pilgrimage Yoga Online Kirtan features chants from the major faith based systems, ancient, contemporary and original mantra and song.

Join us streaming live Thursday nights at 8:15-9:15pm (pacific)!

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Kirtan and Health

The numbers are astounding! – Singing, especially choral singing is one of the easiest and best things you can do for your health…

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The numbers are astounding!

Singing, especially choral singing is one of the easiest and best things you can do for your health and well-being.

“Group singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out. It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed.”

I know this from experience. I’ve lead a weekly kirtan, a chanting and meditation practice, for over five years. At the end of the evening I am exhilarated. I feel good. I’m happy and at peace.

“Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all.

“It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony.”

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Our Breaths and Hearts

When we sing our breaths and hearts come together, a process called entrainment. Vibrations sync up. And studies further suggest that group singing can be extremely beneficial for older folks who don’t exercise regularly.

“Deep breathing is a key to meditation and other relaxation techniques…”

A  Form of Pranayama

I’ve often described singing as a form of pranayama. Think about it. Precisely controlled breathing. Inhale a measured volume of air, pause, regulate and pressurize, exhale in a very conscious manner to produce a specific sound, continuing to refine the exhale to control and improve the sound or change notes… Repeat. All together, now…

Great for Everyone

A kirtan is great for anyone to find a safe, welcoming and easy place to find your voice. No auditions are required. No one cares what you sound like. And in fact, the benefits of singing are available even to the most average singers (of which I am one). Find a kirtan. Find your voice. Enliven your heart.

We’re here for you!

Join Us Live or Live Stream

The reality is, when you join in choral singing you become an integral component of something you can’t create by yourself. You recognize and appreciate both the necessity and the offerings of those around you. You become part of a larger whole, a community of ONE.

The Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan Band plays every Thursday evening at 8:15pm (Pacific) for FREE and streams the event LIVE. Join us in person if you are in San Diego. Download Stre.am (free app) on your mobile device and search for pilgrimagekirtan to connect with us worldwide.

 

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Kirtan for Weight Loss?

Kirtan for Weight loss! Wait, what… Really? If we’re talking about the ‘Weight of the World.’ Kirtan can help with that! Kirtan is a place…

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Kirtan for Weight loss! Wait, what… Really?

If we’re talking about the ‘Weight of the World.’

Kirtan can help with that! Kirtan is a place where the weight of the world is gone. It’s a place where we can shed our chains, where we can lift eyes to our maker. It’s a place of communal outpouring, chant upon chant about love and gratitude – for our miracle-lives! It’s a place to find our courage. Heavy can be life. We can all change the way we look at things in our worlds. Kirtan can be a good vehicle in helping us find the inner determination to take meaningful steps in our lives. Jai, jai Ganesha!

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Fear of Singing… 

Sometimes the way to propel yourself forward involves sticking your neck out a bit. Folks often have an aversion to singing. So, their initial response is, “I’m not good enough.” Don’t let this happen to you! You don’t have to audition. Just show up. When you are ready, join in. Singing is not heavy… It’s pure light, pure vibration. It feels good. We loosen up as we vibrate. We loosen the chains we’re holding onto so tightly. We can let go…

When we sing and vibrate together as a group, we are a Unity. It’s a concrete reminder of an abstract concept; that everything in the universe vibrates as a perfect Unity.

Kirtan. Shed the ‘Weigh of the World.’  Move lightly.

Want to know more?

Our San Diego community, Pilgrimage of the Heart members and participants are fortunate to have FREE Kirtan every Thursday evening at 8:15pm (Pacific). This event is now streamed LIVE! Download the FREE app for your mobile device and follow us at stre.am/pilgrimagekirtan.

Lose the ‘Weight of the World!’

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Discover Kirtan… Find your voice

If you have listened to recorded Kirtan music, you might have a degree of appreciation for the genre…

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If you have listened to recorded Kirtan music, you might have a degree of appreciation for the genre and perhaps Kirtan’s serene soulfulness. But I tell you; Kirtan is meant to be experienced live! Kirtan is a participation practice. The whole scope of the practice will change for you when you are there participating.

Where can I go to sing?

Folks often say to me, “Where can I go to sing?” Or, more frequently, “Singing at Kirtan has freed my voice! Thank you.”

You could join a church choir. You might find a choral group if you are lucky… that’s about it. You have to audition. You need skills. What about the rest of us?

Kirtan is for everyone! All you have to do is show up. The ‘quality’ of your voice is not what matters. The creation and sharing of your heart-voice is the practice. Find your heart-voice!

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What really happens when I sing?

When we sing, we vibrate! Everything vibrates. From the smallest corpuscles to the songs of the celestial spheres, the entire universe vibrates. Vibration FEELS good. We are made to vibrate. And our voice is our mechanism, our gift. Couple your voice with a single, sacred thought. Take a deep inhalation, sing ‘Om’ (Aum) for a full breath. Feel your heart as your vibrational energy is transmitted through you, into the room, into the universe…

Find a Kirtan practice in your community.

Kirtans are popping up all over! Find a Kirtan practice in your community. Walk in. Be a part of it. Find your voice.

WATCH our Kirtan LIVE every Thursday at 8:15pm (Pacific) using the FREE Stre.am app for iOS and Android. Download the app, sign in and search for pilgrimagekirtan to connect with us. Become part of our world-wide community.

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Kirtan Roots – Start here!

Not in a million years would I have imagined being so deeply involved in Kirtan as I am today. When I was introduced to Kirtan…

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Not in a million years would I have imagined being so deeply involved in Kirtan as I am today. When I was introduced to Kirtan around 2007, I had no idea of the impact it would have on my life. Playing music as a teenager in the mid-‘70s and finding the yoga world in 1990, I had a regular meditation practice. I had even listened to Krishna Das recordings but I was, as yet, unmoved by Kirtan. Only after becoming friends with Sujantra, founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart yoga studio in San Diego, did I find this genre and become enthralled.

Sujantra and I struck up a relationship around yoga and Kirtan. We started jamming together. Sujantra played the harmonium and I was on bass guitar… I started learning some chants. The whole process was subtly compelling.  We started practicing regularly. We recruited players. We started a band. Now we have one of Southern California’s best Kirtan offerings, playing weekly for five years now.

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Plant your Kirtan roots with us!

We offer Kirtan tutorials at Pilgrimage Yoga online so you can learn and start a Kirtan practice in your community.  Our lessons demonstrate harmonium, guitar, bass guitar, tabla and other percussion instruments broken down into the basics so you can quickly and easily learn. We demonstrate traditional and contemporary chants, original chants written by us, and feature ancient and modern chants by spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy. Anyone with a true desire and the most basic music background on any instrument can master this genre.

Grow your Kirtan roots deeply

Do you want to know more about what Kirtan is and how to sow your Kirtan roots? Follow my blog.

Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan. Every Thursday night at 8:15pm. Always FREE!

WATCH our Kirtan streamed LIVE on Thursday nights. Download the FREE app for your iphone, ipad or android devise at Stre.am and search for pilgrimagekirtan to connect.

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