Kirtan is a meditational practice under the yoga umbrella, set to music. It involves chanting: participants chant divine words and phrases together as a communal chorus. The basic idea is to clear the clutter of the mind’s attachment to the outer world, replacing that clutter with focused thoughts of creation, Creator and our place in the universe. To be sure, Kirtan is a devotional practice.
To me, Kirtan is the easiest form of meditating. Sitting in solitary silence with one-pointed focus, even for short periods of time is quite challenging. It can be daunting and downright discouraging, especially for those new to meditation. The fact is, many who meditate repeat chants inwardly, silently as the source of focus. Chanting gives you something to do. It focuses the mind on the chant, on the underlying meaning, on the repetition, on the reminder of our higher nature. So for newcomers especially, Kirtan is a good place to start a meditation practice.
As old as the tradition is (thousands of years), Kirtan is still relatively unknown as a practice in the west, both within the yoga community and without. In fact, I only know of a few places around my home, San Diego, that offer this magical meditation experience. I feel fortunate to be a part of a weekly Kirtan gathering at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in Normal Heights, which I have led for several years now at our weekly Thursday night gatherings. We’ve had many band members come and go throughout the years, different instrumentation, and different audiences, but what I love the most is that it always feels the same–a community experiencing joy and peace together.
If you’re looking for a Kirtan practice in San Diego, here’s the scoop on our city’s offerings:
Time: Every Thursday night 8:30 – 9:30p
Location: Normal Heights East Room
Cost: $5 donation
The Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Kirtan Band has been playing weekly Kirtan events for more than 7 years. Each Thursday evening we create a set list of our favorite and seasonal chants to share with the community. Participants are encouraged to sit in chairs, on the floor (with many yoga props, of course), or stand up and dance. We know that Kirtan can be a vulnerable expression for some, as it involves public singing and dancing, and we aim to provide a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere. Prepare to chant, and learn about some major cornerstones of yoga philosophy that are the foundational elements of Kirtan.
For our friends who live outside the San Diego area, we live stream our Kirtans through our Facebook page. Join us every Thursday evening for musical meditation!
Time: Every Sunday 5:00-6:00p
Location: Pacific Beach, San Diego
The San Diego Hare Krishna Community offers weekly festival every Sunday night, featuring a number of events, of which Kirtan is a part. Whereas Pilgrimage’s Kirtan events stand alone, the Hare Krishna Community offers Kirtan as part of a larger schedule of events, including lectures and meals together. Check out their weekly schedule to find out more information!
Time: First Friday of the Month (subject to change)
Location: Encinitas, CA
Led by Sundaram and Hilary, the Hamalyan Heritage Satsang encourages devotees of all paths to attend these Kirtan events. Each Kirtan is led by a variety of local Kirtan musicians and leaders. You can even sign up for their mailing list to stay up to date with new Kirtan events!
Time: 2nd Saturday of the month, 5:00-6:30p
This is a monthly Kirtan practice organized on Meetup. Led by Annette Laborte, this group emphasizes the importance of being non-denominational and non-sectarian. Events are held at a local church, and participants are encouraged to feel at ease, no matter what their religious background.
I invite you to attend a Kirtan practice. It’s very enjoyable and folks depart with a heightened awareness and state of being. I so enjoy hearing comments from attendees about how wonderful they feel and what a wonderful experience they had. I’m also a bit surprised by the number of first timers who ask how long we’ve been doing the Kirtan practice. When I tell them, eight years, they are stunned.
Kirtan is an integral part of the yoga practice. The Bhakti tradition is one of the four paths in yoga to Self-Realization. It has a chapter devoted to it in the Bhagavad Gita. If you are practicing yoga, if you meditate, expand your awareness by including Kirtan into your weekly practice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom came to Pilgrimage of the Heart in 2007 and Sujantra quickly recognized that Tom was both able and willing to organize a kirtan practice. The project changed and grew and changed again until in 2009 when the practice was a viable offering on a weekly basis. Since then Tom as lead over 400 Kirtan events at pilgrimage, only missing three practices in eight years. Tom’s love of kirtan knows no bounds and he is always striving to grow and expand the practice, offering the joy of spiritual chanting to as many people as possible.