We chant to join our voices to the voices of countless seekers, worshipers, mystics, and lovers of life, in every time and in every place, who have shared in sacred song.
We chant to fill our hearts and fill our homes with loving and peaceful vibrations of sound.
We chant because it's fun.
We chant to help the stress and freneticness of our busy lives melt away.
We chant for the sheer joy of letting our God-given voices sing out.
We chant for the heartful communion that we feel with others when we come together in song.
We chant our prayers to God, so that our lives may be graced by more intimate Presence of the One known by so many names.
- from Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound, by Robert Gass, p.10
Chanting may be defined as “a short, simple series of syllables or words that are sung or intoned to the same note or a limited range of notes,” but chanting covers an amazingly diverse spectrum of musical expression, and serves many purposes – telling stories, healing or casting out disease (e.g. when used by shamans or ayahuasceros), conveying instructions, inducing trance, quieting the mind, mourning the dead, opening the heart, relaxation, communing with others or for the sheer enjoyment of it.
Chanting is a form of meditation, and may be synergistically combined with other practices. Chanting in groups can be a very powerful bonding and healing experience, fostering feelings of communion. It is also often a form of devotional practice, a heartfelt prayer, as illustrated in the following quote by the 13th century Catholic lay sister Mechtild of Madeburg:
As the Godhead strikes the note,
The Holy Spirit is the harpist,
And all the strings must sound
Which are touched in love.
In addition to the spiritual and meditational aspects, chanting has many measurable physiological benefits as well – and may be used for its physical benefit alone. For example, the repetitive nature of chant induces deeper, slower, more rhythmic breathing, and the sound vibrations of chant resonate throughout our bodies in a kind of internal massage. Brainwave patterns are measurably altered, in a way that is correlated with states of relaxation or heightened creative response, and blood pressure and heart rate are lowered. Eastern traditions believe that chanting frees up the vital bodymind energy known as chi, prana, or kundalini, with very positive impacts throughout the body.
Exercise: Simple Chants
The simplest way to try chanting is to play a chant recording and sing along with it. There are many samples available for free on the Internet – see the reference section for some useful links.
Here are two examples:
Om Namah Shiviya (this may be translated as “I bow to Shiva” or “I bow to the god within”) and is one of the most popular chants in the world today. Samples of this chant are available here.
Om Tara Tu Tare Ture Svaha (“Homage to you, Divine Tara, Radiant Mother of Compassion and Great Protector”).
Track one ("Tantric Tara") of Jonathan Goldman's excellent “Trance Tara” CD is an unusual and particularly powerful version of this chant. A sample is available here.
1. Robert Gass, Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound (New York: Broadway Books, 2000).
2. Robert Gass, Chant: Spirit in Sound (CD companion to above). [This is perhaps the best single introduction to the variety of chant practiced throughout the world.]
3. Jonathan Goldman, Healing Sounds: The Power of Harmonics (Rockport: Element Books, 1992).
4. Don Campbell, The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit (New York: Avon Books, 1997).
5. For information on icaros, powerful chants used for healing in Ayahuasca ceremonies, including samples you can listen to, go to http://www.biopark.org/peru/icaros.html.
This article was written and contributed by Arthur Gillard.
The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.
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