I woke up at 4:30 am, so I am tired… my flight left LAX at 7:15am and I have three more hours in this tiny seat until I arrive in Virginia for a Yoga Therapy conference. I find myself agitated because I’m tired, because the wifi won’t work, because I can’t open my graphic design software because Java needs an update and I have no wifi! Grrrrrr!
I notice my attention span is short, none of the movies seem particularly appealing nor do I want to read the Yoga books I brought or the latest addition of Fast Company about the ‘100 Most Creative People in Business’. My mind is not able to focus on anything at this point, nevertheless be creative or inspired. My body is constricted and this is no place for an asana practice. I am tired, bored, snappy and irritable. I am experiencing duhkha, known as constriction, discomfort, an absence of a state of Yoga. What can I do to get out of this state?
Duhkha: Constriction, Discomfort, an Absence of Yoga
I start to deepen my breath, ehhh, not in the mood for pranayam; so I put on my headphones and play an audio recording from the Bhakti Yoga Shala’s kirtan last weekend. The second the mantra hits my ears, I am transformed. I listen to Radha’s soulful voice sing ‘ganapati om’ and my emotions brighten, my mind is no longer agitated but surprisingly joyful. I find myself singing along to the response and my body gets lighter and sways. I meditate on the wisdom of the mantra about cultivating strength to overcome obstacles and to pick ourselves up when we get down. Suddenly I am back! I am clear, joyful and able to see the other passengers on the plane (rather than being consumed with my own melodrama), it’s like my mind and my heart have suddenly blasted open. I feel connected, rather than separate.
Readjusting the Lens of Perception
My teacher, Robert Birnberg, says SOUND is the Yoga of the future. That it does everything that Yoga is supposed to do:
- Focuses the mind
- Lengthens the exhalation
- Builds confidence
- Cultivates positive emotions
The best part is that we can employ this practice anywhere! For thousands of years mantras have been used as a tool to redirect the mind and readjust the lens of perception towards a more joyful state of consciousness.
Bhakti Yoga: The Art of the Heart
Along the path of Bhakti Yoga, kirtan (call and response chanting / singing) is one of the most revered practices. According to this path, mantras not only focus the mind and invoke positive emotions but also provide a pathway to connect to our spiritual essence. Through conscious repetition of divine names or high vibrational sounds, we remove the clouds in the mind – the distraction, judgement, fear, doubt, cravings and are able to connect to our hearts / souls.
Any religious / spiritual / atheistic belief system can be inserted into the practices of mantra, kirtan and dhyanam (meditation) – one can choose to meditate on the quality of joy or gratitude or the qualities of Christ or Buddha. Whatever you choose to meditate on, you will absorb those qualities. The Yoga Sutras say that the object of meditation influences the meditator, so what better to focus on than how to become more God-like or full of love!
Alchemy: Rearranging the Elements Within
More than any pose, the practice of mantra and kirtan has profoundly changed my life. I use this practice while on the freeway, at the dentist, walking my dogs, when I feel angry, or as a preventative strategy as a daily morning practice; which in turn, rearranges the elements in my mind and heart to a more joyful state.
In effect, this practice helps us to remember to awaken to who we really are as loving, joyful, spiritual beings. If the goal of Yoga is to focus the mind to connect to our true nature, this tool is indeed the most practical, powerful and most accessible tool to transform us from a state of duhkha to sukha (if you can get past the unfamiliarity of chanting!)
Sukha: Ease, Lightness, Bliss, our Natural State
These practices WILL change your life!
Katie Allen received her Master’s in Public Health from Tulane University in 2006 and wrote her thesis on Yoga’s ability to prevent and treat chronic diseases. She completed her Yoga Therapy training at Loyola Marymount University and has continued her private studies with Robert Birnberg since 2009, focusing on the Yoga Sutras and Positive Psychology. She spent a month studying the Yoga Sutras at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) in Chennai, India in 2011. She developed and implemented the first Yoga Therapy Program at Newport Academy; which is an adolescent treatment facility in Orange County, CA. Katie co-founded Be The Change and leads 200hr and 300hr teacher trainings at Be The Change, specifically a 12-month Intro to Yoga Therapy and Public Course for Yoga Teachers. She recently developed Orange County’s first 800hr Yoga Therapist Training Program; which began in August 2016.