Night after night for over six months we would all gather. 500 of us crammed in a room, sitting on the hard, cold, marble floor, chanting in a call and response format. Singing kirtan.
Evening kirtan at the ashram was by far my favorite time of day. After hours of karma yoga (which often consisted of menial tasks, done repetitively) the chanting was a way to channel and release energy and let go.
One evening an ancient-looking swami got up to lead a kirtan. His dhoti (cloth wrapped around his waist) covered his frail structure — underneath, skin and bones. He sat quietly for a moment before beginning to pump the harmonium. Out came his squeaky voice… off key… tone deaf… terrible.
Simultaneously, out of this man’s heart came pure love, crystallized devotion, and a lifetime or more of dedication to the Divine that was palpable.
This Bhakti — this pure radiant love — filled the room, opened our hearts, and inspired a frenzy of ecstatic chanting and dance that seemed to go on forever. The room was buzzing; a portal was opened, activated, and honored.
Kirtan is the super highway to the Divine.
When we can get out of our own way and let any form of ego judgment dissolve, “I’m not a singer, I don’t have a good voice, I don’t understand Sanskrit” then a space is opened that allows something larger than ourselves in. It is not a performance. It is not a sing-a-long. Kirtan is a co-creation between the caller, the responders, and the Divine.
This is union. This is Yoga — the yoking of our individual self with the universal.
Kirtan bypasses the mind and explodes the open heart; the power of vibration is one of the most potent forms of transformation. Positive sounds and vibrations have a cellular effect and can bring physical, mental, and emotional healing.
Everything seen and unseen is composed of energy and has a vibrational blueprint. Sound relates to various chakras or energies depending on its tone and intention. Often illness manifests because there is a blockage or stagnation of energy in one or more of the chakras. Through chanting, we can begin to open the energy centers so that prana can flow correctly and harmoniously.
The heart center, anahata chakra, is the gateway, the middle point between the lower chakras and the upper energy centers. Anahata chakra is the most powerful energy center, even more so than the electromagnetic energy of the brain.
Love is the ultimate healer.
Allowing our hearts to open is our ticket out of frustration, judgment, pain, and anger. Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, is one of the fastest and most powerful forms to access the heart’s energy.
You can master your handstand or forearm balance and not be practicing yoga, but it’s nearly impossible to chant or sing from your heart and miss the superhighway leading back to your own wholeness and essential nature.
It doesn’t matter if you’re tone deaf or despise singing in public (then the practice of kirtan is definitely for you), coming together with like-minded people to connect voices and raise your vibration upwards will transform your life as no other asana practice will.
Opening the heart melts away the mental frustrations, judgments, and criticisms and leaves room for spontaneous joy and inner peace to bubble up and spring forth — the greatest offering we can give to ourselves and the world.