Chanting is a practice of pranayama. Prana is the healing energy and yama means to allow. When we chant we are allowing the healing energy to flow through us. Pranayama combines breath retention with a prescribed length of inhale and exhale. Singing is similar to ujayyi, hissing or other breathing practices which extend the exhalation.
We are trying to balance the amount of breath coming in with the amount of breath going out. On the inhale, we embrace Light; on the exhale, we let go of what we have processed. Inhale: Divine Love; exhale: your day. Inhale: Healing Light; exhale: disappointment. And so on.
When we add a mantra to this, we create a vibration within the body. This vibration extends from our voice box to our ribs, bones, heart, and brain matter. Different tones have different effects on the body and mind. Classical Indian raga is based on this research; there are even healing therapies based on sound. The vibration of a certain pitch (using a tuning fork, for example) can relieve water trapped in the ear. Or help break up cysts in the body. Vibrations are the basis of all sound.
When we chant, we bring in healing energy. If you picture it as Light, you might see Light pouring into the body vessel through the top of the head. The more Light you hold, the less density can be present.
Many of the mantras in Sanskrit are mantras of purity. The more purity you bring into your life, the more impurities must be released. Areas of impurity in your life become burdensome to carry; you might throw away your black t-shirts, give up caffeine, or refine your diet. Slowly, slowly, darkness is replaced by light, selfishness is replaced by selfless action, density is replaced by buoyancy.
The breathing pattern mimics the process of spiritual work. Inhaling love, Light, oxygen. Holding the breath, digesting the divine energy. Purifying. Exhaling and releasing toxins, carbon dioxide, fear. We increase Light in our lives by alternately embracing more Love and releasing more self-hate. As our lives get more buoyant, we are asked to let go of self-imposed goals and restrictions. We open to consciousness, which is the Creation itself. The breath teaches us how to flow with this energy of transformation.
Practicing breathing together in a group is energizing. And practicing while singing together is just plain fun. Chanting uses elements of pranayama, music, and group enthusiasm to offer an easy and uplifting meditative experience.
Wah! is a musician and spiritual seeker who travels the world singing and expanding sacred intention. You can reach her through www.wahmusic.com