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The Power of Kirtan

Kirtan is a mystery.

We chant mantras (words/syllables) and incredible things happen such as:

  1. We feel more connected to our self, and others. 
  2. We feel a connection with the Divine. 
  3. Essential qualities of presence, such as a Unconditional Love, Basic Trust, Strength, arise. 
  4. Our mood shifts into one of gratitude and joy. 

To what can we attribute the mysterious power of sacred chant?

Author and chant artist Robert Gass identifies five key elements that make chanting a powerful and appealing practice in his wonderful book, Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound.

  1. Association (or triggering). One's experiential memories, built up over time, invest a piece of music with ever-deeper levels of meaning. Think about the first time (and subsequent times) you heard the Beatles song Hey Jude. What memories are associated with this piece of music?
  2. Entrainment. Our bodies naturally become aligned with the sounds, melodies and rhythms they encounter. As Gass writes, "If you're in a room and there's a heavy drum beat your body will almost involuntarily start to move."
  3. Breath. In Kirtan the chanter's breath pattern slows from the normal 12 to 15 breaths per minute to between 5 and 8 breaths per minute, "considered optimal for mind-body health."
  4. Sonic effects. Extended vowel sounds frequently found in sacred chanting (i.e., Aum is chanted as Ah-o-ooh-mmm) produce positive sensations and healing effects.
  5. Intention. We show up in Kirtan understanding that we are engaging in a sacred practice. We hold an intention to “to be close to God." 

Gass feels that the synergy of these five elements working together creates the power inherent in sacred chanting. "It's sort of like a secret weapon," he says. "You're not thinking about it; it just happens."

Curious to learn more? Check out this wonderful Yoga Journal article


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