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THE ASHTANGA YOGA INVOCATION
Honoring something bigger
At the beginning of many Ashtanga yoga classes the teacher will lead students in chanting a few lines of Sanskrit. As you chant you close your eyes and assume the attitude of gratitude, being grateful to learn yoga, to relieve us from the rigors of living.
- I like to look at it as honoring something bigger, connecting to a large pool of Ashtanga Yoga energy, guiding our consciousness to the higher principals of yoga. (In the book by Matthew Sweeney (Ashtanga Yoga “as it is”), Sweeney states the opening chant is like taking time to smell your food before you eat it, it aids the asana digestion process.)
The first paragraph states that I honor the gurus (the wisdom of the teachers) – including the guru within; who bring us insight to our true beings, giving us refuge—a shaman, to help us deal with the poisons of living (eliminating delusions).
The second paragraph honors the sage Patanjali, who is credited with writing down the teachings of yoga. Patanjali is the author of the yoga sutras.
vande I bow gurunam to the plurality of gurus charanaravinde twolotus feet
sandarsita to bring sight svatma pure being sukhava happiness bodhe awakened
nihsreyase refuge jangalikayamane lit. jungle hut, meaning shaman, jungle physician
samsara conditioned existence halahala poison moha delusion santyai peace
abahu down to the shoulders purusakaram assumes the form of a man
sankha conch shell (divine sound) cakra a wheel (discus of light or infinite time) asi sword (of discrimination) dharinam holding
sahasra thousand sirasam heads svetam radiant white
pranamami I prostrate patanjalim the sage Patanjali
Who is Patanjali?
Patanjali is the author of the Yoga Sutras, a book of about 200 verses of the processes of yoga written about 2500 years ago. The verses are very short and to the point without much commentary, so many translations abound. This text is one of the first texts known on yoga, it is believed Patanjali compiled this information that was handed down through the centuries from master to student, he did not create it. There is much mystery surrounding who Patanjali really is, so just like the author of the Tao, no one really knows for sure who he is.
In the chant, Patanjali referred to in his serpent form, this is from Hindu Mythology. He is a great sage, said to be an incarnation of the great serpent named Ananta (or Shesha), who, is an incarnation of Vishnu (the preserver in the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva). In Hindu Mythology Ananta is the thousand headed ruler (the thousand heads represent omnipresence, and ananta means without end or infinity) of the serpent race who guards the hidden treasures of the earth. Thus his interest in yoga as yoga, is the secret treasure of the earth that leads to Nirvana. Desiring to teach yoga to the world it is said he has fallen from heaven into the open palms of a woman, hence his name Patanjali (pat = fallen anjali = palms).
There is dispute over what all books Patanjali authored. There are 2 other books in the Hindu Tradition, plus a book on Ayurvedic Medicine that list Patanjali as the author, however since some of the philosophies of these books and the sutras do not agree-there is dispute that there may be more than one Patanjali. There is also a great dancer worshipped by the dancers of India known as Patanjali—but again there are opposing views on whether this would be the same Patanjali who authored the sutras.
The chant is not religious; it is a way of showing gratitude which is part of a path of love and open-ness. On a scientific level it has been shown that the two greatest emotions with the highest positive bio feedback results are love and gratitude.
- The tradition is cultural not religious, it is no different than going to a Chinese restaurant because you like Chinese food. Eating food from another country does not mean that you are adapting all the beliefs of that culture; it means you are enjoying one of the cultures gifts to the world.
- In Eastern cultures’ bowing down is common to friends and family as a greeting and a showing of love, not worship.
- The Sanskrit language is another language just like Latin or Spanish or French. Sanskrit is the chosen language as it was used for texts in India. Sanskrit means “well polished”, the language was put together paying attention to the vibrations of each sound forming the words; so they are not only pleasant to speak, but also the vibrations represent or form what is being said. This make Sanskrit pleasant to chant.
THE BENEFITS OF CHANTING
The vibrations of chanting also start the movement of energy in our body. Chanting also slows down our breathing rate allowing our body to have more time for gas exchanges in the lungs (More O2 to each cell and more time to give off CO2 and toxins).
CHANTING NOT FOR YOU?
Still, many people are uncomfortable with chanting, and that’s ok 🙂 If you are uncomfortable with the chant you could:
- Stay seated and breathe while we perform the chant
- Make up your own wording of gratitude and repeat it to yourself while standing in Samasthitih
- Walk out of the room
Remember what’s in your heart is what matters, if the chant is not in your heart than being in the presence of it is not going to effect you.
I respectfully bow to the lotus feet of the teachers who teach the way to the knowledge of the self, the knowledge that awakens us to great happiness and shows us the true nature of the poisonous cycle we have fallen in love with.
MANGALA MANTRA – The Closing Chant of Ashtanga Yoga
There is a closing chant to Ashtanga Yoga that we chant at the end of practice. This gives nice bookends to our practice. The opening chant is a thank you for the practice; the closing chant is sending love and prosperity to all beings — spreading the yoga joy 😉
The excerpt below is from an article in Elephant Journal by Melanie Cooper:
“The Mangala mantra is from the Rig Veda, it is traditionally chanted at the end of ceremonies.
Mangala means ‘auspicious’ which means ‘conducive to success.’
It brings the practice to a peaceful end; sealing in the work done and offering the efforts of our practice to improve the state of the world. The essence of the finishing mantra is to wish for peace, prosperity, and happiness for all creations of the world.
This is akin to one of the reasons for practicing yoga as stated in the Bhagavad Gita 3.20. The effort to purify and uplift our own life as stated in the opening prayer, should be done altruistically for the benefit of uplifting and enriching the world. The energy we created throughout the practice is sent into the world in form of love, light, and peace.
So the opening chant talks about the benefits of the practice to our self and the closing chant dedicates it to others”
Swasthi prajabhyah paripalayantam May all be well with mankind
Nyayena margena mahi mahishaha May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path
Gobrahmanebhyaha shubhamastu nityam May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred
Lokaasamastha sukhino bhavanthu May all beings be happy and prosperous
OM shanti shanti shanti OM Peace Peace Peace
(Peace or Shanti is chanted three times at the end of many chants. We chant peace three times to symbolize Peace with Earth and Mother Nature, Peace with Each Other, and Peace WithIn)
There is also an extra verse to Mangala Mantra:
Kale varsatu parjanyah prthivi sasyasalini May the rains fall on time, and may the earth yield its produce in abundance. May this country be free from disturbances
Desoyam ksobharahito brahmana santu nibhayah and may the knowers of the truth be free from fear
Taking the time to open and close with the chants helps align us with the union that is yoga’s higher purpose. Asana not only keeps our body healthy, but as we work the toxins and tensions and stress out of our bodies and minds we become more loving and open. This allows us to share some of the benefits with the world; if we are all one as yoga implies, then by purifying ourself we are also purifying others 🙂 So we send them our well wishes sharing the Love . . .