Most of the music that I play in class is mantra — ancient Sanskrit chants or hymns — set to soft, melodious music. I also listen to mantras accompanied by rousing drum beats or cool, funky rhythms. And if you’ve never attended a live kirtan, you should: The energy raised by the call and response of mantra must be felt to be believed. I once attended a puja where we chanted the 1,000 names of God. By the end, the energy in the air and in our bodies was electric. We were awake all night, extremely alert but happy and relaxed. The conversations ran deep. The power of mantra had left its mark.
According to yogic scholar, Georg Feuerstein, a mantra is “a sacred sound charged with psychospiritual power used as a vehicle of meditative transformation.” Some form of chanting has been used in rituals and ceremonies since the Stone Age. The universe is in a perpetual state of vibration; sound is a form of vibration; and the ancient Sanskrit language has a special vibrational quality. All of this vibration makes mantra yoga an effective practice in itself. It replaces “busy thoughts” with sacred sounds, and the vibrational and energetic qualities embedded in the words can help clear out old gunk in the mind and bring you to a new state of consciousness.