What is Kirtan?

Yoga has today spread to every corner of the world.[1] The field of yoga has also grown from involving physical poses to include various forms of meditation.[2] Even singing has now become an integral part of yoga. Though when one thinks of singing, one does not associate it with yoga. However, singing can play an essential role in modern yogic practices. When it comes to yoga, the form of singing is referred to as Kirtan Yoga. This form of yoga is primarily said to help those who find it difficult to concentrate while meditating.[3] 

Kirtan can be thought of as a form of chanting God's praise and is commonly thought of as an expression of a person's Bhakti or devotion. This is why kirtan yoga is a part of Bhakti Yoga, which means a commitment to yoga. Kirtan yoga can be thought of as the yoga of sound, considering that the words and phrases spoken in this form of yogic practice are mantras. The syllables get repeated over and over until these sounds become integrated within the consciousness of the chanter.[4] 

Kirtan yoga is becoming very popular today, especially amongst the new yoga practitioners who still find it challenging to focus and calm their minds during meditation. The sacred practice of chanting allows people to access their inner peace, experience calm, and build a better connection with their consciousness and reach a stage of non-thinking.[5] 

See: Kirtan Kriya Meditation For Mental Health Benefits

Origins of Kirtan

The practice of kirtan is believed to have originated nearly 2,500 years ago in India. It was a way for yogis to become closer to God by chanting the names of various gods and goddesses. The original kirtans were written in Sanskrit, which is an ancient Indian language. This language is known for having an energetic and vibrational component. When the words were chanted, it created a potent vibration throughout the body that affected both the person's mind and spirit. However, there is no need to know Sanskrit to practice and receive the yogic benefits of kirtan. The chanting of 'om' is perhaps the most popular form of kirtan yoga in the world.[6]

See: Mindfullness Meditation For Sleep

How to Practice Kirtan?

In the olden days, kirtan used to sing in a group with a kirtan walla, or chanting leader, leading the chanting by pronouncing the words or phrases loudly, followed by the audience repeating them back. This singing or chanting was often accompanied by the playing of musical instruments such as a keyboard, drums, bells, finger cymbals, etc. Everyone present at these events is encouraged to join in the chanting and become one in their praise of the divine.[7] 

Traditionally, each of these gatherings used to last for a couple of hours, with each session of the song lasting from 10 to 20 minutes. However, unlike a musical performance, there is no applause or cheering in between the songs. Instead, each song is followed by a period of mindful silence to allow the previous chant's energy to settle. The chant leader can further expand the spiritual experience by altering the chant's length, slowing it down, or speeding up chanting. Sometimes, the chanting is allowed to build up to ecstatic heights, to which the participants start dancing.[8] 

See: Yoga & meditation for natural stress relief

What are the Benefits of Kirtan?

These are some of the advantages of practicing this form of yoga:

1. Helps you in meditation

For many people, especially beginners to yoga and meditation, sitting still and concentrating during meditation can be challenging. Their mind keeps on wandering, and thoughts become distracting due to which people stop meditating before actually experiencing any significant benefit. 

Such people find it easier to chant the mantras instead of sitting still. Kirtan can be thought of as being an active form of meditation that includes more of the senses. While doing kirtan, even if your mind becomes distracted, it is possible to bring back your attention to the chants' sound, dance, clap your hands, play any instrument, and just have fun.[9] 

2. Helps improve mental health

The benefits of chanting are manifold and affirmed by saints and sages for thousands of years, and now even modern scientists realize the power of kirtan in improving your mental health. 

A study carried out by the West Virginia University found that practicing kirtan for even 12 minutes a day for 12 weeks helps improve sleep pattern, boosts your mood, enhances cognitive function, increases blood plasma levels, and improves the overall quality of life.[10]

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania also found that practicing kirtan regularly for eight weeks improves verbal memory and cerebral blood flow, decreases depression, and boosts the feelings of connectivity.[11] After all, everyone knows how uplifted one feels after listening to their favorite song or tune.

3. Experience clarity of purpose

It is not just beginner meditators who can benefit from such type of yogic practice. Even experienced meditators practice kirtan to experience a sense of clarity from regular practice. Spending a lot of time focusing on chanting helps reduce the mind's chatter and enables you to see things with more clarity.[12]

See: Beat Depression with Meditation

Practice Kirtan to Feel the Difference

By now, we are aware of the benefits of yoga - physical, mental, and spiritual. However, we can only experience these benefits by practicing yoga ourselves. You can only experience the power of kirtan by direct practice. Chanting can change your mood and have a positive effect on your health. Research has already shown that music and chanting can have beneficial effects on your health, even reducing chronic pain and help in the recovery of stroke victims. Though kirtan is an ancient tradition, new research is firmly establishing that this ancient knowledge is correct. It has a lot of benefits to your health - physical, mental, and spiritual.[13]

Many people report feeling a 'buzz' of bliss after chanting and feeling joyful. Experts recommend that it is essential to have an intention or a personal goal of what you want in life and what you want to let go of before you begin chanting. Even having a pure love for singing can be a great purpose to try out kirtan.

See: Learn best ways to meditate properly

References

1. Marlynn Wei, J., 2020. New Survey Reveals The Rapid Rise Of Yoga — And Why Some People Still Haven't Tried It - Harvard Health Blog. [online] Harvard Health Blog. Available at: [Accessed 5 September 2020].

2. Ross, A., and Thomas, S., 2010. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. The journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 16(1), pp.3-12.

3. Carman, J.E., 2011. Yoga for Singing: A Developmental Tool for Technique and Performance. Oxford University Press.

4. Bhatt, S.W.A.D.E.S.H., and Gupta, M.A.N.I.S.H., 2013. Study the effect of aum chanting on stress management. Inernational Journal of Creative Research Thoughts, 1(1), pp.1-2.

5. Perry, G., Polito, V., and Thompson, W.F., 2016, July. Chanting Meditation Improves Mood and Social Cohesion. In International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (14th: 2016) (pp. 324-327). The Society for Music Perception and Cognition (SMPC).

6. Gurjar, A.A., and Ladhake, S.A., 2008. Time-frequency analysis of chanting Sanskrit divine sound “OM” mantra. International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, 8(8), pp.170-175.

7. Stacy, R., Brittain, K., and Kerr, S., 2002. Singing for health: An exploration of the issues. Health education.

8. Liu, C., 2018. Reciting, Chanting, and Singing: The Codification of Vocal Music in Buddhist Canon Law. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 46(4), pp.713-752.

9. Khalsa, D.S., Amen, D., Hanks, C., Money, N. and Newberg, A., 2009. Cerebral blood flow changes during chanting meditation. Nuclear medicine communications, 30(12), pp.956-961.

10. Khalsa, D.S., and Newberg, A., 2011. Kirtan Kriya meditation: A promising technique for enhancing cognition in memory-impaired older adults. In Enhancing Cognitive Fitness in Adults (pp. 419-431). Springer, New York, NY.

11. Wang, D.J., Rao, H., Korczykowski, M., Wintering, N., Pluta, J., Khalsa, D.S., and Newberg, A.B., 2011. Cerebral blood flow changes associated with different meditation practices and perceived depth of meditation. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), pp.60-67.

12. Kenny, M., Bernier, R., and DeMartini, C., 2005. Chant and be happy: The effects of chanting on respiratory function and general well-being in individuals diagnosed with depression. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 15(1), pp.61-64.

13. Črnčec, R., Wilson, S.J., and Prior, M., 2006. The cognitive and academic benefits of music to children: Facts and fiction. Educational Psychology, 26(4), pp.579-594.

See: Happy Heart Meditation

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