The first thing you’re faced with when you start the practice of Ashtanga Yoga (besides having to get up really early!), is the weird tongue twisting chant at the beginning of class.
When I started practicing I mumbled along with the chant for a few months and gradually learned it by listening and repeating over time. I also had a copy of John Scott’s book which includes a phonetic transcription and translation of the chant. But even after reading the translation it still didn’t make much sense. Who is Patanjali and why does he have the body of serpent from the torso down? Why are there a thousand serpents with white heads leaning over him? So many questions!
Sacred Sanskrit Syllables
One thing I did know is that despite my inability to correctly pronounce the sacred Sanskrit syllables or fully grasp what they meant, I felt and still feel drawn to chant. I love how it makes me feel, the sense of peace it brings (once you learn the words of course!) and in the context of a class, how it brings us all closer together with one voice and intention.
In India it is still tradition for practitioners to learn to chant from memory. The great benefit of this is that once you’ve learned the mantra and it’s meaning you can use it anywhere without relying on any other support. I often find myself chanting as I walk – not loudly of course but sort of under my breath.
If you’re intrigued by the chant or just want to learn it so that you don’t have to mumble awkwardly in class then I invite you to download the opening mantra MP3 and the Opening Mantra PDF.
The Opening Mantra MP3
I’ve chanted the opening mantra slowly so that it’s easier to learn the pronunciation. Save the MP3 on to your phone and keep practising until you can say all the words confidently and then memorise each line until you know all of it by heart. Once you’ve done this you won’t need the audio file any more and you’ll be able to chant whenever the fancy takes you.
Download the Opening Mantra MP3 (right click or control click on a Mac to save the file to your computer).
Play the Opening Mantra
The Opening Mantra PDF
The PDF contains the phonetic transcription (how you pronounce the Sanskrit words) and a translation of their meaning. I suggest reading the phonetic transcription while you listen to the MP3 so that you can see as well as hear the words. The opening chant is rich in meaning and I’d encourage you to reflect and research this over time.
I’d like to leave you with two final thoughts:
- Chanting is not singing – You don’t need to be able to sing in order to chant – as you’ll hear from my MP3. I definitely ain’t singing!
- Learning, means making mistakes – accept that you’re learning something new and that it’ll take a little time to get right. Try and enjoy the process as well as the end result.