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Paramahansa Yogananda was fond of saying “chanting is half the battle.” But, half of what battle and what happens to us when we chant? How does chanting help us in our spiritual search for the Divine?
These are fair questions and I think we should begin by talking about the “battle” Sri Yogananda was referring to. When Yoganandaji was talking about the battle, he meant the one going on inside our brains when we sit to meditate; you know the constant internal chatter that we don’t seem to be able to turn off. That nagging voice that is always bringing up the last insult we suffered or those feelings of unworthiness, guilt, and shame we wish we could let go of. That voice in our heads that is always worrying about what the day will bring… or not bring.
Meditation is the single most important act of Self-care for our well-being that we can undertake. It is an unadulterated expression of universal love turned inward. We use it to connect with the spirit indwelling: the soul, that which we are.
Meditation is the uninterrupted flow of attention to a single inward point until we are resting in absolute stillness and if our internal dialogue is running amuck how are we to focus on a single point? …ENTER CHANTING
Did you know that when we chant our cortisol levels drop, reducing inflammation? It’s true! Studies have also proven that when we sing or chant, endorphins (powerful hormones) are released into the system reducing anxiety and stress. With the release of endorphins depression is mitigated and even feeling of loneliness and isolation have been proven to be reduced.
When we chant with devotion, the brain fully engages in the activity and an effortless focus of attention occurs, blocking out the negative thoughts that so often get in our way. The mind begins to calm, feeling waves subside and we become mentally clearer. Chanting with devotion anchors the mind in the present moment and perception of time is temporarily suspended.
One of the more interesting facts about chanting is that it stimulates the vagus nerve which runs through the voice box in the back of the throat. One of the 12 cranial nerves, the vagus nerve connects the brain to several organs and is an integral part of the parasympathetic nervous system. Chanting stimulates the vagus nerve and triggers the relaxation response helping us to become more internalized and focused. The immune system is strengthened, heart rate is lowered, breath becomes more rhythmic, and even digestion is improved when we chant.
When people chant together, their heart beats sync up! Chanting together strengthens social bonds and gives us a more connected sense of togetherness. We feel like we are part of something larger than ourselves and this helps strengthen our sense of having a purpose in life.
Chanting also helps us have an appropriate way of sharing our emotions. When we chant with feeling and devotion, we are using the medium of our voice to articulate how we feel to the world. Even though we are not explicitly expressing our emotions, the sound we make carries with it our intent and sentiment; we feel better when we chant.
Lastly, chanting is most often done in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is the holy language of mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase that protects and takes us beyond the mind. When we chant in Sanskrit, our consciousness is uplifted into super-consciousness. We move into that clear, still singular awareness of pure spirit.
But there’s a catch when it comes to chanting; when we chant, we should chant until we are emptied out into the vast stillness of spirit and there we should rest. We must abide in the timeless now or we miss the purpose and point of chanting and our opportunity to connect with God is lost.
We chant until we can chant no more…then we rest in God.