Chanting: The Breath As The Link Between The Body, Mind And Spirit.
Aug 28 , 2016
I often think of the breath as the link between the body, mind and spirit. Chanting can be very beneficial but as well must be under the direction of a master teacher. For me, chanting in a foreign tongue, albeit extremely healing, spiritually based, and sometimes incredible to experience in its most highly developed forms, is a somewhat limited form of sound production to the person not brought up in the native language of the chant. It, when practiced long enough improperly can restrict the breathing.
Plus, chanting is often limited to a few chants. Even if you list 50 or 100 chants, singing in one's native language includes tens of thousands of optional songs spanning the complete range of emotions, thoughts and perhaps as important, consonants. Learning all those in a foreign language would take decades. That to me makes it possibly impractical.
Is chanting spiritual? Definitely. That is I believe where it has its strongest benefit. It can transform and expand one's consciousness to way beyond one's present state of mind and limitations. But so can singing. That is why for several years I belonged to my church choir.
Is chanting practical? Often in the sense that many chants are easy to learn but not always. But that in no way means I believe chanting or toning is not extremely valuable. One needs to understand the relevant strengths and limitations and then choose for themselves. Chanting may be perfect for you, right now. Maybe not. Try it and see how you feel. You should feel GREAT. If so, then why not? But do not discount singing as an equal or even sometimes faster road to bliss. Anyone can learn to sing.
To have to learn a foreign language takes longer for most so as to integrate thoughts and new ways of being with the speed, depth and range that singing or speaking in one's mother tongue can. For instance, one can say that the phonetics of Sanscrit are cross cultural. But I have to wonder how much longer it takes for a person to change languages in enough of a meaningful way from their mother language to that with a Sanscrit origin before the person gets lasting benefits that are clearly integrated with their culture.
Are chanting's advocates saying that any culture might be better off with the insights of chanting? If so then I probably agree. But I STILL maintain that singing (most people believe they cannot sing or at least sing well, but this is just not true if one knows how to develop the breathing accurately, and that leaves a bias against the idea of singing in the first place) in one's mother tongue is more conducive to deeper real life insight, meaningful and faster then dealing with a foreign tongue whose meanings must be interpolated into whatever culture, paradigm or agenda it is trying to present. Of course, the chanting can sometimes bypass this prejudice but that does not make it superior to the ease of what could have been with the mother tongued optimal breathing approach to singing.
The main point I want to make is that if I were to work on those with Sanscrit based language or any other language, they would, if they knew how to breathe right, learn to chant better in less time and would enjoy it much that more as well.
Reciting the rosary in Latin may be good for Catholics' health, as well as their faith, some might say. Formulaic expression of Ave Maria's helps harmonize speakers' breathing cycles with involuntary rhythmic fluctuations in their blood pressure to an optimum six breaths per minute.
Repeating a yoga mantra "om-mani-padme-hum" seems to have a similar effect, according to doctors from Florence and Pavia in Italy and Peter Sleight, of the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, writing in the British Medical Journal.
They monitored the blood pressure, heart rate and breathing of 23 healthy men and women and found their respiration rate slowed down from an average 14 breaths a minute when they were not seeking to control it, to seven when they were talking rather than chanting, and to about six when they were deliberately controlling their breathing or reciting the prayer or the mantra.
Most slower breathing improves heart and lung function as well as bringing calm unless it stems from holding back one's breath which is mostly stressful. Sometimes it can be helpful to increase the CO2 levels and cause vasodilation.
I suspect the rosary may have evolved because it synchronized with inherent cardiovascular rhythms and may have given a feeling of well-being and perhaps an increased responsiveness to the religious message. But what about the other spiritual principles that tag along with that?
The similar success of the yoga mantra may not be coincidence. I've read that the rosary was introduced to Europe by the crusaders, who took it from the Arabs, who adopted it from Tibetan monks and the yoga masters of India. The only problem with all these approaches is that they may have been changed or altered due to specific agendas of the times or lost to the distractions of stress, life and living.
For years I've given my patients kiddie bubbles as a part of their homework. I tell them to blow slowly, lots of bubbles per dip, and to blow into the bubbles everything that is bothering them and watch it float away. Bye-bye!!
I tell them to blow bubbles until everything is hilarious. LOVE II.
I enjoy your newsletter very much. I've told several people about it. I'm getting a new job and plan to get some tapes. Nancy Adams, Rebirther.
Comments below from another yoga teacher. My comments are i bolded. hers are brackets.
Learning all those Sanscrit aspects in a foreign language would take decades. That to me makes it very impractical. The American Sanskrit Institute can teach an average person to chant/read the Sanskrit alphabet with proper pronunciation in one weekend, making it very practical. The youngest participants in their programs are 7 & 8 years old -
I was in both training weekends with these kids. It is actually a very practical program that uses the Yogic model to present the basics of Sanskrit. You don't need to be a scholar, Yoga student, linguist - just an average person with a desire to learn. But do not discount singing as an equal or even sometimes faster road to bliss. <There is a distinction between chanting and singing, and they are not quite the same thing. Chanting is an aspect of Bhakti Yoga, and is to be founded in devotion. Agreed but how many in church take years to decades to become "devoted"? It does not matter what the quality of voice, or ability of the chanter, only that they chant from the heart. Great concept and wish it worked better. The chanting often restricts the breathing. There needs some training around that issue IMO.
From a purely somatic perspective, many have no idea what that "heart" is. They can not feel it or embody it. So it is too often an overused, trite idea with no reality. What I learned from my many visits to the Siddha ashram in Oakland (wonderful people) was that if the person does it often enough it is going to sink in IF the breathing is till balanced. I really like that aspect but I have met too many chanters that do not "walk their talk". To me, the teacher is the key, not the chanting. The primary need to me is for the proper integration/marriage of ideas and chanting energy. That is also why I counsel people to choose songs that have clean, clear positive foundations to them with good OB WINDOWS built in to the phrasing lest the embodiment be negative, confusing or harmful. Sing the blues often enough and you can become the blues etc.
To have to learn a foreign language takes longer for most so as to integrate thoughts and new ways of being with the speed, depth and range that singing or speaking in one's mother tongue can. For instance, one can say that the phonetics of Sanscrit are cross cultural. But I have to wonder how much longer it takes for a person to change languages in a meaningful way from their mother language to that with a Sanscrit origin before the person gets lasting benefits that are clearly integrated with their culture.
The phonetics of Sanskrit are the foundation for ALL sound. The beauty of this language is that it was not originally intended to be translated, therefore there is no real need to 'learn' another language. Sanskrit was constructed in a manner that focuses more on the vibrations produced by combining different sound forms. Wish it were taught more.
In fact the language was spoken (actually chanted) for a couple of thousand years before a written script was constructed. This is why the Vedas have been perfectly preserved - they were passed from teacher to student, mouth to ear with correct pronunciation and meter. A great tradition.
Sounds nice but has little meaning in the real world to me. Too abstract, esoteric. Requires much more the masses have to muster. They need a gateway to this. Optimal Breathing may be such a gateway for some. That is one of its functions.
I STILL maintain that singing (most people believe they cannot sing or at least sing well, but this is just not true if one knows how to develop the breathing rapidly and accurately so that leaves a bias against the idea of singing in the first place) in one's mother tongue is more conducive to deeper real life insight, meaningful and faster then dealing with a foreign tongue whose meanings must be interpolated into whatever culture it is trying to present itself.
Again, in working with Sanskrit, it is not about translation, rather vibration Too often, we have connections to certain thoughts and experiences with words in the mother tongue, that may invoke certain pyschological reactions or stimulate past mental conditioning, whereas when we work with a 'new' language, we have no preconceived connections to the words, and can begin with a clean slate.
I like that a lot.
Of course, the chanting can sometimes bypass this prejudice but that does not make it superior to the ease of what could have been with the mother tongued approach to singing being fast and accurate.
Here again I make a distinction between chanting and singing. With chanting, the key is in repetition, which allows regular breathing patterns to emerge easily and quickly, whereas with singing phrasing often changes, also changing the breathing patterns.
Yes, as does real living. So in the beginning there is stability or continuity. Very important. But after a while, anything you do with the breath repeatedly will eventually restrict its ability to respond in an other-than fashion. Restriction and locked-in patterns develop restricted thoughts, attitudes, emotions and states of being. That is one example were" blind obedience to the Guru" isms begin. One is no longer breathing free. May be good or bad. To me it is mostly bad because breathing "patterns" will eventually drive the nervous system and distort thoughts without the knowledge of the breather; thought following energy. This is a too often unconsciousness and rote reaction. The key to me is variety and continuity. That is why spiritual communities can be so great. That is also why they do not grow to cities and countries because they too often eventually limit one's natural sense of freedom. This is a basis of many dogmatic psychosocial paradigms.
I also have to (personally) disagree with that chanting in Sanskrit is superior to anything we have in any other language. In the mid 80's NASA research center made the startling discovery that Sanskrit is the only unambiguous langauge known on the planet - even more astounding is the fact that it is the only natural language suited for use in artificial intelligence. (AI Magazine Spring '85) There is a small, but growing movement in India and the US for Sanskritam to become a universal language because it crosses all boundaries culturally and intellectually. But it must be taught as a living language with the emphasis on pronounciation, which unfortunately is the aspect left out in most university and college Sanskrit programs.
I really like the way you present this material. You are to me a dedicated and great teacher. I would like to meet you some day. mgw
A troubled email.
Thank you very much for your website and breathing test. looks like i am about ready to die and i feel like that too. i have two concerns which your site did not address and hope you can shed some light on the subject since you are a master breather. One is that when i take a deep breath when sitting i start to sweat and feel like a hot flash. it feels very uncomfortable. what is the cause of this?
the second is that i have been doing mantra meditation for 30 years. i am 51 now. the mantra i chant is hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare.
sometimes i sing this and sometimes i speak it sometimes i whisper it. thus my breathing is a long breath out and a quick breath in. Careful here. i need to chant for about 3 hours a day and i do it as fast as i can. i cannot not chant, That is not good. i cannot breathe slowly as it would slow me too much. I support Hare Krishna chanting but that is very bad habit and harmful to nervous system. it is difficult to chant on the inbreath. Bad for the throat. Very bad idea to do that anyway. but if you could suggest the optimum way to breath during the chanting based on your expertise i can try to adjust my technique. or if you think one or two mantras with a big breath is okay, let me know. thank you very much. this question has been bothering me for years. my counting test was 102, 94, 6o something.
So it got worse as you tried it more?
Mike, yes it got worse with each try. i have to chant. really do need some way to make the best of it. why do you suppose i feel so hot and sweat when i take deep breaths? Because you are tightening up as you try harder. deeper-breathing-may-not-really-be-deeper Please trust me on this . You are going to do serious damage to yourself if you continue without releasing the tension. Get our speaking and singing program .
I saw the article (above) on chanting, and read the last email exchange re: the long exhale with the chant and short inhale between.
This energetic breathing pattern (long exhale, short inhale) is what we use in Qigong to Purge energy from the body. We use a long inhale, short exhale to Tonify(add Qi) to the body. The balanced inhale, exhale is for energy regulation and balance in the body.
It sounds like this person has been exhausting their Qi with this pattern. It would account for the habituation of the chanting by reducing a person's freewill through Qi depletion.