Bhajan and Samkirtan
There is a mind that is mind and life, light and truth and wide spaces. It contains all works and desires and all fragrances and all tastes. He unfolds the whole universe, and in silence he loves all … That is the spirit that is in my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven itself, bigger than all these worlds.
Singing together has to be one of the oldest communal activities of mankind and seems to be part of every single culture. It was the Bhagavad-Gītā that made Bhakti Yoga popular about 2000 years ago, and this practice has steadily grown in popularity in recent years.
People who take modern yoga classes are often on their own mat, doing their isolated practice. Singing hajans is an opportunity to connect and become part of something bigger, to free your voice and heart. Bhajans harness our emotional energy and are often combined with mythological storytelling that highlights the Indian culture from which yoga emerged.
These songs and folk tales should inspire us to discover the qualities of the heroes and heroines in ourselves. Yogs cherished, sang, and told stories of courage, compassion, wisdom, and balance. The Indians have come up with a very creative and compelling collection of legends that are both entertaining and speak to our higher selves.
The lyrics of the songs are simple and repetitive and therefore easy to learn. A skilled bhajan or kirtan leader is integrative, knows how to build up the energy in a room and, through singing and playing with deep feeling, can create an experience that is truly heart-opening for everyone present.
For over 20 years I have been leading these singing groups, accompanied by guitar and telling colorful stories from Indian mythology.Bhakti Yoga is a powerful practice of the heart and can become a key to opening it up, to access our emotions, to be part of to feel something bigger, to lose oneself in the music and to find oneself again.
After living in India for many years, I have seen the importance of this practice in yoga and in larger communities. Typically, a day in traditional (rural) India ends with the so-called Ārthī: The people of the village come together, say goodbye to the day gratefully and then sing together. For me, this activity brings a piece of Indian culture and tradition into the modern, western yoga studio.
Bhajan chanting is part of every single class I teach. It could be singing for my students during śavāsana relaxation or singing together to reinforce an intention. I also lead special bhajan sessions, usually between 1.5 and 2.5 hours, to celebrate a special day, bring the community together, share some yogic insights, and open hearts and minds.