Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 3: Mind your Mantras

The Ashtanga Yoga (Opening) Mantra

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Mysore Practice
Instructor: Deborah Carruthers
6:30 – 9:00 a.m.

Good practice today. I was able to slow down and spend a lot of time taking good care of my injured knee, and it enabled me to get a flow going and enjoy an energetic practice. Lots of amazing assistance from Deborah that really helped some new things "click" for me. I got over a mental block I had been carrying around for a while that I couldn't get my hands into reverse prayer position for Parsvotanasana due to my injured right shoulder (15 years of long days spend pushing a mouse around will do that to you). With Deb's help I was able to wiggle my hands together behind my back, and you know what? My shoulder could totally handle it. I got to really feel how beneficial the pose will be to my wrists and hands as well, which is great, and hopefully will only make my guitar playing stronger.

Chanting the opening prayer with Deborah got me thinking about all the many ways I 've heard people intone this mantra, and with varying degrees of precision. Deb tends to add a bit of melody to it, while I enjoy it flat as a well-posed Chaturanga Dandasana, with the occasional tonal lift.


I really like this recording of Guruji's son, Manju reciting it with a Western class in call-and-response:


And here's a great video (ripped from VHS by the looks of it) featuring Guruji himself leading the prayer. I recognize Richard Freeman and my doppelgänger, Chuck Miller, in the group. Any other famous yogis that you recognize?


I think it's very important for all of us Westerners to pay close attention to the mantras we recite, and to not just plow through them. We should attempt to deliver these sacred words with as much care and precision that we apply to our asana practice. Just as we reap the most benefit from these poses by performing them correctly, we also reap the benefits of the mantras — which can be likened to magical incantations — only when they are properly intoned. We can also use this ritual to consciously begin our practice with focus and intent, and to offer our respect to our teachers. The opening mantra is, after all, a salute to this ancient practice and the man who gave it to us, the sage Patanjali.

Just as we begin our practice with the opening mantra, I think it is just as important to close our practice with the closing mantra — something I've yet to see a teacher encourage. In my shamanic practice, it would be unheard of to not close the ritual space after ceremony. Yoga is an energetic practice, and when we close our practice, we can use the Mangala mantra to send all of that light, peace and love that we worked so hard to generate out into the world. I mean, that's kind of the point isn't it? To not only better ourselves, but to be of service to the rest of the world. On a practical level, I feel that a ritual closing of the space (both the physical space and the space we have created in ourselves during practice) can help us prepare for our re-emergence into the "regular world". I'm going to be talking more about the connections between shamanic and yoga practice in future posts, but it's definitely something that comes up for me every day. 


Here's a video of Guruji reciting the closing (Mangala) mantra:

Mangala Mantra, or closing peace prayer

If you're interested in studying the mantras further, is a great resource for learning the proper pronunciation and understanding the meaning and purpose behind each mantra. Enjoy!



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