Yoga defined: The practice of Bhakti and Kirtan
Written by Erin Dooley
Yoga, as you may have experienced, is not simply the shapes and sometimes challenging poses we put our bodies into when we go to a hatha, vinyasa or yin class.
Yoga is the feeling we return to when we practice these poses. It is the sense of union, wholeness, and peace that we experience when we are closer to our true nature, when we are more grounded and connected to the world around us. If you’ve practiced yoga before (especially at Living Flow) you’ll know this warm and fuzzy feeling!
What you may not know is that yoga is like a tree with many branches. Hatha, the branch that includes stretching and strengthening our body with physical poses, is simply one of them. There is also Raja, Karma, Tantra, Jnana, and Bhakti. Each branch is connected to the same trunk, with the same roots grounded deep in the practice of meditation and devotion.
Bhakti yoga is sometimes confused with religion because it is referred to as the ‘Yoga of Devotion,’ however Bhakti is not living by particular religious laws. Bhakti is about reconnecting with the divine; remembering to honour our nature and true self.
So what is Kirtan?
Kirtan is a tool of Bhakti yoga, just like Asana (physical poses and stretching) is a tool of Hatha yoga. They transport us back to a feeling of wholeness and union.
During a Kirtan gathering you can expect to sing along to the enchanting sound of traditional Indian instruments – or perhaps just a well-strummed guitar! We all know the joy of being lost in a good song, yelling it out the car window on a road trip with your friends, or simply listening quietly through your headphones on the way to work.
In Kirtan we chant mantra mindfully to amplify this joy! The idea is to experience the beauty of music fully and wholeheartedly, not just in the background while we’re driving, or cleaning, typing away on our computer or practicing asana. It is to sing with total devotion to the music, the divine, and the moment in which we sing! It’s also an opportunity to let go of ego and sing until your heart’s content.
It is definitely meditative and has all the benefits that meditation delivers us. We can coax ourselves into a state of bliss through repetition of mantra, by chanting over and overthese beautiful words, until they begin to attune us to the vibration and sensation of love. It is said that the Kirtan mantras are “a sacred sound formula that has a specific focus and energy,” for example the mantra om manipadme hum, which is said to transport us to the quiet mind of a Buddha.
Like most music, Kirtan can connect us to whatever it is we need to connect to. That may be to a higher power, or simply to ourselves. What Kirtan will definitely connect us to is our community! At first, we may hear our voice as separate from the voices around us, but as we continue to sing our voice becomes indistinguishable from the group. Our sense of ‘me’ or ‘I’ can literally dissolve, and we can feel and hear a sense of unity – of being in flow with everyone around us.
Not many of us like to sing aloud in public, but Kirtan can teach us to open up to new and possibly scary experiences, providing a safe and loving space to embrace vulnerability, to either chant quietly or to sing our hearts out! Kirtan is a healing practice on so many levels. It opens our hearts, clears our throats, connects us to our community, and brings us joy. What a gift this practice is!
Kirtan is for everyone: first-timers, regular chanters, and even little ones. At Living Flow we have a Kirtan gathering we call Mantra Magic – led by Kirtan Sydney, every 3rd Sunday of the month (check schedule for confirmation). Come and soak in the beautiful sounding, rhythmic love, and please bring $10 cash at the door.