This week, I’m thrilled to host internationally-beloved yoga teacher and a woman-well-loved, Sarah Willis. Sarah teaches yoga with incredible mastery, humor, and the rare down-to-earth patience and understanding that provides the ultimate safe space for growth. She also hosts startlingly affordable life-changing yoga retreats in Mexico, where you have the pleasure of experiencing her loving guidance and patience in person, in paradise. Here she’ll talk about the science behind using our voices through chanting mantras: energy-based sounds that distill the power of our speech to create immense positive change and clarity for our bodies and minds!
Over the years I’ve come to believe that a lot of what “holds me back” from manifesting my ideal self is a deep core belief that I’m not good enough, that I’m not loved, and that I don’t deserve to be great. What a load of bullshit, right?
However, latent negative beliefs about ourselves are the most powerful tool we have for self-sabotage. It’s that quiet, hardly noticeable voice in our ear that says, “you can’t,” or whatever our specific issues are.
But we have the power to reverse our negative thought patterns and use powerful tools to override the negative programming in our bodies! I often talk about using affirmations: short, powerful statements you can use to take control of your conscious thoughts. Here Sarah will explain how singing mantras, whether it’s Sanskrit in a yoga studio or a singing along to empowering, positive songs, our voices are our power!
By Sarah Willis
Have you been to a Yoga class with enthusiastic chanting? Or attended a rollicking kirtan evening? If you’re like me, the first time you heard chanting, you were a little freaked out.
My progression from being a non-chanter to a good singer comes as a montage-like memory because it took me at least two or three years to find my voice.
Slowly I progressed from being freaked out by the sounds of sung prayers, to quietly humming along, to straining the crap out of my voice. I would strain my throat, get only a flat note, and run out of breath before everyone else. But one day, while reading the Bhagavad Gita for the first time while standing on a stucco balcony in Mexico, a pure and piercingly beautiful Krsna mantra came out of my mouth. It felt like a soot-covered bird flew out of its old rusty cage to reveal my blissful chanting heart.
When chanting is done from the heart it is unapologetic, without irony, and potentially transformational. In the moment when your voice drops down into your chest, guts, and bones, your heart vibrates like a bell and your throat opens, like a beautiful swallow. Your tongue, which is literally an extension of the heart, finds the exact place of resonance on the palate. In that moment, your mouth becomes the bridge between the brain, or intellect, and the heart. In that moment, it is impossible to be anything other than totally honest, totally present, and deeply moved.
But beyond the emotions, what does chanting do to us physiologically? It massages the heart. It soothes the nerves, regulates our breathing, strengthens the respiratory tract and immune system, creates resonance in our skull and other bones, and has positive effects on all the organs in our body. Sound vibration is powerful stuff. A 2005 New York Times article called, “What’s the Buzz? Sound Therapy” explains further:
“When the heart rate is relatively steady, and breathing is deep and slow, stress hormones decrease,’ said Dr. Mitchell L. Gaynor, an oncologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York and the author of The Healing Power of Sound. That is significant, he said, because stress can depress every aspect of the immune system, ‘including those that protect us against flu and against cancer.’”
Start with Om. Get used to hearing the sound of your voice humming. Feel the sound in your mouth. Chew on it. Say it different ways. Oooohm. A-OOOOH-MMMM. Aummmm. Let it morph: Aumen. Omomomomomomomomomom. Let your voice explore different notes, and keys. Go out of tune on purpose. Let your voice clunk around. Learn some popular Sanskrit mantras from your favorite Yoga class, or all the lyrics to your favorite song.
When you chant or sing a mantra, try to relax your chest and the root of your tongue, and support your voice with your breath. We always sing out a note on our exhalation, so take a big inhale before you start. Using this trick, you will find your notes are stronger and clearer, and you can hold them and project more effectively.
You might also feel a flood of emotion let itself loose during this process. As a result of merging the heart with the brain through the vocal chords, something beautiful and fascinating happens: it’s impossible to lie or be inauthentic. This is because the tongue is actually the external part of your heart.
This is not just a pretty metaphor, it is literal. I have seen this first hand at a cadaver lab in Boulder Colorado. During an integral part of a fabulous teacher-training program (with the sublime Yogi Richard Freeman) we studied cadavers in various states of dissection.
In addition to literally observing the law of impermanence, while looking at these lifeless spongy gray corpses we observed how fascia (thin, fibrous tissue) is a major part of the body’s matrix, and how it is responsible, quite literally, for connecting everything to everything else . . . organs, muscles, bones, cartilage.
The lab technician let us peer into the sawed out hollow of some guy’s chest cavity, where we found the heart connected by the same sheet of tissue that is the pericardium, which traveled all the way up through the back of the throat, and finally differentiates to become the root of the tongue.
When you chant, you’re stimulating the very fiber of your being with positivity. You’re connecting your tongue with your toes, and affirming that you are there, in your precious body, in that moment.
It’s so important to speak our truth in this lifetime. We literally strangle our hearts if we don’t.
It’s so important to speak our truth in this lifetime. We literally strangle our hearts if we don’t. Chanting or singing positive mantras and affirmations can directly affect the heart in a beneficial way. You don’t have to be in tune, you don’t have to study Sanskrit, you can start massaging your heart and soul with a simple ditty in the shower.