I am delighted to be hosting Sandra Leigh from Canada for Kirtan this month, Sandra has kindly agreed to answer a few questions so we can find out a bit more about her and what she does.
R: How would you describe Kirtan?
S: I think Kirtan is best described as an Indian musical/devotional tradition of singing of kirtans, bhajans and mantras, in a call and response style and sometimes sung altogether, repeating over and over, sometimes speeding up to help us let go and sometimes slowing right down, singing with all our heart! Kirtan chanting helps us relax the busy mind, rest in the heart, and glorify all of creation.
R: How did you first get into it?
S: I learned Kirtan through Yoga. I was first introduced to singing mantras and bhajans (devotional Indian songs) at an ashram I trained at in Canada. An ashram is a place where people go to study yoga, meditation, health, wellness (ayurveda) and spirituality. That was over 20 years ago and I have since been to India a few times to train in Indian Classical music as well as Bhakti Yoga, which is the yoga of love and devotion. Kirtan is a part of the Bhakti Yoga path. I have also really enjoyed a course I took here in the UK, called Dru Sound, which was in North Wales.
R: What do you enjoy about it?
S: I like that Kirtan chanting helps bring people into their heart. It helps us to connect with each other and to our world. It offers the world positive vibrations (pure sound), so with the right intention, Kirtan singing can be very powerful and can even help us grow spiritually. When we are chanting together, we are creating a positive collective consciousness. I love being a part of something that helps the world and all it’s precious beings. We need it now, more than ever, too.
R: Yes I agree. So you started the Vancouver Give Peace a Chant! Community, can you tell us a bit more about it?
S: I was chanting with friends in my tiny apartment on Friday nights for a couple of years. We were learning some difficult but beautiful mantras and bhajans. Then, Sept 11, 2001 came and we were moved to take the chant night to the yoga studios and make them public. We called it “Give Peace a Chant Kirtan” and added a few English songs for peace to try to build a gathering that focused on bringing “peace through music”. It was an opportunity for people to come create positive vibrations for the whole world, in service to the highest in ourselves and each other, to bring us into unity. That was 14 years ago! We rarely sing in English any more. People seem to prefer Sanskrit chanting, it’s true.
R: Yes I must admit I do too, I feel more self-conscious somehow singing in English even though some of the Sanskrit words get me tongue-tied sometimes.
What is the ‘Kirtan Scene’ like in Vancouver?
S: The scene on the west coast is growing, blossoming, and flourishing! There are many, many yoga festivals that include Kirtan. In the summer time we play at a Kirtan Festival, called Kirtan Vancouver; it’s right on the beach! Our Kirtan group (we use the acronym GPaC) play once or twice a month, now. We usually get 60 to 80 people coming to chant, meditate, or volunteer for helping with the production. Even dancers come and snacks show up for after, then we really celebrate!
R: Wow that sounds great, I hope that something similar will be built in Glasgow. What bought you to Scotland?
S: My Yoga group (Dru Yoga) is based here in the UK so I try to get here often for trainings and to visit friends I’ve met through the yoga … and also, I love Scotland!
R: Have you had any feedback from people about benefits they have gained from chanting?
S: Yes, over the years so many people have sent thank you notes and gifts for experiences they have shared, or they request to come take harmonium and vocal lessons, or they want to volunteer, play, and help out and be on the team. That’s the best, is to offer your service and be a part of it all. It’s all teamwork, after all.
R: If there are people out there who have never tried Kirtan before, what would you say to them?
S: Maybe to know that you really don’t have to be a “good singer” to enjoy the experience. Many friendly people come and more shy people, too. Most everyone just love being there (in the BHAV), singing what they can or even just meditating in the sound vibes. So come, relax your busy mind, ease into your heart, be open to enjoying the experience. Pure sound vibrations are powerful and very healing for us. Also, on the practical side, you might want to bring water to drink, a cushion to sit comfortably (we usually have some chairs for those who don’t sit on the floor), comfy clothes, a warm shawl kept just for your chanting practice, and also, consider doing some yoga with Rox before to limber up and let go of any stress you might be carrying.
R: Thank you so much for your time. I am really looking forward to the event.
S: Me too. I am stoked for an evening with new friends and some familiar faces, too… all our friendly voices, lifting each other up. This world needs our positive vibrations and heart connections. Thank you, too Rox !!
Mantra Circle & Kirtan
Friday 25th July 2014
7pm Yoga (Must be booked)
8pm Kirtan (Please bring a cushion and shawl)
Health Rediscovered, 82 Gordon Street. Opposite Central Station, Glasgow.
Fantastic day in the the beautiful setting of Tir-na-nOg holistic centre: Yoga, chanting, meditation and a Shakti new moon fire. The weather was fabulous, so we were able to practice our first yoga session outside. We started the day with tea and biscuits in the sun.
Through the day we worked with the energy of the new moon; a good time for introspection, resting, meditation and setting intentions. As we moved through the day we kept in mind our clear intention for the next moon cycle. When we do yoga we are in a space of calm and focus, our mind is more receptive to change; moving beyond the ideas and thought patterns we have established. This is why it is a good time to keep in mind a positive intention or affirmation, so that we may move beyond the limitations we have set on ourselves. When you are setting yourself an intention or affirmation it is important that it is clear, definite, something that makes you feel joyous and harmonious and is thought of in simple, precise, present-tense language, creating the image or feeling that the intention has happened. The new moon symbolises the always present void, that we can change things at any moment, we can let go of any ideas that are not helpful and plant new positive seeds.
Hatha Yoga is a dance between the sun and moon, a dance of balance and equanimity. We search to find unity with the breath, the body, the mind and the spirit to achieve the state of Yoga. There are many paths to achieve this, and in the afternoon we used Bhakti yoga - using sound and chanting as a why to quieten the mind, uplift the spirits and bring us to the state of unity.
The afternoon practice focused on the energy of the sun, strength, heat, power, the energy of summer. The practice was still introspective, being aware of how we were feeling. But focusing on working from the core - the centre of our being - strengthening our connection to ourselves, our own sense of self and our own inner fire. Everything moves from the core. Our goal poses were Natarajasana - the lord of the dancers and Shiva Natraj - Shiva's dance of Bliss, representing the cosmic cycle of creation and destruction, birth and death. Yoga teaches us that duality and separateness are an illusion no one can avoid the cosmic cycle, we are all united in the dance.
The day ended with the Shakti Fire. Working now with the feminine and earth energy to purify and strengthen. Encouraging the female aspect in us all to claim its place within the world in order to bring love and harmony to the earth. A beautiful ceremony offering rice to the fire to release a thought, action, state of being that no longer serves. Singing “Om Shakti Jay Jay, Om Swaha Jay Jay” which translates as “May the female power be successful”
Thank you to all the participates for sharing their beautiful energy with us.
A beautiful evening of acapella-style Kirtan with James Boag, who was here from Mysore India teaching a weekend workshop at Merchant City Yoga. There was a great turn out from participants, who chanted and sang whole-heartedly, leaving looking radiant and joyous.
A highly enjoyable event, starting with Yoga, followed by a Sound Bath, moving onto Tibetan Bells and then Chanting. There was a beautiful atmosphere as the chants and harmonium flowed around the room and everyone forgot their inhibitions, letting their voices sing out. We held a circle as we let our voices pour out, creating a harmonious sound bath consisting of a simple sound. The weird almost alien-like sound of the Tibetan Singing Bells left the hall buzzing, whilst the uplifting chanting raised the energy and vibration in the room. Tea, biscuits and chatting ended what will be a repeated event :)