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.
Really enjoyed Knockengorroch this year, and so glad that the yoga classes were scheduled a bit later :) Seemed to make a difference for numbers too, as there was a fantastic turn out each morning. Thank you to all those who came the class. The sun was shining and the wind died down and festival site was full of happy people bopping to some great music. Lovely food too for a festival. This year I went to some workshops - Tai Chi (http://9wavestaichi.org/) and Belly Dancing (http://bobbybeakbane.com/wordpress/)- both were great. Watch this space for a yoga and belly dance collaboration event, very exciting.
I was invited to work in a Women's Refuge, teaching Yoga once a week. I was exited, inspired by the work of The Trauma Centre in Brookline who use yoga as a somatic therapy to help people who have suffered from trauma to reclaim their bodies. I felt that yoga would be of great benefit to the women in the refuge to help them cope with what they are going through.
The Wellbeing Officer at the Refuge was also hopeful that it could help, telling me she would be happy even if one person attended the class. At this time of crisis in their lives, many women are trying not to stop, not to think, not to have a moment of silence or to reflect. Yoga then, is very difficult as it requires us to stop, tune into the body, quieten the mind. In her opinion, any activity she could provide to give some relief, relaxation, a moment of tranquillity, that might help even one women was a success and worth a try. I had to agree.
As you might expect the population of refuges is always fluctuating as women move in and out of the flats depending on their current circumstances and needs, this obviously creates a difficult environment, as the women's lives are in a state of flux. Yoga however aims to help us all deal with the many fluxes and changes in our daily lives by giving us the opportunity to find space to be calm and relaxed even if only for an hour.
Why Yoga? How can it help the women in a Refuge?
Reclaiming Your Body after Trauma
Yoga is an age old practice whose aim is to unify the mind, body, breath and spirit, balancing mind and strengthening the body, aiming to keep people in the present moment through movement, breath and stillness of the mind. Yoga enables people to reconnect with their bodies, to regain control of them and the sensations they feel. The asana begin to allow the person to open, starting by physically opening the body. This helps to create the change from survival mode to inner safety, calm and coping.
Yoga can have effects by inviting change, adaptation and growth on all levels – motor, sensory, emotional, immune and psychological. It helps to reach a parasympathetic state. This state helps to activate coping hormones, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, enable the immune system to function better, enable digestion to improve, reset the nervous system; reducing stress and reactivity. As new research is constantly done on the benefits of yoga and exercise in general, researchers are finding what people feel naturally - that movement in general is great for the body, mind and spirit helping people to cope better with daily stress.
"Scientists found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are much higher in those that carry out yoga than those do the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise such as walking.
Although all exercise stimulates serotonin, what makes yoga different is the added element of keeping the mind quiet and focused, connecting the breath to movement. In fact, yoga can be thought of as a state, a state of union where everything is connected - mind, body, breath, spirit, so a 'state of yoga' can be achieved in many ways. The yoga that we practice today uses these particular postures to get us into that state. But these postures also help us to open the body, to free the restrictions within it, develop flexibility and strength and reconnect us to ourselves.
Finally yoga can help to develop a sense of community, strength and solidarity through practising together as a group, so for people who may have lost their sense of community this can be a great aid.
I feel privileged to be able to work with this group of women and look forward to my next session with them. It will be interesting to see how many of the same people turn up and if they attend regularly, whilst they stay at the refuge, what benefits they notice.