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We form a small semi circle around the teacher. I close my eyes and sit cross-legged on a blanket, as I would in meditation. Our teacher is playing the harmonium, a hybrid between a piano and harmonica that’s popular in the Hindu-based devotional mantra music called kirtan. Kirtan is gaining popularity, even among yogis who were once afraid to chant OM.

I’ve been practicing kirtan more than ever after joining a Jivamukti-inspired yoga studio in Charleston, South Carolina, where each class adds the ancient chants to their 90-minute practices. At first, I close my eyes and awkwardly repeat the chants, more concerned about looking silly than what I’m actually saying. But over time, I rather enjoy the chanting; it lifts my heart and shuts off my brain for a bit.

In the short time I’ve been practicing it regularly, I have seen some benefits, but for many yogis, it’s not just an addition to their practice, it’s an essential component. GuruGanesha, of the GuruGanesha Band, tours the world playing the mantra music that he says quiets the intellect and opens the heart. He’s been practicing kirtan every morning for the past 40 years as part of his Kundalini yoga and meditation practice.

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“I pick up my guitar and start to sing mantras,” he says. “It gives me a deep sense of the divine energy and benevolent force that carries me through my day.” 

He says that now, in these difficult times, we need it more than ever. “We’re inundated with negative beliefs like violence and hate and this practice is a reminder that at our core we’re all beings of light.”

The beauty of kirtan lies in its repetition. Sometimes, a single chant will go on for as long as 40 minutes. But after a few rounds, the words become less important than the vibration of the singing. It may sound New Age heavy, but the experience is uplifting, especially if you close your eyes and try to be present. It’s almost like an outward meditation, where the energy of the group simultaneously lifts you up. Kirtan gatherings can be small, like a class format, or they can be huge concert venues.

Kirtan also opens up the heart chakra, called the Anahata chakra, located at the center of the chest. Gorgeous photo of multicolored flower.
Kirtan quiets the mind and opens the heart. Woman sitting in infinity pool looking over Ubud.

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