Open The Heart, Still The Mind
At the end of every Kids & Family Yoga class I play kirtan music to relax and still the mind while invoking an opening of the heart. Often children and parents will ask me about it, as it is truly beautiful music that stays in the mind.
Kirtan is a bhakti yoga practice of chanting sanskrit mantras to music. Mantra means freeing of the mind (man = mind, tra= free) – freeing ourselves from thoughts and fears, allowing ourselves to be our loving pure essence. Kirtan works by occupying the mind, or focusing the mind on mantra, so there is no room for incessant thinking, worries and ruminating thoughts. Personally, I have found that the mantras and tunes spontaneously pop into my mind when I’m just about to think too much! I’ve also used kirtan to heal a broken heart, work through grief and find solace in hard times.
The mantras used in kirtan hold spiritual meaning, and are often devotional to Hindu gods and goddesses, but for Westerners we may choose to just view this practice as a secular one. Either way, the result is the same – a peaceful mind and joyful feeling in the heart.
Western kirtan music can be of any genre – from rock to jazz to lullabies. The main criteria: it makes the practice appealing to your senses while delivering a meditational experience. As the guru of American kirtan wallah (singer) Krishna Das said, it is easier to take the medicine if it is sweeter.
There are a huge number of kirtan recordings available online. I’ve highlighted some of the best below – you can buy the albums as downloads or listen to them via YouTube (I like the playlists of 50 or more songs – that’s almost a full day of kirtan!).
How do you practice kirtan alone? You can sing along (don’t do this while you’re driving!) or listen purely for relaxation. I like to play kirtan music first thing in the morning instead of looking at the news – why not start the day with positivity? I also play it while I’m cooking – it puts me in a good mood and hopefully puts good vibes into my dinner!
Going to a live kirtan is a slightly different experience. I first discovered kirtan at the Satyananda ashram at Mangrove Mountain, just outside of Sydney. It was a Friday night and a group of yogis were playing beautiful music with instruments including the guitar, Indian drums called the tabla and a portable organ-style keyboard called a harmonium.
A kirtan wallah was leading the audience in call and response chants. As the music built up in energy, the chants became louder and faster, with the audience eventually jumping off the ground into ecstatic dance. As the chant slowed down and the volume lowered, everyone came into stillness and felt the pure energy around and inside them. This is typical of live kirtans – singing in a group with an experienced kirtan wallah can give you a deep blissful feeling – I like to think of it as cleaning one’s mind and energy body.
Singing might be the one thing that holds people back from participating in a kirtan. It is not necessary to have a beautiful voice or to be able sing well – the act of singing has an effect on your fifth chakra, Visuddha, in the throat – which relates to self expression, authenticity, speaking your truth, standing up for yourself. Have you ever had a knot in your throat? Was this when you needed to tell someone something but couldn’t? Or perhaps you didn’t have the courage to speak up? Kirtan can help you clear stuck energy in this chakra and strengthen your ability to communicate your needs and simply be yourself.
Live kirtans can be found at many of the larger yoga studios, or follow any of the singers listed below, as many tour Australia. Facebook is also a great resource for finding local kirtans.
Kirtan for kids
Children will find all kinds of kirtan music appealing – it’s great for calming them down, pre-bedtime, anytime! American kirtan wallah Jai Uttal made a special album just for kids, Kirtan Kids, and it’s what I like to play in my Kids & Family Yoga classes. Children will leave the class chanting the mantras and request the same song the next week.
Molly’s top 7 kirtan artists
Here are just a few of the famous kirtan singers of the western world. It’s important to pick music that appeals to you – if none of these do, keep searching – there is sure to be a style of kirtan you like.
1. Krishna Das American singer, hugely famous in the kirtan world.
2. Dave Stringer An American who rocks out kirtan tunes and tours Australia yearly.
3. Wah! Blissful easy-listening kirtan – great for relaxing and floating away.
4. Deva Premal This duo reside part-time in Byron Bay and are world-famous for kirtan.
5. Kevin James Carroll An Australian who travels the world holding kirtan retreats.
6. Kristin Luna Ray An American, with a beautiful voice and uplifting messages.
7. Snatam Kaur This American kundalini yogi has an angelic voice set to ethereal music.
Molly Furzer has been practising yoga since 1999 and teaching since 2007. She teaches Kids & Family Yoga, Laughter Wellness and Mindfulness for schools.