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I’m at a beloved studio where I teach yoga. Two classes in a row this morning, 9:30 and 11am Beginners class. During our breath centering practice at the beginning of each class, I chant a mantra for peace and protection. It is in Sanskrit, and I offer the translation to students so they know what they are chanting. The translation loosely means,
“May we be protected; may we be nourished; may our intellects be stimilated; may we practice together with enthusiasm; may we practice together without animosity. Om (the primordial sound of the universe). Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (peace peace peace).”
Saha nau bhunaktu
Saha viiryam karavaavahai
Tejasvi nau adhitamastu
Om shanti shanti shanti
I usually chant the whole thing one time through and then offer it as a call and response. I learned it in my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training Certification program at Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, WA (2009). I always make sure to say that chanting is optional, that they can simply let the sound wash over them. I’m always surprised and humbled at how many students chant in response. It is so beautiful, and the feeling in my heart and the traces left in the room feel calming and palpable, at least to me.
When I returned from India this past March, I was deeply struggling with appropriation. Is it appropriate for me to teach yoga, as a “white, spiritual woman” as they say? How can I possibly know enough to offer these ancient, sacred teachings? I talked to a few of my teachers who told me that it is good that I am questioning this and it shows that I have compassion and deeply care. I also revisted a few books from reknowned yoga masters, like The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. In Autobiography, Yogananda speaks of how he was instructed to bring the teachings to the west as, well, we sure could use them!
What I finally settled on in my heart was that the teachings of yoga benefit all of humanity. They help us to find comfort and ease in our bodies. The yamas and niyamas provide guidelines to stand in alignment with our morals and ethics. Breathing practices are cleansing, centering, and may lengthen lives. The progress inward towards deeper states of meditation can translate to what yoga ultimately means – union, yoking, uniting with that which is so much greater than us. Oneness, our true self, our higher self, the divine.
Today after class a student approached me, very sweet and complimentary. And then she asked if it would be possible to offer gratitude or some information about where that mantra came from as she thinks we should honor and respect its history. My heart sank and I felt like I failed terribly. I thanked her so much for this feedback. I offered that Sanskrit is an energetic language and that this mantra is for peace and non-denominational. I knew I sounded flustered and was trying my best not to be defensive in my white fragility because she was absolutely right and I feel sad that I didn’t offer any teaching about where that mantra comes from.
As she was putting on her shoes I approached her again and thanked her and told her about my experience in India and how I often feel conflicted about teaching yoga for reasons of appropriation, not knowing enough, etc. She said that now she is doing social work at a college and reading so many articles about cultural appropriation and learning and speaking out when she feels called to. I think this is great and we must do this, and major kudos to her for speaking up. And I just have to know that I have soooo much to learn. She also said that in this modern day, there is so much fusion of culture and we are all changed from the interconnectedness of the human planet. She said, she’s not an Indian woman and she loves yoga, so she gets it …
And I’m about to travel back to India in just four short months to study The Yoga of Sound / Nada Yoga. To get deeper into mantra and Sanksrit and the music and culture of India. I need to be prepared to break wide open from this learning. I need this humbling, all offering deep lessons. I need to be offering gratitude for the root of what I love so much. SO much.
In my meditation this morning I had asked my higher self / divine guidence to show me how to grow my container, to show me how to study, to show me the way to learning in that I may be a deeper vessel of service to others. So that I may speak clearly and share my love in a way that grows that love in others. I think this was one of those divine messages, and I’m grateful for this student speaking up after yoga class this morning, all the way over in Minneapolis, Minnesota where these ancient, humbling, beautiful teachings have traveled. The spirit in me honors the spirit in you.
Would love to practice with you sometime! My current teaching schedule is here.
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