Supplied by Anahata Yoga Retreat
Anahata Yoga Retreat, just outside of Nelson, is once again hosting Swami Muktimurti from Mangrove Mountain, Australia during the Navaratri (9 nights) celebrations.
An expert in Mantra, ancient Sanskrit and singing, Swami Muktimurti and Swami Muktidharma (NZ Acharya) are presenting a retreat focused on Nada Yoga, or the yoga of sound, during this auspicious astrological time. We caught up with her during this retreat to gain some more insight on this inspiring branch of yoga and its benefits.
The Navaratri retreat will still continue until Sunday 1st April, so why not come and join Anahata for a day of transformational chanting and fire ceremony. For more information please email Anahata or call (03)525-9887.
1. For those readers who never read your previous interview, could you give us a brief explanation on Nada Yoga – the Yoga of Sound?
The practices of Nada Yoga take us into the realm of the subtle flows of energy within both our external and internal environments, using the medium of sound.
If we consider our universe as an expression of infinite levels of vibration within space, then sound can also be regarded as a detectable, perceivable form of that vibration. Our superficial perception of sound may appear to be bound by the limitations of the range of hearing available to our physical bodies, but Nada Yoga aims to extend the boundaries of our perception by refining and ‘tuning’ our awareness of sound and vibration, even into the deeper layers of our individual personalities.
The ancient yogis applied these principles in their development of the systems of Swara, and in particular, Mantra, syllables, and combinations and sequences of syllables, which, when chanted, sung or intoned, are considered to have a transformative and harmonising effect on the entire personality, a process of bringing one’s internal and external environments into a state of being in tune, rather than in dischord.
2. How is mantra different from prayer?
I have sort of answered this one above. One can use a mantra as a prayer if one wishes to, but mantra is not defined as prayer, and can be used just as effectively by a person who does not pray. Swamiji (Swami Niranjan), describes mantra as something that:
irons out the wrinkles in the consciousness.
That is it’s purpose, whether we incorporate an ideology or feeling of prayer or not. Over time and practice, one becomes less subjective to the mental ups and downs in our lives. The linguistic meaning of mantra is secondary; what is important is the combination and sequence of syllables that make up that mantra.
3. Do you have some specific advice on how one can integrate mantras with one’s daily activities?
I would always encourage people to take up the early morning mantra practice that Swami Niranjan has been advocating over the years. This takes about 10 minutes, and Swamiji tells us to do it immediately on waking, before we even get out of bed if possible, when the mind is not yet fully awake and we are more receptive to the effects.
The practice consists of 11 rounds of Mahamrityunjaya Mantra (to increase our receptivity to healing vibrations), followed by 11 rounds of Gayatri Mantra, (to increase receptivity to wisdom), and then 3 rounds of Durga Path, (to strengthen our innate capacity to overcome difficulties).
These three mantras can be learned from any yoga teacher in our Satyananda Yoga tradition, or else there is a CD available from which the mantras can be learned.
4. What is the difference between the Navaratri celebrations now in March and those in Sept/Oct each year? What does each one symbolize?
I tried to ask Swamiji about this once and he started to explain, and then burst out laughing and said;
Actually, they are really just the same!
We always used to use the same chanting material in the ashram in India for both Navaratris, and the only difference that I really know of is that the 10th day of Chaitra Navaratri (the March/April one) is Ramnavmi, the birthday of Sri Rama, while the 10th day of Ashwin Navaratri (in September/October), is Vijaya Dashmi, celebrating the victory of Rama over the demon Ravana.
These stories from the mythologies are symbols of the inner battles between our higher and lower selves that take place when we practice intense sadhana, like with Navaratri sadhana. Basically, the two Navaratris give us two periods in the year for the practice of Devi Pooja, or sadhana, that is mainly directed towards the Divine Mother, or that principle of energy that makes possible the manifestation of the universe and our experience of that.
5. Can you tell us more about the ancient language of Sanskrit?
The Sanskrit language is derived from mantra. Mantra came first, and as single syllables, (what we call Beeja Mantras, or seed mantras), and then an actual language developed around that. It is said that these mantras were ‘received’ by yogis who were practising intense sadhanas in a culture that supported such endeavours, and that as such, Sanskrit is a language that has been received rather than invented by man.
Sanskrit is not at all a dead language as it is often described – its use in the ancient Vedic ceremonies that are still used throughout India has never waned, but have been used in a constant unbroken flow through the ages, including today.
6. Would you discuss the benefits of developing a Sadhana (consistent practice) of Yoga?
Few people reap the benefits of yoga practice through just doing something once. Most of us have to do it repeatedly over a prolonged period of time to obtain the full effects, and to understand what the practice is doing for us. It is a bit like digging a well – if we dig lots of shallow holes, we are less likely to find the water.
7. Is there a benefit to practicing in a group versus developing our own personal relationship with Yoga?
Both have benefits, but many of us find that it is all too easy to lose our discipline when we practise on our own. If we practise with other people, we are more likely to attend regularly, to take the practices seriously, to develop the “habit” of doing yoga. There can also be a beneficial energy dynamic that builds up within a group, especially if that group stays more or less consistent over some time. This is quite noticeable with chanting sadhana.
8. Do you see Nada Yoga playing a more influential role in the world of Yoga?
Yes. There are of course many aspects to Nada Yoga – there is swara sadhana, which is not unlike the systems used in Indian classical music; there is mantra and chanting, kirtan, etc.
Chanting is becoming more and more mainstream these days, and more and more people are being attracted to it. Newcomers to yoga often think that asana, the physical postures etc, is all that there is to yoga, but as they become more engaged with yoga, they tend to seek out some of the other yogas. After all, asana is just a very small percentage of what yoga has to offer. I am often meeting people who have been practising yoga for decades and now say that all they really want to do is chanting!
9. Some say that Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of the 21st century. What are your thoughts on this concept and how Kirtan fits into Bhakti Yoga?
For me it is becoming more and more obvious that this is taking place, much through the growing popularity of kirtan, as I have mentioned above. I find this very exciting actually – I heard Swami Satyananda speak about this in 1994, where he said that the 21st century would be the age of Bhakti, and now I am observing it starting to happen. Kirtan is a Bhakti Yoga practice, whereby we use the system of kirtan to redirect our emotional energy towards something higher than our own selves. It becomes a vehicle for expression of our strength of feeling, but in a positive way.
10. Please share your insights or experiences on Karma Yoga and the benefits of this often misunderstood form of Yoga?
Karma Yoga is where we perform action without personal expectations attached to the results.
The idea is that, instead of creating yet more karma from having our ambitions / expectations / desires all bound up in the action, we instead exhaust our karma, through action, that is in a sense, removed from our personal benefit.
This is not easy to do, so we begin by engaging in doing things for others, or for the group. For example, in the ashram, we all come together each day for cleaning. Of course we also benefit from that clean environment, but it is not being done primarily for our own liking or benefit. Over time, this creates a detachment from the fruits of one’s actions, which reduces one’s individual karmic burden.
About Swami Muktimurti
Swami Muktimurti has spent many years living at the Satyananda Ashram in Mangrove Mountain Australia and the Bihar School, Munger India.
She has immersed herself in the practices of yoga and ashram life, with a particular focus on nada (sound) yoga for more than 30 years in both India and Australia. She is lead vocalist in the Satyananda Yoga kirtan band Santosha.
Muktimurti has recently released a beautiful cd of devotional music (bhajans and stotrams) called ‘Pranam’. Mukti’s rare experience and knowledge of mantra and chanting is like gold, her classes are a unique opportunity to learn about this special area of yoga. Her knowledge of bhajan is extensive and her wonderful voice is the perfect vehicle to express this knowledge into a pure experience of bhajan and bhakti.