I was once asked by a student to write about why chanting is part of my yoga practice. I first learned chants at the yoga studio where I did my training (Amrita). I didn't know the words or the melody. I felt self-conscious and a bit uncomfortable, but at the same time I enjoyed the symphony of voices in the room. Over time, I relaxed and fully participated in the chants.
I often sing in the car along with the radio without knowing all of the words. I had a job with a long commute for a while, so that added up to a lot of singing time. I catch a few words and then mostly enjoy just making the sounds of the notes with my own words or no words at all, following the melody and then singing the chorus really loud. It takes me a long time to learn the words to any song and there are few that I know by heart. I also sing at home. I've found that my children listen better to a request when it is sung and it's really hard to get into a bitter argument if you sing your complaint in a silly way. I like to follow a melody that pops into my head and see where it goes. Sometimes it's just a few notes over and over, other times it's more. Often I drive my kids nuts. Mostly, I don't care, it's better than shouting, at least in my mind.
I have to admit that it took me a long time to learn the words to the chant we are practicing in class. Due to my persistent nature, I decided that I would learn the words by heart. I checked out Richard Freeman's chanting CD and listened to it one day over and over, singing along. I think I was putting up plastic to help insulate the old windows in my house. So each time the chant ended, I hit play again. Eventually it stuck.
I had my classes practice chanting when I taught out of my house, back then I felt brave. I knew my students well and I felt comfortable with them. When I moved out of my house and into the Academy of Kung Fu, I let chanting fall away for a while. I certainly didn't feel brave and there was a lot to do and learn this last year.
I have, however continued chanting to my 24hour fitness students. I began chanting as a way to get students calmed down for and during savasana. Classes there are packed and there is little comfort in the rooms provided. You can almost always hear booming music outside of the room and then there were all of the restless bodies in the room. I remember the first time I sang. I was terrified and I hoped that I would come out on key, as I was singing a cappella. I continue to use chanting when needed and now again, I feel brave. Students in my 24hour classes and my intermediate students at AKF will be invited to sing with me.
I think that I still haven't answered the student's question. I chant because I enjoy hearing the sound of my own voice. Not in the fluffy, superstar way, but I enjoy that it comes from a very deep place, from places as distant as the toes and the deep low belly. It is not about the ego, but about feeling freedom in that small place that connects my head to my heart.