Archive for the ‘Chants’ Category

Krishna Das at Karuna

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Recently Karuna hosted Krishna Das for a a workshop and two lively kirtans. The turnout was fantastic and, as usual, the performances were full of beautiful energy and love. Here are some photos and a video from the Sunday workshop.


Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Recently Gretchen Roberts, an  ex-Karuna teacher, stopped by for a visit. She had her beautiful baby Clementine with her and we were lucky enough to get her to sing for us. She sang a Russian folk song that she would frequently sing in Eileen’s and her own classes before she moved to Arizona.We recorded the first verse of the song so we could share her beautiful voice with you. The sound of her voice with the Tibetian singing bowl reverberating though the studio brought tears to our eyes and chills to our limbs. Gretchen learned the song when she was traveling in Siberia many many years ago. She told us it was a love song between the singer and God, who are at once separate and united.

Razluka*- The Separation

razluka ty, razluka
chuzhaya storona
nikto nas ne razluchit
lish’ mat’-syra zemlya

vse ptashki kanareyki
tak zhalobno poyut
i nas s toboyu milyy
razluke predayut

zachem nam razluchat’sya
zachem v razluke zhit’
ne luchshe l’ obvenchat’sya
i drug druga lyubit’

*The song is a bit obscure but we managed to find the lyrics transcribed from the original cyrillic  script. The poetry of the song is no doubt lost in translation so we will resist the urge to translate it to English with our modern tools. One attempt using an online translation tool generated the lyric “mother-land of cheese”

Gayatri Mantra

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Om bhur bhuvah svah
tat-savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah pracodayat

The Gayatri Mantra is a sanskrit verse based on a hymn from the Rigveda. Savitur means ‘of the sun’. This chant is a chant to the God of the sun, Savitri. It is said to be a prayer that brings the sun into the heart. As a poetic verse, there are many translations available. Often is is a nice practice to look at multiple translations an see which one is resonant for you. Here is a translation of the words [1]

tat–that (God)
savitur–of the sun
varenyam–the best
bhargo (bhargas)–light, illumination
dhimahi–let us meditate (a verb)
dhiyo (dhiyah)–thought(s)
yo (yah)–which
nah–of us, our
pracodayat–May it push, inspire (a verb)

This mantra can also be used in meditation, or samyama, on Sutra III.26 (or III.27 in some translations) from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

bhuvana-jnanam surye samyamat

By performing samyama on the sun arises knowledge of the different realms in the universe.

(Translation: Edwin Bryant)

By Samyama on the sun the yogi will have knowledge of the seven worlds, and of the seven cosmic centers of the body*

(Translation B.K.S Iyengar)

*the seven chakras: muladhara (seat of the anus), svadhistana (sacral area), manipuraka (navel), anhata (heart), visuddhi (throat), ajna (eyebrow center), sahasrara (crown of the head)

Appreciating Our Teachers: St. Hildegard Von Bingen

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

My definition of ‘teacher’ has changed throughout my life. Instead of only finding my teachers in front of classrooms, I have found a teacher in almost everyone that I know. Sometimes people teach us because they have bold and remarkable skills. Other times it is with their simple and beautiful approaches to life. And still, in other instances, they teach us through both skill and inspiration. They exemplify the limitless bounds of the human experience and, at times, they defy the norm and are celebrated for it rather than feared.

St. Hildegard Von Bingen was, among other things, a Christian abbess in the 12th century Germany. I was raised without religion and throughout my life the people around me have often been critical of organized religion.While my upbringing did not encourage me to look for teachers within the Catholic faith I have recently started to look at faith itself as a teacher. In this respect I can find teachings echoing through every expression of religion that help me shape, broaden and embrace my own practices of faith. I have mostly come to believe that faith is love, yet saying only this risks being vague or abstract. Rather than explain what I think love means, or what faith means, I will try to share why a sainted German Catholic nun has become a source of inspiration to me and how I have come to see St. Hildegard as one of my teachers.

At first blush Hildegard is an inspiration because she had so many talents. She was a composer of devotional chants and musical plays, a writer, an herbalist and a healer, a visionary and a mystic. In recent times the New Age movement has heralded her for her holistic views on healing. She is celebrated for having incorporated faith, spirituality and the healing properties of objects in the natural world in her beliefs about health. She has also been analyzed by academics and feminists for her role as a woman with the status of visionary and mystic and for her work as a writer and philosopher in a time when females where seldom allowed to act as voices of authority on anything much less on religion. She is sometimes criticized by feminists for having referred to herself as ‘of the lower species’, claiming to be an unlearned woman. It is hard for me to fathom that she saw herself as such since a woman of her aptitude and skill would be valued as a highly intelligent individual today.

I suppose a feminist perspective fuels the first layer of my interest in Hildegard. I don’t want to get entangled in an analysis of gender and power within Germanic religious culture in the 12th century. I mostly find it resonant that she was able to exist in the manner that she did with the odds stacked against her as they where. I have always been interested in social justice and equality. At first I assumed she must have been subversive in the manner I am used to seeing, fighting against the status quo with both voice and action. But her perception of herself as a woman appeared to fall in line with the common ideas of the day.

Recently I have found I desire a new model for effectively creating social change than one that is always mired in fighting against something. This is where I have really come to find Hildegard as an inspiration. Her subversion was an act of love. Her self-perception, or at least the one she was said to have expressed, may have allowed her more freedom that someone in my shoes can relate to. In order to express her thoughts and ideas and to not have her visions diminished to hallucinations, she asserted that she was merely a voice, a conduit and a devotee that had been put to the task of sharing the beauty revealed to her by God. It wasn’t a product of her invention or intelligence but one of God’s. Her actions that went against the status quo where not divisive, they were devotional.

Because of my upbringing and education I am typically critical of religion, and in particular Christianity. I am wary of expressions of faith that are wrapped up in abiding by  social hierarchies and conformity. Hildegard retained a true passion for her faith without diminishing her experience of it in order to follow the social rules. In doing so she has left us a beautiful legacy through her writings and compositions.

In the practice of Yoga it is sometimes hard to grasp egoless-ness (anatman). It is also at times hard to understand how to change things while adhering to ahimsa, non-violence. It is challenging to approach our adversaries with compassion (Karuna) or equanimity (Upeksha). How do we create change without judgment? How do we express love to those who don’t know how to love us?  I am finding clearer answers in the examples I have seen of devotion and faith and the people that are now my teachers, like Hildegard, are showing me how, in both unmistakably bold and subtly gentle ways.

This is a recording of one of Hildegard’s compositions, performed by the Academic Choir of Copenhagen

Erin McNally is a Yoga teacher and is currently enrolled in advanced training at Karuna.


Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Recently Karuna  has acquired a new instrument, a shruti box. A Shruti box is a small bellows instruments that is somewhat like a simplified harmonium. The instrument itself has a relatively short history but the name invokes a few poignant ideas in Yogic philosophy. Shruti literally translates to ‘hearing’ or ‘listening’ in sanskrit, but is a term that is associated to sacred texts in Hinduism. In this respect a sruti (shruti) is of divine origins and “is traditionally believed to be a direct revelation of the “cosmic sound of truth” heard by ancient Rishis“. The Vedas are understood to be shrutis. In the context of music, “A shruti is considered the smallest interval of pitch that the human ear can detect.”

In the weeks since the arrival of the Shruti box it has not been uncommon to happen upon one of the teachers chanting before class, or to be lulled into savasana with a series of haunting oms accompanied by the sound of the box ‘breathing’. It has added to the soundscape at Karuna and helps to fulfill the original intention of the architecture of the room; to be a space that celebrates sound.  The instrument has inspired more contemplation among students and teachers of the practice of chanting and use of mantra and has allowed us another access point into the powerful effects that sound and vibration have in the enrichment of our spiritual and physical practices.

I have personally been inspired by the shruti box to contemplate OM more deeply as a sonar bridge from prakrti to purusha or from body to soul. When it arrived at the studio we where in the middle of a advanced training weekend. In the excitement over this new tool we were all invited to get up and lead a chant of our choosing. Many of us have only lead others in the chanting of OM and have had little experience (or confidence) leading traditional chants.  After everyone took a turn we were truly energized and giddy. The experience for me stimulated what felt like every cell in my body, as if the matter of me had been set to a different frequency.  I also found connection to the fact that the shruti box is a style of instrument that ‘breathes’ sound which, for me, resonates with my own practice of connecting my breath to energy in asana and pranayama.

One of the students in the training, Dawn Heilman, captured some of the chanting we did with the shruti box. This is a recording of Eileen Muri and Chris Hamil chanting Om and the Invocation to Patanjali.

Krishna Das

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Recently Karuna hosted a Kirtan and workshop with Krishna Das. KD, as many affectionately refer to him, has been visiting the Karuna community for nearly 16 years. Now synonymous with the practice of  Indian Kirtan in the states and around the world, KD has created a bridge for many from the west with this practice of the east. One way that he does this is by incorporating western styles of instrumentation and chord progressions with the chanting of traditional Hindu devotional poetry. Another way KD supports and enlivens our practice is by sharing stories of his own particular path to becoming a practitioner of Bhakti Yoga,the Yoga of devotion. In the workshops that typically follow his Kirtan at Karuna, KD shares stories of his practice and of his teacher, Neem Karoli Baba or, more commonly referred to as Maharaj-ji. In these stories it is clear to the audience how profound and deep KD’s love for Mahara-ji is and how that love fuels his practice of Bhakti Yoga. Once an aspiring rock musician in the 60’s, KD spent three years in India with Majara-ji learning the practice of Bhakti and Kirtan. He has spent his time since those powerful years expressing the grace of his teacher through music and chanting.

KD speaks of his devotion and faith in a very accessible way. He does not position himself in front of us as our teacher but rather as another walking beside us in our practice. He humbly and honestly admits to his own struggles, offering his experience in a relational way that puts him alongside the audience. His insights don’t come across as challenges but rather as encouragements and support.

The energy generated by the beautiful music and chanting is uplifting. In a radio interview with Gary Goldberg KD remarked that “trying to think yourself out of a box made of thought won’t work”.  Practicing Kirtan with KD invites us to replace thought with prayer and analysis with love.

“The words of these chants are called the divine names and they come from a place that’s deeper than our hearts and our thoughts, deeper than the mind. And so as we sing them they turn us towards ourselves, into ourselves. They bring us in, and as we offer ourselves into the experience, the experience changes us. These chants have no meaning other than the experience that we have by doing them. They come from the Hindu tradition, but it’s not about being a Hindu, or believing anything in advance. It’s just about doing it, and experiencing. Nothing to join, you just sit down and sing.” ~Krishna Das

We feel fortunate to have shared the Karuna space with this beautiful practitioner over the years and look forward to seeing him again next year!

20 Minute Continuous OM Every First Saturday

Friday, April 27th, 2012

On the first Saturday of every month at 9:15am* students are welcome to join us at Karuna for a 20 minute continuous OM followed by 10 minutes of silent meditation. All are welcome to join in for free.

This OM was recently recorded at Karuna. Participants contemplated Sutra 1.27 & 1.28:

I:27: tasya vacakah pranavah. Iswara is presented by the sacred syllable aum.

I:28: Tajjapah tadarthabhavanam. This mantra is to be repeated constantly with feeling, realizing its full significance, and holding the meaning in your heart as you chant.

*please arrive on time. Doors will close at 9:15

Invocation To Patanjali

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Yogena cittasya padena vacam

malam  sarirasya ca vaidyakena

yopakarottam  pravaram muninam

patanjalim  pranajalir anato’smi

abahu purusakaram

sankha cakrasi dharinam

sahasra sirasam  svetam

pranamami patanjalim.

Let us bow before the noblest of sages Patanjali, who gave yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity and purity of speech and medicine for perfection of health. Let us prostrate before Patanjali, an incarnation of Adisesa, whose upper body has a human form, whose arms hold a conch and a disc, and who is crowned by a thousand-headed cobra.

Recording of  B.K.S Iyengar chanting the Invocation:

BKS Iyengar Invocation to Patanjali

Recording at Karuna, 200/TT graduation 2012:


Join you mind with your heart and join your voice with ours.


Welcoming the Karuna Community

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Welcome to Karuna’s blog page! Our intention is that this blog will become
a forum for the larger Karuna community to share their thoughts, inspiration, and
philosophical insights. We are excited to have this new tool to reach beyond the studio

May the information that shapes our ever evolving practice integrate into every aspect of our waking life. Our hope is that the blog can be an opportunity for everyone to swim in the ocean together towards the light.

The content of this blog includes:

  • Student and teacher writings
  • Yoga Philosophy Discussions
  • Resources for the enrichment of practice
  • Health and wellness tips
  • Events and Class Information
  • Healthy healing vegetarian recipes