Yoga Kirtan in Prison
“The singing and chanting of Kirtana creates an elevated mental condition for practicing meditation or entering into an intense form of spiritual practice. Kirtana is a powerful and unique method of recharging the subconscious with spiritual vibrations.” – Swami Jyotir Maya Nanda
“Generasian Radio is a blessing and Anoushka Shankar is a goddess!” – These two things I declared to my Self a little while ago after finishing a very deep session of Yoga and other Body-Mind practices, specifically focusing on Kirtana, the singing and chanting of Mantras.Bangra, Punjabi and other forms of south-east Asian and Arabic music are some of my favorite types of music and one of the only avenues I have of exploring it is with Generasian Radio which broadcasts on 90.1 KPFT (www.kpft.org). It airs Thursdays from 1pm-3pm. They play a wide variety of music including slow-tempo, classic Hindu and modern Indian House Fusion. I’ve done Yoga and meditation whilst listening to Generasian Radio plenty of times but today was the first day I did Kirtana also.
I started off sitting in Siddhasana (master pose) doing Pranayama (Yogic breathing)...Letting the eurhythmic vibe of the music course through my body, my breathing acting as an accompanying instrument. Breathe in, breathe out. My hands formed different mudras (seals/hand gestures) as my Body-Mind became one with the sounds, with the rhythm, something deep within me stirred as I heard the angelic sounds of Anoushka Shankar’s voice – and the same thing happened when a song featuring Ms Puja came on.
My whole Being was soothed but at the same time stirred and enlivened. Almost unconsciously I started to flow into different asanas... Far too many to list but as I did so I engaged in Kirtana, chanting shorter mantras, Om Shanti Om, Om Nomah Shivaya, Om Shakti Om, but also doing lengthier Kirtana such as Arari (Ceremony of Light and The Prayer for Universal Welfare)I tied a sock around my head which locked down my headphones so I could still hear the music while doing inverted asanas like scorpion pose and headstand. I focused on Pranayama while in more strenuous asanas and did Kirtan while in softer poses. There is an asana sequence called Dancing Shiva that I ran across in a random magazine years back. I’m generally sceptical of hybrid/neo asanas and I think this may be one as I haven’t seen it in any of the many Yoga books I’ve read that show asanas from lineage traditions but this short sequence is just lovely. Unlike the more static and stationary Shiva Natarajasana (Shiva Lord Dancer pose), this other Dancing Shiva has a flow to it. One can actually dance with this asana- and I did, while doing Kirtana and different mudras. I also did a Shaolin Qi Gong sequence called Joining The Heaven And The Earth, flowing through it and cultivating a nice enlivening enhancement of Qi, Prana, Energy...Chanting, feeling the richly rewarding music dance through me, dance with me, I experienced a deep sense of Oneness and a relaxing, calming warmth. The show went off and I continued to meditate for a while...
Then I felt compelled to study some of Jyotir Maya Nanda’s writings and these lines especially spoke to me:Identify yourself with the Deity and thus, move towards the heights of identification with the entire cosmos. Gradually transcend the ego-centre and identify with the Self. Lift the veil of time and space and enter into the consciousness of non-duality.
Subdue your ego by adopting the devotional attitude- Dasoham (I am Thy Slave); and illuminate your intellect by developing the divine vision Soham (I am That).
Mantra, Kirtana, Yantra & Tantra, Swami Jyotir Maya NandaMuch to think about... And as I was doing so I received a knock on my door from one of the Psych Department personnel. We’ve been on lockdown since Monday which means the regular daily oppression of this environment has been enhanced. Lockdowns are times when the cloud of oppression thickens, when the demons of this death camp gulag reach out to claw at peoples’ psyches a little more enthusiastically, so the Psych operatives do more rounds (simply as a matter of policy, not because they -heavens forbid!- actually care).Most of the Psych staff know little about psychology and even less about the psychological affects of this environment on the minds and bodies of the employees and prisoners - and they are unconcerned and uncaring anyway- so I don’t waste my time engaging in conversation with them.
I sighed, looked up into the eyes of the Psych operative and said, “Yes, I’m fine.”A thousand horrors surround me on a daily basis. This unit is routinely classified among the top 5 worst prisons in the U.S. The image of one of my neighbors recently hacking on himself with a razor blade is still fresh in my Mind. Another neighbor is standing at his door right now maniacally scream-talking about utter nonsense. T-Rock is scheduled to die next week. We’re being half-starved right now with the lockdown Johnny Sacks and so forth and so on and so forth and so on...But with Kirtana Energy enlivening my spirit I’m about to hold a discussion on Kirtana and the lines from Jyotir Maya Nanda and then work on some more collaborative Art. Then it’s on to more positive and productive things. I’m actually doing better than just fine and I suppose that is quite a powerful thing considering where I currently reside.
*For those not familiar with Swami Jyotir Maya Nanda, he is a very fine Yoga-Hindu scholar, a kind of Yogic C.G Jung, whose school of thought I believe would appeal to those interested in all-encompassing and rational (yet symbolic) teachings.