Being a new yoga teacher is tough, especially when you're trying to find your voice, be authentic, and get students to come to your class. One of my biggest dilemma's was to chant or not to chant? As a Sivananda teacher, we chant to begin and end an asana class and chanting is not everyone's jam. My customer service driven mind wanted to give the people what I thought they wanted. As women of colour my mind screamed "no you're been let into a beautiful tradition and you cannot appropriate it to make it more palatable." In the end, neither won. Love won.
During my teacher training, we had classes on chanting and we had satsung twice a day. We memorized chants to open and end our classes. At first I was uncomfortable because I never sang or chanted in public (unless drunken karaoke on my 23rd birthday counts?). But we were always in large groups, and I accepted this was just something I needed to learn to pass and I would never actually chant in real life. Then we found out that we would be randomly selected to chant in front of everyone at the ashram- I wanted to throw up. Shaking, I went to talk to the teacher about how uncomfortable it would make me, and I started crying in front of her and other students. In retrospect, this was way worse than singing off key in front of them. Obviously, I was mortified and this could have been another somewhat traumatic moment to fuel my fear in the future, but luckily I had guidance. My teacher told me that every time I say I can't do something, I'm reinforcing that belief over and over again. She also told me not to stop crying and let it out because I obviously needed to release what was going on with me and she was right. I have two very vivid memories of singing in public. The first was when I was 6 and my music teacher kicked me out of class because she thought I was singing off on purpose, but I actually just didn't understand what we were doing. At this same time, I was starting to see a speech therapist and learning that I had a speech impediment and a hard time distinguishing between sounds and pitches. So around then I internalized that I physically can't sing and refused to try. Well, tried to refuse. The mosque I grew up in had a lot of chanting as well. I could get away with avoiding it for the most part, except for once a year when we would have these awful mandatory competitions. This is my second memory, if you're willing to count 8 years of fear smushed together. Mosque was never a safe space for me as a child, which is post for a different day. So getting in front of people who as a young child I saw as existing solely to torture me further imprinted this fear and limiting belief.
I never even thought about these things untilI had this breakdown during teacher training. It was something that I never wanted to feel so I "pushed it away" (read: let it control me). I had to learn that those experiences were things that happened to me, but it's my choice to decide what I do going forward. The ironic thing is that despite those experiences, deep down I wished I could sing. Not because I want to prove anyone wrong or for the sake of my bruised ego but because I genuinely loved it. After chanting so much at teacher training, during the last week I could sing and tap on a drum (mostly on beat) at the same time! It sounds super remedial but at 27 I was picking up where I left off when I was 6. I remember feeling that we were all so connected in that room as we chanted in unison to each other. Our claps and our instruments. I thought that this is what it means to be brahman and to be in complete bliss. And that's the memory that I'm attaching to singing and chanting now. Realistically, I know that I'm not going to be on Canadian Idol anytime (is it still a thing?) but I chant because I love it and it makes me feel connected to the things around me. It truly opened my heart the way that Bhakti yoga is supposed to. As a teacher, it settles me into the class, reminds me that we are one, connects me to my gurus and allows me share love with my students. It's okay if someone never wants to come to my class because I chanted and it made them uncomfortable. I understand it made me feel that way too. Yes, I had to overcome some embarrassing memories that are in no way as traumatic as other things in life, but that's not why I chant. I chant because I love it.