Joyful Gauranga Breathing

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Gauranga Breathing is another type of yoga mantra meditation. Like kirtan and japa yoga, this meditation uses transcendental mantras to gradually purify your consciousness, allowing you to more and more experience the peace and joy of your natural condition, of your natural loving nature.

Gauranga Breathing can be done either alone or with others, as part of a daily practice and also whenever you are feeling anxious or disconnected and want to be more in a calm and connected state of mind and heart. The benefits of Gauranga Breathing increase and deepen with regular practice, but any amount of time you dedicate to practicing this beautiful meditation is invaluable in helping you to realize your true nature.

Sit comfortably in a chair or on a cushion, with your back supported if possible. If you can comfortably sit cross-legged, this is a good position for meditation – just make sure you are comfortable and your back is supported if you need the support. Close your eyes. Touch your thumb and index finger together and place the backs of your hands on your knees, palms facing upward. This is called chin mudra and it helps to relax the body.

Become aware of your breath. Breathe naturally, deeply, in a relaxed way without forcing the breath Draw your mind away from all other thoughts and focus on the feeling of the breath as it enters and leaves your body. When you find that your mind becomes distracted onto sounds or thoughts, don’t fight with the mind, just be aware that it has wandered and very gently bring it back to what you are doing.

On each outward breath, allow your body to relax. Feel relaxation spreading throughout your entire body as you breathe. You may, if you like, focus in your mind on relaxing each of your body parts, or just allow your body to relax as a whole.

The inward breath draws prana or chi into the body and rejuvenates you. Feel your entire body being rejuvenated, refreshed by the inward breath. Focus on the effect of the breath on your body, feeling it expanding with each inward breath, relaxing with each outward breath.

When you feel relaxed and your breathing is coming naturally and deeply, you are ready to begin the Gauranga meditation. (It is not totally necessary to do the pre-meditation breathing relaxation before you begin the Gauranga Meditation, but most people find it helpful.)

Now you will begin to meditate on the Gaur-ra-ang-ga mantra. Inhale deeply – and as you exhale,  chant/sing aloud “Gaur-ra-ang-ga” – drawing the mantra out over a long exhalation. Allow your mind to become fully immersed in the sound of the mantra, feeling the vibration throughout your body as you chant. Continue to feel this vibration as you inhale slowly, deeply. On the next exhale, again chant/sing aloud “Gaur-ra-ang-ga” – drawing the mantra out over a long exhalation. Repeat 10 – 20 times.

After you have stopped chanting the mantra, keep your eyes closed and be fully aware of your relaxed body, your calm and focused mind and the mantra resonating thoughout your entire being. The Gaur-ra-ang-ga mantra is the focus of your awareness and meditation.

To come out of the meditation, slowly open your eyes and bring your awareness to the feeling of peace and rejuvenation throughout your body, the feeling of calm and warm happiness in your heart. Continue breathing naturally, deeply. If you like, you can bring the palms of your hands together in prayer mudra (anjali) over your heart, allowing yourself to feel thankful for wonderful gifts of this meditation and the opportunity to recover your natural, joyful state of being.

I highly recommend watching this very short demonstration before you begin practicing: Gauranga Breathing Meditation video

Gauranga Breathing can be practiced anytime. It is very nice to practice first thing in the morning, helping to bring you into a relaxed, rejuvenated and connected state of being, which you can then reconnect to throughout the day. It is great to do after work and will help relax, rejuvenate, and center you after a stressful work day. It is calming to do before bedtime and will help you to de-stress, relax and have a more restful sleep. It is also an excellent way to end a physical/asana yoga session and many yoga practitioners do Gauranga Breathing meditation during or just after savasana pose.

Gauranga Breathing is a wonderful gift, freely available to any person with the willingness to accept and use it. May it help you to realize a more fulfilling and harmonious life – the life of freedom, love, meaning, harmony and joy that you long for in your heart of hearts.

P.S. You can also sing the Gauranga mantra to music or use it as a mantra for kirtan and japa yoga.

Deepening with Japa Yoga

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Kirtan was my first introduction to mantra meditation and I was immediately attracted to it. Japa yoga was a practice I started about five or six months after I came to kirtan because it was so highly recommended. At first, it was pretty difficult for me to do. I had a hard time sitting and focusing my mind for any significant length of time. And often, I would start feeling very sleepy as I practiced the meditation.

Then a friend introduced me to walking while chanting japa (japa walks) and that was much easier for me. I would chant in rhythm to my arms and legs moving as I walked and that would keep my mind more focused on the mantra. It also helped motivate me to do it every day because walking every day was also something I wanted to do. I would wake up just before dawn and would walk into the golden light of the rising sun – feeling a golden light rising in my heart and mind as I walked. Regardless of the mood I started out in, I would almost always return refreshed and revitalized, happy and ready to face whatever tasks or challenges presented themselves for the day.

There were occasionally times when I could not go out walking, either because of rainy weather or injury or some other reason. On those days, I practiced japa while sitting and found it to be much easier than it had been when I first started. I had developed more control over my mind and also a taste for japa meditation through the japa walks and so it did not matter so much whether I was walking or sitting. In fact, I began to prefer sitting while chanting japa because it allowed me to go much deeper into the meditation. While I was walking, I would have to pay attention more to my surroundings in order to keep my body safe or would be distracted by people or things that I encountered. But when I practiced japa yoga at my house, sitting in solitude, I could completely relax into the sound and feel of the mantra as I chanted it. This opened up a whole new world for me. I began to have (and still do) the most amazing and joyfully sweet experiences while engaged in japa yoga and it keeps getting better and better. It is funny because it is the most simple meditation, yet over time, it has become one of the most profound  practices of my life. I practice every day – sick, well, busy, super busy, vacation, work, happy, sad, any condition and every condition.

I almost always wake up and chant japa first thing in the morning because I know if I wait until later, it is easier for other things to get in the way. I have never before been one of those people who gets up before the sun rises in order to meditate, but now I am one of those people. Not because it is easy, but because it is worth it. If you stick with it long enough, you will know this, too.

Here’s how to practice japa yoga meditation:

Using the mantra: Haribol Nitai-Gaur, Nitai-Gaur Haribol 

This meditation can best be practiced sitting in a comfortable position with your eyes closed, although some people prefer to walk along the beach or in a park.

Using a set of japa beads, the method is to repeat the mantra while holding or touching one bead at a time. Japa beads are a set of 108 small beads, plus one large bead (called the head bead). They can be purchased or you can make your own.

Take your set of japa beads and start with the first small bead on either side of the head bead. Hold it between the thumb and middle finger of your right hand. As you hold this bead, softly say the mantra and then move your fingers onto the next bead and repeat the mantra again. Remember to chant loud enough for your own ears to hear the mantra, and try to pronounce each syllable clearly. Continue chanting the mantra on each bead until you come back to the head bead. You have just completed one round of japa.

As you softly repeat each mantra try to keep your mind focused on the sound and gradually you will experience more control of your mind, as well as a welcoming sense of inner peacefulness and joy.

It is  recommended that you allocate a certain number of rounds to complete each day. Each round will take approximately four to five minutes to complete. Start with two to three rounds, then gradually increase the number of rounds to six or more as your ability to focus improves.

I chant japa for at least one hour every day. I find this is a good amount of time for me as I can steadily maintain it on a daily basis and have been able to do it for years now. Not struggling, but not super easy either with my very full schedule. Sometimes I chant more, but never less. It is good to start with a smaller amount of time – maybe 15 minutes and maintain it daily for at least a month. Chant longer if you like, but never less. Then gradually increase the time, but not for more than you can maintain realistically on a daily basis. Most important is that you be able to practice steadily and daily. After many months, you will likely find your sweet spot and will be able to maintain your daily time or number of rounds for years and hopefully for the rest of your life.

Whatever you do with your senses affects your consciousness. Therefore, the senses should be engaged in ways to help a person remember their real identity. Through japa yoga, the senses can be redirected and utilized to purify your mind and heart, thus helping you to realize  your natural, joyful state of being.

What Is Kirtan

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Kirtan is a type of yoga meditation. It is the most-recommended type of yoga meditation for this day and age because it is so easy and accessible to everyone.

Usually, when people think of meditation, they think of sitting still and silent, while focusing the mind on a particular object. In the ancient  yoga system, the act of concentrating the mind one-pointedly on an object is called Dharana. It is actually considered to be a pre-meditation technique. Once a person mastered Dharana, they could then proceed to Dhyana which is when a person uses this ability to fix their mind one-pointedly on the Transcendent. (In yoga, to be considered meditation, the object that is being focused upon must be the Transcendent. Yoga meditation is transcendental meditation.) Yogis who were successful in this type of meditation were extraordinary individuals who lived in solitude under very austere conditions because that was what was required to bring the mind under control to the extent that a person could hold it in a single fixed position for extensive periods of time.

This exceptional level of mastery over the mind and senses is just not practical or even really possible for people in this day and age. Fortunately, there is a type of yoga meditation that is both practical and very accessible to all people…kirtan meditation. Kirtan is an ancient form of yoga meditation that became very popular in India over 500 years ago due to the influence of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who created a spiritual phenomenon that has since spread around the world.

In kirtan, people gather together to chant or sing transcendental mantras. Kirtan can be accompanied by traditional or electric instruments, drums and percussion, clapping of hands or no music at all. In a kirtan, usually one person sings the mantras and then others respond with the mantra going back and forth between leader and responders.

A transcendental mantra is described as being the descent of the Divine in the form of sound vibration making it possible for us to experience yoga or union with Supreme. Hearing and repeating such spiritual sound vibrations has the gradual effect of reawakening one’s natural spiritual love.

Not only is kirtan possible for everyone to engage in, but it is also very enjoyable. The teachings of yoga recognize that we all have a natural tendency to enjoy singing, playing music and being with other people. The practice of kirtan perfectly harmonizes these natural tendencies into a spiritually uplifting activity.

People of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, lifestyles, physical and mental abilities can engage in kirtan. There are no qualifications or lifestyle rules necessary for kirtan. Kirtan is for everyone and anyone. Even if a person is not particularly interested in spiritual life or is not very developed intellectually (as in the case of a baby or a mentally-impaired person), they can still benefit from kirtan and experience happiness and healing from it because kirtan is transcendental. It works on the level of the soul, gradually clearing away that which interferes with one’s experiencing the peaceful, joyful, loving nature that is innate within every living being.

Finding Kirtan

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From the very first time I encountered kirtan, it held an attraction for me that I could not explain. Before I had attended, I had heard that kirtan was spiritually beneficial and certainly that was something that attracted me. And I very much enjoy singing and dancing to beautiful music and being in the company of other spiritually-inclined people. But the attraction that I felt was on a totally different level. It was not intellectual, not something I thought about. It was just there in the way that something that has always been there suddenly reveals itself to you. And you can not help but recognize this something because it naturally belongs with you. Like breathing. You never think about your attraction to breathing because it so naturally belongs with you. Finding kirtan for me was very much like finding my breath and realizing that I had been holding myself from it for my entire life.

The more I participated in the weekly kirtans that were being held in my community, the more my attraction and appreciation for it grew. I felt my heart healing and opening to new levels and experiences of love, joy, peace, and understanding. For me, finding kirtan was the end of a very long search. I had spent my life searching for something I could not name. In the experience of kirtan, I found what I had been looking for.

So what is kirtan, you may now be asking. There are many ways to try to understand the answer to this question.

You may have heard that kirtan is the group singing or chanting of transcendental sound vibrations, or yogic mantras. That it is a spiritual activity which purifies the mind and heart, bringing with it deep states of joy and peace. That it is an eternal love song between the soul and the Supreme Soul, a form of musical meditation that has the gradual effect of reawakening one’s natural spiritual love.

Kirtan is all of these and more. And it is the most natural inclination of the soul.

(More on kirtan in the next article…What Is Kirtan?)