The following is the first in a series of 3 articles titled alignment, about aligning the body, mind and heart so that one can better chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
This article is adapted from the teachings of His Holiness Sachinanadana Swami, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, adapted for our Chant Now friends and students. For more of the teachings of Sachinanadana Swami, check out his website: https://www.sacinandanaswami.com/
THE CONCEPT OF ALIGNMENT
Aligning the body
The term alignment comes from the French word aligner, which means ‘to line up.’ The English translation is ‘to arrange things in their proper position.
Think of a sports car; it can speed down a highway if the wheels, gears, cylinders, fuel, etc., are in their proper position. These elements work seamlessly only when they are fixed in their appropriate place. Then, and only then, locomotion can take place. If oil or water is filled in the gas tank instead of fuel then the car won’t move.
Another example of alignment is seen in yoga āsanas (positions). You can experience the full benefits of yoga and enter the “yoga-zone’ when your body posture, movement and breathing are all synchronised. Yoga positions become laborious or ineffectual when one moves, thinks and breathes out of alignment.
We must begin to think like this in our chanting practice. We should place our mind, body and heart in their proper positions so we achieve optimal concentration and chant with deep devotional feelings.
Taking the effort to align ourselves is our invitation to the mantra. When our home is in disarray, it’s not fit to receive a guest. Only when we make order is it attractive for the guest to stay. Similarly, when our body, mind and heart are in disarray, the maha mantra has no proper place to stay.
Aligning our body that we use for spiritual practice helps us to fully immerse ourselves in the sound vibration. We can thus approach Krishna on the altar of our heart.
When we begin our chanting of the maha mantra, either in japa or in kirtana, we must start by aligning our body. It is said that both prayer and japa are best done sitting down. Srila Prabhupāda would frequently correct his students: ‘Sit properly!’ Why? Because posture is so important!
There was once a very happy saint who tried to help a man who came to him for counsel. This man was always depressed and sad. He had developed a habit of hunching over with his head dropped downward and shoulders slumped forward. No matter how the saint tried, he could not help lift this man’s spirits. One day when the man returned to the saint, he was surprised to find the saint hunched over like himself, proclaiming with excitement, ‘It works! It works! I’m also becoming depressed…
Bodily posture strongly influences our state of mind. In the case of a conditioned soul, body and mind are entwined. If you simply bring your body into the upright sitting position the mind will calm a little and it becomes easier to chant. On the other hand, when the body is slumped over the mind is often restless. Sometimes chanters pace back and forth. This is good when one is tired but for concentration, sitting is better.
Aligning the body also includes making an effort to use and focus the voice on clearly pronouncing each Name. This invites the maha mantra to be present in its entirety, syllable by syllable, allowing the mind to be more focused and appreciate the power of the mantra.
After proper enunciation, we must also listen carefully to the utterance of the maha mantra. Again and again Srila Prabhupāda instructed his students to hear themselves chant the mantra. At first this may seem like a yogic concentration technique, but actually it is an act of devotion to give all one’s attention to Krsna in the form of His Holy Name. You will also find that listening with rapt attention will help focus your mind away from distracting thoughts.
For those chanting on beads, each round of japa takes roughly six to eight minutes.
But just as we each have an individual pulse, we also have different times in which we complete one round of concentrated japa. To pace yourself accordingly, you can sometimes look at a watch. If you have finished one round in three minutes, it’s likely you have not chanted all the 108 mantras. And if you needed twenty minutes it’s likely you fell asleep or became distracted.
Alignment of the body has three elements
1. Posture: sit straight for better concentration
2. Pronunciation: clearly chant the mantra
3. Listen: hear the names as they enter your ears.
Keep an eye out for our next article “aligning the mind”