Ashtanga Opening Mantra: Meaning & Significance (Plus Closing Mantra)


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The Meaning of the Ashtanga Yoga Opening Chant (PLUS Closing Chant)

If you have ever practiced Ashtanga yoga, you will most likely have heard the ashtanga opening mantra at the very start of the class. Plus, if you are lucky, you may have heard the ashtanga closing mantra too. Chanting mantras is something that sets yoga and Ashtanga yoga in particular apart from your average exercise class. But what is their meaning?

The Ashtanga opening mantra offers gratitude to the lineage of teachers who have enabled this ancient practice to survive over the years. It helps to cleanse the energy of the practice space and prepares the mind for the practice. The Ashtanga closing mantra brings practice to a peaceful end.

I still remember my very first Ashtanga class. It was a half primary class at Ashtanga Yoga Glasgow with my teacher Cathy Moran. She stepped into the room, we all came to the front of our mats and she started chanting the ashtanga opening mantra in a call and response manner.

This means that she chanted a line and then the class followed. I had no idea what she was saying, but I remember finding it beautiful.

Definitely check out my detailed guide for Ashtanga yoga beginners if you are new to Ashtanga yoga and looking for more information.

Years later, as a home practitioner, I still like to chant the ashtanga opening mantra, even if it is just me practicing. Somehow it feels like something is missing if I don’t.

Before exploring the meaning of the ashtanga yoga chants, let me first answer a question most beginners to the practice seem to have.

The Meaning of the Ashtanga Yoga Opening Chant (PLUS Closing Chant)

Why Do We Chant In Ashtanga Yoga?

Richard Freeman answered this very question:

“Chanting and mantra recitation have accompanied yoga practice for thousands of years. Chanting is of course both the in-toning of the rich vibratory sounds and the simultaneous listening to them. The deep listening naturally suspends the normal movement of the discursive mind and allows contemplation of the patterns of sensation, emotion, and imagination.”

If you have ever chanted Sanskrit mantras or been to a kirtan, you may have noticed that the mind becomes quiet as we are experiencing the chant, both body and mind, and then we are asked to repeat what we just heard, not only the words but also tone and melody.

Trying to explore this a little deeper, I had a look to see if there are any academic studies on chanting and its benefits. And to my surprise, I actually found some!

Chanting may have a positive influence on people’s memory and attention. A 2006 study examined the effects of Vedic chanting on the hemispheres of the brain. The researchers found that “chanting influences both the hemispheres of the brain resulting in good memory and attention”.

It is worth noting that the Vedic chants were passed on from generations in an oral manner without the help of writing them down.

Furthermore, the authors also added that: “The frequencies and the sympathetic overtones generated by mantras, which have a vibration pattern of their own, influence our sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves, which are spread in a fine network around our internal organs.”

One further study carried out in 2008 examined the effect of canting OM. It is no surprise why this was chosen as this basic mantra is known in Hinduism as the ‘Pranava mantra,’ the source of all mantras. The researchers found that: “steadiness in the mind is achieved by chanting OM, hence proves the mind is calm and peace to the human subject.”

The Ashtanga opening mantra originates from two different sources, the yoga Taravalli, as well as a prayer to Patanjali, the composer of the yoga sutras.

What is the Ashtanga Opening Mantra?

The Ashtanga opening mantra is a beautiful way to start the practice. It is generally chanted in a call and response manner, where the students repeat each line after the teacher. It offers gratitude for this practice and offers thanks to the lineage of the teachers that helped to keep the practice alive.

Om
Vande gurunam charanavinde
I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus,
Sandarsita svatmasukhava bodhe
who awakens insight into the happiness of pure being,
Nishreyase jangalikayamane
like the jungle healer, who brings great well-being,
Samsara halahala mohashantyai
‘Relief from delusion, the poison of Samsara’

Abahu purusakaram
The upper body having human form,
Shankachakrasi dharinam
Holding a conch, discus and sword,
Sahasra sirasam svetam
Having a thousand branched heads of white [light].
Pranamami Patanjalim
I bow to Patanjali
Om

Ashtanga Opening Mantra Meaning

I bow to the feet of my teacher, who teaches the knowledge of the Self. He is the Jungle Physician able to dispel the poison of conditioned existence. He takes the form of man up to the hands, holding a conch shell, a discus, and a sword and having a thousand heads of white light. Patanjali, I bow to you.

Vande gurunam charanavinde

I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus. In Indian culture, we show respect by bowing down. The meaning of this line is that we surrender and place our trust in the guru, the teacher. We honor the light that comes through him/her and we let down our ego in order to experience the teachings more deeply.

This first verse expresses gratitude to all the gurus, the teachers, the students who have passed yoga on for thousands of years so we can practice it and experience it today.

Sandarsita svatmasukhava bodhe

Who awakens insight into the happiness of pure being. Sandarshita means ‘at vision revealing’, svatma is the ‘true Self’, sukava is ‘happiness’, and bodhe means ‘knowledge’. This line explains the true goal of yoga. And that is the knowledge of happiness. And the guru helps to reveal our true Self.

Nishreyase jangalikayamane

Like the jungle healer, who brings great well-being. This line uses a metaphor for the ashtanga practice. Jangalikayamane is the doctor of the jungle or one who can cure or heal. This could refer to physical pains or even emotional and unconscious behaviors. Nih sreyase means without comparison.

And so the second verse in the ashtanga yoga mantra means the practice that can heal has no equal.

Samsara halahala mohashantyai

Relief from delusion, the poison of Samsara. This means that the practice can bring a peaceful resolution of delusion. Samsara is conditioned existence, when we are unaware and go round and round in life of suffering. Halahala is the poison and mohasantyai is the peaceful resolution of delusion.

Abahu purusakaram

Taking the form of half-man, half-snake. This second part is now a homage to Patanjali. Abahu means all bodily limbs and purushakaram is having the form of a man. Patanjali is often portrayed as a half snake, half-man, thought to be an incarnation of the serpent upon which Lord vishnu is reclining.

The serpent mentioned above is known as Ananta, meaning Infinite.

Shankachakrasi dharinam

The conch is a shell that represents divine sound, symbolizing the state of alertness to face obstacles. The discus is a circle of light representing how yoga brings awareness to the present moment. The sword of discrimination is the ability to cut through the confusion of our minds.

Sahasra sirasam svetam

With countless pure white heads. Sahasra is ‘1000,’ sirasam means ‘headed’ and svetam is ‘brilliantly white’. This refers to Patanjali in his form as the divine serpent, Ananta. One meaning could be that we may all be different, but actually, we are the same. One reality, many paths.

Pranamami Patanjalim

To Patanjali I salute, I bow, and give thanks. The opening mantra closes by coming back to the notion of the ego, as now we surrender the ego. And so in our yoga practice, we surrender to the practice and to the process, with an aim to experience peace, connection with what is beyond us.

If you would like a video of the correct pronunciation of the Ashtanga opening mantra, then have a look at this video. Here Joey Miles offers a very clear pronunciation of the mantra and he breaks it down.

So in an Ashtanga yoga class, we generally chant the Ashtanga opening mantra in a call and response fashion, where the teacher chants one line and the class repeats that line.

And then the next line and so forth. Joey Miles repeats each line twice, whereas normally only the students would be chanting it the second time.

Ashtanga Closing Mantra

Om
Svasti praja bhyaha pari pala yantam
May the rulers of the earth keep to the path of virtue
Nya yena margena mahi mahishaha
for protecting the welfare of all generations
Go brahmanebhyaha shubamastu nityam
May the religions, and all peoples be forever blessed
Loka samastah sukhino bhavantu
May the whole of all the worlds be happy
Om shanti shanti shanti
Om, peace peace peace

Ashtanga Closing Mantra Meaning

The ashtanga closing mantra is a beautiful way to end the practice. It is a wish for peace, prosperity, and happiness for all the beings of the world. And this is in line with the real reasons for practicing yoga. We use the energy we created in the practice and send into the world in form of love and peace.

Svasti praja bhyaha pari pala yantam

May all be well with humankind.

Nya yena margena mahi mahishaha

May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.

Go brahmanebhyaha shubamastu nityam

May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred.

Loka samastah sukhino bhavantu

May all beings be happy and free.

Om shanti shanti shanti

Om peace peace peace

If you would like a video of the correct pronunciation of the Ashtanga closing mantra, then have a look at this video and try following along.

Why Chant OM in Yoga?

You may have noticed that the ashtanga opening chant ended with an om, and then the closing mantra started with om and ended with an om.

Most yoga classes may begin with one or sometimes three oms.

Are you now wondering: “Why do we chant om in yoga?”

Evolation Yoga Atlanta offered a very concise explanation:

Om is the basic sound of the universe; chanting it symbolically and physically tunes us into that sound and acknowledges our connection to everything in the world and the Universe.

The rhythmic pronunciation and vibrations have a calming effect on the body and the nervous system similar to the effects of meditation.”

Trying to understand more about chanting om and its meaning, I looked through the academic articles written on the topic.

One academic article from Sipna’s College of Engineering & Technology in India analyzed the acoustic of “OM” Chant and the effect it can have on the nervous system.

The authors argued that:

“OM does not have a translation. Therefore, the Hindus consider it as the very name of the Absolute, it is body of sound. In the scriptures of ancient India, the OM is considered to be the most powerful of all the mantras. The others are considered aspects of the OM, and the OM is the matrix of all other mantras.”

Referring to the repeated chanting of om, the authors discussed the benefits of this simple mantra: “As we go on chanting OM mantra, the mind becomes calm. When the mind becomes calm, the body relaxes, and the breath becomes even soother and slower.”

One further article published in 2018 by the Nadgir College of Physiology in Karnataka, India discussed the three distinct parts of the om chant. The authors point out that the word Om is actually pronounced like “Aum,” and is said to represent the threefold division of time (waking state, dreaming state, and deep sleep):

“The “A” sound refers to the waking state of consciousness.

The “U” part refers to the dreaming state of consciousness.

The “M” refers to the deep sleep state of consciousness.

The Silence after these three, refers to the witness consciousness that is observer of the other three states of consciousness.”

Do I have to chant?

Ashtanga beginners tend to simply listen to this chant and with time when they feel more comfortable, they then join in. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to chant with the rest of the class, then it is perfectly ok to simply listen and be present.

At what point do we chant the ashtanga invocation?

The ashtanga opening chant is chanted at the very start of the class. Typically the teacher will call the class to come to the front on the mat and then will start the chant in a call and response manner.

The ashtanga closing mantra is not always chanted in class, which is a shame as it is a beautiful melody and of course, has an even more beautiful meaning.

When I’m in Mysore, my teacher Sharath Jois tends to lead the class till Utputihi, then guides us back to standing at the front of the mat. We all chant the Ashtanga closing mantra in unison, and then through a vinyasa, he then guides us to savasana.

I have seen some teachers chant the ashtanga closing mantra with the class seated after savasana.

And I have also seen some teachers chant the ashtanga closing mantra while the students are in savasana.

What is the opening chant of Ashtanga yoga?

The chant at the start of each Ashtanga yoga class is called the Ashtanga opening mantra. It is a beautiful way to start the practice and it offers gratitude for this practice and offers thanks to the lineage of the teachers that helped to keep the practice alive.

How can I learn Ashtanga chant?

As a general rule, you can learn the Ashtanga yoga chant by listening to it and repeating it line for line. This is how Ashtanga yoga students learn the opening mantra, as the teacher chants it in a call and response manner, and so with time, the students are able to memorize it.

Is Ashtanga the hardest yoga?

As a general rule, Ashtanga yoga is considered to be one of the hardest types of yoga. The reason is that it is a dynamic yoga practice that helps build strength, flexibility, and endurance. However, it can be approached in a step-by-step manner for beginners.

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Alexia Koletsou

Alexia Koletsou is a Level 1 Authorized Ashtanga Yoga Teacher with a Ph.D. in Science Communication. She received her blessing to teach Ashtanga Yoga in 2019, from the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, where she has had the honor of practicing with R. Sharath Jois multiple times over the years. She is the owner of her own Shala in Greece and now shares her knowledge on yogamyoldfriend.com and her YouTube channel Alexia K Yoga.

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