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Combined Power of Chanting, Breathwork and Asanas

Link to the Episode

Anshu Bahanda: This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness so that you can then go and empower others. Hi, Suprieya. How are you? Welcome to the chat.

Suprieya Kutty: So lovely to be here.

AB: What is wellness to you?

SK: Wellness to me is about being at peace— being at peace with things which are around you, the weather, things with the times that we are in. It’s about being at peace with things around you, you know— your neighbors, your family, your friends, the things that you use, your car, your appliances. And it’s about peace with yourself; to not have any kind of negative self-talk or chattering going on in the mind. If you can harmonize all the layers of the body to align with each other, and that helps you focus on any chosen activity or journey that you choose to take up, that is wellness.

AB: Okay, that’s lovely. Thank you. And we worked together, and you’ve helped me with physical blockages, with emotional blockages. So, tell us a bit about how you do that.

SK: Every experience that you go through is something that leaves an impression on us. And these impressions could be at different layers of our being. Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, or even at a spiritual level, each experience leaves an impression on us. Some of these impressions may be positive. Some are not so positive. So, it’s very important for us to process every experience and cleanse the system and release any of these residues that don’t serve us. If we hold on to those experiences and not process them properly, these create blockages in the system. And that comes in the way of you fulfilling the purpose of your life or even setting out to achieve a goal for the day.

AB: Okay, so is there a way of removing the experience? Is there a way of teaching people to remove the experience immediately, like, every day?

SK: Some experiences have been with us for a long time, and there are times, there are experiences that we relive every day. You may have gone through it a long time ago, but mentally or emotionally, you can relive that experience multiple times. Like, for example, somebody who’s been in a car accident. In their sleep, they go through that experience of going through the accident over and over again, and that leaves deeper impressions on us. Sometimes you can’t go back in time to release the particular experience, but fortunately, yoga has a big tool box that gives us a variety of tools which we can use to cleanse the system, and to release any of these residues that have less lasting impressions on our system.

AB: And explain to us what you do in terms of setting the partner and then working with the chant and the breath work. So, just tell us a little bit about it.

SK: Before I begin any practice, if it’s a group class, I identify a team. I usually like homogeneous groups because then we’re all working towards a common goal. If it is a personalized practice, I usually talk to the practitioner or to the care-seeker before the session. I get to know them. I understand what could be the immediate trouble. Sometimes they don’t open up so soon. So, you do a couple of practices with them, and then it comes up. Once you know where, sometimes you don’t know. You just know the symptoms that the person is going through. You don’t know what is the cause. So, you start with that. You start with the symptom, and you say, okay, this is it. Somebody has pain— pain in the neck, pain in the hip. Let’s work with that and give some shows in our practice. Give something that will pacify that pain or anxiety. So, you set a Sankalpa. You have an intention that you begin with, then everything else falls in line. You choose an appropriate chant, which has a quality that the practitioner can connect with. Care-seekers find a quality that they are aspiring toward because you want to internalize those qualities within you. So, the practices are designed with that following that journey, and you meditate upon it before you let it out to the care-seeker.

AB: Okay, so tell me something, Suprieya. What I found is that, before I met you, I was doing these things individually. I was doing my chanting separately from my yoga practice. How did it work so well together? Because I remember the first session I did with you, and my mind was all over the place, and I said, Suprieya, help me calm my mind. And the next morning, I woke up feeling so good. So, how is the effect exponential when it’s combined?

SK: All right, so when the yoga tradition, or yoga when practiced classically, the objective of yoga and Asana— all the tools that yoga offers us, is intended to shift the prana in the body. It’s about moving the prana in the system, releasing, cleansing, and working on that level. It’s not just about moving the body. So, when done correctly, when done the classical way, every asana is a pranayama because there is a breath with every movement. There’s an inhale, there is a hold or there is an exhale. Every asana has to be done as a pranayama. It cannot be done otherwise. Otherwise, it’s just physical movement. What is the difference between a physical movement and a yoga asana? This is it. And when you add a mantra to it. What is a mantra? Mantra is the sound of the divine. It makes that asana alive. It makes it come to life, and it allows the shift of the prana within you, with the mantra.

AB: Okay, lovely.

SK: So of course, when it all comes together, as you said, the effect is exponential.

AB: I didn’t believe it could be like that, but it was. Tell us a little bit. I know you do a lot of rehab work in hospitals and the like with patients. So, tell us a bit about the work that you do.

SK: All right. So, I work with my husband. My husband’s a cardiac surgeon and I work with him at the hospital.

AB: He’s a fabulous cardiac surgeon.

SK: Touchwood. He’s blessed. He has that healer’s touch, and he inspires me a lot with the way he approaches. So, we work with the patient to understand…. You know, modern medicine sees the individual very differently, whereas a lot of the traditional healing systems take a more holistic approach. So, when we take that approach, it gives us the opportunity to work with many ailments, neurological, orthopedic work, even cardiac work, pre-surgery, post-surgery, even things like people who have symptoms of severe acidity, migraines. There are lovely, simple practices that can be done. If practiced regularly, you can see a lot of relief from the symptoms. Both short term and long term benefits can be enjoyed.

AB: Okay, lovely. And tell me, from all the work that you’ve done so far, what do you consider has been your biggest achievement in helping someone?

SK: All right. That’s a tough one, because I think after every session, when the care-seeker opens their eyes and there’s that smile or that glow on their face, that’s what makes me feel like, okay, this has been a good practice, or, it’s been impactful. And anyone who comes to a session and says, oh, today my pain is at, say, level nine or level eight, and even if I can bring it down to a seven, I feel there’s been some relief. If somebody comes with a lot of anxiety and you can help them just center themselves, that’s an achievement. But of course, we’ve worked, like when I was doing my internship with my teacher, we worked with severe cases where you… I remember this very elderly lady who suffered a stroke and she was paralyzed and couldn’t do anything. The practice started with just chanting to her, just to be able to listen to the chants, and overtime, she could start reciting, then breathing, then it moves on to asana, just moving fingers, moving the wrist. And eventually to see her walk again and regain that quality of life was just like almost a miracle.

AB: That sounds amazing. And tell me that, when I asked you about the form of yoga that you do and how it’s different, you said it was the Krishnamacharya’s tradition of yoga. So, tell us a little bit about that, because in the west, we don’t come across that form of yoga that much. There’s more Iyengar yoga, there’s more Abhyanga yoga, there’s Hatha yoga. But the way you combine it all is more unusual.

SK: There are certain…. the tradition which I study in the lineage is from Krishnamacharya to his son. We call him Deshikachar sir. He is no more. I mean, the lineage is being upheld by his son. And there’s the KYM Institute, also in Chennai. And we work, as we said, combining these things asana, breathwork, bhavana, chanting. There is a lot of work. There are a lot of practitioners who do follow this tradition. And what happens is when it goes to the west, there’s a lot of this cultural appropriation and then there’s like, slowly the chanting gets taken away because everyone tends to associate it with maybe a religious connotation.

AB: I see.

SK: But the surprising thing is that the chants that we use are from the Veda before Hinduism, so they don’t have a religious connotation. Even more, you can choose a chant that the practitioner connects with. There are so many other traditions where chanting is equally important, like the Buddhism tradition. And there’s so many other traditions where chanting is a big part of their practice that they follow.

AB: Okay, lovely. I remember you telling us this lovely story about how Krishnamacharya ji’s students then went on to become quite famous yoga teachers. And those are the traditions people hear about a lot.

SK: Yes. So, Krishnamacharya himself had four very famous students who carried forward his lineage. And one was Sri Pattabhi Jois, and he is the one who took forward the ashtanga yoga, which is popularly practiced today. And this form of practice came when Krishnamacharya ji was also very young himself and could be very physically active. The other student of his was B.K.S. Iyengar, and he propounded the Iyengar style of yoga using a lot of props because Iyengar himself, when he went to Krishnamacharya ji, was unwell. So, he was given a lot of supported practices which he went on to develop. After that was this lady, Indra Devi. And then the fourth one was Sri Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s own son, who started studying with his father when his father was a little older. And that gave him… you know, it was a time when Krishnamacharya himself was reflecting on therapies, use of asana, pranayama, chanting for rehabilitation, for healing. That’s the teachings that went on to Sri Desikachar and then passed on to Kausthub and Menaka ma’am, Kausthub’s mother and Desikachar’s wife, who studied with them.

AB: He really is the father of modern yoga, like you were saying to me, a lot of the yoga that’s being practiced now has come from him. 

SK: Yes. He is known as the father of modern yoga. He’s the one who’s instrumental in having allowed yoga to travel to the west and become so popular all over the world. 

AB: Lovely. Now tell me, give us an example of what you do. I think that’s very relevant to everything that’s going on today, that will be helpful for people.

SK: All right, we will begin. I request you to sit down in a comfortable position. Just take a few minutes to check or scan through the body. Look through your alignment. I want you to slowly and consciously lengthen your spine. Roll your shoulders back, releasing any stress from the neck and the shoulders. Keeping your chin parallel to the floor, I’m going to ask you to try and lengthen the neck, increasing the distance between your ear and the shoulder. At this point, I want you to slowly watch your inhale. Exhale slowly. Inhale— open up the chest. Exhale— contract the abdomen. Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly. With this we’re going to introduce a few movements. We’ll begin with arm movement. As you inhale, slowly raise your hands up. Natural flowing movements. Exhaling— lower the hands down. One more time. On the inhale, raise your hands up… Slowly exhale— lower the hands down. One last time. Inhale— raise your hands up. Exhaling— slowly, lower your hands down. Nice. Now, we want to introduce a little chant to the movement. You’re going to inhale— raise the hands up to shoulder level. And as you chant: Om Shantihi— I want you to twist to the left side. So, we do it together. Inhale— raising the hands up to shoulder level and chant with me: Om Shantihi. Inhale— come back to the center. Chanting— move to the other side. (chanting Om Shantihi). Inhale— come back to the center, exhale slowly— and lower your hands down. Let’s do that one more time. Inhale— raise your hands up to shoulder level, and chanting to the left: Om Shantihi. Inhale, come back to the center. Exhaling to the other side. (Chanting Om Shantihi). Inhale— back to the center. Exhale slowly— lower the hands down. Let’s do them one more time. Inhale— raise your hands up to the shoulder level. Chanting to the left: Om Shantihi. Inhale and turn to the other side. (Chanting) Om Shantihi. Inhale—  come back to the center. Exhale slowly— lower the hands down. Wonderful. Going forward, I’m going to ask you to interlock your fingers. As you inhale, turn the palms outwards and lengthen upward. Now, we are going to chant ‘Om Shanti Shantihi’ and we lower our hands down. (Chanting Om Shanti Shantihi). Inhale— turn the palms out, raising the arms up, stretching the arms slightly behind the ears, without moving the head. Chant with me: Om Shanti Shantihi. One more time— on the inhale, turn the palms outwards and arch the back slightly this time and chant: Om Shanti Shantihi. Release the hands. Take a few minutes here to allow the body to absorb the benefits of the movement, of the breath, and the chant. For the next part of the practice, I will chant Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi. As I chant, you will inhale. And then you will chant and you repeat after me. All right, let’s do this.

AB: One quick question. Should we set an intent with this?

SK: So, today’s intention is peace, like we said, to be at peace with ourselves, to be at peace with everything around you. We have the ‘adhidaivika’— things which are beyond your control. The weather, the times we are in now, or even your own faith, your own destiny. Things which are not in your control. With the second shanti— you’re speaking peace from things around you. Your neighbors, your family, your friends, things that you’re using, technology, like we did at the start of the session. And of course, with the third shanti you’re seeking peace from yourself. No negative self-talk, no ideas that you’re not good enough, to let go of all those. So, each shanti has that bhavana. And we’re offering this to all beings in the universe— for ourselves and for all beings. Because we are going through a very troubled time all over the world. So, we are offering that healing all over the world or that peace.

AB: Exactly, yes.

SK: With that bhavana in your mind, that intention in your mind— I’m going to ask you to bring your palms in the prayer position and place them at the center of your chest over the heart. Intention is love. As I chant you will inhale. Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi. Chant: Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi. Inhale deeply as I chant: Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi. Chant loudly with me. Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi. Inhale— Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi. Chant loudly: Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi. Keeping your eyes closed, slowly release your palm, placing them over your knees, palms facing up. You’re going to breathe in a ratio now. Now you’re going to use a ratio: Inhale— three, exhale— six. Begin— inhale: 1, 2, 3. Slowly exhale: 6 5 4 3 2 1. Inhale: 1 2 3. Exhaling, send the love into the universe: 6 5 4 3 2 1. Inhale, 3: 1 2 3. Think of someone who can receive this healing. And now breathe: 6 5 4 3 2 1. One more time— inhale, 3: 1 2 3. Exhaling: 6 5 4 3 2 1. Inhale: 1 2 3. Exhale slowly: 6 5 4 3 2 1. One last one— inhale slowly: 1 2 3, and exhale: 6 5 4 3 2 1. Inhale freely, Exhale free; Inhale freely, Exhale freely. As you continue to take these long, smooth breaths— dirgha sukshma prana, holding the bhavana of receiving healing, and sharing that healing with everyone around you, I’m going to chant Laghunyasam, the first few verses of the Laghunyasam. Laghunyasam is from the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa. And the chant entails the natural elements to sustain the organs and the functions in the human system. It’s usually chanted to offer healing to people around. Correct? You can just keep your eyes closed and watch the breathing, keep the bhavana in the mind as I chant, Just the first few verse:

agnirme vāci śritaḥ | vāgghṛdaye |

hṛdayaṃ mayi | ahamamṛte | amṛtaṁ brahmani |

vāyurme prāne śritaḥ | prāno hṛdaye |

hṛdayaṃ mayi | ahamamṛte | amṛtaṁ brahmani |

sūryo me cakṣuṣi śritaḥ | cakṣurhṛdaye |

hṛdayaṃ mayi | ahamamṛte | amṛtaṁ brahmani |

candramā me manasi śritaḥ | mano hṛdaye |

hṛdayaṃ mayi | ahamamṛte | amṛtaṁ brahmani |

Then gently bring your palms together and rub them vigorously so they’re nice and warm. Feel that heat in the palms. You may cup them over your closed eyes, allowing that heat to radiate through the eyes and energize the system. Take a moment to connect with that light within you. That unchanging seat of the divine within you which always gives you the right direction, leads you to the purpose of your being. Slowly slide your palms over the head. Just use your fingertips to press your head, coming down backwards to the neck and shoulders. Bring that smile to your face. Slowly open up your eyes.

AB: That was really lovely. You and I both want to help empower people with health and wellness. What advice do you have for people?

SK: The advice that I have for everyone who’s listening here— is practice, ‘Abhyasa’. Take those few minutes out, as many minutes as you can, for yourself and practice. Even if it’s just a little bit of breath work, a little bit of chanting, take that time out and practice. There’s no substitute for ‘abhyasa’ or practice. So that’s my advice for everyone around or whoever’s listening.

AB: So, you’re saying any amount of time, even if you have five minutes or ten minutes, do it every day? Or is there a minimum time that you have to spend?

SK: I would say start with what you can. Once you start enjoying the benefits, like the practice we did now was very short, but still so powerful, right? And maybe some days you can practice longer and some days not so long, but practice every day.  I’m sure there are days where you can take on more time and some days where you can’t. But on that day, I know you need it the most. So even if it’s just for one or two minutes or four minutes, do it. That should be the thing that is non-negotiable. You practice for those few minutes. 

AB: Lovely. Why do you always make us do the out breath longer than the in breath?

SK: Right. So, extending the exhalation has a very pacifying effect on the system. In the times that we are today, people need that pacification— shodhana. So, I use an extended exhale. Also, the exhale, the pranayama as a tool is a cleansing technique. Pranayama is the most subtle tool that you can use to access the most subtle layers of your being. So, when you have a long exhale, you actually have the opportunity to release or to cleanse from layers which are otherwise not accessible through other practices. So I want us to use that long exhale to be able to clear up those subtle blockages, that otherwise are not easy to access.

AB: Okay, and have you helped, like, at the moment there’s so much anxiety and worry. Do you help people with that as well?

SK: Yes, yes. I think that is the most common reason why people come and it’s also the least acceptable reason why people come to seek a practice.

AB: What do you mean?

SK: I mean that people don’t want to… first of all, they’re not sure. They come to you when the symptoms have already appeared somewhere else. Like it starts off with worry or anxiety, but they don’t think anything needs to be done about it. It’s only when that pain or that anxiety manifests in either pain in the neck or in your shoulders or the lower back, or they feel like they can’t sit and stand easily— that’s when they come. But the cause or where the root of what you’re working with is not really just the back pain. The root is anxiety or stress, which has not been, like I said in the beginning, not been cleansed from the system. We’ve not gone through those processes, those experiences completely.

AB: Right, okay, that’s lovely. And doing any courses that people can join in? 

SK: Yes. We have a Monday and a Wednesday group class, in which we’re doing a combined meditative practice. In March, I’m planning to do a longer course where we’ll be taking the yoga sutras of Patanjali, and we will do a practice combined with some cleansing practices and reflection. I think swadhyaya— that self-reflection, is a very, very important part of releasing from the system. So, after every practice, the course that I’m planning for based on the yoga sutras, will be physical. We’ll have asanas, we’ll have pranayamas (control of breath), we’ll have chanting— the ABC of yoga. And I will include some of the kriyas, the tapas, and of course swadhyaya.

AB: Lovely. That was lovely. Thank you so much. Thank you for a very informative session. That was a lovely session.

SK: Thank you so much Anshu. It was my pleasure.

AB: Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. That was lovely. I didn’t know what people thought, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.