Sunday, December 8, 2019

Ashtanga Yoga Opening and Closing Chants [Free PDF Download]

Ashtanga Yoga Opening and Closing Chants

One of my favorite things about practicing ashtanga yoga in Mysore is to experience the opening and closing chants that we recite during each yoga class.

Just imagine the beautiful energy that is created when twenty, thirty, fifty people or so, from all around the world, recite these Sanskrit chants with energy, devotion, and dedication. It's really inspiring.

So I decided to look for an online video to learn the proper Sanskrit pronunciation of these mantras. Unfortunately, the quality of all the videos I found is... let's say, not the best.

I'm not a Sanskrit expert, but to be honest, it hurts my ears listening to some of those videos. Lol.

So I asked my friend Lakshya to make a video tutorial to learn the ashtanga yoga chants with the proper Sanskrit pronunciation.

Lakshya is an amazing yoga and Sanskrit teacher. She has already shared several excellent Sanskrit video tutorials on her YouTube channel.

I actually asked her to make this video two years ago! Well, better later than never, right? Lol.  The video is great so it was definitely worth the wait.

I'm also adding here the prayers in a PDF document so that you can download them at any time.

The PDF includes the prayers in Sanskrit using Devanagari characters, the roman transliteration and the English translation.

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Why chanting Sanskrit prayers during a yoga class

The first time I visited an ashram in India I felt overwhelmed by all the mantra chanting. It took me a little while but then I started to love them.

Nowadays, I love to chant different Sanskrit mantras during my own classes and during my personal practice. When I don't recite at least one Om I feel as if something is missing.

In my opinion, chanting or reciting Sanskrit prayers helps to include a bit of bhakti, devotion, into our practice. This allows us to tune in with an external expression of the divine force that lies within.

Chanting is also a way to practice self-surrender. This attitude of surrender is very important. We need to be humble so that we can become an appropriate vessel to receive the teachings, without allowing the ego to get on the way.

The purpose of chanting Sanskrit prayers is also to honor the tradition and the gurus. We need to remember that without their grace there wouldn't be any yoga to learn. Imagine, what would be the world today without yoga?

For a yoga teacher, the prayers are particularly important. They are a form of invocation and they help to remind us that we are simply an instrument. The work, the teaching, is done by the tradition itself not by the teacher.

In brief, chanting is a way of putting ourselves in the right mental-emotional space before proceeding with a spiritual study or practice.

Chanting can even be considered a way to warm up the lungs, regulating the breath for the practice.

This reminds me of the pranayama class with Vinay Kumar in Mysore. His classes usually start with ten minutes of mantra chanting to prepare ourselves for the intense one-hour pranayama practice.

Resistance to chanting Sanskrit prayers

I know, some people can have a bit of resistance to the recitation of Sanskrit mantras, just like I did at the beginning.

Well, that's not a problem at all. Chanting Sanskrit mantras is not a prerequisite to practice yoga. You don't need to chant anything if you don't feel comfortable.

Chanting Sanskrit mantras is simply another tool from the yogic arsenal to train the mind, to purify the mind and to create a positive impression on the mind.

Do it if it resonates with you. If it doesn't just skip it.

I would still recommend you though to ask yourself what exactly about chanting Sanskrit prayers make you feel uncomfortable. What exactly are you resisting? You can journal about it.

By the way, many of the Sanskrit mantras, like the shanti mantras (peace mantras) I have included in this blog post, are more like positive affirmations rather than prayers.

And whenever the name of a particular deity is used in a mantra or invocation, the yogis always remind us that these deities are nothing but the representation of one aspect of the supreme consciousness, which can't be defined in words or fully comprehended by the mind.

The importance of proper Sanskrit pronunciation

Sanskrit is an ancient language that has been used in India by the oral tradition (before any written language existed) for the memorization, preservation, and study of the Vedas, even till today.

When it comes to the science of mantras, it is also said that the Sanskrit sounds have a particular vibratory effect on the mind and the subtle body.

I believe that's why in Sanskrit there is a lot of emphasis on proper pronunciation and why it developed as a phonetic language.

Of course, in the beginning, the most important thing is the intention and devotion you put into it.

But, if you do like to recite these prayers, why not taking some time to learn the pronunciation as best as you can?

If you like that idea then my advice is that you focus first on the pronunciation of the short and long vowels. That is not difficult to learn and it makes a big difference.

It's important not to create long vowels where there are short vowels, and vice-versa.

This is a common mistake that many people make when using a melody or intonation to recite any Sanskrit mantra.

For instance, the second word used in the ashtanga yoga opening prayer is gurūṇāṃ (the line above the ū and the ā indicates a long vowel).

However many of us recite gurunam, with a short u and a. This is a small but important difference. In Sanskrit, the pronunciation of one single letter can change completely the meaning of a word.

As Nicolai Bachman mentions in his website “ananda means unhappiness, while ānanda means enhanced happiness, bliss.”

Later on, you can learn the pronunciation of the different Sanskrit consonants.

The most important point to keep in mind is the position of the tongue in the mouth and how much air you use when pronouncing each letter.

Luckily, Lakshya has already created two easy to follow videos to help you learn just that: the Sanskrit Alphabet and Sanskrit Consonants Pronunciation.

So, you have no excuses! Lol.

Ashtanga Yoga Opening and Closing Chants

Opening chant — Guru Dhyanam

वन्दे गुरूणां चरणारविन्दे सन्दर्शितस्वात्मसुखावबोधे ।
निःश्रेयसे जाङ्गलिकायमाने संसारहालाहलमोहशान्त्यै ॥

Oṁ vande gurūṇāṁ caraṇāravinde
sandarśita-svātma sukhāvabodhe
niḥśreyase jāṅgalikāyamāne

I bow to the lotus feet of the Gurus,
(through whom) one's own Self is revealed for easy understanding,
(who is) the best doctor/herbalist,
relieving delusion, the poison of Samsara[1].

आबाहुपुरुषाकारं शङ्खचक्रासिधारिणम् ।
सहस्रशिरसं श्वेतं प्रणमामि पतञ्जलिम् ॥

ābāhu puruṣākāraṁ
sahasra-śirasaṁ śvetaṁ
praṇamāmi patañjalim

I prostrate to the thousand-headed radiant Sage Patañjali,
who is in human form up to his arms and holds a conch, discus, and sword[2].

[1] Translation by Lakshya.
[2] Translation by Siddhartha Krishna.

The opening prayer is usually called Guru Dhyanam. The first verse honors the tradition of gurus and the second verse honors the sage Patanjali, the codifier of the Yoga Sutras.

According to a discourse given by Arvind, a philosophy teacher based in Mysore, the first verse comes from a text called the Yoga Taravali, which is commonly attributed to Adi Shankaracharya.

In a commentary by R.S. Bhattaracharya I found online, he says that it is unclear if this text was really composed by Adi Shankaracharya or one of his successors (The commentary is in Hindi with the verses in Sanskrit but the preface is in English and very brief).

You can read a detailed commentary in English on the significance of this first verse in, a publication of the Bihar School of Yoga.

The second verse is actually the second verse of the Patanjali Prayer, an invocation/oblation to the sage Patanjali. It is commonly chanted at the beginning of Iyengar yoga classes.

If you are interested in learning the full Patanjali prayer (is only two verses) you can watch this video recorded by Lakshya.

For more information about the opening ashtanga yoga chant, you can visit this article by mysoreyogacapetown. It includes a translation word by word based on the discourse given by Arvind.

You can also visit this article by with a different translation and interpretation.

Closing Chant — Mangala Mantra

स्वस्तिप्रजाभ्यः परिपालयन्तां न्यायेन मार्गेण महीं महीशाः ।
गोब्राहमणेभ्यः शुभमस्तु नित्यं लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु ॥

शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

oṁ svasti prajābhyaḥ paripālayantāṁ
nyāyena mārgeṇa mahīm mahīśāḥ
go brāhmaṇebhyaḥ śubhamastu nityam
lokāḥ samasthāḥ sukhino bhavantu

śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

May there be well being to the people;
May the kings rule the earth along the right path;
May the cattle and the Brahmins have well-being forever;
May all the beings in all the worlds become happy[3].

Om peace, peace, peace

[3]Translation by

The closing chant is called Mangala Mantra and according to YogaPedia and Elephant Journal, the mantra comes from the Rig Veda, the oldest known Vedic Sanskrit text.

However, I believe this is not correct.  I have not been able to find any reference to this mantra in this online Rig Veda source, or in any other place.

Actually, according to this article by and this Wikipedia page, the mantra does not appear in any of the existent Vedas.  It was either included in one of the lost Vedas or it was simply composed by a realized sage.

Either way, this is a beautiful mantra that is commonly chanted along with other peace mantras in India.

Chanting it is a good way to ensure that our practice does not become selfish but rather selfless, spreading vibrations of peace and happiness to all sentient beings.

You can find a translation word by word of this mantra on this page by Taranayoga.

Other opening and closing chants for yoga classes

If you are interested in learning other Sanskrit chants then you can visit my previous blog: Sivananda Yoga Opening and Closing Prayers.

The Sivananda closing prayer is a collection of different Shanti mantras, peace mantras, that you can chant together or individually.  They are commonly used all over India during yoga classes or special events.

How to connect with Lakshya

If you would like to know more about Lakshya you can read the interview I did to her a couple of years ago about her three years ashram life experience, where she learned Sanskrit and Vedanta.

Don't forget to follow her on Instagram, Facebook and of course, make sure you subscribe to her YouTube channel.

Would you like to ask Lakshya for any other similar videos? Feel free to ask her in the comments section below. I'll make sure to remind her about it. Lol.

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore

By the way, if you ever decide to visit Mysore to practice ashtanga yoga then you can visit my blog Best Schools and Ashtanga Yoga Teachers in Mysore.

In this article, you can find a list of some of the most popular yoga teachers in Mysore (I have interviewed many of them) and also a lot of tips to prepare for your next visit.

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Ashtanga Yoga Chants

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for breaking this down with proper pronunciation!