Wendy DeMos is a copy editor and writer specializing in
stories on life's creative and
Death Is Not the End of Love
Chant Your Way to Change:
Take Your Meditation to the Next Level
Madonna is on to something.
So is Oprah.
They both chant devotional names to relax and connect with their inner divinity.
And you can do it too.
Whether you or someone you know needs an uplifting influence or help with depression or sickness, chanting mantra can help.
Madonna believes chants work as she worships a guru’s “lotus feet” in a track on her "Ray of Light" CD.
And Oprah, to celebrate her 58th birthday, mellowed to Snatam Kaur’s live Kundalini Yoga mantra sounds.
Musical mantra chanting -- also called kirtan -- is a yoga of devotion and nourishing sound becoming popular in the West, Europe, and around the world.
Mantras are words, phrases and syllables that are repeated until they become integrated into the chanter’s consciousness. The repetition clears the mind and allows a sense of stillness and connection with your higher self: the most healing state of all.
Whether you want to learn how to fit chanting into your practice or why chant at all, Jai Gopal, Kundalini Yoga teacher, musician and creator of ChantYourHeartOpen.com has some answers.
I asked her:
Why chant mantras?
So many reasons! Incessant negative thinking hurts. Chanting mantra helps you go within and stops the incessant negative thoughts.
What’s a good mantra to help us go within?
Just repeating “Sat Nam” will help to center yourself and bring your focus inward. Sat means truth. Nam means name. Together it means truth is my name. Try this: sit comfortably and breathe. Focus your inner gaze at your third eye, also called your sixth chakra, that space between your eyebrows, and for each inhale, chant “sat” and for each exhale chant “nam.” You can use your inside voice if you are at the office!
My friend is going through chemotherapy. How can mantras help her?
“Ra Ma Da Sa Sa Say So Hung” is the most healing mantra in Kundalini Yoga. It can be chanted to heal yourself or think of others while you are chanting, or send the energy to Mother Earth. These eight sounds stimulate the kundalini flow in the central channel of the spine for healing. Ra means sun. Ma means moon. Da means earth. Sa means infinity or universal energy. Say means being intimate with the infinite. So means I merge in that and elevate. And, hung means the vibration of the infinite. You are flowing the energy of the cosmos up your spine. Very powerful for anyone who is sick, depressed, in isolation, or needing healing of any sort.
Sometimes I feel afraid to start something new. Any chants to help with this incessant doubt?
"Aad Guray Nameh, Jugaad Guray Nameh, Sat Guray Nameh, Siri Guru Devah Nameh” is a potent protection mantra. This mantra clears the clouds of doubt and opens you up to guidance and protection.
What if I don’t understand the words I am chanting?
Doesn’t matter. Gurmukhi is the Indian language of most Kundalini Yoga mantras. Each syllable carries meaning. Just be gentle with yourself, your intent is enough. You will get the pronunciation over time. Also, Bhakti Yoga tradition says, “thinking we have to have exactly correct pronunciation to be heard by God is like thinking that a baby must cry in just the right pronunciation to be heard by its mother.”
Will it help to listen to the chants while I am meditating?
For sure! In Kundalini Yoga, when a mantra is pronounced repeatedly, the sound waves are transformed into electrical energy or vibrations. That's why it’s called a "sound current" rather than “music". It is a perfect backdrop to your inner exploration.
I’m not a very good singer. Can I still chant?
Of course! When chanting, it’s the heart space you reach rather than the quality of your voice that matters. Your voice is added into the soup of human expressions until the focus becomes unified. The idea of separation melts any boundaries as we create a sound current together.
See for yourself if you feel more peaceful and connected to your inner divinity.
Try it and embark on your life-changing chant journey!
Wendy DeMos, singer/songwriter, offers devotional and folk music, words, and videos. “I’m a creative catalyst, musician, Kundalini Yoga teacher, dancer, writer, traveler, healer, lover, laugher, crier, artist, teacher, student. And I love to meet interesting and authentic folks—like you."
An Interview with Snatam Kaur
by Wendy DeMos
Published in Common Ground, Vancouver, Canada
Call it celestial communication, a chant fest, a musical group meditation, or just a concert. Whatever you call it, an evening with Snatam Kaur is sure to be heavenly.
And with a new band featuring Todd Boston, Ramesh Kannan, and Matthew Schoening, concert-goers will experience a transcendental touch of India, hallowed harmonies, and even a bit of blessed bluegrass.
Is it just Snatam Kaur’s voice that touches so deeply? Or is the touching quality located in the melody? Perhaps the mystical words she chants touch some longing within.
Whatever magical qualities are involved in a Snatam Kaur event, count on being uplifted and inspired while walking or driving home after the Friday night concert, Saturday’s workshop or Sunday’s fundraising dinner and concert.
And, as Oprah Winfrey, former talk-show host, said after a Snatam Kaur concert, “It’s a moment I’ll savor forever.”
Q: Tell us about your new band.
I have absolutely loved everyone that I have had the honor to tour with over the years, especially my long-time musical partner GuruGanesha. Because of a creative shift within both GuruGanesha and myself a few years ago, we felt like it was a natural time to go in different musical directions.
Through very loving and honest communication we realized that we are both still very much dedicated to the same mission, of spreading the vibration of peace through music, with just a different style. I would never have predicted it, but see how the natural flow of life moves and changes even the most elemental things in your life.
It has been a beautiful and even challenging journey, but one that I feel that I am finally now settling into, and now enjoying.
Q: What will we hear that is different?
I am joined by Todd Boston on guitar. He very much honors GuruGanesha's guitar style which I love while bringing his own musical sound, which is opening up into areas of a slightly bluegrass style, mixed in with a delicate, classical Indian style. Todd really works with the acoustic elements of the guitar, with a beautiful tone and nice fluidity with the notes that he plays. Todd brings in the Native American flute as well into our musical experience which opens the door for some very meditative moments.
Ramesh Kannan, who plays many percussion instruments including tabla, Cajon, udu, and symbols, has been with me for quite a few years. I absolutely love playing with him. Not only are his rhythms so heartfelt and right on, but he exudes an energy of joy and love that is very uplifting. What is a bit different this time is that we discovered that Ramesh is a great vocalist, so he will be adding his voice into the mix in this new way. We have also given much more space to Ramesh to open up into his different percussive instruments and at times lead the whole experience. This has been really fun.
Probably the biggest shift we have made in terms of our elemental sound is the addition of the cello with Matthew Schoening. This element in the mix has given us a much more full sound, with the lower notes of the cello allowing us to really soar. Matthew does a lot of beautiful and simple bass notes by plucking. In many moments during our musical experience, he also plays with his bow, rendering beautiful and deep expressions. At times I feel that there is another vocalist right with me, singing along, and realize that it is the cello! It has been a really enjoyable experience.
Q: How long did it take for your new band to feel ready to perform and go on tour?
For a touring musician, there is never time! We had about two weeks to practice together before our first performance. The guys did great. Although I feel we are still settling into our sound, and still discovering each other's voices. Knowing what I know as a touring musician for eight years, it just gets better and better every year. If you are not growing musically together, something needs to shift.
Q: How did you find them? How did they come together?
Our percussionist, Ramesh, had been talking about Todd for years. As things shifted and opened up, we invited Todd to come and play with us at an event in India. He learned 30 pieces in three days, which was absolutely amazing. He did it with total grace, kindness, and presence. I knew I had found the right guy. Todd then introduced us to Matthew. We realized that once the band was assembled, we were all really happy and excited for the journey ahead.
Q: Please talk a bit about this time of great shifts. How does your music contribute to this time of change?
The sacred chant or Gurbani Kirtan that our music carries forth into this world is one of the most healing tools that we have available to us on this planet that I know of. People talk about how it carries them through the most challenging experiences as if a light has come into their hearts and uplifted them. I totally believe in the power of these sacred words, which is why I have been touring for so many years, through thick and thin to deliver this energy to people.
The greatest thing is that when people learn the chants, they have the capacity to uplift themselves right on the spot.
Honestly one does not even need music; the music serves just to get these chants into people's hearts. It is a way to open their hearts to the power in these words.
Once a chant is in someone's heart, our job is done. With the world the way it is today, it is important that people have tools, have a way to change how they are feeling in a matter of seconds, to rise to the challenge of the day. We must know how to do this on our own, as the world is moving so fast, that we just need to know how to access our sense of breath, our sense of self within all of us all of the time.
Once we have this capacity, we become independent of the commercial wheel that is crushing so many of us into slavery of sorts. We can share it with others. In this way, we rise above and bring forth a way to live in a wholesome, real way on this planet in this day and age.
These sacred chants, this Gurbani is a most powerful tool, as is yoga, as is meditation, as is diet. My spiritual teacher Yogi Bhajan taught us about all of these things and gave us the incredible science of Kundalini Yoga. In essence, I deliver the chanting side of it all, but in any way I can also deliver as much of the lifestyle tools as possible.
Q: Why is chanting important? What happens in the body and the mind?
The sacred chants that we share are in a simple way, positive affirmations that work on a cellular level to change your vibration. You may not be feeling very happy, and start chanting, and after a few minutes your entire energy shifts. It happens like clockwork. It is beautiful to experience and witness.
Q: Would you explain the reason for precise pronunciation in your chants?
The pronunciation of the sacred chants that we share is very important. As you pronounce things correctly the tongue touches the roof of the mouth in a Morse code sort of way, stimulating your glandular system which in turn offers a very healing experience on the physical level. If one is not pronouncing the mantras correctly then that kind of experience doesn't happen.
Q: Tell us a bit about your day. How much includes yoga, chanting, and rehearsing?
I realized a long time ago when I experienced the light of my soul through meditation, chanting, yoga, and the Guru's Grace that I did not want to live one single day without this experience. As challenging as it is at times, I do a practice every day that includes Kundalini Yoga, the recitation of my Banis from the Sikh tradition, and chanting.
There are, of course, days when I have more time than others, but I manage to get in at least an hour and a half every day. I am blessed at this point in my career to have the time and capacity to rehearse quite a bit. I practice on my own as much as possible, and chant and sing with my family as just a normal part of our lives. Rehearsals with the band are not every day, but every couple of weeks with a good block of time for us to be together.
Q: How has practicing yoga contributed to your life?
The practice of Kundalini Yoga is a huge blessing in my life. I love it. Through this science of yoga, I have been able to remain relatively healthy, in balance, and in a good peaceful state most of the time. Of course, I am human, so there are always times of challenges. That is when the yoga becomes really, really important. I am getting better at remembering to practice it during these times as well!
As a teenager the practice of Kundalini Yoga challenged me and awakened the sense of spirit within that would carry me through challenging times. When I first got married to my husband we were and still are practicing meditations together that have elevated our communication together.
When I was pregnant I practiced yoga sets that really helped my body and the delivery of my child. As a mother now there are wonderful yoga sets and meditations that I am able to practice with my daughter.
Q: Some people are intimidated by yoga and don't think they are fit enough to partake. What would you suggest?
I suggest to anyone who has the opportunity to take part in Kundalini Yoga classes. There is a wonderful center in Kitsilano called Yoga West http://www.yogawest.ca/. There are classes for all levels taught by some of the best teachers in the world I believe. Kundalini Yoga has a physical aspect to it, but also a mental, emotional, and spiritual healing experience is offered as well. A qualified teacher will take you through perhaps the most transformational experience available on this planet in my opinion. It is really about changing our consciousness, opening our hearts to a new way of living, about standing up for the light within. You could have this experience with this kind of yoga as a major athlete, an advanced yogi, someone who doesn't have all their limbs, someone struggling with a major illness, anyone! It is an amazing and beautiful pathway to healing for people of all levels.
Q: Are you a Kundalini Yoga Teacher?
I am a Kundalini Yoga teacher. I became certified in Oregon in my early twenties. Because of my experience in studying with Yogi Bhajan, which I was blessed to do for a little over 30 years, the organizational body that certifies Kundalini Yoga, teachers grandfathered me into the program as a teacher.
Q: How does Vancouver’s Nirinjan Kaur contribute to your concert?
Nirinjan Kaur will be joining us for our concert in Vancouver! I am so excited! She is one of my favorite Kirtan artists on the planet right now. We listen to her all the time at home. My three-year-old daughter calls her the "princess voice." I also totally love her live presence as well. In everything she does she holds a sacred connection to God and Guru that just cannot be shaken. She is so strong that the connection never wavers, and you feel it. She will be joining us to share some of her music and sing with me! I am so excited!
Wendy DeMos is a freelance writer specializing in stories on life's creative and spiritual dimensions. She is also a singer/songwriter and award-winning children's performer.
Hawaii's 'sacred' massage: It feels like waves on the ocean and the therapist dances while administering it.
When is a massage a spiritual experience?
When it's Lomi Lomi, writes Wendy DeMos
The Lomi Lomi Massage
By Wendy DeMos
Published in the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada
Though I've tried almost every type of massage from shiatsu to Thai to your basic Swedish -- and they all have superb qualities -- none has lifted me to such exquisite serenity as the Lomi Lomi.
Other massage techniques are meant to relax or heal or balance chakras, the "energy centres" of the body. Lomi Lomi is meant to "open your connection to God, enhance your intuition and help you grow as a spiritual being and become more enlightened," says Jaime Constable, my Lomi Lomi massage therapist at the Provision Centre in Ottawa.
Sounds like a tall order for a massage. Whatever it's meant to do on a physical, emotional or spiritual level, it feels fabulous -- and it's catching on all over North America and Europe.
Lomi Lomi is a full-body massage, done on a massage table, just like a regular massage. I lie directly on the surface of the table, but under a sheet, first lying on my front. Halfway through the treatment, I roll over onto my back.
What is different about Lomi Lomi compared with other massage styles is that Ms. Constable often works under the body, between the back and the table. That's when it most feels like ocean waves caressing me. The sweeping motions that Ms. Constable makes so effortlessly feel like they have lifted me into another time and space.
What's almost as amazing is that Lomi Lomi is done mostly with the arms and not the hands. Rather than fingers, Ms. Constable uses her forearms and upper arms to slip under my body -- between my back and the table -- and create the wavelike motions.
In fact, most of the massage is done with long strokes using her forearms and upper arms. To sweep under my body comfortably and effortlessly, Ms. Constable uses lots of massage oil, so be ready for a shower afterward.
Where did this new massage style come from? This particular type of Lomi comes from the Island of Kauai, where the Lomi Lomi is considered a rite of passage ceremony, says Ms. Constable.
In ancient times as well as now, the shaman of the village receives a vision of who is next to receive the Lomi, she says. That person comes to the temple and receives Lomi from four to six people for eight hours to several days.
Now I could go for that. I'll set aside a few days for continual Lomi Lomi and report back once I come back down to Earth.
Those who feel like they're in a trendy New Age spa when their massage therapist puts on a little Enya music will broaden their holistic horizons even further when they first encounter Lomi Lomi.
"Whenever I do any form of healing, I always set a sacred space," Ms. Constable explains. She also clears the space with smudge or incense.
After this, she "sets the energy" for the Lomi Lomi session and dances around the table to "bring myself into alignment with the energy and with the client."
She calls this movement the Flying Dance. It is performed at the beginning and end of the session.
I don't notice anything but hear a bit of rustling around the table. I was in another world. A blissful one.
Most practitioners learn Lomi Lomi as apprentices, says Perth-area practitioner Alani Kuzma. The form it takes varies from one place to another in Hawaii. Some practitioners might place warm stones on the person receiving Lomi, for example. The techniques are passed down in families in Hawaii, much like some families pass down a signature lasagna recipe, says Ms. Kuzma.
The dance is an integral part of Lomi, but the form it takes varies from one practitioner to another. Some therapists use a variety of the hula dance, while Ms. Kuzma uses a form of temple dance.
Her record for giving a Lomi Lomi massage is 10 consecutive hours. "The legend is that Lomi would go on from one to 15 days -- until there was no tension left in the muscles. It was like a fresh start."
She describes it as very gentle and not like deep tissue work, although some therapists may work on stubborn knots in the muscle. "It's like water wearing away rock," says Ms. Kuzma. "And it's so soothing."
Lomi Lomi is relatively new to Ottawa, and to Ms. Constable. She began training last March when she saw a demonstration in New York and was immediately intrigued, drawn initially to the dance element.
"I consider each Lomi Lomi a sacred experience, a spiritual experience. I often go into a meditative state while in session, feeling the flow of the energy, and being sensitive to what the client is needing each moment," she says.
"My clients have described their experience to me in many ways. Most often people say they feel as though they are being cradled in their mother's arms, that it is nurturing and powerful. They feel safe and cared for. It has been compared to floating on an ocean with the waves caressing the body."
Sometimes she works with other practitioners such as Ms. Kuzma, and they do group Lomi Lomi sessions. "It allows people to go deep and let go of the stress," she says.
Ms. Constable also receives Lomi bodywork and says it's been very powerful."It isn't often as an adult that we are held in so sacred and loving a space," she says.
Wendy DeMos is a singer/songwriter, freelance writer, and massage therapy aficionado.
Just My Kind(ness)
By Wendy DeMos
Published in the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada
Kindness is becoming a buzzword these days as growing numbers realize that big houses and fancy cars aren't cutting it in the happiness department.
Just ask Bill Mills, a consultant who aims to bring meaning into our workplaces through kindness.
He doesn't believe in the adage, nice guys finish last.
Finish last at what? he asks.
"Acquiring the most toys? Winning the biggest market share? A relative of mine works for a company whose formal vision statement is world domination! I asked him, 'Why? Isn't doing well -- even really, really well, -- good enough?
Do you want to be known as the guy who owned the biggest house? Bought the fastest car? Dominated the world? Is that really what you want?"
Instead, Mills, 51, focuses on kindness. And one way to be kind, he says, is practicing what he calls non-judgmental awareness.
"People don't like to feel judged," he explains from his home in Manotick.
"Kindness is not only being aware of them but also being aware of me and my reactions to what's happening. Judgment absorbs energy that might otherwise be used for clear-headed action."
And the results of the kindness approach?
"People tend to open up," he says. "They give themselves permission to be more of themselves. To try things that they might not have tried otherwise. They experiment with ideas more, speak out more, and reveal more of who they really are. They innovate, laugh, and learn more. They connect with each other -- and with me, more."
And that, he says, makes his workshops creative and fun.
Mills started to focus on kindness in his work about 12 years ago when he felt restless and changed jobs often. He says he realizes now he was "looking for love in all the wrong places."
"Whenever I became restless or bored, I moved out of my job instead of moving in on myself to see what was missing -- inside of me -- that was creating the urge for me to move on." He changed jobs often, he says, because "it was easier to move out than move in."
It was at that point that he decided to look at himself honestly. He discovered that he was very judgmental.
"I constantly evaluated -- usually in a negative way -- every experience I encountered. Instead of being kind and compassionate, I was harsh and critical. As a result, I wasn't really enjoying the world I had created around me."
He embarked on a journey of self-discovery that included meditation and yoga, ultimately learning how to let go of judgment and incorporate more kindness and spirit into his work and life.
"This allowed me to enrich the experiences I was already having instead of wasting so much time and energy looking for new ones."
It was this self-discovery process that led him to found a training and consulting firm, Inner Formation (www.innerformation.ca), in 1991.
Mills now sees bringing kindness into the workplace as his life's mission.
A similar story comes from Ron Camacho, 45, a motivational speaker from Chelsea who uses humour to energize people and help them work better together.
When touched by humour -- or kindness, he says, "I experience a sense of well-being and appreciation for life. And because I know how wonderful it feels to be the recipient of kindness, I like to pass it along."
"It seems that in our fast-paced world," Camacho continues, "we have forgotten to share positive feedback and kind thoughts with each other, words of support, encouragement, appreciation, and words of thanks."
Indeed, in the stress and complexity of our lives, says Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart, we may forget our deepest intentions. But when people come to the end of their life and look back, the questions that they most often ask are not usually, "How much is in my bank account?" or "How many books did I write?" or "What did I build?" or the like. If you have the privilege of being with a person who is aware at the time of his or her death, you find the questions such a person asks are very simple: "Did I love well?" "Did I live fully?"
Kindness is certainly not a new concept, as most spiritual belief systems support being kind and non-judgmental.
The Buddhist tradition, for example, says that real happiness comes from the state of mind of wishing others to be happy.
"Normally we see our own happiness and others' happiness to be different things," says Duncan Gillis, a teacher at Joyful Land Buddhist Centre on Somerset Street, "sometimes even competing things. But the Buddhist point of view says they are completely interdependent."
We can only be truly happy to the extent that we have love and compassion for others, says Gillis, 34. "To the extent that we lack these, we experience suffering and discontent."
Gillis believes that it is only when we open our hearts to care about how others are doing and to an awareness of their suffering, we are released from the prison of self-obsession and all the neuroses that arise from it.
Of course, the Christian golden rule proclaims that we "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Then there's the Jewish tradition, in which acts of kindness dominate teachings. Though you won't hear about these kindnesses because a component of the Jewish faith is chesed, or giving of oneself to help another without regard to compensation or any form of glory.
Even Wiccan beliefs include kindness in their tenets. For example, the Wiccan Threefold Law says that a witch who commits a harmful act can expect three times as much harm as his/her action caused; and if he/she commits an act of kindness, he/she can expect three times as much kindness as a result.
Random Acts of Kindness
To some, simply having a person's full attention is the kindest act. To others, it's financial generosity.
To Ruth Hawkins, 44, a government official with the Health Department, it's a neighbour and "earth angel" who helps Ruth when it's most needed.
"When my children were quite small and I was working full time outside the home, it was not unusual for my friend Gloria to just do things unexpectedly that showed her care and concern," she says. "One time, in particular, stands out in my memory. I had just gotten home from picking up my six-year-old daughter from the sitter and my twin, three-year-old boys from daycare. It was late, everyone was hungry, and I had not even had a second to think about what to make for dinner. The phone rang. It was Gloria. 'Have you made supper?' she asked. No, I had not. 'I'll be right down, I have a few leftovers.' Gloria arrived with a full dinner, including salad and dessert -- enough food even for lunch the next day. I felt blessed by her kindness, her generosity, and particularly by her awareness that I needed a lift.''
Or take Chris Mills, 54, a public health specialist. She says it's hard to pick an example of kindness because she's experienced so much.
She focuses on one episode that took place while in her teens. A couple of teachers and her probation officer together rescued her from a bad living situation and "probably made the difference between me going to reform school and, instead, finishing high school, going on to university and turning out to be a pretty healthy adult despite a not-so-great start in life. Their kindness changed the entire course of my life."
In Autobiography of a Geisha, author Sayo Masuda, after a difficult life with few kindnesses extended to her, reflects on what ultimately brings her joy and hope.
She reminisces about the joy she felt as a young child being given a sugar cube by a stranger.
"It's not just children; everyone seems to be deeply touched by unexpected joy brought to them by others and is unable to forget it."
Masuda continues to tell of the tenderness she felt as an adult as she passed by a crying child and eased his pain by giving him her attention and care.
"That child will be grown up by now, and if he hasn't forgotten me, whenever he sees a crying child he'll want to say a kind word and wipe the kid's nose. And when that kid grows up, he'll do the same. To do something kind for another is never a bad feeling; it fosters a spirit of caring for other people. And who knows, after a few hundred years have passed, human beings may even learn to cooperate with one another. What a lovely place to live this world would be if only people would feel affection for everyone else, and all the ugliness of the human heart were to vanish -- our envy of those better off than ourselves and our scorn for those worse off.
"Yes, that was it," Masuda reflects, "I'd try to teach children that if they felt glad when someone gave them even a single piece of candy, then they, in turn, should give to others."
Wendy DeMos is a singer/songwriter and freelance writer.