Ease the Discomfort of Chanting

Q: I am very fond of chanting—my students do not all have the same reaction.

I am very fond of chanting and I believe that, when performed with attention, it can be a spiritual, meditative practice that not only helps one get closer to one’s inner self but also brings group members closer to one another. My students do not all have the same reaction. Some participate and say they enjoy it, but most chant very quietly. There is nervousness in the air, and I can see that they are definitely not enjoying the activity. I have tried dimming the lights and having them face away from one another; I have emphasized that it doesn’t matter how one sounds, but that it’s the vibration that one can concentrate on—all to little or no avail.

The last thing I want is to impose this on my students, but I do feel that if I find a way to teach it, we will all benefit from chanting in the long run.

How can I help chanting become more joyful for my students?

— Maja


Read John Friend’s response:

Dear Maja,

Chanting is a powerful spiritual practice and can help positively shift the energetic pattern of the practitioner’s mind and heart in an extraordinarily effective way. However, many students feel uncomfortable chanting Sanskrit devotional songs. Some students are unfamiliar with the foreign words. Also, chants often have a religious connotation in students’ minds, which makes them uncomfortable. They may fear that they may be participating in religious practices that contradict their own. Finally, many people are embarrassed about their singing ability.

In order to help make your students more comfortable with chanting, I suggest the following:

  • Always set a context for the chant that the students can relate to. Define the words and describe the meaning of the chant in understandable terms. Explain importance of chanting in class, and why it is considered a powerful spiritual practice. Clarify that chanting is not a specific religious practice, and yet its effects can be supportive of the essence of one’s personal religious allegiance.
  • Choose easy chants for beginning students. The words should not be difficult to pronounce, and the melody should be simple.
  • Lead the group yourself with a strong voice and/or musical accompaniment.
  • Emphasize the importance of listening while chanting. By increasing sensitivity to the sounds of the others in the class, the students will create more harmony in the chant. Also, with the focus on listening, the students will tend to relax more with their own chanting.