Before beginning the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, DEEPIKA MEHTA suggests that the student chants the ancient invocation
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarsita Svatma sukhavabodhe
Samsara Halahal Mohashantyai
The opening invocation of the Ashtanga practice in yoga is the Vande Gurunam shloka. In the Ashtanga Yoga system, we start the practice with an opening invocation and end the practice with a closing chant. The reason we do this is two-fold: Firstly, before starting the practice, as we chant the prayer, it helps to set an intention for the practice, that this sacred practice helps reveal the joy of our true selves, by taking away the suffering in the body and mind caused by our samskaras, our conditioned patterns.
The other reason we chant the prayer is because Sanskrit is a vibrational language of the heart and chanting in Sanskrit helps to shift the consciousness of the individual practising the chant to a higher level of vibration. The meaning of the prayer makes us absorb the intention of the practice. ‘Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde’ literally means — I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus. Vande means ‘I worship’; gurunam is reference to ‘the gurus’ or ‘the supreme Guru’ and charanaravinde means ‘I bow to the lotus feet’. This could mean the practitioner is expressing his gratitude to the lineage of gurus of the yoga practice.
In Hatha Yoga, it is believed that the human body is the temple and thus God resides in the core of the heart, the centre of the Sushmna Nadi, the central channel which initiates in the base of the pelvic floor and ends in the crown of the head. Thus, the practitioner could also be bowing down to the inner guru, residing in the centre of the heart.‘Sandarsita Svatma Sukhava Bodhe’ — the awakeninghappiness of one’s own Self revealed. Sandarsita means ‘at vision revealing’, svatma is the ‘true Self’, sukhava is ‘happiness’ and bodhe means ‘knowledge’. Therefore, the second line could mean that the guru and the practice reveal to us our true Self so we can become happy.
‘Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane’ —beyond better, acting like the jungle physician.’ Jangalikayamane is the ‘one who can heal or cure’, a ‘jungle physician’, and nih sreyase means ‘beyond better’ or ‘without comparison.’ This is referring to the idea that the capacity of the practice to cure us is beyond compare. The practice can ‘cure’ us from aches and pains and ‘cure’ us of unconscious and unhelpful mental and emotional patterns of behaviour so we can be ‘no more whirled around by fate’
‘Samsara Halahala Mohasantyai’ — pacifying delusion, the poison of samsara. Samsara is ‘conditioned existence’ where we go round and round, unaware, in a life of suffering. Halahala is the ‘poison’ and mohasantyai is ‘the peaceful resolution of delusion’. Hence, the meaning is that the practice can bring about the peaceful resolution of delusion caused by samsara.
The first four lines of the opening invocation of the Ashtanga practice mean ‘I bow to the lotus feet of the lineage of gurus who have taught us yoga. They are like the jungle doctors who remove the poison of samsara — the repetition of our patterns of craving or aversion to what is. Removing this allows us to awaken to the happiness of our true nature… that which is in each and everyone of us and is our birthright to awaken to…’. This invocation then creates a strong intention and affirmation to the practice.