Kirtan Kriya has a deep emotional significance for me—I had taught it to my father only a few days before he passed away. Because, Kirtan Kriya is reputed for its powerful effects on brain and memory, and my father had Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that affects balance, speech and in some, even memory. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation based in Arizona, USA, strongly recommends this technique to help recover from the damage Parkinson’s inflicts.
After extensive research on the kriya, the Foundation found that practising it for just 12 minutes every day for eight weeks increased activity in important regions of the brain. This translates into improved memory and mood levels, and reduction in anxiety, tension and fatigue. There is also an increase in the blood flow to the brain. All these results were quantified by brain imaging tests.
Owing to its many benefits, Kirtan Kriya is gaining popularity in the west. It’s even a popular topic of discussion on social networking sites, where people are talking about experiencing other benefits such as feeling calm and peaceful. Besides the cognitive benefits, many people are elated about the feeling of spiritual bliss it induces in them. One such practitioner posted, “I am practising Kirtan Kriya and I am amazed that even though it is so simple, it is so powerful. [I have been] feeling lighter and clearer than I have in a while.” In the book, Introduction to Kundalini Yoga, author Guru Rattana, Phd, calls it, ‘the most important meditation in Kundalini Yoga’.
Kirtan Kriya is powerful, yet simple. I invite you to experience it yourself:
- Sit in a comfortable position with the back straight—you can do this even on a chair.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing, simply to get you focussed.
- Keep your hands on the knees, arms extended away from the body with palms facing the ceiling.
- Now touch your index finger with your thumb while saying ‘Saa’ aloud.
- Next, touch the tip of your middle finger with the tip of your thumb and say ‘Taa’ aloud.
- Then, touch the tip of your ring finger with the tip of your thumb and say ‘Naa’ aloud.
- Then, touch the tip of your little finger with the tip of your thumb and say ‘Maa’ aloud.
Continue the sequence chanting ‘Saa Taa Naa Maa’ for about two minutes. As you say each syllable, focus between your eyes and imagine that each sound is descending from the cosmos into the top of your head through the crown and going out between your brows. This is called L form concentration.
The originators of the meditation, recommend covering your head with an organic cloth as it may prevent headaches that a few people may experience.
After you’ve finished chanting loudly for about two minutes, move to whispering the mantra while continuing with the mudras [hand gestures] for about two minutes. Then, continue the kriya but this time, chant the mantra in your mind for about four minutes.
Then reverse the order, saying silently, then whispering and then chanting aloud. When you finish, inhale and exhale deeply. As you inhale, stretch your arms up, with your fingers spread. Then bring them down as you exhale in a sweeping motion.
Don’t worry if you exceed the time limit for any stage. The 12-minute time limit is the minimum—the kriya can be done even for two and a half hours. When I tried the meditation for the first time, I lost track of time. To avoid that, some people find using a timer or an alarm clock helpful. Though, I found it distracting. If we keep worrying about the time while we are doing the meditation, it defeats the purpose. Also, many people report catching their mind wandering when doing the kriya, especially in the whispering and silent stages. When that happens, switch to chanting aloud—it’ll help bring your focus back.
Kirtan Kriya is also referred to as singing meditation as the mantra can be hummed like a song instead of simply chanting it. However, there isn’t much difference in the results of either approach.
The value of originality
When practising Kirtan Kriya, it is important to remember that for it to be effective, the meditation must be practised in its original form. This is because each part of the meditation has a role—substituting the mantra for any other or changing the hand gestures won’t give the same benefits.
It’s fascinating to know that when we chant the mantra aloud, our tongue touches many of the 84 acupuncture points located in the roof of the mouth.
The mudras too are important. When the thumb and index fingers touch, it becomes the Gyan mudra, which facilitates knowledge; when the middle finger and thumb touch it is the Shuni mudra, which is for wisdom, intellect and patience; when the ring finger meets the thumb, it is the Surya mudra for vitality and energy; and when the little finger touches the thumb, it is the Buddhi mudra which enhances one’s ability to communicate.
These important points correspond to certain critical centres in the brain, increasing its effectiveness. Combine this with the primal sounds and the outcome is profound. “This meditation brings a complete mental balance to the individual's psyche. Vibrating on each fingertip alternates the electrical polarities. The index and ring fingers are electrically negative, relative to the other fingers. This causes a balance in the electromagnetic projection of the aura,” says the teacher training manual of the Kundalini Research Institute.
The sequence—chanting aloud to whispering to silent chanting—is also significant. The loud voice is the language of the world, the strong whisper is the language of lovers and it signifies the longing to belong, the silent chanting is that of the divine infinity.
Although, the mantra Saa Taa Naa Maa is found in Sikkhism, the Kirtan Kriya meditation itself is not religious—no wonder it is embraced by people of all faiths.
Although I started practising Kirtan Kriya due to my father’s illness, I have continued with it—initially in the memory of my father [we used to do it together], and now because of the increased sense of wellbeing I experience.
What is Kirtan Kriya
Developed by Yogi Bhajan, Kirtan Kriya is a guided meditation from the Kundalini Yoga. It involves chanting or singing the mantra Saa Taa Naa Maa coupled with imagery, specific finger movements and focus. In Sanskrit, kirtan means divine song and kriya means actions.
Saa Taa Naa Maa [panja shabda] has a specific meaning. Each syllable is a primal sound that denotes a stage of life.
Saa represents birth or infinity
Taa signifies life
Naa is for death or completion
Maa means resurrection or rebirth
Together, the sounds represent the cycle of creation.
This was first published in the July 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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