Healing with Kirtan in Australia
Yogis have known of kirtan’s transformative power for centuries, and now the West is recognising it as a tool of healing, too.
In the 1990s, internationally acclaimed kirtan artist Carmella Baynie was riding the early success of a pop music career. The Sydney-based singer had landed a record deal, her first single was charting well and life had become a blur of television appearances, long days in the recording studio and late-night gigs.
Yet, as Baynie’s celebrity grew, so too did her realisation that her management team was corrupt and the strict early morning asana practice that was helping open her voice was also pushing her body beyond its physical limits.
Then, somewhere in the middle of all of this, “somebody gave me a mala and taught me how to chant japa,” recalls Baynie, who grew up singing sacred music with her Lebanese grandfather and performing solos in her local Latin choir. “It’s not song, it’s spoken and you do the whole Hare Krishna maha-mantra 108 times.” After just one round, Baynie could feel divine love breaking open her heart and filling up all the cracks.
“When I started chanting, my whole professional life fell apart and it was magic,” she says. “I was then introduced to kirtan and it was like all the lights switched on—everything about my life fell into place.”
While Baynie’s experience is certainly unique, it is by no means unusual. Stories of kirtan’s ability to heal and transform are many and widespread. All over the globe, this ancient Bhakti yoga practice, where participants join together to sing sacred mantras in a call-and-response format, is connecting people with the Divine and allowing peace and purity of spirit to pour into their lives.
Kirtan (pronounced “keer-tahn”) is set to music and there’s also growing scientific evidence of the power of rhythm, melody and sound vibration to reduce stress and disease, and positively influence our brain patterns and physiology. It’s not so much what the music and mantra does for us, “but what it ‘un-does’,” says Christine Stevens, author of the upcoming book Music Medicine (Sounds True) and founder of Los Angeles-based UpBeat Drum Circles. “Scientific studies confirm that music deactivates brain centres that function in self-doubt and monitoring—it literally frees us to express our authentic spirit.”