Questions and Answers with Carlos del Cueto
Music Teacher and Conductor for the Siddha Yoga Chanting Tour

Carlos will be answering questions submitted to the Siddha Yoga path website about the techniques for Siddha Yoga chanting that he has taught in the Siddha Yoga Chanting Tour: Australia 2014.

If you have a question for Carlos, please send it to ChantingQuestions@syda.org by May 31, 2014.

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Thank you for your lovely and highly informative instruction during the Siddha Yoga Chanting Tour: Australia 2014 Global Live Audio Stream Satsang!
I noticed that during the namasankirtana Jaya Jaya Shiva Shambho, the lead chanters seemed to have a quality of brightness to their voices, even when the tempo was slower. How does one maintain this bright quality as a chanter, even when the chant is slow and deep?

In truth, there is no particular link between tempo and the sound quality of the music. No matter what the speed, the sound quality of instruments and voices will be whatever the group is intending to produce and communicate. This is true for all music.

To prepare for the chant Jaya Jaya Shiva Shambho in the Global Live Audio Stream Satsang, the musicians practiced holding a unified vision of the sound we wanted to produce—a sound full of our love for the Siddha Yoga path and our devotion for Shri Guru. And we wanted each syllable that we uttered to reflect the pure sound and the Guru’s shakti. The brightness you heard in the sound was very likely a result of this practice, and of making the music with that unified intention.

As you make your own intention clearer and clearer for yourself, as you understand your body to be the temple of God, you will begin to notice that your vocal apparatus has the ability to produce the desired sounds.

I would like to give you one technique that may support you in the practice of chanting with your own intention.

  • Create your intention.
  • Identify the sound you would like to produce, either by hearing the sound in your mind, or verbally articulating its qualities to yourself.
  • When you chant, hold in your awareness the quality of the sound that you intend to produce.
  • Since you have done your preparation, you can let the sound arise and emanate naturally from your being. Don’t judge the quality or tone of the sound you are making; simply enjoy the experience of chanting.

Always remember: practice makes perfect!

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Regarding the instruction to listen with intent, can you say more about what the intent is that you are referring to?

“Listen with intent” is another way of saying “listen actively.” The word intent here denotes self-effort in the act of listening. Making the effort to listen with full awareness—paying close attention to the sounds we hear—is an extraordinary exercise at any time. It is a powerful centering technique that quiets the mind and brings our awareness into the present moment. In truth, our ears are open all the time, taking in all the sounds around us, yet we may or may not be aware of those sounds.

When you are chanting, you can use self-effort to direct your listening toward the sounds of the chant, with powerful results. I’ll share with you the sounds that particularly catch my attention when I listen actively during a chant.

  • I become drawn to the vowel sounds, and pay attention to how they vibrate in my body.
  • Sometimes I focus on listening to the sound of just one instrument—like the drum or the piano. I notice what that instrument is playing, and how it is dancing with the sound of the voices. Then I direct my listening back to the sound of the whole ensemble and bring my awareness there.
  • I also listen actively to find the newness in each moment of the chant. This keeps me very focused and in an inner posture of discovery. In a way I know what’s coming, yet there are so many nuances that every round is unique. I thoroughly enjoy how each round of the chant is a little different.
  • Finally, I practice active listening to get in touch with the silence at the heart of the melodies I am hearing. I pay attention to the great stillness that is behind, underneath, and beyond the sound of the chant.

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You taught that when chanting, one breathes through the mouth with the throat open. While listening, I find it more natural to breathe through the nose. Is this okay?

During the beginning of a namasankirtana, when you are listening to the lead or call group, it is fine to breathe through the nose. However, it is very important to remember to prepare your breath before it is time to sing again, which means breathing in easefully through an open throat. It’s much better to do this with the mouth open, and as the chant gets faster and there is less time between rounds of call and response, you will find it necessary to breathe through the mouth in order to prepare.

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Hello Carlos. As someone who lives far from a Siddha Yoga Ashram, meditation center, or chanting and meditation group, I usually chant along with Siddha Yoga chanting CDs. How do I best delve deeply into chanting without the aid of live music or harmonizing voices?

I myself live far from a Siddha Yoga meditation center and there is no reason for that to be an impediment to chanting. As you suggest, chanting with the CDs available from the Siddha Yoga Bookstore is an excellent way to delve deeply into chanting. One of the great benefits of chanting in call and response with a CD is that one gets to chant with Gurumayi. Listening intently to Gurumayi chanting is a wonderful practice in itself. It is also perfectly possible to harmonize, or blend one’s voice, with the response group in the recording. I personally like to play the CD at a volume high enough that the sound feels quite close to me. Another way I enjoy chanting is to simply chant by myself, without a recording. After a few minutes of chanting with my whole being, meditation follows quite naturally.

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Carlos, when you were leading the Siddha Yoga music exercises, you asked us to keep our eyes open. Is it true we must chant with our eyes open as well?

During the Chanting Satsangs, I requested that you keep your eyes open while I was teaching the techniques of Siddha Yoga chanting. I said that because I needed your full focus, for you to comprehend and learn what I was teaching. My response to your question is this: chant with focus, whether your eyes are open or closed.

Sometimes when the eyes are closed, one may drift off and lose focus on what’s happening in the present moment. Therefore, to experience the full power of the chant, focus is essential. It is perfectly possible, of course, to remain fully focused while closing one's eyes during the chant. I myself go between keeping my eyes open and closed when chanting. When I experience the profundity of the chant, I naturally close my eyes and relish its beauty. Nonetheless, even with the eyes closed, it is important to continuously make the effort to remain with the chant—the sounds of the chant, how you are experiencing those sounds, how you are producing sound, and the meaning of the mantras.

Is it normal for my throat to hurt a little when I chant for a really long time?

The vocal folds are delicate. They need to be treated with proper attention and care. For this reason, drinking plenty of room temperature water throughout the day to keep the vocal folds moist is essential.

If your throat is hurting, it’s likely you are singing with tension. During the Chanting Tour, I taught that it is important not to push the sound through the throat when chanting. Sing with your normal full voice, and do not be concerned about the volume of your voice.

In addition, I emphasized proper posture, easeful breathing, humming before chanting to warm up the throat, and listening. When we listen, we are less likely to push the voice. All of these techniques, which engage the full body for chanting, contribute to easeful singing. I encourage you to continue practicing these exercises and tips that you learned during the chanting satsangs, as part of your daily routine and especially each time before you chant.

The call-and-response also gives the vocal folds rest during the chant.

Finally, whenever possible, practice silence. Too much talking also results in tiring the vocal folds.

Basically, singing or chanting should always strengthen your voice.

Could you please speak a little more about how to breathe properly while chanting?

In breathing for chanting, preparation is key. Relax your jaw, think "open throat" and give yourself plenty of time to take a breath before you sing. You can also think of the beginning of a yawn. These  thoughts—"open throat" and "yawny breath"—encourage the body to breathe naturally. Rather than forcing it to breathe in a certain way, let it breathe as it knows how to. The more you practice breathing in this way and apply it to singing, the more natural it will become.

I especially appreciated your encouragement in the Chanting Satsangs to sing each syllable of the chant with great love and attention. Do you also recommend focusing on the meaning of the words to deepen the experience of the chant?

Chanting with awareness of the meaning of the words will definitely take one’s practice of chanting to a deeper level.

I spoke about pronunciation and phrasing as ways to honor the sounds of the chant, and I mentioned these were just two of many ways. All of the ways involve focus. Chanting with focus lends itself to creating a melodious sound, like poetry in motion, and focusing on the meaning of the words is one aspect of this.

Is it okay to take "mini-breaths" during a long slow phrase?

Yes, of course. My experience is that if you breathe with the thought of an open throat and a sense of spaciousness (i.e. without rushing), then even a “mini-breath” can be easeful, and will maintain phrasing that is poetic and melodic.

I’m wondering what you'd recommend as the best tools and ways to introduce Siddha Yoga music to young children.

Children are naturally drawn to music. They have an innate sense of rhythm, and the first sounds they make are already melodic. If you chant, they will follow you. If you play Siddha Yoga music, they will want more of it. If you live near a Siddha Yoga Ashram, Siddha Yoga meditation center, or chanting and meditation group, bring your children to the Satsangs for Families that may be held there. That’s one of the best ways to expose your children to Siddha Yoga music. You can also take them with you to the weekly satsangs when that is possible.

Once again, children respond naturally to the sounds of music and the energy of chanting. When they watch Siddha Yoga musicians playing instruments and see everyone singing and chanting, they will participate.

In addition, there are many fantastic recordings of Siddha Yoga music available through the Siddha Yoga Bookstore. I have heard from many parents how easily their children fall asleep while listening to Siddha Yoga music, such as Sweet Dreams. I want to share with you something about this recording. Before it was made available in the bookstore, Gurumayi had many, many parents test Sweet Dreams with their little ones. Both children and parents loved it, and as a lullaby, every parent said it was a godsend! Sometimes they even fell asleep before their children did, so we know it works.

These are some of my thoughts about how you can introduce Siddha Yoga music to your children. Your children will surprise you with how musical they are.

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