The Shanti (Peace) mantra is often sung either at the beginning or the end of a yoga practice because the invocation is meant to remind us of our shared aim in doing yoga as a group.
At the beginning of any group experiment — a yoga class, a campground or zooming out, a society — this is an especially apt reminder. By chanting the mantra, teacher and students alike, we are jointly asking for protection, blessings, sustenance, strength and purpose on our challenging journey of working together.
At the end of a group experiment, the Shanti mantra is a cue that encompasses everything we’ve accomplished together as a result of the experience.
The world being what it is these days, the Shanti mantra feels urgently necessary.
Let your eyes linger over the mantra, read the text, repeat it once a day in your mind or out loud, with or without the melody. What is essential is the feeling of it, the intention behind it.
Upanishad means “to sit at the foot/feet of,” and it refers to the way students in 500 BC (and earlier) would sit near their teachers to absorb as much information as they could. As the lessons and stories were imparted orally, it was vital that students and teachers be close to each other so the knowledge could pass from one generation to the next with as few inaccuracies as possible.
When you think about it, there is something very beautiful about a collection of texts named after the idea of sharing space, and a mantra that acknowledges that sharing space can be at bit scary — scary enough that you might want a little phrase in your pocket, a small benediction, that can be invoked all together for the sake of remembering our collective aim without enmity.