Mantra as Medicine: A Conversation with White Sun’s Gurujas
Gurujas from White Sun photographed by Julia Yang IG: @julia_photographs
Music so powerful that it wins a Grammy and the attention of UCLA researchers doesn’t just happen by chance. This is music created with intention and purpose. Yoga supergroup White Sun’s second album broke through the Grammy mantra barrier. After hitting #1 on Billboard’s New Age Chart and#2 on Billboard’s World Chart, White Sun II won the 2017 Grammy for Best New Age Album. Dynamic and timeless, White Sun II is the first mantra/chant album to win a Grammy. LA YOGA magazine sat down with lead vocalist and harmonium player Gurujas at Plant Food and Wine in Venice to learn more about White Sun II and its mantras, which are believed to nourish the spirit with love.
White Sun Accepting the 2017 New Age Album Grammy Award. Photo by Jeff Kravitz
White Sun is comprised of Kundalini yoga teacher trainers Harijiwan and Gurujas, and Adam Berry, a two-time Emmy-winning composer. An array of talented collaborators include platinum award-winning Gospel singers who’ve sold more than 1,000,000 albums, Mamado Diabete on Kora, Abhiman Kaushal on Tabla, and Gabe Witcher of Punch Brothers on Fiddle.
Grammy Winning White Sun II Album Release Party. Photo by Santosh Khalsa
Gurujas believes that “mantras have their own consciousness and their own awareness. They want to serve and uplift and help the people.” She describes the experience of producing the album:
“It was very nice and cozy. Sometimes, we’d have people in the studio, but really it was the three of us in this almost homey studio environment for hours and hours. What was really nice about the creation of that album is that for 95% of the time, all three of us were there. That was really wonderful to have the group aura on the recording itself. I couldn’t have asked for a better work process or environment in any way.”
“Harijiwan originally founded the band. He has this incredible energy field that is able to pull out of the music what works and what doesn’t, just sift through everything energetically so that the projection is really clean and really pure. And Adam is beyond gifted. He’s been playing music his entire life. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and plays about a million instruments.”
LA YOGA: Please describe the creation process for this album.
GURUJAS: I’ll sit down at the harmonium and compose. A melody comes first, a chord structure, a rhythm… I’ll play it and then the mantra that’s supposed to fit into the sound comes later. The musical structure is first, and then the mantra asks to be sung through that structure.
The brain responds to the mantras in a way that it doesn’t respond to other types of music. This has been proven at UCLA and at USC, as well, where we’re now on the core syllabus of the Health and Wellness Curriculum. The mantra goes into the neuron wiring in the brain and helps the neurons fire more efficiently by firing in pathways that are more strengthening to the body.
An example of a weak neuron pathway is, for example, is – let’s say I have a negative self-thought. Negative self talk such as, “I’m unworthy.” So the person is telling themselves, “I’m not worthy.” And then they get creative and use different language to say the same thing over and over. Like attracts like. So you have these same frequencies that attract – I’m not worthy. Neurons get used to firing in this pathway.
LA YOGA: With repeated use, it’s as if the neuron forms a groove and then it falls into that groove more easily. That groove becomes a default, and we go there without even being aware of the direction we’re headed.
Gurujas: You said it perfectly. Every thought carries a vibration. Every time the neuron fires, it fires at a vibratory frequency. The mantras are the highest vibratory field on planet earth that we are aware of. We don’t’ know of anything that has a higher vibration than these mantras. They are over 5,000 years old.
LA YOGA: Hold on. Let’s say I’m a complete skeptic and I only believe in science. Let’s say that I don’t believe any of this spiritual stuff. Can you prove that the mantras have a higher vibration than anything else?
Gurujas from White Sun photographed by Julia Yang IG: @julia_photographs.
Gurujas: I’m a complete skeptic and I only believe in science. I don’t have a belief structure. I only practice yogic science. I don’t believe in anything. I have had experiences that have taught me certain things. I’ve learned something through the science of it and then I’ve had the experience of it and seen it myself.
The belief is completely irrelevant in what we do. We don’t want to teach anybody anything. We don’t care what you believe, in other words. You can believe any number of things. We’re not guiding you in that way. This is an experiential system. It’s completely experiential.
For instance, I don’t have to believe in water to get wet. I don’t have to believe in soap to take a shower. If I jump into the ocean, I’m going to change from a dry condition into a wet condition. I don’t even have to believe that the ocean exists, but that’s what’s going to happen to me. Everybody will know that I’ve gone from dry to wet, even if I’m in denial about the ocean existing. With the mantra—I don’t have to believe in mantras. I don’t have to believe in the sound current. I don’t have to believe in anything. All I have to do is press play.
LA YOGA: You said there have been studies at UCLA.
Gurujas: There’s a professor named Helen Lavretsky. She’s been a researcher at UCLA for many years, now. She studied the “Sa Ta Na Ma” sound current…
LA YOGA spoke with Dr. Lavretsky, a Professor-in-Reidence in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA who has studied the effects of chanting mantra on the human system. Her research shows that chanting the Kirtan Kirya mantra meditation (otherwise known as Sa-Ta- Na- Ma meditation) enhances connectivity of the brain that is associated with improvement in mood, resilience, and cognition. The results of chanting mantra (which differs from simply listening to relaxing music) include, “Improved mental and cognitive functioning, lower levels of depressive symptoms…accompanied by an increase in telomerase activity suggesting improvement in stress-induced cellular aging.” (NIH)
Translation: just listening to these mantras can drastically alter the stress levels in your life and help slow down the aging process of cells.
“In my clinical practice,” Dr. Lavretsky says, “I start people who are not used to chanting with just listening to the mantras. They start chanting when they become comfortable with it. The White Sun II is my favorite CD to ‘prescribe’ for patients with anxiety or depression, or recommend to my colleagues due to its deeply spiritual sound that promotes relaxation and rejuvenation of the soul.”
Gurujas: This physical mass is an illusion based on myriad perceptions and dimensional existence. We are all energy and everything is energy, moving and vibrating. Each of our own vibrations has a unique vibratory signature. In Kundalini yoga, we occupy the space of embracing that signature and manifesting our highest destiny through it.
LA YOGA: Tell us more about the results you’ve seen from chanting and listening to these mantras.
Gurujas: The study that comes my mind right now is a personal one—this little boy who had nightmares. He told his mom that he had these terrifying monsters visiting him at night, every night. He couldn’t sleep. He would be sweating and screaming. He was petrified and being tortured at night.
His mom started playing this mantra off of White Sun’s first album. She started playing Aap Sahaee Howa for him at night.
He didn’t know what a mantra is. He’s a little boy. She puts it under his bed and puts it on repeat all night. All night, very quiet, so that the vibration is in the room but he’s not listening to blaring music while he sleeps. The nightmares went away! The monsters went away and he started sleeping through the night. And she, through this whole process of working with her son, found an incredible sense of relief. And then she remembered. She had a flashback to herself as a child, with these same monsters visiting her at night.
LA YOGA: That’s powerful. It’s almost is if there’s some kind of spiritually genetic attraction to this energy. They say that trauma is carried and passed down in our cellular memory.
Gurujas: That’s what I was thinking, that somehow, it was passed down in the bloodline. But then she broke that trauma by playing a mantra.
Another story comes to mind – simple, but powerful. My mom gave one of her co-workers one of our CDs. She’s an administrator and she knows what yoga is. But she’s never practiced it or had any interest in it whatsoever. My mom gives her this CD and she’s going to listen to it because it’s a gift from a friend. She plays it on the way to work and tells my mom, “You know, I don’t get angry anymore. I used to get really upset. I used to get road rage. I don’t have any road rage anymore. I just play the mantra and I’m fine.”
She wasn’t trying to get rid of road rage. She was just listening to the music. She didn’t have any idea of what it was going to do or not do for her. She’s just a person with a CD in her hands, and she feels better!
These are the studies that really speak to me personally, not that they are more significant or less significant than others. When I hear people sharing these stories with me, I feel that the result and reason behind what we’re doing is actually so much more important than the product itself.
Gurujas photographed by Julia Yang IG: @julia_photographs.
LA YOGA: What are the differences in the importance of mantra in Kundalini yoga as compared to the more postural-based practice of Hatha Yoga?
Gurujas: The mantra is the number one most important thing. The mantra comes first, in terms of importance. Second comes the breath. And third comes the posture and the movement.
When you’re practicing Kundalini yoga, those three things are the only things that you need. When you’re practicing, it’s, “Do I have a mantra going through my head at all times. Do I have a mantra going through my head when I’m drinking this turmeric latte? Do I have a mantra going through my head when I’m washing the dishes, walking to my car, when I’m on the phone with somebody?”
Maybe I have a specific mantra going, because the mantra is going to help the neurons form more productive pathways that give energy instead of take energy away. So it’s giving you power instead of reinforcing your weakness.
Gandhi is my favorite example of this. His mantra was Ram. His entire life he chanted Ram from the time he woke up to the time he want to bed and he was probably the caliber of master that he even chanted Ram in his sleep. So when he was assassinated, after the bullet went in, he was still chanting Ram. Ram was his last word, and he built his entire incarnation on top of his vibration of Ram. And he saved millions of lives because of the word, Ram.
I strongly believe that any one of us that decides to go that deeply into a mantra would make as deep of an impact as Gandhi, maybe in a less public way or maybe in a more public way.
But it has to be a real mantra. You can’t, for example, just say “table” all day long. It has to be a mantra that has meaning and you practice it with intention. Intention is also part of the vibration.
I know for a fact that we can affect the people around us if we affect our own electromagnetic field, which is another measurable scientific phenomenon. If I can affect my own electromagnetic field, then I can affect yours, because our fields are about nine feet long.
LA YOGA: Right now, our electromagnetic fields are blending.
Gurujas: Right now, they are. Our auras are also blending. We’re affecting each other with our own thoughts, vibrations, etc.
It’s amazing to see what happens. It’s one thing to study yogic science on paper, but it’s another thing to see what happens when it’s put to use. White Sun has done a pretty good job of reaching people. Our first album was released in 2015. It made the top 10 on Billboard in the New Age chart. It wasn’t until the second album that we went to No 1 on the New Age chart and No 2 on the World Chart and then the Grammy nomination. People are learning about us and our goal is to make it as wide as possible, so we have more people that are sharing stories about how my nightmares went away. My anger went away. We want millions of people to be saying those things.
Present at lunch was also Julie Yannatta owner of Be Why Records, White Sun II’s label. LA YOGA asked her to speak about how she and White Sun came to work together. She mentioned the Naad, the Universal sound current:
Julie: The Naad is the Universal sound current. Each of us has the opportunity to effectively harmonize with that. We’re energy hunters, and we hunt for uplifting energy. Mantra allows us to harmonize with the Naad, and we can do so just by pressing play.
I put this out through my label because my desire is very much aligned with White Sun. Let’s bring mantra into the world. So at every turn, we have an opportunity to vibrate positively with every breath and every thought.
We come in and have negative thought forms, negative self talk. These are all aspects of our psyche and mind that create friction, that are anti-harmonics. Mantras help us reduce our friction with the Naad.
LA YOGA: Gurujas, what is your intention with White Sun II as an album?
Gurujas: The intention of the album as a whole is that we truly have seen these mantras make people’s lives better. Our goal is to have as many people benefit from these sounds as much as possible.
There are two forces on the planet Earth. There’s the love force and the fear force. All the negative things come from fear. And all the positive things come from love. Our goal is to remove as much of the fear force as possible and amplify as much of the love force as possible.
LA YOGA: Can you give us a breakdown of each mantra and its meaning?
1. Gobinday Mukunday, the first one, engenders compassion and patience. It’s said to help the connect the two hemispheres of your brain. It’s a fundamentally rhythmic mantra that you don’t even have to know. It’s: Sustainer. Liberator. Enlightened. Infinite. Creator. Nameless. Desireless. It’s a part of my practice for compassion and patience. The rhythm of this specific mantra puts the power of the soul into the muscles of the body and it gives the practitioner the ability to see and truly perceive what somebody means behind what they say.
Everyone says certain things, but then there’s always the meaning behind it. This mantra gives you that intuitive power to the meaning behind what others say and it also gives power to your projection. If you want to be more effective in your work, in your relationship, if you want people to hear you better, if you want to communicate more effectively, this mantra will help. It helps you behave more effectively as a human being with a Dharmic mission.
2 – Ajay Alai – This mantra gives you supreme self-confidence. Many people would accomplish a lot more if they believed in themselves. People identify with self-confidence, that total lack of doubt in oneself, and they want it. If I see that in somebody, I’m attracted to it. This mantra gives you that self-confidence. People should play it at night if they struggle with anything along those lines.
3. Chattra Chakrak Vartti – This mantra speaks to the overarching mission that we were talking about, about the love and the fear. Specifically, this mantra takes away fear and negativity. It’s very useful for nightmares.
4. Simro Gobind – This mantra increases the radiant body, which is the 10th body. It increases the radiance, that glowing face. Sometimes, you see somebody and they just glow. Certain celebrities have that. There’s people that walk into a room and there’s a spotlight shining on them because they’re so bright.
5. Suniai – I wish Harijiwan could explain this one because he has such a beautiful way to put it. The yogis say that that in the yogic science, all of the knowledge in the universe is contained in your own sound. If I listen to my sound deeply enough, I can receive all the knowledge of the universe. In fact, my sound is more powerful than the anybody else’s sound (to me.) Hearing my own current, to me, is going to be more powerful than hearing someone else’s sound current. Soniai means listening. It’s that deep, deep, deep listening, so that you start to hear the unheard, see the unseen and know the unknown. It’s the third eye.
6. Aap Sahaee Hoar Har Har Har – This mantra is very protective and also removes negativity. It is said to melt your enemies like ice cream under the hot sun. Enemies may indicate a human enemy, an etheric enemy, or maybe even a thought.
7. Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur – This mantra is for miracles. There’s a lot we don’t believe can happen and were taught can’t happen. There’s a lot of perceived limitations we impose on ourselves that aren’t real limitations. This mantra is a way to experience those miracles, and those miracles can be big, like walking on fire type of miracles. Or they can be small. One lady told me that her miracle was related to her son; on the way to school every day, he would put on really loud rock music. She went with it because she couldn’t deal with the fighting. She played this mantra at home, and after a few days of playing that mantra, he stopped playing the rock music, which he’d be doing for a couple years. This was her miracle.
8. Akal (Instrumental) and 9. Akal- Death and Birth.
This mantra means undying. It helps transition souls when they are dying and need to leave the planet, as well as souls who are unborn and need to come to the planet. Sometimes souls arrive and it’s a very difficult arrival. Sometimes it’s a very hard transition that they weren’t prepared to make. Akal makes that transition graceful and peaceful and it helps that soul travel smoothly from the ether space to the earth. This mantra also helps people when they die, to actually leave. A lot of people have stayed here as ghosts because they don’t know how to leave. Their souls become attached to something and they can’t leave for some reason. This mantra helps them leave and go to where they’re supposed to go. They don’t have to stay down here, trapped. So it’s a really important mantra. It might be supremely important.
10. Hummee Hum – This mantra mimics the human heartbeat. It helps purify the heart chakra and infuse it with the energy that it needs, while taking away what it doesn’t need. It can remove the heaviness of the heart.
11. Ardas Wahe Guru is the last mantra.
Basically, there’s a heart space on planet Earth that the yogis are hoping will rule the planet. We want this heart space to just take over. In India, you hear people talk about mantras as though they are people. They may say Wahe Guru brought me a child. Or they’ll say Sat Nam gave me a new house, or whatever. They personify them. The heart space is also personified in this song. You’re asking that heart vibration to take me into your sanctuary, put your arms around me, take me into your sanctuary of love. Just take me in because that’s where I want to dwell.
The Wahe Guru is the expression of absolute ecstasy. So if you want to be a very happy person, just chant Wahe Guru all the time. It’s ultimate self-love.”
Julie adds, “And Guru is anything that brings you from darkness to light, from lack of knowledge to self knowledge, from lack of understanding to self understanding. It’s the experience.”
White Sun II is available on Be Why Records. It will delight your senses as both a musical album and as a mantra album.