As with meditation, the intent of chanting is to calm and focus the mind, relieving it from its usual chatter -- grocery lists, money worries, petty arguments. "Chanting works well because it engages the mind and because it's musical," said Mitra Somerville, 49, who leads Integral's community kirtan. "The melody and the vibration of the words are very soothing and uplifting so people can really connect with it."
And an increasing number of Americans seem to be connecting with kirtan. At the Omega Center in Rhinebeck, N.Y., attendance to its Ecstatic Chant festival has doubled over the last five years. The numbers are also up at Integral. Jo Sgammato, 57, the center's general manager, said the Friday-night kirtan would have about 25 participants 10 years ago; now the center will sometimes host 400 in a single weekend when kirtan stars like Krishna Das, Jai Uttal and Wah! perform. At the Jivamukti Yoga School in Manhattan, 700 people came last September to see Krishna Das, setting a record for kirtan at the center.