Summer 2012 – monsoon season was at its peak and bulbous clouds burst their banks releasing a torrent of rain which liberated the sweet scent of the Earth, filling the air with burst of fragrance. I sat in my classroom in Chennai, India listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops drumming the window, a contrast to the background murmurings of other students and teachers as they prepared for the forthcoming ritual to honour our teacher, T.Kriśnamacharya, on the day of Guru Poornima (Teachers Day).
As the ritual started by lighting candles and offering flowers to our teacher, everyone stopped talking and an air of solemnity surrounded us as the rain ceased its incessant tapping, and even the birds seemed to stop chirping. The silence was complete – and if you’ve lived or travelled in India you’ll know a silence of this nature is profound, as life is usually punctuated with horns beeping and vendor’s shouting.
Then the chanting began … and the effects of it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life so far.
A collection of beautiful syllables combined into a harmony of matnra-s and then into the most comforting of chants; my eyes started to well-up, and as we continued to chant in unison, they flooded with tears running freely like the rain had before. These wondrous sounds touched a deep and subtle part of my being and I felt an intense movement within me.
My tears were tears of joy, and the first sign of that movement. And each one that rolled down my cheek expanded my being, each one set me one step further on the path to freeing myself of something which was holding me back. I joined the chanting more fervently after that release, and the power with which I chanted surprised me – it was almost unbelievable to my own ears.
This was the most overwhelming experience I have had to-date in the usage of sound, and even today I think back and always feel so free and light as I chant, my mind completely focused and attentive … yet at peace. If I ever feel nervous, sad or anxious, the minute I start chanting I am brought straight back to centre; it doesn’t take long, just a couple of chants and I feel more grounded and calm.
Sound is utilised in many ways in the practice of yoga in the tradition of Desikachars and T.Kriśnamacharya, from formal chanting through to the simple linking of syllables to movements. And this relationship of sound and movement can have prodigious effects on our ability to stay connected to our movements and to challenge our breath. No other yogic tradition has made use of sound in such a significant way – chanting in particular – whilst skilfully separating it from misplaced religiosity.
The benefits of chanting are threefold. When mantra-s are chanted correctly they produce specific positive vibrations within our body which have the ability to positively affect our physiological state, thereby improving our physical, mental and emotional being. It must have been the effects of these vibrations that created my profound experience in Chennai.
Chanting also helps to bring our mind to complete focus and attention and this is why the practice of chanting is a principal facet of yoga, where it is not a only a mediation tool, but a meditative process in itself.
And lastly, these chants bring about many therapeutic effects to practitioners; indeed, there are a collection of chants called the AROGYA Chants (healing chants) that have many energising and relaxing effects.
To create your own experience with this beautiful tool and to feel its amazing effects, you can sign-up to my Vedic chanting classes, held on-line and in person. To start with, you can listen to some of the chants here to listen to them and read their meanings in the the Vedic Chanting page.