ISSUE #015 - Jun 05, 2019
Sonic Healing Through Vedic Chanting
“One should offer oblation to her own body and nurture it well.”
Ṛg Veda 127: 12
October 8, 1995, Ved Vignan Mahavidyapeeth Ashram, Bangalore, India.
It’s Navarātri (“Nine Nights of the Goddess”) and I’ve been getting up early every day at 4:00 a.m. (the holy hour of brahma muhūrta when all the benevolent laws of nature are most active) to sit before a blazing fire. We’re here to witness how Vedic priests ritually reconstruct the body of the universe.
Each morning, they fill the space with loud and sonic Sanskrit incantations, delicious smoke from plentiful offerings they pour into the fire, and the occasional clanging of metallic symbols and drums to notify the Goddess that we’re here. And we want her to descend and become us.
Over these last nine ceremonies, I’ve grown accustomed to sitting on the bare earth with my spine erect, legs crossed, and gaze directed inward. I’ve lost all track of time. I’m barely aware of my body and the last time I took a breath. There’s nothing but a sublime space I’ve entered into with my awareness.
Then someone brushes up next to me and I come back to myself. I check my watch. It’s 9:00am. Five hours passed as if they were seconds. The Goddess has arrived with breakfast.
Savoring the creature comfort of South Indian idli and coffee, I reflect on the power of continuous Sanskrit mantra to heal the body and mind—because after this experience, I truly felt Divine. I felt cleansed from the inside out. And I determined the ultimate healing arose from sitting within the sound field of non-stop Vedic chanting for hours. I entered a theta state of healing just through listening to the precise arrangement of the Vedas chanted continuously.
As a vibrational language, Sanskrit is not only about translating texts. It’s meant to be heard and repeated. Just hearing the sounds—perfectly intoned—is a powerful therapy for both the individual and society.
There’s a secret behind Vedic chanting as vibrational medicine. It’s found within the six rules of Vedic chanting. Each rule awakens one of the six cakras in the body, bridging human with the Divine body through the nervous system. When chanted according to these six rules, the energy of Sanskrit mantra enlivens the upward ascent of kuṇḍalinī within the central channel connecting the base of the spine with the top of the head.
By adhering to these six rules, the body of the priest enables healing by establishing wholeness—not only for himself but the collective body. The structures of his subtle body serve as a natural conduit for the higher energies of nature to manifest themselves. As a result, everything within the vicinity of such an enlightened body enters into a state of meditation—effortless repose in the still point from which everything arises and dissolves.
This is where healing happens.
The first rule of Vedic chanting is santāna—when you’re permitted to take a breath. Breath is the lifeforce of the Veda itself. It’s what enlivens the mantra and awakens the upward flow within the priest, the brahmana—”the one who breathes the Veda.”
Each mantra of the entire Vedic saṁhitā (“collection”) can of course be read as a “book,” but the way it’s “breathed” is its secret. And as you breathe in, the first energy center—the mūladhāra cakra— awakens.
The second rule is sāma, “combining.” For full healing effect, the Sanskrit syllables must blend together seamlessly, like honey pouring off a spoon. To achieve an unbroken string of sound, the Vedic mantras are composed according to the rules of euphonic combination or saṁdhi (which is how letters combine musically). The comingling of sound for beauty stimulates the svādhiṣṭhāna cakra, aligning the procreative center with the universal body—made from the union of two things.
The third rule is bāla, “strength.” It’s the emphasis given to certain Sanskrit syllables that require more prāṇa (life-force) and the control of prāṇa for those requiring less. The alternating “stress and no stress” forces the abdomen to expand and contract in rhythm, enlivening the manipūra cakra—stoking the healing fires of digestion.
Next, there’s a precise rhythm or mātra with which the Vedic chants are pronounced. This is the most powerful rule of Vedic chanting because it corrects all imbalances by putting everything back into rhythm. In Ayurveda, the cause of disease is falling out of daily rhythm.
Mātra are the Vedic meters in which the mantras are chanted that replicate the universal rhythm. In the body, these measured beats of the chant regulate the beat of the heart, or the anāhata cakra.
The fifth rule is svāra, “intonation,” which requires the Sanskrit syllables be pronounced according to three distinct “tones.” To make them properly, a Vedic student moves her head in three positions: chin toward chest, head straight in the center, and head lifted up to the right. When chanted this way, the viśuddhi cakra gets stimulated at the throat, allowing for an unobstructed flow of energy along the body’s central channel, the suṣumna nādi.
Finally, varṇa is the proper pronunciation of the Sanskrit syllables. To make each sound correctly requires a precise positioning of the organs of speech in order to direct the prāṇa (life-force) back to the central core of the body. When we speak our ordinary language, we expel our lifeforce and deplete our energy. But when pronounced precisely, chanting the Sanskrit syllables re-directs the prana back into the body, awakening vigor and higher intelligence.
The effect of this rule is to open the ājña cakra or the third eye center to perceive higher states of awareness.
When a Vedic priest adheres to all six rules, his body is purified by the continuous pulse of sound and effortlessly channels that healing energy to all within the vicinity of his body as axis mundi—a direct link to the universal, macrocosmic body. Such a body is invaluable to everything within its vicinity. It instills peace by its very presence.
IN THIS ISSUE
- 1RE-PAIRING: Seven Principles for Enlightening Conversations
- 2The Yoga of Healthy Relationships: Using Embodied Communication to create deeper connections
- 3Three People in a Room: Dr. David Bullard on Couples in Therapy
- 4When Childhood Trauma Meets Healing Relationships
- 5Stressful Life Memories Relate to Ruminative Thoughts in Women With Sexual Violence History, Irrespective of PTSD
- 6MAP Training My Brain™: Meditation Plus Aerobic Exercise Lessens Trauma of Sexual Violence More Than Either Activity Alone
- 7In the Aftermath of Sexual Assault, Yoga Provides Healing
- 8Working the Land, Working the Self: Understanding Healing and Embodiment Through Diverse Traditions
- 9Somatic Practices and Dance: Global Influences,
- 10Mothering and Matriarchy
- 11Sonic Healing Through Vedic Chanting