In March of 2020, I began to experience health issues that may or may not have been related to COVID-19.
I may never know.
What I do know is that I am grateful to be alive, am still experiencing mild, but prolonged, mysterious symptoms, and am slowly, but surely progressing in recovering my health.
One of the most troubling factors has been shortness of breath and chest pain, along with fatigue and various other symptoms that have waxed and waned in multiple cycles over the course of the last four months. Anxiety, fears of the unknown, and depression have run rampant through my mind, exacerbating the discomfort and perhaps slowing my healing process.
There have been numerous days and nights were I wondered if I was dying.
During this ordeal, I had a revelation in the middle of the night as I lay awake struggling for air and fearing I might stop breathing next to my two-year-old.
I decided to start chanting. Right then and there with my hands on my chest, I began to recite all the chants I had memorized from years of yoga studies with my teacher, Monique Parker. I went through them all, feeling the vibrations reverberate through my heart, lungs, and chest. As I chanted, I began to breathe more smoothly, my throat started to clear, my heart rate normalized, and my body relaxed. My mind became so calm that I finally fell sleep.
From that night forward, I continued to bring chanting into my life again—on gentle walks with the stroller, during bath time, or while cooking or washing dishes. I even quietly or silently chant to myself when my toddler naps. I am constantly finding time throughout the day to mindfully recite a mantra or practice longer, more complex chants, and it has helped to calm my thoughts, focus my mind, and give my body healing vibrations from the sacred sounds and syllables.
One day, during the COVID-19 quarantine, I was chanting in the tub with my daughter. When we finished, I paused to reflect on the quietness and suddenly recalled an email I had received the week before from my longtime teacher, Monique, who is also a certified teacher of Vedic chanting.
She was starting up online Vedic chanting courses in response to the pandemic. I was thrilled and determined to start my chanting studies again. “Life always throws us challenges—but what we are going through now is unprecedented on so many levels. We need a way to keep the body strong and mind stable amidst the uncertainty,” Monique said. “Vedic chanting has survived centuries of upheaval and strife, and offers a sacred language that is both a coping strategy and balm.”
My inner voice implored me to reach out and keep chanting and learning. Since contacting her, I’ve joined as many of the classes as I can, including some private sessions to work on specific chants. The experience has been profound and incredibly instrumental in my healing trajectory, while also deepening my studies. It takes dedication and practice and the benefits continuously reveal themselves.
Vedic chanting has its roots in ancient India and over generations it was traditionally carried on by Brahmin families and their close students. It was a way of transmitting and memorizing sacred Vedic knowledge with a revered teacher.
Today, it has become more accepted for anyone to take up Vedic chanting thanks to one of the foremost pioneers of modern yoga, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who argued for the practice of Vedic chanting for women; otherwise India’s classical traditions would die.
Monique pilgrimaged to India twice annually to formally study Vedic chanting with Krisnamacharya’s daughter-in-law and wife of famed yogi T.K.V. Desikachar, Menaka Desikachar, and was one module short of receiving an Advanced Teaching credential in Vedic Chanting when the pandemic broke out. She continues her studies with her guru online via Zoom, in addition to teaching and mentoring her own students from around the United States and other countries.
Vedic chanting helps to focus the mind, clarify speech, and it assists in removing unconscious and negative thought patterns. It vibrationally purifies the chakras (energy centers in the body), promoting healing in the respiratory system and harmonizing the tone of the voice.
When chanting, the heart and respiratory rates may slow and bring about a feeling of calm and ease. Over time, one’s speech and thought patterns may become more refined and discerned. Because chanting stimulates the vagus nerve, which is connected to the vocal cords and throat muscles, the overall effect on the nervous system is a feeling of well-being. It is also great for stress reduction and the experience of positive emotions.
Another benefit of Vedic chanting is a deepening of one’s personal connection to the Divine and to a purposeful, heart-centered spiritual practice.
I began my studies in Vedic chanting in 2010 during my yoga teacher training with Monique. She is a longtime yoga practitioner, yoga therapist, educator, and studio owner in Taos, New Mexico. She has been studying traditional, classic yoga in the tradition of Krishnamacharya since 1996.
Her Vedic chanting school, Mantra Medicine, offers a unique learning platform for practitioners of yoga and other spiritual disciplines who want to go deeper into their studies and who need an active meditation and pranayama practice that is efficient and effective in building resiliency and mental focus. Her online Zoom courses, workshops, and private mentoring sessions have not only helped me to cope with my health predicament, but has also given me hope and helped me to lessen fears.
My yogic studies and love of chanting has been inspired by Monique’s passion and dedication to the practice of the yogic path. Her radiance and teachings of yoga, pranayama, meditation, chanting, and methods of integrating spirituality into daily life, have lead me to a path of transformational growth, connection to a higher spiritual principle, and holistic healing.
When I first started learning to chant with Monique, I knew the beneficial effects were profound because of the sense of calmness I experienced long after the class was over. I would feel centered and focused, and could draw upon this feeling as a source of peace, even at times of conflict or irritation in my personal life.
Over time, in continuing to study with Monique, I find I am able to learn longer, more complex chants, and as a result, I receive tremendous nourishment from connecting with the meanings of the chants. Throughout the years, so many meaningful chants have entered my life and supported me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Monique also taught me how to incorporate chanting into a meaningful asana practice, and introduced me to the sustaining, mind-training power of mantra japa.
One of the things I love about learning Vedic chants with Monique is that they can be incredibly challenging because of the depth of focus required to tune into the various tones and modulations in the voice. I am learning to pay close attention to the finest nuances and details in the syllables and sounds. We study chants from a vast anthology from the Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation called “Mantravalli.” It is a tome of Vedic chants that will fill a lifetime of study and mastery.
This mention brings up an important factor in Vedic chanting: the importance and necessity of undertaking study with an experienced and qualified teacher. It is important to receive proper structured instruction in the complexity of Vedic chanting in order to accurately pronounce and learn the cadence of each chant. The method is through “call and response” where Monique chants a line and I repeat it precisely as she chants it, at least thrice. It takes an enormous amount of fine tuning with the ear of a trusted guide. Monique is able to hear the slightest mistake and will gently correct or affirm, and will patiently repeat as needed to help with fully understanding and learning the text.
Recently, I have begun to partake in one-on-one instruction with Monique. Because I find incredible solace in connecting with the Hindu goddess, Durga, Monique offered to teach me Durgasuktam, a prayer to the feminine power that safeguards against evil powers. This has helped me build endurance and increase my breath during my illness and convalescence.
Monique’s personalized instruction helped me to cultivate a daily practice and ceremony including gesture and mudra for starting my day in alignment with the qualities Durga embodies. This ritual has become a way for me to call in her loving attributes: courage, protection, compassion, and healing, into my own being. This sets the tone for my day.
In addition to this morning ritual, I have been gradually learning the longer, more complex Durgasuktam chant that is used to “invoke the blessing of this invincible goddess who glows like the fire, to purify us, and help us surmount obstacles in our path.” (Mantravalli, 231)
Durga’s fierce, yet unconditional love and bravery permeates my whole being as I chant her name and invoke her energies. These chants have become a part of my daily life and help support me during COVID-19 in deep, meaningful ways.
When I told Monique I was writing an article about my experience with Vedic chanting, she added, “It is because of my teacher, Menaka Desikachar, that I can offer this to you. We are so fortunate that we can have this ancient sound medicine practice at a time when the world needs empowered women to influence and impact real change.”