Reflections on the Vedic Chanting Teacher Training Course 2017/19

Becky Sperring writes about her journey to becoming a Vedic Chant teacher. So I still can’t quite believe I’ve just qualified as a Vedic Chant Teacher! And am immensely proud of the fact that I can now read some Sanskrit!!

Becky Sperring, Yoga & Vedic Chant Teacher. Photo: Mari Kadanik

I was first introduced to chanting on my yoga teacher training course (2010-13). Although I knew nothing about this tradition, I was fortunate enough to train with Hilary Macrae and Andy Curtis-Payne. I remember romping through Laghunyāsaḥ(or Agnirmeas we always thought of it!) and loving the energy and the sounds. I was very impressed at how familiar with chants many teachers and students in this tradition were, but for years the sum total of my ‘repertoire’ was Asatoma, the Gāyatrī mantra and Yogena Yogo, plus the occasional short mantra in my practice.

Chanting is an important part of our tradition – it comes under Dhyāna(meditation), the 7thlimb of yoga. I have been teaching yoga since 2010 and, conscious of the idea of spending 7 years establishing oneself on each krama, felt I was ready to take my practice to a deeper level. I had a chat to Helen Macpherson about the new chanting course that TSYP were offering and she encouraged me to sign up.  

Our course format was three week-long residentials (Nov 2017, Sept 2018, Oct 2019), plus six non-residential weekends in Crawley. The residentials were an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the teachings and chant, chant, chant. I had never experienced chanting as part of a group of 20+ experienced chanters and the very special energy that generates. We lived in our own Vedic chanting bubble for a few days! We were taught that to get the full benefit of chanting, it has to be actively experienced (karma) and the knowledge and understanding (jñāna) comes later; I think I learnt the truth of this during that first week, and will take this forward in my own teaching.

Radha Sundarajan, who has been chanting for over 40 years, many of which she spent at the KYM with TKV Desikachar, was our main tutor. She shared wonderful insights from her time at the KYM as well as her incredible background knowledge of the chants, the Veda-s and Indian traditions/culture. Her talk on the meaning and significance of the Śīkṣāvallīchant from Taittirīya Upaniṣatreally brought this home for me. Radha is also a stickler for the six rules of chanting. As she says, adherence to the rules has enabled the Vedic mantra-s to be passed down the generations as unchanged as possible – a direct link to those ancient times.

Radha Sundararajan (second from left) with some of the Vedic Chanting students.
Photo Mari Kadanik

The venue for the residentials was beautiful Lendrick Lodge on the edge of the Trossachs in Scotland. Staying there was a treat in itself, surrounded by the wilds of Scotland. We could walk out into the hills or to the loch on lunch break, for a breath of fresh air and to get the legs moving again. The Lodge chef and volunteers provided fabulous, healthy vegetarian meals and a warm welcome – we gathered each evening in the aptly named ‘Gathering Room’ in front of a cosy fire. I treated the weeks away as a gift to myself, as I would happily have stayed there on a break anyway.

Afternoon walk near Lendrick Lodge.
Photo: Mari Kadanik

Between residentials were the six weekends with our very own Helen & Gill Lloyd. As we had several overseas students, not everyone could make these, but for me they were an invaluable opportunity to work on the chants we learned and start to get to grips with Sanskrit using games and worksheets. They were also used for sharing ideas and experiences on teaching, and how to start teaching. I think these really helped maintain the momentum of the course and I’m not sure I would have finished the course without them as a lot can happen in a year and life all too easily distracts us with new priorities. So I am massively grateful that these were available – big thanks to Helen & Gill for fitting them into their busy schedules.

I must confess to a ‘wobble’ before the second residential as there was so much going on in my lift that I really wasn’t applying myself as much as I would have liked, and I felt I was wasting the opportunity and the money I was spending. As I had already paid for it, I deferred my decision until after the second week. I left feeling so re-energised and encouraged, and realised how much I had learnt and just how far I had come, that it was an easy decision to continue, and I’m so pleased that I did. Two weeks before the start of the final residential I felt enormously disappointed in myself (again) for my lack of application and determined to pull something back. I worked on my Sanskrit and practised at least one chant a day (the ‘easy’ ones!) and genuinely felt the rewards from this regular practice – both in confidence and in the beneficial effect of the chants. I think that most of us felt the pressure of everyday life at some point – but for me the chance to train with Radha was too great an opportunity to pass up and it has laid a foundation that it will be up to me to build upon. 

In the final days of the course, we all had an individual, short review with Helen & Radha, during which Radha said my next step was to start a chanting group – my guru dakṣiṇāas it were – so my mission for 2020 will be to practise svādhyāya pravacane ca (continue to study and share what you have been taught) as instructed in the Śīkṣāvallī …. 😊

Helen Macpherson and Gill Lloyd.
Photo: Mari Kadanik

There are plans to run another Vedic Chanting Teacher Training course, and if you are interested in this, I strongly recommend you discuss it with Helen or Gill. I came into the course as a relative beginner and simply cannot believe how much I learned and how much I progressed and came to love many of the chants we worked with. Śraddhāsūktamhas become my ‘go to’ chant. I never ever imagined I’d get to the chants at the back of Mantravallī, and whilst I wouldn’t say I was yet proficient at them, I have a good working knowledge of them. I also never intended to teach – doing the course was simply for my own development – yet I now have two 1-to-1 students and will be starting a group (because Radha said so!!).

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