Dorien Reyners lives in Diest, a city in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant. She works at Academie Beringen, a center known for ‘Deeltijds Kunstonderwijs’, literally translated as ‘part-time art education’. It’s an education center for children and adults where they teach music, theatre and dance, mostly after school hours. Dorien teaches music for children and adults with a disability which includes differentially abled children, those with learning disability, ADHD, autism etc.
Dorien has been learning chanting with Ms Shantala Sriramaiah, a Vedic chanting teacher based in Belgium and speaks to CSP about music, chanting and therapy.
Could you share your journey as a music therapist and how you came to chanting?
When I was in secondary school, I went to study music. There I heard of music therapy and I was immediately attracted to the idea of becoming a music therapist. It combined my two passions: music and human interest.
I studied music therapy for 5 years in LUCA Leuven. Five intensive but very interesting years. After that, I started to teach music to children and grown-ups with a disability in the music school. In these courses, the relationship between the teacher and the student is very important. When there is no connection, the process of learning becomes difficult for them. That is why my background works very well for my profession, because in music therapy the therapeutic relationship is very important.
More or less eight years ago, I discovered the power of mantras. I heard mantras from some famous European singers, but after a while I became really interested in the Sanskrit mantras and their background. Then Shantala appeared in my inbox because I was following her already but had not been to Brussels. I attended an online introduction to a course she was offering. It really ticked all of the boxes regarding what I was looking for and I have been enrolling in several courses since then. That first introduction is now over a year ago.
What in your opinion makes for good music therapy sounds?
From a music therapist's view there is no good or bad sound. In my education, the most important thing is to improvise with the clients, to actively make music and sounds. Everything that emerges there and then in a session, happens for a reason and is a reflection of what is alive in the client, in the therapist and in the relationship between them. Also there is time and space to reflect on what was experienced during the improvisation(s).
In addition, I have a strong belief that there is a power in (the resonation of) words and sounds and that it has an influence on our body and mind. That is where my interest in the Vedas comes from. I also love to discover the global meaning of the mantras.
Your teacher Shantala ji recently shared at Indica Yogas Global Festival of Yoga her own personal healing experience with chanting. From a Western Music Therapy perspective how can you use chanting for Therapy?
I think my previous answer covers this question a bit. My belief in chanting for therapy is very personal and we didn't see this in our education. Music therapy, where I studied it, is based on psychodynamic therapy. The therapeutic relationship is very important. Client and therapist create a musical interplay that can then be reflected on. In my experience, the mantras resonate with what I experience in my daily life. Therefore they can feel like a support. If we would integrate chanting in this perspective, maybe we can create time and space to reflect what effect chanting and the mantras have on the client.
I heard your rendition of the Gayatri Mantra. What does this mantra mean to you?
I have always loved the sound of the words of the Gayatri Mantra and it became more special to me when Shantala began to explain it. For me, the Gayatri mantra is very interesting because I'm just discovering it. There is so much to discover about this mantra. When I am free, I participate in the Friday community chanting - Gayatri mantra japa. What I understand from it is that we pray for clarity. With a clear mind, the possibilities are much brighter and we can make decisions from a brighter perspective, from a position that is more aware and closer to our intuition. I mean... When wouldn't we chant this mantra?
There are so many aspects to chanting that many of us in India take for granted like sitting on the floor for music and chanting. Was that a challenge?
Yes, this is a challenge! First of all, physical discomfort. I think because my body is not used to sitting on the floor for a longer time and sitting still. Also there is so much distraction in this world: internet, social media, things to go to... For me, chanting is also becoming silent, meditating. The mind easily takes over. This still is a challenge.
What about Sanskrit? Was it difficult to learn? The sounds and meanings have deep cultural connotations. Did you come from a space where you wanted to know more about Vedic culture or did this course ignite that curiosity?
Yes! Like I explained in the first question, I was very curious to discover the Vedic culture, to discover those meanings and connotations. Shantala's introduction immediately resonated with my curiosity and also with my beliefs. There was an instant connection and that connection still keeps on growing.
Could you talk about learning outcomes for you. As a music therapist what impact could you feel on your physical, mental and emotional well-being.
I'm learning Sanskrit the way Shantala teaches it, in order to chant the mantras. So now I know a lot of phonetic rules, pronunciation,... I'm not learning word by word but the overall meaning of the mantras because for now, that is where my interest is at. I think it is going quite easy, like I was made to learn it. I also love to chant without the phonetic guide, just to see where I stand. For example: when I'm learning the pada pāṭhaḥ, I try it first myself and then I put on Shantalas recording to check if I was correct or not.
First of all I feel an overall contentment and happiness when I'm studying Vedas. Maybe I can compare it with studying an instrument. My mind is only concentrating on the sounds and on the words. I'm doing nothing else, no distraction. When I'm studying music, the sounds penetrate into the cells of my body. With the Vedas, not only the sounds but also the meanings of the words have that influence. Studying and chanting also feels like a support. Now I'm studying the one-year course of Śrī Rudrapraśnaḥ. I tend to remember what is currently applicable in my life. In this particular moment, Śrī Rudrapraśnaḥ gives me support in embracing all there is, in acceptance.
What aspects of Indian culture have you learnt from this experience that you cherish.
I love the importance of the rituals and discipline. When we chant the Vedas, we are forced to develop concentration, focus, will power,... And what maybe touched me the most, and I hope that I am interpreting it right, is that the deities are cosmic powers that we can address when needed. That they are not something unreachable, but they stand for powers that we all have in us. It is strange because I think I only have European blood, but I feel very connected to the Indian culture!