The Healing Sound Of Veda

Clinical Psychologist Katinka Thorne Salvesen tells Veda Studies’ Sophie French how reciting Veda can tame and train the mind to teach it new ways of being.

-By Sophia Ann French


When I interview most people, it is me asking the questions, but this interview with Oslo-based Clinical Psychologist, Katinka Thorne Salvesen, ended with her asking me a question. In the course of the interview, we were discussing how as non-Hindus, we still recite Veda and practice yoga and while we both respect the roots of these practices that come from Sanātana Dharma, she asked me how I manage to distinguish the religious aspects from the practice. I told her that I don’t but I understand that in the West, this might be harder to do because of preconceived notions about what Hinduism is. I gave her the example of my devotion to Sarasvatī. I feel connected to this essence because of everything she represents, knowledge and the arts. When Brahma blinks, an eternity is born and dies so my two decades of studying Indic Knowledge Systems is no time at all. In this lifetime, so far, my mind is dual, so understanding Sarasvatī without form might take a few more lifetimes. In this lifetime, I worship her form because we have to start somewhere. That is also the beauty of the Devīs and Devatas of Hinduism, we can choose who we wish to worship because there is a God available for every mind and personality type. It’s not important who we have faith in, what’s important is to have faith and faith that is based on experience. For that, one can remain a Christian or Muslim or Jewish and still experience Veda. I’m not sure if my observations are valid or even helped Katinka in any way but I hope that when people do approach Veda or any Indic Knowledge System, they do so with an open mind and without worrying about converting. This is not required to practise Dharma. Convert to what? We already are.  

I’m in conversation with Katinka, and we talked about Yoga, Veda, Ayurveda and how to teach the mind to live in the present and find new ways of informing our thoughts and actions…

Sophia: How did your spiritual journey begin?

Katinka: I think my spiritual journey began as a child but it took a while before I found my way. When I was studying psychology, I also started connecting with Tibetan Buddhism and after my studies, I travelled to South East Asia for six months and that kind of started my true connection with  spirituality. As time passed and I studied various Eastern philosophies, I realised the end goal of all was the same so I kept studying. I did a Yoga Teacher Training and I went to Vaidyagrama (in Tamil Nadu, India) where I was introduced to Ayurveda and it all made so much sense to me. At Vaidyagrama, I started listening to talks by Ram Dass and it made such a deep impression on me. 

That inspired me to meet Ram Dass and I eventually attended a retreat he was hosting and meeting him was a very powerful experience. I also met Neem Karoli Baba at that retreat and I am so grateful for that experience. After the retreat, I started moving towards Indic philosophies. So I’ve been following various scholars on these systems and one day, I heard a podcast by musical artist Nina Rao and she was talking to the Founder of Veda Studies, Shantala Sriramaiah. I just knew I had to look up the work Shantala was doing and found Veda Studies. I signed up for one of her free community events and that ignited a spark in me. I had chanted in the past, but this was different. I immediately applied for the Veda Studies Foundation Course. 

As I began to recite Veda and understood the breath and body connection and how these mantras affect the system, I felt it could be very useful for the work I do with people who suffer from complex emotional trauma and abuse. Veda recitation involves the practitioner completely. You have to use your voice, you have to listen very carefully and you have to read the text so it employs various senses and engages the body-mind-intellect completely. It is also wonderful to do this in a community because when you recite together, there is a positive energy created and this could really help people to engage positively and that experience can have a lasting effect. 


Sophia: How do you use Veda recitation and meditation to help trauma patients?

Katinka: While studying the Foundation Course and then attending the Indica Veda Teacher Training Programme, I understood through all the teaching that each mantra has a purpose. For example, Saha Nāvavatu is especially useful for teachers and students because it translates into peace and harmony and creates vibrations that are conducive to learning. So when I work with people who suffer from complex trauma and abuse, I recite and also help them to recite the Laghunyāsaḥ mantra for health and well-being. The meaning of the mantra is just one aspect of the mantra but this aspect is important because it allows me to choose which mantras are useful for the work I do. Repetition of mantras is also a way to teach our mind to be here and now. It helps us to experience the present because as I said before, when you recite Veda, it engages all your senses and you are compelled to be in the present in the most positive way and when you do this often enough, it becomes learned behaviour so it is effective to heal the mind of past trauma by teaching the mind to experience the present. I create a safe and healthy environment for the patients I work with so their minds start associating positivity with mantra recitation and that becomes their reality. It is like taming and training your mind but in a friendly and loving way. When my patients experience the positivity of yoga or Veda recitation, they learn that there is another way to be in the world and experience it. A reality that is safe and free of trauma. They understand that the mind can change and it can be shown a better way of being. 

Sophia: How has Veda recitation added value to your personal practice/work?

Katinka: For me, it expanded how I can treat my patients. I’m a trained psychologist and I have many things I work with in order to help my patients and I always wanted to find a way to introduce spirituality to them without making it about religion. But in order to do that I first had to understand how Veda recitation is a spiritual practice. For example, when I recite the Devī  sūktam or Durga sūktam, it is a prayer to the divine feminine but these are also Hindu Goddesses. When I studied with Shantala, I understood that in Veda, these are also abstract forms, they are an essence and the figurative forms are a manifestation of those qualities. So now when I use Veda for my patients, it is easier for me to help them understand that you don’t have to be of any religion to practise this or reap its benefits. The divine feminine, for example, is a universal energy but yes, the roots of these teachings are from Sanātana Dharma and we must always respect the roots of where these practices come from even though they have universal applicability. 

Sophia: Which mantras resonate most with you? 

Katinka: Really depends on whichever mantra I am learning at the moment. I feel deeply connected with every mantra I learn. But I do feel an affiliation with the feminine, devī mantras. 

Sophia: In your observations as a psychologist, how does Veda recitation affect the body-mind-intellect?

Katinka: When trauma happens (or even for people dealing with any difficult situation), there is a survival instinct that kicks in and this response comes from the autonomic nervous system. The sounds, rhythms and the way you use your breath and voice in Veda recitation has healing potential. I can say this from personal experience and I see it in my patients, too. It calms the nervous systems and the survival instinct that kicks in when it does, is one that comes from a place of calm and self-preservation rather than from a place of anxiety and this makes a big difference to the decisions and action we take in life. I have had some patients actually tell me after reciting that it made them feel empowered, which can be intimidating initially but eventually, they find their voice in the most positive way possible. In fact, Guru M.S.Srinivasan’s (Shantala’s Veda teacher) daughter, Shreeraksha has done some research on memory and how the Medhā Sūktam affects memory. She did before and after measures in a randomised control study, where the experimental group after learning the mantra, got significantly better memory compared to the control group.

Sophia: Tell us about the Indica Veda Studies Teacher Training Programme and how that has added value to your spiritual progress and also how it enhances you as a teacher?

Katinka: There are points in a person’s life that change a person for the better. For me, these instances have been when I was introduced to Tibetan Buddhism, when I met my yoga teacher, when I met Ram Dass and Neem Karoli Baba, and recently, when I started studying with Veda Studies and did the TTC offered by Shantala. I didn’t do the TTC with only the intention of teaching, it was also to enhance my own learning and I wanted to study in detail. The TTC is the ideal course for that. 

To get in touch with Katinka, send her an email.