Mantra chanting is an age old spiritual practice that is a route to self transformation
By chanting mantra, we are actually producing certain sound waves in a fine tuned frequency into the universe which will then reflect back to us. Mantra chanting helps in promoting constructive thoughts, feelings, actions and manifestations.
I personally feel vocalising a mantra, chanting it engages more sensory organs thereby creating structural and functional changes in the brain.
What is a Mantra?
“Mananaat traayate iti mantrah”
(Which uplift by constant repetition is a Mantra)
A Mantra can be made up of syllables, a word or a sentence that exert their influence by the means of sound vibrations. Mantra generates physical vibrations that infiltrate each and every cell of the human body beyond the cognition of the mind.
It is a well-known fact that whenever we suffer physical pain, we automatically produce a vowel sound. For example, the spontaneous reaction when one is pricked by a pin or needle is to say out loud ‘ee’ and when in pain, the sound ‘Ah’ is produced.
Research has demonstrated that chanting of vowels produces interleukin-2 in the body, which has an action, similar to that of aspirin, a painkiller. Therefore, chanting of vowels produces analgesics or painkillers in the body is a scientific fact.
A-U-M. The yogic body-mind-spirit connector
If we look at the specific sonic components of OM mantra that is interpreted as “AUM”, where by chanting “aaa”, one can feel sensation in the brain, abdomen and thoracic region as it stimulates perception and concentration. Chanting “ooo” generates sensation in throat and chest region and it stimulates emotions, feelings and dreams. Chanting “mm” creates vibrations in the nasal cavity and the brain, while it stimulates extreme focus and ecstasy.
When combined, we get the AUM mantra that channelizes energy in the body and activates vagus nerve, phrenic nerve, stomach, spinal cord, throat, nasal cavity and skull areas. The sound AUM is followed by a brief silence to produce a quieted state, this state of calmness and quiet promotes wellness in the body mind and spirit (Riehl, 2010)
Effects and benefits of mantra chanting
Mantra chanting has number of physiological benefits on our body, including reducing heart rate, slowing respiratory rate, and reducing skin resistance. A few of the benefits of mantra chanting are…
1. Mantra chanting creates structural and functional changes in the brain
By examining effect of mantra chanting on brain, several structural and functional benefits have been seen. Tomasino et al. and Kalyani et al. by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) during mantra chanting found that mantra chanting activates inferior frontal gyrus, prefrontal cortex, limbic and superior parietal areas, middle cortex, and precentral cortex (Tomasino, Fregona and Skrap 2013).
(a) The activation of these areas increases connectivity between white matter and gray matter of the brain. This connectivity is related to higher intellection and improvement in stroke patients.
Another study showed deactivations in bilateral orbito frontal, anterior cingulate, parahippocampal gyri, thalami, and hippocampi (Kalyani, et al., 2011).
(b) By reciting mantras, certain brain areas gets activated that result in an alert state, while other areas are deactivated that induces calmness and peace.
(c) Mantra chanting can also activate the brain areas that help with language skills during memory loss (Khalsa, Amen, Hands, Money, & Newberg, 2009).
(d) Chanting induced brain’s activation and deactivation is important for treating mental health disorders including depression, PTSD, alcoholism and anxiety. Patients with mental health disorder feel calmer and happy after chanting mantras (Kalyani, et al., 2011).
(e) MRI brain studies have indicated that mantra chanting stimulates vagus nerve; hence it has been used to treat depression and epilepsy by many clinicians around the globe.
(f) Mantra chanting also induces relaxation due to deactivation of limbic regions of the brain by reducing blood flow to these regions
2. Mantra chanting reduces heart rate and blood pressure
A study done by Dr Alan Watkins (senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London) proved that during chanting our heart rate and blood pressure dips to its lowest level. Chanting also normalizes adrenalin levels, brain wave patterns and lowers blood cholesterol levels.
By reducing resting heart rate, mantra chanting can improve blood pressure and cardiac output. A study conducted by Telles, Nagarathna and Nagendra, 1995, showed that practicing “OM” mantra – thought in the brain rather than vocalized showed significant reduction in the heart rate during chanting as compared to the controls. This study proves a strong correlation between the psychological and physiological relaxation.
3. Mantra chanting reduces respiratory rate to Six Breaths per minute
Studies have shown that reciting mantras can slow respiratory rate to six breaths per minute. This correlates with the rhythm of circulatory system. This synchronized rhythm is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure and heart rate. Slower respiratory rate also increases sinus arrhythmia, blood oxygenation and tolerance to exercises (Bernardi, et al, 2001).
4. Mantra chanting can help cure Depression
An 8-week study done on people suffering from mild-to-severe depression at the Samarya Center for Integrated Movement Therapy and Ashtanga Yoga in Seattle, WA found that chanting control expiratory output level and increases breath control. That in turn helped participants in reducing anxiety and improving mood.
Researchers concluded that if done consistently, chanting proves to be an effective means of uplifting people’s mood for an extended period of time.
5. Chanting can be used to treat Alcoholism
In a study, mantra chanting was used as a method for treating alcoholism, wherein mantras were practiced at sunrise and sunset for six weeks. Researchers found that mantra chanting by suppressing delta and alpha brain waves produces mental tranquility and helped subjects to curb urge for alcohol (Golechha, Sethi, Deshpande, & Rani, 1991).
6. Chanting engenders relaxation, well being and helps destress.
Mantra chanting is supported by many health and wellness practitioners. Chanting is believed to drive away all distractions, unwanted internal chatter and bring state of relaxation.
It is a devise for personal growth, positive attitude, heightened senses, sharper mind and brings a new vigor to the body. Reciting mantras also help to purify speech and helps in maintaining a constant spiritual connection and in turn affect temper, vocal pragmatics and complete wellness of the body (Gurjar & Ladhake, 2008).
Wellness truly is dependent on how well you can manage stress on the daily basis. In a study detecting the effect of mantra recitation on stress management, researchers found that daily chanting of mantras were associated with immense benefits including stress relief, feeling of well being, sharpened intellect, emotional steadiness and positive thinking (Bhatt & Gupta, 2013).
7. Chanting sharpens the mind and boosts intellect
The effect of mantra chanting on intellect has also been noted in a study that evaluated digit-letter substation task (DLST) during chanting. The results of the study showed significant improvement in attention potential as indicated by improvement in DLST scores (Pradhan & Derle, 2012).
8. Chanting improves immunity and reduces age-related deterioration of cellular function
Mantra chanting can lead to improved mental as well as physical functioning. One study showed that a brief daily chanting by caregivers of dementia patients resulted in better mental function and improved immune cell response. The study also found that mantra chanting can increase telomerase activity, that suggests reduction of premature cellular aging.(Lavretsky, et al., 2011).
9. Chanting boosts health and helps in healing
As per the researches done at the Cleveland University, USA, the rhythmic tones produced in our body during chanting create an effect called the Neuro-linguistic effect [NLE]. And when we know the meaning of the mantra we are practicing, an effect called psycholinguistic effect is produced in our body.
Both of these effects are due to production and transmission of certain chemicals in our brain. This is the real reason why chanting mantra produces healing effects in our body.
10. Chanting boosts your social life
According to Dr. Alan Watkins, the vibrations produced during chanting clams the nervous system and helps in bonding with people around us especially when practiced in a group.
This 5000-year-old practice of mantra chanting to provide a means of reducing mental and physical stress through a simple focused activity that slows respiration, improves concentration, and induces calmness (Bernardi, et al., 2001).
Please Note… A few yoga centres have started conducting workshops and classes on Nada yoga – The science of mantra. Experience the japa whenever you can. Japa is the repetition of these mantra.
Along with nada yoga workshops, mantra chanting is now an integral part of every yoga related class or session. You, if for some reason, are not comfortable with the syllable the teacher is vocalising, please remain seated quietly or japa your own moksha mantra… internally. Enjoy!