Studies Show Mantra Repetition Has Measurable Healing Effect
New studies show that repeating sacred sounds can have a powerful effect on your health and well-being.
The practice of mantra, or the repetition of sacred sounds, has been an integral part of many spiritual traditions throughout the ages. Today, exciting new research is scientifically validating the profound psychological and physiological benefits of this ancient practice.
Dr. Shamini Jain is a leader in the emerging field of biofield science and author of “Healing Ourselves.” She knows mantra repetition to be a highly effective tool for consciousness expansion and healing.
“Sometimes we get so bogged down in the conditioned mind that we find it harder to reach our spirit,” Jain said. “So, mantra is a tool for us to reach our spirit, whether we call that ‘God,’ ‘deep consciousness,’ ‘higher self’ — there are many names for it, but it’s really a technique for transcending the mind. And it can be something that’s spoken out loud, literally like repeating a word out loud, it can also be something that we repeat silently. It can also be sung, and many traditions — almost all global traditions really — have some type of practice where they utter sacred sounds.”
In ancient traditions, the primary function of mantra was to connect with the divine.
“In these traditions, there was a deep relationship of sound with consciousness. Working with mantras in these ancient traditions, it was leading you to expand your consciousness so that you can be in better contact with divinity,“ Jain said.
With the growing interest in studying these ancient systems, scientific research is now starting to explore the ways in which mantras may affect the body and mind. One recent focus of study has been on the effect of mantras on psychological conditions.
“There is a body of literature that has been published, for example by Dr. Jill Bormann at University of California San Diego, and she examined what they called “mantram” repetition, which was essentially the uttering of a sacred sound,” Jain said. “They’ve done studies, for example with veterans with PTSD, showing reductions in PTSD symptoms for those who repeated a sacred word or phrase, compared to just repeating something that had no spiritual meaning.”
Other recent studies are showing the effect of mantra on physiological markers of health.
“Some of the strongest data that we see with mantra practice is the effect on the heart,” Jain said. “So we actually see that practicing different forms of mantra, whether it’s Buddhist, Hindu, or other traditions, has an effect on reducing blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health. There are some studies also looking at this in terms of heart rate variability, which is really the dynamic dance of your autonomic nervous system. Any way you look at it, the data are pretty clear that mantra meditation has a profound effect on heart health.”
Yet another groundbreaking study has shown that mantra repetition in the form of kirtan, or call-and-response singing, has an effect on cell aging.
“They found not only reductions in mental and emotional suffering, such as stress and other factors, they found increases in markers of cell aging. Specifically, they saw shifts in an enzyme called telomerase, which helps to protect our cells against aging,” Jain said.
While the healing effects of mantra practice are clear, scientists are working on understanding the mechanism behind which this works. One fascinating recent study looked closely at brain function.
“In terms of the brain, a really interesting study that was published in a top-tier journal Nature Scientific Reports, looked at the effects of Buddhist meditation and chanting particularly, compared to just chanting regular words,” Jain said. “Interestingly what they found was, first of all, the chanting of the Buddhist words by these people who were just being trained in how to do it, resulted in increased delta waves. Enhanced delta wave activity has been found in many forms of meditation. Those increased delta waves in the brain seem to be connected to the meditator’s — in this case, the chanter’s — experience of an expanded sense of self that was beyond conditioning.”
As there are many ways to practice mantra, Jain recommends finding a tradition that you resonate with and an experienced teacher to guide your practice. She has high hopes that scientific interest in mantra continues and deepens.
“There needs to be more research in mantra meditation, specifically integrating some of the perspectives from the spiritual practitioners, as well as things like brain changes. A lot of these practices were really meant for us to have whole-person well-being, which means spiritual, physical, emotional, social, (and) relational. So that’s the type of research we want to see with mantra meditation. We’re not just looking at one brain factor, but we’re really looking at the whole person,” Jain said.
Hanuman: Myth, Mantra and Asana
Hanuman was born on the wind and a prayer. His father was Kesari, a sort of meditating gladiator monkey-like humanoid, called in Sanskrit, a “vanara”. His mother, Anjana, held the essence of her name: “anj” in Sanskrit means reverence.
Anjana and Kesari really wanted a kid and prayed to Lord Shiva for the blessing of conceiving a son. Shiva, pleased by their devotion and prayers, sent Vayu, the god of wind, to carry Shiva’s essence to fulfill their wishes, perhaps something like a sacred stork.
Turns out that Vayu delivered a pretty gifted kid. Like his gladiator father and like many of our modern-day mixed martial art competitors, Hanuman had a plethora of skills and talents. He wrestled demons, transformed himself to fit the needs of the particular circumstances against which he was fighting, and did so all with unwavering devotion.
Hanuman was devoted to Lord Rama, the god of righteousness and virtue.
Through his devotion, he was characterized as a lifelong Brahmachari (celibate). The belief that Hanuman’s celibacy is the source of his strength became popular among the wrestlers in India.
Hanuman: Behind the Name
Sanskrit texts mention several stories about how Hanuman got his name. Hanuman had a lifelong obsession with the sun, and as a youngster, blazed towards it, mistaking the sun for a mango and mischievously chomping a bite out of it. This really pissed off Indra, the king of the gods, who struck Hanuman’s jaw with lightening, to scold his impetuous nature. A bit harsh, right? Regardless, Hanuman is said to have received his name from the Sanskrit words “hanu” meaning jaw, and “man” meaning prominent or disfigured.
Another lore credits the name as a derivative of the Sanskrit words “han” meaning killed or destroyed, and “mana” meaning pride; indicating that Hanuman is the one whose pride was destroyed.
As Saul David Raye shares in Earth Heart Hanuman, “humility comes when the jaw is broken.” Whether you’re an elite mixed martial artist, or simply a modern-day yogi maneuvering through daily challenges, we discover that when our hearts are full of devotion, our spirit is unbreakable. Saul David Raye says that the stories of Hanuman can teach us, “the balance of incredible opening while still staying balanced.”
It’s Hanuman we can thank for the devotion it takes to practice Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskars, which are a series of poses linked by the breath. Sun Salutations invite us to bow to and unite with the sun, as a pathway to the divine.