The magic of mantras

Chanting works wonders for the body and the mind

A ritualistic practice that has lost relevance? Not at all

Chanting still remains a sought-after psychosomatic route to physical and intellectual wellness. Regular chanting of mantras is believed to wipe out fear, anger and depression, and help relieve disorders of the respiratory, digestive, reproductive, circulatory, speech, intellectual and cognitive systems. Vedic chanting is said to help develop one’s mental powers and strength, ease stress, and take one to a higher level of consciousness. Chanting also improves one’s memory and power of concentration, so crucial if one wants to be an achiever.

Sound and the psyche

It seems incredible that mere chanting can bring about these tremendous changes. But a chant does not work in mysterious ways. “Think of this. On the physical level, voicing a chant in the prescribed way impacts the abdominal area (from where the chant notes are raised), the lungs, the circulatory system and so on,” explains Radha Sundararajan, director of chanting, Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. Now, research is being done at places such as the Brahmvarchas Shodh Sansthan, a research centre for integration of science and spirituality in Haridwar on how exactly a chant works. Chants have been analysed to be energy-based sounds and voicing a word or a sound produces a physical vibration. Chants thus create thought-energy waves, and the organism vibrates in tune with the energy and spiritual appeal of a chant.

Scientists say that when a mantra is chanted rhythmically, it creates a neuro-linguistic effect. Such an effect occurs even if the meaning of the mantra is not known. “You just need to have a good ear, stay true to the punctuations, pauses, pronunciation, notation, length and the force of the chant and repeat it over and over again. The transformation happens step by step, over a period of time,” says Menaka Desikachar, senior exponent and former director of vedic chanting at KYM.

“But knowing the meaning of what you are chanting tunes your mind towards reaching your goal,” says Usha Sundar, director of the Vedic Chanting division, Viniyoga Healing Foundation (VHF). Scientists call this the Psycholinguistic effect (PLE). Research done by professor Dr. T. Temple Tutler of Cleveland University in the U.S., has revealed that NLE and PLE effects are due to the production and spread of chemicals in the brain, which have a calming and curative effect on the body. “Some patients come in such a disorganised state that they are not able to be part of a healing programme; so we ask them to just listen to a particular chant, after which they become composed and do the asanas and say the chanting,” says Dr. N. Chandrasekhar, VHF, where chanting is incorporated into yogasana-based healing programmes.

Listening to mantras regulates blood pressure, the heart rate, brain waves and the adrenalin level. But, remember, just like regular medicines, there are specific chants for specific purposes.

Spiritual awakening

Chanting eventually makes us meditate. Meditation requires focus, which is difficult to achieve. But, when you chant with concentration, the mind gets focussed. “Sometimes, during the course of chanting, I end up in a meditative state without realising it,” says K. Geetha, a yoga teacher, who has taken to chanting. This is probably why chanting is so good for kids. “It synchronises the body, mind, voice and breath, creating inner harmony, which paves the way for spiritual awakening,” says Usha Sundar.

There are scores of people who have discovered that chanting can take you on a path that leads to a higher plane of well-being: Like businessman K. Ramesh, who managed to kick alcohol, smoking and overcome the urge to overeat, following a daily dose of chanting for over a year. Like Shiva, a young boy with Down’s syndrome who no longer drools or behaves in a disoriented manner. Like Shanthi, whose asthma is under control. Like Uma, who has got over menstrual irregularities. Like Kamakshi, who has chanted her way out of chronic depression…try it.

How to go about it

* Learn from a guru. Besides teaching you to pronounce a mantra perfectly, a guru knows which mantra you need.

* Sit on a rug to conserve body energy.

* Chant slowly and clearly, sticking to the exact pronunciation and emphasis.

* Synchronise the chant with the rhythm of your breath.

* Keep your eyes closed.

* Breathe deep and slow.

* Don’t hold yourself rigid. Let your muscles relax.

* Give it time. The effects are slow but sure to come.