There are various forms of mindfulness meditation one can do, such as focusing on your breath, watching your thoughts, or being mindful of your steps. Besides these, another popular form of meditation is mantra-based meditation. But many of us don’t understand how using a mantra can help deepen our meditation.
The purpose of mantra in meditation is to purify our consciousness and mold the subconscious mind, much like affirmations. Apart from their various physical and mental benefits, mantras can also be used to elevate oneself spiritually by concentrating on their sound.
That was a quick answer. But how exactly do mantras work? What are the benefits? Why should you use them? Let’s dive deep into these questions to understand the importance of mantras in the science of meditation. We’ll also be talking about how you should chant a mantra. However, we won’t be going into choosing a mantra, as that’s a topic for another discussion.
- How do mantras work?
- The physical and mental benefits of mantra meditation
- How should you chant a mantra?
How do mantras work?
We work with different kinds of sounds throughout our day. They have a huge impact on us. When you cook your partner’s favorite dish as a surprise for them, their words of appreciation make you feel warm, right? What are those words of appreciation except a certain type of sound? Different genres of music, even instrumentals, make you feel different emotions. Sounds shape our thoughts and feelings in a profound way.
In spiritual practices, the ideas we’re trying to grasp are beyond the scope of our experience. Concepts like universal love, ultimate peace, or bliss are outside our reach, at least as of yet. Now, the ancient sages developed an auxiliary tool to bring us near the realization of these ideas — the technique of using sounds.
Before we understand how mantras work, note that the following distinction (mantras as affirmations and mantras as object of meditation) is mostly arbitrary. It’s there only to better understand the different ways mantras affect us.
Mantras as affirmations
If you’ve been into self-improvement for some time, you must’ve heard of a type of therapeutic sound called affirmation. Affirmations are positive phrases or statements that you repeat to yourself. When you repeat these statements, your mind gradually gets into the habit of thinking positively. The repetition helps ward off negative or unhelpful thoughts.
It’s no secret that our thoughts shape our lives. The Buddha’s Dhammapada begins with the same assertion.
All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.-The Buddha, Verse 2 of the Dhammapada
So the question is: Can mantras change your life by changing your thought patterns? Of course. One way to think about mantras is that they work quite like affirmations. However, they are wider and deeper than affirmations, much more than mere self-suggestions.
Mantras as an object of meditation
In concentrative meditation, the aim is to build one-pointed awareness of an object. That object could be your breathing, a repetitive sound, or an image. Usually, if you’re going to concentrate on a repeating sound, you pick up a mantra.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to get initiated in order to practice chanting the mantra. However, there are a lot of mantras you can chant without having to go through any initiation. Simple – but by no means less effective – mantras like Om, Ram, Hare Krishna, etc. don’t require initiation.
At first, you’ll hardly be able to maintain attention for a few seconds before your mind wanders off. But the repetitive sound will gradually train your mind to stay fixated at the mantra for longer periods. Many expert meditators proclaim that mantras work wonderfully to tame the mind and bring it to a state of serenity and bliss.
Also read: Should you meditate after eating?
The physical and mental benefits of mantra meditation
Western science has yet to fully catch up with the ancient science of mantra meditation. However, there have been a few studies that show the neurological effect of mantras on the brain. Let’s look at some of these researches to understand how mantras affect our mental health.
Mantras replace thoughts
One such study published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, measured activity in a region of the brain known as the default mode network. It’s the area that’s active during self-reflection and when the mind wanders. Simply put, the activity in the default mode network reflects the calmness or agitation of the mind. If that region is overactive, it means that the mind is distracted or wandering.
In the study, a group of people were asked to participate in a two-week Kundalini Yoga course. The course consisted of six 90-minutes sessions spread across the two weeks. Each session began with yoga exercises and ended with mantra meditation for 11 minutes.
The research concluded that the default mode network of participants was more suppressed when performing the mantra meditation. It is effective in calming down and reducing the constant rambling of the mind.
Mantras relieve stress, anxiety, and depression
Another review of studies shows that mantra meditation has positive effects on the mental health of general population. In the study, mantras were shown to cause significant improvements in people with anxiety issues. Some studies in the review also concluded that mantras can have a huge impact on depression as well. Lastly, a majority of studies reported that mantra meditation reduces stress to a great degree.
So we can say that it has several alleviating effects on a person’s mental health. Mantras rewire your brain and reduce depression, stress, and anxiety. Additional advantages of using a mantra during meditation are a more controlled heart rate and lower blood pressure. The practice of chanting can also help in immune functions. Overall, it can help manage one’s thoughts to enhance the physical and psychological state of one’s being.
As I’ve said, there haven’t been a lot of high-quality studies to back the various benefits of this ancient practice. But that doesn’t make mantras any less powerful or transformative than they are. The current research findings do not profess that mantra-based meditation is a life-saving remedy, but it can undoubtedly change your life. You can experience the profound changes in your inner world within only a couple of weeks by chanting a mantra daily.
Also read: 10 reasons why you should not meditate
How should you chant a mantra?
Now that you’ve got a mantra for yourself, you need to know how to properly practice it. The first step you should take is learn the proper pronunciation. If you pick a simple mantra, you probably won’t face any issues with pronunciation. However, if the mantra is a bit complex, you should consult an experienced meditator to learn the correct pronunciation. If you can’t find anyone around you, you’ll certainly find someone capable on the internet.
Once you’ve got the pronunciation down, you’re ready to start harnessing the power of mantras to transform your inner world.
The three types of chanting
According to the scriptures, you can chant a mantra in three different ways. All three have their characteristics and the results also vary depending on what kind of chanting you’re doing. The types are:
- Vacik – This is when you chant the mantra out loud. Other people around you will be able to hear clearly what you’re chanting.
- Upāmsa – Here, you whisper the mantra to yourself, chanting it very softly. Your lips move, but nobody around you will be able to hear the recitation except you.
- Mānasa – In this type of chanting, your lips don’t move. You sit still and recite the mantra quietly in your mind. No sound comes out of your mouth.
Whispering the mantra is more beneficial than chanting it out loud. Similarly, reciting the mantra in your head is considered to be more fruitful than whispering it.
There’s also a fourth type of chanting, known as Ajapa. It’s when you don’t even chant the mantra yourself. You merely play a listener and pay attention to the chanting that takes place inside yourself, without you doing it. Attaining this state takes a lot of time and sincere effort. So that’s something we don’t need to worry about. We’ll leave it to the adepts, at least for now.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t take that long to start seeing the results of your chanting. What we just talked about is an advanced stage of mantra meditation. For starters, you’ll begin noticing changes within a couple of weeks of sincere practice.
How should you do chant it?
The mind is quite restless. It easily gets bored if you repeat a single thing for more than a few minutes. Although your capacity to concentrate on the mantra will increase over time, you’ll have difficulties in the beginning. So it’s a good idea to mix different types of chanting to spice things up a bit and keep the monkey mind engaged.
When your mind gets restless after reciting it in your head, you can turn to whispering the mantra. When you tired of that, try chanting it out loud or singing it. You can also take a walk or a few deep breaths to freshen things up.
Also, don’t try to sit for long periods if you’re just starting out. You should divide your meditation practice into multiple short, lucid sessions instead of a single big, sleepy one. If you want to learn more about how often you should meditate in a day and how you can increase the length of your sessions, be sure to read this article: How many times a day should I meditate?
Mantra recitation is an ancient practice aimed at taming the restless mind and bringing it to peace. The transformation it brings is almost magical, but there’s a process behind it. Western science hasn’t fully caught up with mantra chanting (or even mindfulness meditation for that matter). However, the wonderful effects of this simple practice can be experienced in our day-to-day lives by following it sincerely.
If you’re thinking about getting into mantra meditation, I’ll strongly encourage you to give it a try. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing other forms of meditation for some time. Engaging in mantra chanting will undoubtedly help you progress further on the spiritual path.
If you have any questions regarding mantra meditation, feel free to comment them below and I’ll be sure to respond.
Good luck and happy meditating 😊