It seems that mantras or chants, be it repetitive single words or a series of words and even sounds, are found in all major organised religions. You might call them prayers or incantations, but any form of spiritual belief, spread throughout any of the ages and across the globe, has its own version of it.
Every single one ascribes to the notion of either immeasurable power, power to heal, power to change, power for good and for some even power for evil. And some are seen as opening a communication pathway to a higher Being or Creator – and the hope or belief, there will be a response.
The Power Of “Om”
When one speaks about Hinduism, there is no escaping the mention of “Om” or “Aum”. It is the core and most powerful chant or mantra (Sanskrit for sound tool) and the basic tool for many meditation practices. It is made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma. What is behind the reverence for Om and why does it have this power over people?
The Hindus consider “Om” to be the first sound that was created when the Universe was created, at the time of the Big Bang if you accept that theory of creation. It’s the sound that still reverberates throughout the universe, a primordial sound as it were, is their belief.
There has been research done on the properties and benefits of chanting “Om” and one published in 2009 concludes that it acts as a brain stabiliser and is calming, especially for those under stress. Also agreed upon by this team of researchers from India, the conclusion is that “Om is a spiritual mantra, outstanding to fetch peace and calm. The entire psychological pressure and worldly thoughts are taken away by the chanting of Om mantra.”
India’s National Institute Of Mental Health And Neurosciences (NIMHAN) has been studying whether yoga and meditation that includes “Om” mantras are beneficial for mental health. The researchers observed that the brain’s limbic region – the part of the mind that controls primal emotions and instinctive responses – was deactivated when subjects chanted “Om”.
Caption: There are many chants in Hinduism but the most basic is “Om”. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Elevated By Buddhist Chants
“Om” is also one of the chants that Buddhists and Jains employ – understandable considering the links both religions or philosophies have with Hinduism. Buddhism though has its own set of chants (and this can differ according to the various schools – Theravada (Sri Lanka and South-east Asia), Mahayana (East Asia) and Vajrayana (Indo-Tibetan).
One of the main chants of the Tibetan branch is “Om Mani Padme Hum” (note the “Om”). A scientific paper published in 2013 looks at the effect of this chant and it notes that sound can travel much faster in water than in air. Up to 60% of our body is composed of water and several previous studies have shown that even in organisms without auditory apparatus, like snails, playing the chant has a direct effect on cognition.
The study confirms that the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” is made up of frequencies that are known to generate powerful vibrations when chanted. These vibrations during chanting are presumed to be creating a resonance effect, as a result of formation of constructive interference patterns between the frequencies of each syllable which maybe the reason this chant exhibits a therapeutic/healing effect on the body and its functions.
Power Of The Mind
The chants most well-known, under Christian practices are the Gregorian chants (or plainchant) named after Pope Gregory The Great in 600 CE. In 1994 it even received attention on the pop charts thanks to the group Enigma, who added beats to it and even the Benedictine Monks of Santo Dominico De Silo became part of the trend and sold five million of their albums.
As reported by The Washington Times, Benedictine Sister Ruth Stanley who was head of the complementary medicine programme at the Central Minnesota Heart Center at St. Cloud Hospital thinks chants are good for easing chronic pain and other ailments.
“The body can move into a deeper level of its own inherent, innate healing ability when you play chant,” she says. “About 85 percent of the time, the body goes into very deep healing modes. It’s quite remarkable.”
What seems certain is that all these different chants from different religions with its different tones or cadence seemingly has your mind working to tune the body in some fashion, or even independently of the mind.
Writer | S. S. Yoga
Yoga is a freelance editor/writer/media consultant who does not like to be limited in his interests and hence occasionally gets TMI-infections. That does not stop him, though, from exploring many rabbit holes all over the world. He loves the challenge of organising data and experiences.