“Chanting a mantra at the beginning of your meditation helps you clear the mind and takes you deep within the self. Chanting a mantra at the end of meditation helps you seal the meditation. It helps you bring the awareness of the meditation down into your daily life.” – Rama
Mantras are a very common component of many contemplative practices. Transcendental Meditation for example emphasizes mantras. Mantra is a Sanskrit word for “sound tool.” It is literally a tool employing sounds used in contemplative practice. It is a sound, e.g. “om”, or a phrase, e.g. “Love is the only miracle there is” that is repeated over and over and over during a contemplative practice.
Mantras are claimed to be helpful in contemplative practice and to help improve physical and mental well-being. But, there is very little empirical research on mantras or their effectiveness. One problem in studying mantras is that they are embedded in a contemplative practice. It is difficult then to separate the effects of the mantra from that of the overall practice. So, it is important to study mantras while extracting them from the practices.
In today’s Research News article “Repetitive speech elicits widespread deactivation in the human cortex: the “Mantra” effect? Brain and Behavior”
Berkovich-Ohana and colleagues do just this. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4511287/
They study the effects of repetitive speech, devoid of its spiritual or meditative context, on the activity of the brain. They simply had participants repeat the word “one” over and over again for 8-minutes while resting in an f-MRI scanner. They found that during repetitive speech there was an overall reduction in brain activity. In studies of meditation it has been reported that there is a reduction of activity in some areas and an increase in others. So, it is remarkable to observe a reduction without an increase elsewhere.
They found that the reduction in brain activity was particularly focused on a set of structures that has been labelled as the default mode network (DMN). The DMN has been found frequently in the past to be the areas that are active during mind wandering and internalized self-referential activity. In support of this, they obtained reports of the participants experience during repetitive speech and found that there was a marked reduction in thoughts and sensations experienced. Hence it appears that the repetitive speech reduced brain activity in association with reduced mental activity.
These results clarify why mantras are so often used in contemplative practices. They quiet the mind and they quiet the brain. This is exactly the initial goal of contemplative practice. So, mantras can be of great help in establishing the exact mental and physical state desired in contemplative practices.
So, incorporate mantras in your contemplative practice and calm your mind and brain.
“You are a cosmic flower. Om chanting is the process of opening the psychic petals of that flower.” ― Amit Ray
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies