“Through our chanting we merge our personal consciousness momentarily with the infinite consciousness that is our origin and our destiny. It is the drop of water finding its way back into the ocean from which it came.” —Victor Shamas, The Chanters Guide: Sacred Chanting as a Shamanic Practice
You hear the word “mantra” a lot—not only in wellness circles but in popular culture. In the West, it’s often understood as intention, more like a motto. For example, someone says, “Radical self-care is my mantra” or “My mantra is fake it ’til you make it.” But that’s not the true meaning of this ancient Sanskrit word.
Delving into the concept of Vedic meditation and chanting brings us closer to the original meaning of mantra.
Mantra = Mind Tool
In Sanskrit the word “mantra” can be broken down into two parts: man meaning “mind” and tra meaning “tool” or “vehicle.” A mantra is a sacred word, sound, or phrase that, when spoken or chanted, can direct the healing powers of prana, or life energy.
There are over 20,000 Vedic meditation mantras. They appear in a collection of ancient Hindu hymns known as the Rig Veda (one of the four Vedas).
In the Vedic and Ayurvedic traditions, there are five elements— ether, air, fire, water, and earth—and each relates directly to one of the five senses. Ether is the element associated with sound; every sound carries a special vibration. When used in certain ways, such sounds become powerful mantras that have energetic effects.
The words of a mantra also have meaning, which is why it’s recommended to employ a Vedic meditation mantra you know the translation of. While pronunciation, intensity, velocity, and meaning will impact the overall energetics of a mantra, the most important aspect is the faith, devotion, and emotion with which one chants it.
Origin of Vedic Mantras
Traditionally, Vedic mantras were passed down from gurus to their disciples. Wherever the students traveled, they recited the given mantra in order to stay connected to their guru and the spiritual tradition.
When I was a little girl, my mom taught me the mother of all Vedic mantras, Gayatri Mantra, which is dedicated to the Sun God and to illuminating the intellect. Chanting this Vedic mantra can induce calm, align the chakras in the body, and allow the flow of energy.
Original Gayatri Mantra
Om bhur bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat.
Oh, creator of the universe.
We meditate upon thy supreme splendor.
May thy radiant power illuminate our intellects, destroy our ignorance
and guide us in the direction of enlightenment by purifying our inner hearts.
How to Acquire and Use a Mantra
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you might have heard “om” chanting at the end. I have also heard this mantra in healing spaces:
Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Niraamayaah
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih
Which is translated as:
Om, May All be Happy,
May All be Free from Illness.
May All See what is auspicious,
May no one Suffer.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.
I share these examples to elucidate that mantra is more than intention-setting and that mantras come in various forms. Again, they can be just one word or several lines. And repeating a mantra can be practiced anywhere by anyone.
Pick a mantra that resonates with you. Sanskrit mantras are said to be particularly sacred because of the sounds and syllables that make up this ancient language. However, if you prefer to chant your Vedic mantra in English or another language, you can certainly look up translations. You can also write your own mantras—considered more like daily affirmations—but to be considered Vedic, a mantra’s root must come from the Vedas.
The act of repetitive chanting is what makes Vedic mantras both meditative as well as transformative. Mantras can be chanted out loud or internally; each has certain benefits. When chanted out loud, a mantra impacts both your external and internal environment. When repeated silently, the mantra calms the mind and cellular makeup.
Chant your mantra slowly and breathe deeply. It helps if you are seated—this maximizes groundedness and a feeling of calm. And because mantras allow you to enter a deep state of meditation, it’s safer if you are sitting down in a relatively tranquil place.
If you want a Vedic meditation mantra to have a desired effect, chant for several months. Start with 10 minutes daily. If possible, try building the chanting for up to 30-40 minutes a day.
Benefits of Mantra Meditation
According to Harvard researchers, the many benefits of chanting mantras include “healing the body, protecting the mind, and connecting the chanter with the divine.”
When we chant mantras, the vibrations from the sound impact neurons in our body. Studies show that this rhythm creates a neurolinguistic effect. Chanting also helps balance the nervous system, regulate chronic stress, and reduce tension.
[Read: “Repeat After You: 3 Unexpected Benefits of Chanting.”]
Did you know that chanting can also normalize hormone production and balance the endocrine system? The vibration from the mantra stimulates the hypothalamus, which is responsible for the regulation of many bodily functions, including signaling the production of so-called happy hormones. As a result, mantra meditation creates an overall sense of wellbeing and enhances mood. And finally, the breathing pattern created by chanting helps to oxygenate the skin, making it look healthier.
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Chanting is a fundamental part of healing and prayer practices around the world. And there are so many benefits to it. Why not add a Vedic meditation mantra to your routine?
Want to learn more about Vedic practices? Explore how to read a Vedic birth chart.