By Geeta Maraj
January 1st, 2014 Edition
We often view chanting as a spiritual practice. The term chanting brings to mind Buddhist monks in their saffron robes, creating a form of vocal melody that is soothing to the ear. However, chanting is more common than we realize and is present in every culture. This ancient practice continues to stand the test of time for its multifarious benefits to our health, mental focus, perseverance and spiritual advancement.
A chant can vary from a single syllable or word to a series of words. In Hinduism the word or phrase that is chanted is known as a mantra. Today mantra is used loosely to meaning a ‘formula’. Indeed this formula holds such power that it is worth exploring its benefits to our health and well-being.
All religions whether consciously or otherwise, practice some form of chanting. In Christianity, reciting the name of ‘Jesus’ at the end of each praise to God constitutes a mantra. In Catholicism, saying ‘Hail Mary Full of Grace’, repeatedly, is a form of mantra recitation. In Islam, ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) remains a popular mantra for Muslims. Similarly in Buddhism ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ (the jewel in the lotus of the heart) is chanted to produce the same result of deep spiritual potency.
Through chanting, thoughts become more focused, thereby creating greater mental and emotional strength. A chant also serves to control the busy mind, and can be used as a way to conquer health issues, such as depression, hypertension and cardiac problems. The ultimate goal of chanting or mantra recitation however, is to find a spiritual connection to a supreme being, and even in this doing, we ultimately discover our personal inner power and strength.
From a yogic perspective, the practice of chanting is called Mantra Yoga, also referred to as Japa Yoga. Mantra Yoga is one of the approximately 40 different types of yogic practices, all of which are interconnected. Mantras can be chanted in many forms. They can be spoken verbally (Vaikhari Japa), recited mentally (Manasika Japa), whispered or hummed (Upamsu Japa), or written (Likhita Japa). These various types of japa can be combined to improve focusing of the mind.
Chanting serves to quiet the busy mind. A busy mind causes stress to be built up in the body and is the key cause of many ailments that are a norm in today’s society. With a calmer mind, daily tensions and frustrations are subdued and we become more accepting of our experiences. In time, one finds, through mantra recitation, issues such as, depression, stress and anxiety, gradually dissipate as we learn to disconnect from aggressive and angry tendencies. With a calmer mind, we evolve into beings of greater compassion and love, consequently tapping into our natural inner state of peacefulness, calmness, courage, and patience.
Unlike meditation, which requires self-discipline, will power and a serene environment, mantra yoga can be practiced at any time under varying situations. The healing power and health benefits arising from chanting are especially valuable during onerous experiences as it helps to disconnect us from the situation at hand. This is advantageous in preventing one from becoming overtly involved with the mundane trivialities of everyday life, protecting us against anger, stress and depression.
In Hinduism, the eventual goal of mantra recitation is achieving what is termed ‘ajapa-japam’. The first letter “a” means without, “japam” means repetition of a mantra. Hence ‘ajapa-japam’ means, subconsciously repeating a mantra without mentally commencing the chant. In other words, it is the means by which the consciousness repeats a mantra when the mind is preoccupied by the routines of daily life. Such a skill is achieved only through constant practice of mantra yoga. The benefit of ‘ajapa-japam’ is that one subconsciously nourishes the inner spiritual Self. An added benefit to ‘ajapa-japam’ is that when faced with a trying experience, your subconscious slips into a mental chant, which you slowly become aware of, and quickly gain detachment from the exigent situation.
Chanting is a unique and irreplaceable mean to overcoming many of life’s daily challenges. The fact that it has existed in all cultures lends additional weight of its importance to our well-being. Chanting builds inner courage, self-esteem, keeps our heart rate under control, helps to prevent organ damage through stress build up in our body, and additionally strengthens our spiritual focus. Through the practice of Mantra Yoga, we have the capability of freeing ourselves from the ailments that the stresses of daily life produce