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Sacred Sound Healing: Science, History & Examples

Healing mantras have an ancient history. For thousands of years the rishis of India (Hindu sages) experimented with the effects of chanting. Mantras focused on the names of the gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon appear to be coded compilations of sound designed to create elevated states and to stimulate health and longevity. Mantras may be keys to connecting with and embodying the aspect of God’s consciousness exemplified by a particular deity.


This article covers several aspects of sacred sound healing including the science of sound; the impact of specific words and syllables; sacred sound healing and nature, sacred sound healing and yoga, Vedic chants and the chakras.

Healing Mantras and the Science of Sound

When vowels and consonants are put together in words and phrases and mantras, formulas can be created with distinct impacts on emotional, mental and physical states. For example, the sound “uhm” or “ahm” is purported to energize and purify the blood. The “uh” is said to help to cleanse the body of impurities and the “m” seals the body from incoming negative energies.

Likewise, the sound “aha” is stimulating for the hormonal system. This exclamation is often used in English when a sudden solution or insight is gained (aha!). The Sanskrit translation means something very similar: “indeed, it is true, certainly, surely, it is granted.”

When this sound is extended (a ha ha ha ha ha ha), the effect is similar to laughter therapy, which has been proven to relieve stress and depression. Indeed, laughing with friends is a powerful group bonding experience. We are thirty times more likely to laugh in a group context than when alone.

Sacred Sound Healing and the Word “Namaha”

The Sanskrit word “namaha” combines the “aha” sound with two controlling consonants (n and m) and means “it is not about me; I submit to a higher power of control in my life.” This word is utilized in many Eastern chants:

Om Namaha Sri—represents the process of letting go and giving of oneself

Om Namaha Shivaya—focuses on removing all that is not the divine within

Om Gam Ganapatiyei Namaha—removes obstacles and opens the door to success

Om Sri Kali Durgaya Namaha—provides protection and removes negativity within and without

Om Sri Ramaya Namaha—begets pure divine consciousness and truth

Sacred Sound Healing and the Syllable “La”

Another example of a powerful syllable in sacred sound healing is the syllable “la.” Pronouncing this syllable involves the tongue and upper frontal part of the palate. This creates a conduction of energy to the brain. “La” is also a common syllable used for vocal exercises for singers.

In Sanskrit, “la” means “the act of giving or taking,” as in an exchange. In the Hindu tradition, Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, fortune, health and prosperity. Prosperity is the process of giving or exchanging a service or product. Here is an example of a chant to Lakshmi:

Om Hrim Shrim Lakshmi Bhayo Namaha—this combines om (the sound of universal creation) with hrim (a fire bija or seed syllable), shrim (the Sanskrit bija or seed syllable incorporated in the name Lakshmi) and bhayo (bestow on us) with namaha, meaning honor.

Sacred Sound Healing in Kundalini Yoga

Another powerful healing mantra is the Siri Gaitri Mantra, sung in Gurmukhi, the liturgical language of the Sikh tradition. This mantra taps into the energies of the sun, moon, earth and the Infinite Spirit to bring deep healing. It can be chanted to heal the self or to send healing energy to anyone you wish:

Ra Ma Da Sa, Sa Say So Hung—the meaning of this chant is ra (sun), ma (moon), da (earth), sa (impersonal infinity), say (totality), so (personal sense of merger and identity) and hung (the infinite, vibrating and real).

Sacred Sound Healing & Nature

The mastery of sound can also connect you to your environment. There are many indigenous traditions of singing to the wind, the rain and the earth. You can begin to work with natural elements and the weather. Personally I believe that all of life has some level of consciousness and sentience. 

I had a remarkable experience a few years ago chanting in nature. Most people do not realize that there are megaliths here in Montana. Megaliths are large stones structures of various types akin to the more famous Stonehenge in Britain. A number of these megaliths are located about a ninety minute drive from my home in Bozeman.

My husband Andrew and I took a day-long tour of some of the megaliths with Julie Ryder, an avid researcher and expert on the topic. When our group had finished a fascinating day exploring the megaliths with Julie, I was standing near a unique structure called the Pink Vault.

The Pink Vault consists of two large pink granite boulders surrounded by a wall of black granite boulders. I found the structure to be particularly fascinating and attractive. Julie saw me from across a little valley and called over to me to sing a mantra.

I started a mantra to Lalita, a Hindu goddess. My husband knew the song and began chanting with me. After a few minutes we rejoined the group. Julie had filmed us chanting and thought she had turned off the camera.

The next morning she discovered that the camera had actually been on for a few minutes after we had been chanting near the Pink Vault. She had captured an image of a waterfall of pink light cascading down in that spot.

I don’t know if waterfall was related to me personally as much as to the mantra itself. In other words, for me this experience was a sign that the chanting was having an energetic impact in unseen dimensions.

I find the memory of that pink waterfall to be comforting on days when I may not feel that my chants are making a difference for me or in the world at large.I have no real explanation for the pink waterfall, but something certainly seemed to be happening!

Two minute excerpt from a 3 hour interview on mantras and healing. More at Interviews.

Sacred Sound Healing and Vedic Chants

There are specific chants in the Indian Ayurvedic system for all aspects of the subtle energy body that is surrounding and interpenetrating the physical body. The holistic science of Ayurvedic healing was developed in India over 3,000 years ago. According to Ayurvedic teachings, the subtle energy body can be harmonized to the physical body to create a flow of energy, also known as shakti, that assists and supports physical health.

Shakti is the unformed, feminine energy that pervades the universe. This energy is also known  as chi or prana. This is the energy behind all manifestations. In the Chinese system, the shakti would be the yin energy and the masculine energy would be the yang energy. The masculine energy is Shiva in the Hindu tradition. The masculine energy creates a container into which the shakti energy or goddess energy can be poured. The individual determines the form that the energy will take.

Head with Healing Mantras

The energy body around the physical body is known as the Mantra Purusha or the body of sound. The Mantra Purusha correlates all of the vowels, consonants, semi-vowels and sibilants in the Sanskrit language to regions of the body. There are sixteen vowels, twenty-five consonants and nine semi-vowels and sibilants. Many of the vowels and corresponding syllables have both long and short vowel forms. The sounds and mantras correspond to zones known as the marmas that are similar to but larger than acupuncture points.

A great introductory handbook for this topic is Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound by Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shasti). Dr. Frawley includes an appendix with mantras for each area of the body. Each mantra follows a pattern: the word “om” followed by the seed syllable for a specific part of the body, followed by the word “namah” and completed by the name of the bodily location.

For example, a possible mantra for the head is “Om Am Namah Sirasi,” which translates something like: “O Universe, I give reverence to my head!” Likewise, the mantra “Om Im Namah Vama Netre” means “O Universe, I give reverence to my left eye!” See illustration.

Other Vedic chants focus on the energy of the chakras. For example, each of the seed syllables for the chakras can be used to create mantras. These syllables reflect the essence of each chakra and help to clear and strengthen the associated energy. Learn more in the articles Chakra Sounds and Chakra Mantras.

About the Author

Kathleen Karlsen is a musician, artist, writer and speaker. She is the author of two books (Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine) and over 200 articles. Kathleen, her husband Andrew and their five children live in Bozeman, Montana. More about Kathleen Karlsen.

Kathleen Karlsen

Kathleen’s Books

Vocal Medicine reveals Kathleen Karlsen’s personal journey and years of research into mantras, chanting and kirtan.

Learn more about using mantras and singing to invigorate your life! Explore the chakras and the impact of sound in every area of your life. 

Flower Symbols by Kathleen Karlsen features fascinating information about the folklore of the world’s most beloved flowers.

Flowers accompany us in nearly every major event in life. This book is a perfect gift for every flower lover in your life! 

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This article covers the origin and uses of sacred sound healing. Ancient mantras have been constructed with healing in mind. They are created to stimulate the various systems in the body to provide a strong and healthy foundation for mediation and other spiritual practices. Topics included in this article are the science, history and examples of sacred sound healing. Illustrations and several videos are also included.

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