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Mantra Yoga:

How to Heal Body, Mind & Consciousness

Mantra yoga has powerful effects on the body, mind and consciousness. Scientists are studying these effects on individual well-being on many levels. The power of the voice for transformation is evident. This may be one of the reasons why devotional singing exists in virtually all cultures and religious traditions.

This article covers several aspects of mantra yoga including how to use a spiritual mantra, the Hindu pantheon, the music of India, the value of kirtan, breathing practices, energy conduction, consciousness, the impact of mantra yoga on the body, building a mantra, the meridians, the pineal gland and the use of Sanskrit. 

MANTRA YOGA TABLE OF CONTENTS

What is Mantra Yoga?

The Eastern form of devotional singing is known as mantra yoga. Mantra yoga is the repetition of phrases and passages designed for certain effects on the body and mind. The word “mantra” is derived from two Sanskrit words. There are many interpretations of the word mantra.

Most sources say that “man” is from “manas” or mind. Some sources say that “tra” is from “trai,” meaning to protect or free from. So a mantra would protect you from distractions and free you from the prison of your mind.

Other experts say that “mantra” means “a sacred text or message.” Still other sources say that “tra” means “a vehicle or instrument to concentrate the mind.” All of these interpretations indicate that mantras are types of worded formulas or sound tools with distinct impacts on emotional, mental and spiritual states.

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How to Use a Mantra

A mantra is like a tagline for your life as a whole or for an aspect of your life. A mantra was once something given by a spiritual teacher to a disciple. Although you may still decide to find or be given a mantra in that tradition, you can also choose your own mantra or multiple mantras that are beneficial for your life.

A well-chosen mantra is an affirmation that keeps you on course in whatever is the highest direction or highest aspiration for your life. Every mantra carries a vibration or frequency, giving them a certain amount of power in and of themselves. However, the energy of the mantra is also directly related to the intention and focus of the one who is chanting.

Mantras can be recited mentally, spoken aloud or sung. If you are looking for changes in your inner and outer circumstances, mantra yoga is a very powerful tool!

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Mantras and the Hindu Deities

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. The entire universe consists of sound or vibration. The rishis of India (Hindu sages) experimented for thousands of years with the effects of mantra yoga.

The gods and goddesses of Hinduism can be viewed as parables, mythology or as legends based on the lives of ancient historical persons. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the process of relating to a god or goddess is the sense of a personal relationship. They do exist at some level whether that be psychological, spiritual or factual.

Every tradition has heroes and heroines that are examples which others can emulate. In some cases, their stories are cautionary tales of pitfalls to avoid. They are like us in many ways. They are often grouped in families. They have consorts and relationships with other divine beings.

In addition, their stories are often fantastical, making them highly memorable. Mantras are keys to connecting and embodying the aspect of God’s consciousness exemplified by a particular deity. They also appear to be very practical forms of yoga for youthfulness and health.

There are also Hindu deities that are associated with each of the seven major chakras or energy systems in the body. A brief outline of these deities and possible mantras are given below.  For more information, please read the extended article Chakras and Deities

Root Chakra Deities: Indra, Brahma, Ganesha
Mantra to Ganesha:
Ganesha Sharanam, Sharanam Ganesha
Sayisha, Sharanam, Sharanam Ganesha Sharanam
Listen to this mantra and learn more about Ganesha symbolism.

Sacral Chakra Deities: Vishnu, Rakini, Parvati
Mantra to Parvati: Parvati, Parashakti, Parvati. Jai Parvati Shakti Mata

Solar Plexus Chakra Deities: Rudra, Lakini, Lakshmi
Mantra to Lakshmi: Om Hrim Shrim Lakshmi Bhayo Namaha

Heart Chakra Deities: Hanuman
Mantra to Hanuman: Hanuman Jaya Ram, Jaya Sita Ram

Throat Chakra Deities: Sadashiva
Mantra to Sadashiva: Namo, Sadashiva Shambo, Hey Shiva Shankara Shambo

Third Eye Chakra Deities: Shiva, Rama, Krishna
Mantra to Krishna and Rama: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare; Hare Rama, hare Rama, Rama Rama, hare hare

Crown Chakra Deities: Shiva (Nataraja)
Mantra to Nataraja: Nataraja, Nataraja; Nartana Sundara Nataraja; Sivaraja, Sivaraja,
Sivakami Preya Sivaraja; Chidambaresa Nataraja; Parthi Puresa Sivaraja
Listen to this mantra and learn more about Nataraja Mantras.

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The Music of India

In India, music is a divine art. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva-the Hindu trinity-were the first musicians. Brahma (the Creator or Father) plays the cymbals to keep the time for the process of creation. Vishnu (the Preserver or Son) plays the drum or mrindanga. Krisha is an incarnation of Vishnu who plays a song on the flute that calls wandering souls to their true Home. Shiva (the Destroyer or Holy Spirit) is the third person of the trinity known as the Cosmic Dancer. In addition, Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, performs on the vina, the mother of all stringed instruments.

Earliest Beginnings of Musical Science

Although you do not have to know any of the details of Indian music to benefit from mantra yoga, a brief overview shows the intricacy of this ancient science. The Sama Veda is the world’s earliest known collection of writings on musical science. This Indian text fixes the traditional melodic scales and six basic ragas, from which an additional 126 derivative ragas are created.

A raga is a mode or pattern that includes a scale with a given set of notes as well as characteristic melodies. Each of the six basic ragas corresponds with a certain hour of the day, season of the year and a presiding deity. Each raga has a minimum of five notes:

Vadi (King): the leading note
Sama Vadi (Prime Minister): the secondary note
Anuvadi (Attendants): two helping notes
Vivadi (Enemy): a dissonant note

Differences Between Eastern and Western Music

The octaves in Indian music are divided into 22 srutis or demi semitones. These are microtonal intervals that permit fine shades of musical expression unattainable in a western chromatic scale of 12 semitones. Western music has three basic scales: major, harmonic minor, melodic minor. Indian music has 72 scales (thetas). Indian musicians do not read set notes but improvise constantly on a set theme.

Indian music is mostly confined to the three octaves most comfortable for the human voice. Melody (succession of notes) is emphasized over harmony (simultaneous notes). Harmony, a Western trait,  emphasizes cooperation with other musicians or singers. Indian music is traditionally aimed at spiritual awakening and is a subjective and individualistic art. The Sanskrit word for musician is bhagavathar or “he who sings the praises of God”.

There are seven common time signatures in the West. In the East, there are 120 time signatures. Time signatures are based on human rhythms such as walking and breathing. An example of this is the triple time involved in respiration when sleeping. During sleep,. The inhalation is typically twice the length of the exhalation.

The Role of Nature in Music

The desire to depict nature in music is embedded in various cultural traditions around the world. In traditional Indian culture, nature is viewed as an objectification of the primal sound or vibratory word OM or AUM. Thus, man can attain control over all manifestations of nature using mantras.

For example, Miyan Tan Sen, a 16th century court musician for Akbar the Great, was commanded to sing a night raga while the sun was overhead. Tan Sen intoned a mantra which instantly enveloped the palace precincts in darkness.

Agni Deva Fire with Hands

Mantras and Bhakti Yoga

Mantra Yoga is also known as Bhakti Yoga, a form of yoga that emphasizes devotion. This is the path of the heart and spiritual fire. Bhakti yoga can include any one of many different physical yoga practices or none at all. Bhakti yoga is often focused on a personal aspect of God such as the Divine Mother or a particular deity.

The effect of Mantra or Bhakti Yoga can be explained through the yoga of sound known as Naad or Nada Yoga. This includes both chanting and instrumental music. “Naad” is the Sanskrit word for “sound or tone.” The entire universe consists of sound or vibration. Naad can be interpreted as the flow of sound. Naad Yoga is the use of sound to unite polarities on one or more levels. 

“Yoga” means “to unite, connect or integrate.” Yoga is the union of polarities or differentiated aspects of life: mind and body; spirit and matter; masculine and feminine. Mantra Yoga unites the practitioner with the intended good whether that is healing, abundance, forgiveness, protection or any other need.

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Breathing Practices and Mantra Yoga

The repetition of a mantra is closely aligned with breathing practices. This does not even have to be a conscious effort in order to experience the effects of mantras. The rhythmic nature of a repeated mantra naturally creates a cyclical pattern of breathing.

When people are singing or chanting together, studies have shown that their heart rates and breathing tend to synchronize. This helps to create a sense of connection and community on multiple levels. In addition, many spiritual traditions view the breath as the bridge between the inner world and the outer world.

Controlling the breath or expanding the breath can change our perception of reality. Observing and adjusting the breath joins our minds and spirits to our bodies. The core of mantra yoga as well as other yoga practices is a direct experience of God. This creates a form of somatic spirituality or embodied spirituality versus an intellectual study or understanding of God.

Spiritual Mantra and Lungs
Lung Illustration by Rose Karlsen

On the physical level, something else to consider is the air quality in your indoor environment. Many of us in the modern world deal with toxins in the air. Diffusing essential oils is one way to help create a healthier environment for spiritual practices. Learn more about essential oils and the seven major chakras on this website at Chakras and Essential Oils.

Learn more about the benefits of essential oil diffusion on the Essential Drops of Joy website. Buy essential oils at discounted rates (24% off) with Kathleen Karlsen as your mentor (Brand Partner #1043288) at Young Living Essential Oils

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Mantras as Powerful Energy Conductors

My personal experience of mantra yoga is a very physical sensation of connecting with a source of energy. This creates a buzzing feeling like a vibrational humming throughout my entire body. Sometimes this is accompanied by a sensation of burning in my heart or the sensation of energy filling my chest. It is a euphoria a bit like a runner’s high, only more pervasive. Sort of like being intoxicated in every cell.

This may happen quickly or slowly. I find the sensation builds the most when I am chanting the same mantra continuously for a period of time rather than moving from mantra to mantra. However, when and if this happens and how long it takes varies widely.

Mantra Yoga Event
Lodoe Tsering, Kathleen Karlsen and Michael Koster Playing "Om Mani Padme Hum"

Sometimes it only takes ten minutes. Sometimes the feeling is completely elusive even in the course of an hour or two of chanting. Other times the energy flow starts without any chanting at all when I am merely thinking about chanting.

The sense of buzzing energy can build to the point where I am sure that I must be physically shaking, yet if I open my eyes and look at my arms and legs, they are motionless. Another way to explain this would be feeling like I have been connected to a powerful energy source. I feel the current flowing although there are no visible signs that anything has changed.

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Mantra Yoga and Consciousness

In addition to these physical sensations, mantra yoga can induce altered states of consciousness. Normal consciousness is defined in scientific circles as the state in which we are monitoring our environments and choosing how to respond. In an altered state of consciousness, our ability to monitor and control our responses is distorted.1

We may become selectively aware of our environments or completely unaware of our surroundings. Repeating a mantra also helps to calm an area of the brain known as the default mode network.2 Calming or deactivating this area of the brain can help to relieve depression, anxiety, and even suicidal tendencies. In these fundamental ways, mantras may help to gain freedom from a limited state of mind.

1National Research Council, Learning, Remembering, Believing: Enhancing Human Performance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1994.

2Susan Moran, “Mantras 101: The Science Behind Finding Your Mantra and How to Practice It,” Yoga Journal, March 20, 2018.

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Mantra Yoga and the Body

There is also scientific evidence that using mantra yoga revitalizes the physical body. The relaxation response (lowered heart rate, lower blood pressure, slower breathing rate) is triggered by various forms of meditation and spiritual practices including mantra repetition.

The effect of a spiritual mantra and the relaxation response has been well-documented by Herbert Benson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Benson recommends the use of a mental device (such as word, phrase or repeated activity) to keep the mind focused. This results in activating the parasympathetic nervous system for relaxation.

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Chakra Vowel Sounds

Building a Mantra

The impact of vowels and consonants on the body and the mind is an amazing science. There appears to be a coded formula in many sacred languages that directly stimulates various systems and organs in the body. There are also mudras (hand positions) and body movements that correspond to each note of the scale.

At a fundamental level, vowels are feminine energy: consonants are masculine energy. Vowels are generic and formless. Consonants set parameters around the feminine energy to create form from formlessness. In other words, consonants create a container. The vowels can also be correlated with the five elements system utilized in feng shui and acupuncture as outlined below:

A (AA): spiritual opening, passion, anger, wood element, liver and gallbladder
E (EE): absolute discernment, joy, disappointment, fire element, heart and small intestines
I (EYE): totality of energy, concentration, will, brooding, earth element, spleen and pancreas
O (OH): mental or intellectual activity, confidence, fear, water element, kidneys and bladder
U (EW): potentiality, physicality, compassion, grief, metal element, lungs and large intestines

Sanskrit Vowels and Mantra Yoga

Every sound literally vibrates the cells, bones, organs, and fluids in the body. The sonic power of vowels is recognized in many languages and systems. In the eastern tradition, Sanskrit vowels correspond with various bodily systems:

AH (A): assists with the health and strength of the lungs, energizes the mind
EE (E): positive effect on the throat and the brain, alleviates depression
AI (I): supports the health of the kidneys and urinary tract
OW (O): strengthens the functioning of the reproductive system
UH (U): supports a healthy heart and pumping of the blood throughout the body

Consonants in Mantra Yoga

The power of the vowels can be harnessed by controlling and directing them with the energy of the masculine consonants. A few examples of the role of consonants in words include:

L: focuses energy in a chosen direction
M: appreciation, continues spiritual action
N: power, closing, very strong stopping point
S: all directions, gathering (also SH, V, Z)
T: explosion of energy (also D and B)
Y: desire, agreement

It is interesting to note that the consonant “n” is used in many languages to indicate disagreement or an attempt to stop someone else: No! (English), Nee! (Afrikans), Niet! (Russian), Nein! (German), Nahi! (Hindi), Non! (French), Nei! (Norwegian). And the consonant “y” is often used to indicate union or an understanding: Yes. Yah. Yay. Yoga. Ye.

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Mantras & the Meridians

Mantra yoga stimulates the channels of energy in the body known as meridians. There are eighty-four meridians that end in the mouth. There are two meridians each for the thirty-two adult teeth in the hard palate and twenty additional meridians in the soft palate in the roof of the mouth.

The effect of mantras on meridians is related to the placement of the tongue in various positions to form words during speaking or chanting. This connects these meridians to the brain, increasing the energy flow to the pituitary, thalamus, hypothalamus and pineal glands.

Each of these glands are important parts of the endocrine system. Moreover, they are purported in metaphysical and occult literature to have significant roles in the development of spiritual faculties.

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The pituitary gland produces hormones that help to regulate the functions of other endocrine glands. The pituitary gland rests in a bony hollow in the brain directly behind and a little below the bridge of the nose. The pituitary is often called the master gland because of its control of the thyroid and adrenals as well as the ovaries and testicles.

The thalamus gland relays sensory information in the form of hormones from receptors in various parts of the body to the cerebral cortex. The hypothalamus affects temperature regulation, food intake, water intake, sleep and waking patterns, emotions and memory.

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Mantras and the Pineal Gland

The pineal gland is known to produce melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep patterns. Scientifically speaking, the other functions of the pineal gland are not fully understood. From a mystical standpoint, entire books have been written about the pineal gland, which is said to be intimately connected to the third eye or Ajna chakra, an energy center in the forehead between the eyes.

The pineal gland is reputed to be the source of psychic vision or the “eye of God.” The pineal gland is discussed extensively in Manly P. Hall’s classic book Man: The Grand Symbol of the Mysteries. This gland “is regarded as a link between the objective and subjective states of consciousness; or, in exoteric terminology, the visible and invisible worlds of nature.”

The importance of the pineal gland in the development of higher consciousness is emphasized in many traditions. Some view the pineal gland as a receptor for spiritual vibrations, sort of a radio station between the physical and the spiritual worlds. René Descartes, the French scientist and philosopher, believed that the pineal gland was the “seat of the human soul.”

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Mantra Yoga and the Sanskrit Effect

The sounds that stimulate the spiritual centers in the brain are present in virtually every language. However, they are particularly prominent in Sanskrit, the most common language used in Eastern chanting and spiritual mantras. The positive impact on the brain for those learning mantras or reciting Sanskrit sacred texts is being referred to as the “Sanskrit effect.”

James Hartzell, Ph.D., a neuroscientist researching the topic, has looked at the physical changes in the brain that happen during the memorization and recitation of Sanskrit texts. He discovered that Sanskrit pandits have over ten percent more grey matter across both cerebral hemispheres, a measurement consistent with higher cognitive functioning.

The right hippocampus, connected to long-term and short-term memory, is also sensitive to auditory and visual patterns. The hippocampus in the brains of Hartzell’s subjects was shown to have more grey matter across nearly seventy-five percent of its structure.

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Mantras & the Power of Languages

All languages have their own identity and characteristics. The emphasis on certain sounds creates a unique overall impact that can be recognized historically and energetically. Thus, French is considered to be a language of diplomacy and Italian has been viewed as the language of love. German has a grounding aspect and Spanish is a highly relational language.

Some consider English to be a language descended from angelic tongues. Other liturgical languages like Latin, Hebrew, Greek and Gurmukhi have their own mystical and spiritual qualities. Sanskrit is the most prominent language used in mantras, however, every language has beneficial characteristics and effects.

Science is demonstrating that the ancient practice of mantra yoga has concrete benefits. In this way, the recitation of mantras is both a spiritual practice and a practical art. The effect of mantras are not restricted to the spiritual realm, but also impact the brain and body in multiple positive ways.

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Mantra Yoga as Prayer

Singing a melody rather than speaking a prayer integrates the emotional body in the practice of creating sound. According to many religious historians, prayers were always sung in traditional practices and rituals. This includes the Latin Mass in Catholicism, Jewish services of all types, and Hindu and Buddhist festivals, as well as indigenous and tribal rituals.

St. Augustine is said to have claimed, “He who sings prays twice.” To engage the heart and the emotions in song may be twice as powerful as a spoken prayer! In addition, Jewish mystics believe that songs reach the realm of the angels and the throne of God.

A mantra is a formula, a type of concentrated prayer for blessing or healing or abundance or for pure devotion. Mantra yoga is a spiritual science that cross all religious boundaries.

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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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SPIRITUAL MANTRA ARTICLE SUMMARY 

This article covers various aspects of spiritual mantra practice including how to use a mantra, the Hindu pantheon, breathing practices, mantra yoga, spiritual mantras and consciousness, building a spiritual mantra, mantras and the brain, and the use of Sanskrit for a spiritual mantra.

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