The Science Behind Mantra Chanting
Excerpt of an Interview with Jonathan Goldman
by Vandana Mohata
1) What is the science behind Mantra chanting?
There are a number of different “sciences” behind mantric chanting. Some of these are the “hard” science—physics, psycho-acoustics, etc. Some of these are spiritual sciences such as the different yogic practices that work with sound. I write about many of them in HEALING SOUNDS and my other books.
On one level, as observed years ago by Dr. Herbert Benson, mantric chanting helps induce the “relaxation” response, causing reduction of heart beat, brain waves and respiration. On another level, as Dr. David Shananoff-Khalsa believes, mantric recitation enables the tongue to stimulate the acupuncture meridians inside the mouth (particularly on the roof), thus enhancing the effect. Dr. Ranjie Singe found that the chanting of specific mantras caused the release of the hormone melatonin and is investigating the importance of this in the healing process. He also found many benefits including shrinkage of tumors and enhanced sleep. He writes about these results in his book POWERFUL SELF HEALING TECHNIQUES.
It’s also been found that self created sounds such as chanting will cause the left and right hemispheres of the brain to synchronize. Such chanting will also help oxygenate the brain, reduce our heart rate, blood pressure and assist in creating calm brainwave activity. In addition, listening to certain chants has great beneficial effects.
Dr. Alfred Tomatis utilized the sounds of Gregorian Monks to stimulate the ears, brain and nervous systems of clients. His work is very important with regard to the scientific and medical uses of sound and chant. He found that certain sounds that are particularly high in vocal harmonics will stimulate and charge the cortex of the brain and the nervous system. There have been a number of very popular recordings of Gregorian chanting that been released since this research was made public. I know that many other types of chanting from different traditions have very similar effects. These are just a few of the hard physical phenomenon of mantric chanting that have been observed. There certainly are others, as well.
Some believe that the recitation of sacred mantras actually causes the physical and etheric bodies to change their vibrational frequency level—becoming more attuned, if you like, with divine energy. Thus, when one chants a mantra for an extended period of time to invoke, for example some deity, the higher energies of that deity will encode upon the chanter. This is one purpose for much mantric chanting—to become one and unite with the energy of the deity that one is chanting for. If the person has some sickness or imbalance, this imbalance can frequently be released by having the energy of the deity encode itself upon the person. This actually comes from the concept of vibrational (as opposed to allopathic) medicine, which is the basis of many healing modalities, including homeopathy and acupuncture—that all the universe including our bodies, is simply made of vibration—a concept, incidentally, that the new Superstring theory of physics supports. Everything is in a state of vibration and when we are in a natural, resonant vibration, we are in a state of health. But if some part of the body begins to vibrate at a counter frequency, the energy becomes stuck and disease sets in. Therefore, by mantric chanting, one can cause stuck energy to become released, and we can return to our natural state of resonance, effecting a cure.
I have, incidentally, observed this phenomenon many times during workshops. We will be reciting a mantra to invoke a specific entity—perhaps Tara, Tibetan Goddess of Compassion for example, in order to better embody the energy of compassion. However, during and after the process, I’ve seen people with chronic health problems emerge from the chanting quite healthy. It’s amazing.
There are of course, actual healing mantras as well as specific mantras to balance and align the chakras. Chakras are the energetic wheels of light that transduce subtle energy into the body. They come from the Hindu tradition, but as noted in my book HEALING SOUNDS, comparable energy centers are found in almost all of the esoteric traditions on the planet. I have studied the use of sound to effect the chakras for over 40 years. Mantras are particularly effective for this purpose. The traditional Bija Mantras are one example of a system for using sound to activate and balance the energies associated with the 7 main chakras. We work with these tones in workshops and healings have been known to occur due to the balancing and alignment of the chakras. Psychic and mystics from all different spiritual paths can sense, see, feel or hear these energy centers. We may not yet have scientific equipment that can adequately detect the chakras, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. However, intriguing work is being done to develop equipment to measure chakras, so perhaps it is just a matter of time before the scientific and medical communities will acknowledge them, as they are beginning to acknowledge acupuncture meridians.
2) Can you tell us anything about the history and origin of chanting and trace it to the present stage-what is the level of awareness of chanting & sound healing in present day & age?
This is an excellent question, but one which truly requires a book length answer to cover all the aspects inherent in this question. I will do my best to attempt to a short reply. Simply put, I will tell you that there is virtually no tradition, no culture, which does not include chanting of some sort as a spiritual and health practice. The recitation of prayers is found worldwide and has been with us since the dawn of humankind. In the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic and Hebrew traditions, you have some sort of chanting of prayer or recitation of a Divine name. Whether it’s a shamanic or pagan tradition, you will have some aspect of chanting that could be considered mantric chanting in their rituals and prayers. Sometimes these chants are used to invoke Divine entities. Other times they’re used for healing or to ask for some benevolent process like bringing rain. With regard to present day and age, we are seeing more interest, awareness and use of chanting for health and wellness. Some of it is based upon the realization by 2lst century people that there actually is something more than pure “superstition” going on during chanting—that there are actual physiological changes occurring. Our nervous system, for example, is being affected by our own self created sounds. And through this many extraordinary shifts and changes in the body and mind can happen. Also, many people realize that using chanting creates a means to directly access higher states of consciousness. The ability of sound to create altered consciousness is extremely powerful and important to people who are looking for more meaning out of their lives.
3) Can the power of sound alter cellular structure and molecular structure- the DNA encoding etc? Any documented proof? Any recent scientific research on the above?
There is no question that sound can alter molecular structure. In the 1960’s, a medical doctor named Hans Jenny conducted experiments that showed that sound was able to actually create form in various substances such as plastics, plastes, liquids and water. He would place these substances—powders, etc. on a steel plate and then using a crystal oscillator, vibrate these plates with sound. The various substances took on the most organic looking shapes—they look like microscopic organisms or underwater life. Quite astounding. He called this work Cymatics.
Masuru Emoto of Japan demonstrated that water molecules are actually affected by sound and our intention. Intention, incidentally, is our thoughts, our feelings—it is the energy behind the sounds that we create. I’ll talk about this later. Emoto found that clean water looked like a snowflake—very geometric. Polluted water looks like mud. Emoto has photographs of polluted water, which at first look like mud. After a priest has chanted over this water, it is photographed again. This time, the water looks like a snowflake—the sound and intentionality has restored it to its natural pristine harmonious shape.
On a related note, the French acupuncturist and sound healer Fabian Maman has done work involving Kirlian photography of hemoglobin blood cells that were exposed to different sounds. In particular, he took photographs of blood cells exposed to an ascending chromatic scale—C, C#, D, etc created on a xylophone. Each note effected the cell differently, creating a different shape and different Kirlian color. Fabian’s experiments demonstrate clearly that cellular structure and energy are affected by sound. His images are quite extraordinary!
4) While chanting, what is the role of intention on the human body? I did see the effect of intention in the works of Japanese researcher Mr. Masaru Emoto on affect the molecular structure of water, but we would like to know the know the effect on human body?
Many years ago, when I was collecting information for a master’s thesis on the healing and therapeutic properties of sound, in addition to focusing on the use of sound to affect the chakras, I also looked at the use of sound to affect different organs, as well as different conditions. What I found was that there were many different schools of sound healing based upon different teachers and different traditions. These different schools might use the same mantra to resonate different chakras—with great success. Or they might use different mantras to resonate the same chakra. Om, for example, could resonate the heart chakra, or it could resonate the throat chakra, or the third eye or crown or whatever. It depended upon the path and the teacher.
I remember sitting at my desk being quite confused. How could this all work? I distinctly heard a voice saying “It is not only the sound that creates the effect of the sound, but also the intention of the person making the sound.” Suddenly, everything made sense and was clear. I understood. Yes, the intention—the energy behind the sound was an equal part of the effect of the sound. This energy of intent was carried upon the sound wave and was actually was equally responsible for the effect of the sound. It was a major “aha” moment, and I immediately wrote down the formula “Frequency + Intent = Healing.” For many people, this has been a sort of unified theory of sound healing because it is able to bring together the differences in many different schools and many different beliefs.
I also created the formula, “Vocalization + Visualization = Manifestation”, which is very similar and is particularly relevant with regard to chanting and mantras. This means that the visualization of the chanter coupled with or mantra the sound being chanted creates the effect. For example, If you are chanting for a specific deity, it helps to be able to visualize that deity in order the invoke and embody the effect. Actually, some people are not great a visualizing, so if they can simply “feel” the energy of the chant, it works just as well. If you have trouble visualizing Tara, but you can feel the energy of compassion while you are chanting the Tara mantra, it will really help and assist the manifestation of compassion. The same thing is true when you are making sounds to resonate the chakras. It’s good to be able to direct your attention and intention when you are attempting to resonate a particular chakra with sound. This is a major key to working with sound—to use the power of consciousness to focus our attention and intention on what the sound is doing.
5) Is mantra chanting and sound healing the next frontier in science, playing a significant role in healing, removing the need for allopathic treatment?
I’d like to suggest that until we all move into another dimension of consciousness where thoughts instantly create reality, there will always be some need for allopathic treatment. And coming from a family of allopathic physicians, I really want to honor allopathic medicine. I think that we should perceive of all vibrational medical treatments, whether it’s sound or whatever, as being complementary with allopathic medicine. I think this is really important because then the different modalities can work together, as opposed to being adversarial—an “us and them” mentality. Rather than “alternative” medicine , let’s use the word “complementary” and resonate with each other. Cooperation, not competition—I think that’s a real key to our continuation and evolution as a species in the upcoming years.
6) There seem to be many different school of thoughts on chanting? Which is the most effective for health and healing?
I believe that whichever system or school of chanting works for you is the best. . Remember, “Frequency plus Intent equals Healing,” so if something resonates strongly with you, it probably will be most effective for you. If it doesn’t feel good or proper for you, it probably won’t be that effective. Some people can work with a mantra containing hundred syllable —others can work only with a mantra with one or two syllables. Perhaps they simply can’t remember more syllables. Whatever—yet, more is not necessarily better. And less is not necessarily better. It depends upon the person. And the time and place and need of the individual. And also remember that we are all unique vibratory beings, so that what works for one person may not work for another person. And we are all in a constant state of frequency shifting, so that something that may not work one day (or week, month or year), may suddenly resonate very differently with you at another time. Trust your inner wisdom and guidance. And believe and understand that sound has the ability to create profound and wonderful changes.
I’m going to leave you with a story that I first heard from Dr. Randall McClellan, author of HEALING FORCES OF MUSIC. I believe it’s very old, but I like to credit Dr. McClellan, who was a great influence on me many years ago. I think this story illustrates something important about sound, and particularly about mantras.
In an exotic country, there was a man who had a musical instrument that he would play all day long. The instrument had many different strings, but all he would do was pluck one string—the same string and same note over and over again and again. One day his wife said to him “Dear—you have this wonderful instrument and you sit and play it all day long, but all you do is hit this one string over and over again and again. The instrument has many different strings. All your friends have this same instrument and they play all the different strings, making many different notes and creating wonderful melodies and songs. All you do, hour after hour, day after day, is play that same string and that same note over and over again and again. Why is that?” His wife was obviously very exasperated and confused. The man looked at his wife and gently smiled. “My dear wife who I love beyond all measure,” he said, “thank you for bringing that to my attention. And now here is the answer. That is because they are all still searching for their note, while I have found mine.”
May we all find our own sound. And may we use this sound to assist personal and planetary healing.
I send Blessings of Light & Love through Sound to all!