Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Sounds of the first chakra by Harish Johari in MP3 format.

Muladhara Chakra, the first chakra.

A mantra is a chant. It can be as simple (and simply profound) as repeating the single syllable Aum, or it can be almost like a song of many words as is the Great Compassion Mantra. The mantra is found throughout the world both as a meditation practice and as a healing practice.

As a spiritual practice, mantra chanting began with the Hindus and was adopted by Buddhists and eventually other religious groups. It is believed that the idea for chanting the "Ave Maria" was brought back to Europe by Crusaders who learned the practice of using strings of beads (which we now call rosaries) to count prayer repetitions from the Arabs who had received their instruction in the practice from Tibetan monks and Indian Yogi masters.

The originators of the mantra practice discovered that repeating certain sounds with the voice created a particular vibration within the body. This, by the way, connects to the origins and original use of the chakras. Chakras are much more related to sound than to color, especially the rainbow-body stuff of today which was invented in the 1970's by Christopher Hills.

The authentic Hindu chakras (see picture above) have a letter representing a sound in the center (called the seed sound) and on each petal; the sounds are meant to be chanted, enabling the practitioner to attain spiritual states of consciousness, which it does when practiced regularly. The mantra for the Crown chakra, the 1,000 Petal Lotus, is actually the full compliment of sounds from all the petals of all the chakras, which comes to 50 sounds, making it a 50-syllable mantra.

You usually begin by chanting aloud, and then your voice softens until it is no longer heard, but the vibration continues in the mind. Indeed, the word mantra comes from a combination meaning "mind-tool," and it is the use of the voice that harmonizes the chanter's energies. When the energies have become harmonized, the voice may rest, but with dedicated practice, the chant may end but the energy pulses on.

The proof of that is found in a research titled "Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice" During the research, scientists observed that "mental training involves temporal integrative mechanisms and may induce short-term and long-term neural changes." In plain English: The long-term meditators' EEG-measured brainwave activity was higher – often in the Gamma range of 40Hz – and it stayed that way well beyond the duration of the meditation; the changes may even have been permanent. Long-time meditators do, literally, vibrate at a higher level.

(The Gamma state of brainwave activity is linked to higher states of consciousness, perception, problem solving, and those inspirational "Ah-ha!" moments. This rate has also been recorded during the REM sleep cycle, the deepest level of sleep (also associated with dreaming), which just goes to show why a good night's sleep is really important!)

Anyone who has ever attended a political demonstration where hundreds or even thousands of people are chanting the same slogan will attest to the power of the mantra to alter the consciousness. Personally, I believe that the number of participants may make a difference in groups new to the practice; the more people chanting together, the more energy that will be generated, and the more rapid and deep the change to the consciousness will become. However, for spiritualists long trained in the practice, large numbers of participants are probably not necessary (maybe not even desirable) to achieve an altered state.

Mantras are probably the first-ever demonstration and practice of entrainment, the physics principle that states two different vibrating bodies will mutually influence each other and both will adapt until their vibrations are synchronized.

A small study was done to see if chanting a rhythmic formula (such as a mantra or the "Ave Maria") had an effect on the cardiovascular system, see if it would synchronize breathing and heart rate, and if it would affect the body's ability to maintain steady blood pressure. Their stated result: "Both prayer and mantra caused striking, powerful, and synchronous increases in existing cardiovascular rhythms when recited six times a minute. Baroreflex [your body's mechanism for maintaining steady blood pressure levels] sensitivity also increased significantly…" Their conclusion: "Rhythm formulas that involve breathing at six breaths per minute induce favourable psychological and possibly physiological effects." Source http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/323/7327/1446

Ten breaths per minute is the respiration rate of a relaxed individual. Six breaths per minute will slow the heart rate and lead to even deeper relaxation. When I am doing standing qigong, I usually breathe at a rate of four or five respirations (inhale and exhale) per minute, and doing this for thirty or more minutes at a time has induced an altered state of consciousness even though chanting is not part of that practice.

In part, the reason that chanting has this relaxing and mind-altering effect is that performing the chant also regulates the breathing. The words and syllables in mantras for spiritual awakenings were created to (or were discovered to) also regulate the respiration. It is not just the sound, but the sound together with the regulation of the breath that causes the heart rate to synchronize, and the blood pressure to respond. This is why it is often said that it doesn't matter whether you chant "Aum," "Ave Maria," or "My Name Is Michelle," if you can hum the sound and create the vibration, the rate of respiration is slow and entrains the heart rate, you will likely achieve an altered state of consciousness if that is your goal. You will certainly achieve a state of very deep relaxation!

If you choose to create your own mantra, in order to be effective the words or syllables you chant should be sounds you can draw out like the mmmmmm of an M, or nnnnnnnnn of N, or ssssssss of S, or vvvvvvvv of V. Almost any vowel will work because you can almost hum them. (The ancient Greeks considered vowels to be sacred, possibly just for the reason that chanting them created altered states of consciousness.) Whatever sound you choose, make sure it is sustainable. K doesn’t work well, the sound is too hard and short. Neither does T or B because you can't elongate or hum them, you can only stutter them and you just don't get the same result.

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