By Sonia Sumitra Thakar
In all religions, chanting (mantras, scriptures, verses, etc.) has been around for thousands of years. While chanting sacred verses is primarily considered a spiritual or religious exercise, like many other rituals, traditions, and practices of yore, it actually has its basis in science. Though mostly across the world, it is considered a way to connect with the Divine, chanting has, in the recent decades, shown to have positive and lasting physiological and psychological effects on the human body.
Chanting and the Vagus Nerve
To understand how chanting affects our physical body, we first need to talk about the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a major component of the human parasympathetic system (the part of the nervous system that regulates bodily actions without conscious thought). It stretches all the way from the brain down to the abdomen and touches almost all the major organs on the way—the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, reproductive organs, spleen, face, neck, ears, and tongue, too.
As the vagus nerve wanders (in Latin vagus means wandering) through the body it performs a host of different functions such as helping to regulate breathing, the heart rate, digestion, and circulation.
When we chant or sing holy verses, the vocal chords and muscles at the back of the throat get activated. For example, try chanting a simple yet potent Aum. Sit with your back straight and inhale deeply. With an exhale, chant aummm. You will immediately feel the vibrations in your abdomen and chest cavity. If you repeat the Aum chanting for 10 minutes, you will feel your respiration settle into a nice deep rhythm and a sense of calm engulf you. In fact, we could say the same about ‘Brahmari’ pranayama. In this breathing exercise, you inhale deeply and exhale with a humming sound which instantly calms down the mind.
Benefits of chanting
As all the organs are connected to the vagus nerve, it gets stimulated when you recite mantras or sacred verses. This relaxes the nervous system. It also results in a host of associated changes such as slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and relaxing various muscles in the body.
It also triggers positive responses such as a decrease stress, anxiety, and a reduction in depressive symptoms. And there are several scientific studies that back these claims.
There are also studies that have shown that chanting helps synchronise the left and right sides of the brain and this may improve brain function over time. These effects are just in addition to the plethora of changes that happen on a mental and emotional level that happen to the body when we take up chanting holy texts and verses. To know more, click here.
The West is just coming to what we, in India, have known for centuries. Chanting can be the key to good physical and mental health. Reciting sacred texts is not just another spiritual practice that is merely ‘believed’ to induce positivity but it’s a proven scientific fact and you really can’t argue with science!
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