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An illustration of a person meditating in a seated position is enclosed within a circular frame against a cloudy sky background. Bold text to the right reads "The Science of Mantra Meditation." A small "10 almonds" logo graces the bottom right corner, emphasizing the calming sounds and science behind this practice.

The Science Of Sounds

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We Think You Might Like The Sound Of This…

We’ve written before about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, and how to do it.

We also reviewed a great book on a related topic:

This is Your Brain On Music – by Dr. Daniel Levitin

(yes, that’s the same neuroscientist that we featured as an expert talking about The Five Keys of Aging Healthily)

But what happens when we combine the two?

Mantra meditation & music

Most scientific studies that have been undertaken with regard to meditation tend to focus on mindfulness meditation. It’s easy, effective, and (which makes a difference when it comes to publication bias) is a very safe bet when it comes to funding.

However, today we’re going to look at mantra meditation, which has a lot in common, neurologically speaking, with music. Indeed, when the two were compared separately in a randomized control trial:

❝Daily mantra meditation or classical music listening may be beneficial for cognitive outcomes and quality of life of breast cancer survivors with cancer-related cognitive impairment.

The cognitive benefits appear to be sustained beyond the initial intervention period.❞

~ Dr. Ashley Henneghan et al.

Read in full: Sustained Effects of Mantra Meditation Compared to Music Listening on Neurocognitive Outcomes of Breast Cancer Survivors: A Brief Report of a Randomized Control Trial

One possible reason for some of the similar benefits is the vagus nerve—whether intoning a mantra, or humming along to music, the vibrations can stimulate the vagus nerve, which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in body-wide relaxation:

The Vagus Nerve (And How You Can Make Use Of It)

How effective is mantra meditation?

According to a large recent narrative review, it depends on your goal:

❝Based on the studies in the four important areas presented, there is no doubt of a strong connection between mantra meditation and human health.

Strong evidence has been found that practicing mantra meditation is effective in relieving stress and in coping with hypertension.

For the other two areas: anxiety and immunity, the evidence is inconclusive or not strong enough to firmly support the claim that the mantra meditation can be used to reduce anxiety or to improve immunity. ❞

~ Dr. Dr. Ampere Tseng

Read in full: Scientific Evidence of Health Benefits by Practicing Mantra Meditation: Narrative Review

👆 this is a very interesting read if you do have the time!

How do I practice mantra meditation?

The definition is broad, but the critical criteria are:

  1. You meditate
  2. …using a mantra

Lest that seem flippant: those really are the two key points!

Meditation comes in various forms, and mantra meditation is a form of focussed meditation. While some focussed meditation forms may use a candle or some other focal point, in mantra meditation, the mantra itself provides the focus.

You may be wondering: what should the mantra be?

Classic and well-tested mantras include such simple things as the monosyllabic Sanskrit “Om” or “Ham”. We’re a health science newsletter, so we’ll leave esoteric meanings to other publications as they are beyond our scope, but we will say that these result, most naturally, in the humming sound that we mentioned earlier stimulates the vagus nerve.

But that’s not the only way. Practitioners of religions that have repetitive prayer systems (e.g. anything that uses prayer beads, for example) also provide the basis of focused meditation, using a mantra (in this case, usually a very short oft-repeated prayer phrase).

How long is needed for benefits?

Most studies into mantra meditation have used timed sessions of 15–30 minutes, with 20 minutes being a commonly-used session length, once per day. However…

  • Vagus nerve benefits should appear a lot more quickly than that (under 5 minutes) in the case of mantras that cause that vibration we mentioned.
  • Repetitive spoken prayers (or similar repeated short phrases, for the irreligious) will generally effect relaxation in whatever period of time it takes for your brain to be fully focused on what you are doing now, instead of what you were thinking about before. If using counting beads, then you probably already know what number works for you.

(again, as a health science publication, we cannot comment on any otherworldly benefits, but the worldly benefits seem reason enough to consider these practices for their potential therapeutic effects)

10almonds tip: for any meditative practice that you want to take approximately a given period of time, we recommend investing in a nice sand timer like this one, as this will not result in a jarring alarm going off!

Like to jazz things up a little?

Enjoy: Meditation That You’ll Actually Enjoy ← Meditation games!

Prefer to keep things to the basics?

Enjoy: No Frills, Evidence-Based Mindfulness ← The simplest scientific approach

Take care!

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