What's with the chanting in some yoga classes? If you're like me, you might've been kinda put off the first time you were asked to OM in class. Well it's turned out I've done a 180 and am a full proponent of the healing power of sound. Partly because I have witnessed the releases that comes from belting out an ancient sound, and partly because there is so much good research out there that supports it's positive affects on the body. In fact, A recent review article examining the research on this subject suggests that mantra meditation activates areas of the brain such as the thalamus, which is related to sensory perception, and the hippocampus, which is related to memory function, and that it can help synchronize networks in the prefrontal cortex which improves cognitive performance.4 There's even findings showing the effects of mantra on patients with memory loss, that after eight weeks the brain scans of participants showed significant increased cerebral blood flow in several areas.
Since our bodies are nearly 90 percent water, it just makes sense that every cell in our body would appreciate the vibrations and opening that sounds offer. And studies show how the limbic brain shifts with particular sounds. In fact, when the sound of OM was compared to other sounds and even silence, it was only sound that significantly deactivated the amygdalla and stimulated the parasympathetic system.
You might not have realized that making tones is a way of increasing your exhalation. And since we know a longer exhale relaxes the nervous system and can reduce anxiety and insomnia, it's a pretty clever tool to create calm.
But why chant sanskrit words, you may ask. Ooh, there's so many reasons to praise the brilliance of this primeval language. But here's the short answer. Sanskrit sounds create a resonance throughout the body. And here's the magic... A Sanskrit word, then, is not merely a word chosen to name something, but an actual reflection of the inherent ‘sound’ of that object, concept or phenomena. In fact, proper, or rather, perfect, pronunciation of Sanskrit words, it is told, can replicate the exact nature, or essence, of that which it is referring too. Sanskrit is the ancient language associated with India. It is considered to be the oldest language in the world, being at least 6,000 years old, and probably much older. Sanskrit is considered to be the language of the Gods, as it is made up of the primordial sounds, and is developed systematically to include the natural progressions of sounds as created in the human mouth. Henry David Thoreau once developed what he thought would be the perfect alphabet, and ended up creating something remarkably similar to Sanskrit. NASA and others have been looking at Sanskrit as a possible computer language since its syntax is perfect and leaves little room for error. Joseph Campbell, the late, great mythologist refered to Sanskrit as, "The great spiritual language of the world."
But don't let me convince you to incorporate sound into your practice. I invite you to try out an OM a RAM or a SA TA NA MA and see for yourself.