As a yoga teacher, I notice that while students are at ease with the physical postures, they can be hesitant to participate in some of the more “esoteric” practices.
One of these is mantra chanting; to them, the practice seems odd, like they have joined a new religion or something. Many yoga classes include some chanting at the beginning or end only. Mantra is derived from the Sanskrit word manas, meaning “mind,” and tra, meaning “to go beyond.”
When working with private clients, after building up some trust, I introduce a bit of mantra beyond om or shanti. First, I discuss the meaning of the mantra, and the general principle of chanting. Longer chants, which are intended as prayers or invocations, are also included here.
How Chanting Mantra Helps
Because reducing my students’ anxiety about the practice is key, I mention that the technique of chanting mantra works for combating anxious feelings in several ways.
- The Sanskrit sounds can bring a calming effect, even without the chanter knowing the meaning behind them.
- When chanting mantra, the mind is immediately occupied, and thus distracted from worry.
- Chanting is said to uplift mind and purify the subtle body, attuning us with the Divine.
Many people are on medication, which can be helpful. I’ve used meds myself. But the various side effects of pharmaceutical drugs for mood alteration can be a problem for some. Using holistic techniques like chanting to manage anxiety is just as effective—and has no side effects.
When approaching this practice, I find it beneficial as well to have some awareness of Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India, as it’s the sister science to yoga.
Making Mantra Work for You
My understanding of Ayurveda says that a Vata dosha or type might be a bit fearful, a Pitta type wants clear benefits and details on why something works, and a Kapha type might need lots of encouragement and may want to enjoy having someone to chant mantra with.
These are generalities, of course, but as I’m speaking in terms of private clients, it’s helpful to be aware of your client’s temperament when you introduce them to new ideas such as mantras.
These ideas are helpful for us as yoga practitioners too. What is our temperament? Where are we imbalanced at this time?
There are so many chants that have various effects. This is simply an intro. I recommend chanting out loud, at a level where you’re comfortable, for anxiety. This way, it’s harder for the mind to wander off. Silent chanting is said to give a deeper effect, but it is harder to stay as focused without sound.
Another key thing in yoga class is if you find a chant you like, ask the teacher what it is, and find a rendition you love and can resonate with. Then, use that as your sadhana or practice.
Here is one I quite like. This is sometimes called the Shanti Mantra.
Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih
(Om, May All become Happy,
May All be Free from Illness,
May All See what is Auspicious,
May no one Suffer,
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.)
The Shanti Mantra is usually listed as a chant to end formal study with a teacher, but I find the sentiment behind it very soothing, and feel like it broadens one’s perspective beyond one’s own suffering.
This traditional version of the chant is called “Sarve Shaam,” by Ravi Shankar and George Harrison.
And this acoustic rendition of the mantra is by Prem Baba Satsang set to scenes from Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass's "Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation" (1988).
You can also look up this version by Tina Turner, “Sarvesham Svastir Bhavatu” featuring a lovely video and children's voices.
Dedicated Mantra Practice
To chant mantra as your sadhana, find a quiet spot indoors or in nature where you won’t be disturbed. Sit cross-legged or upright on a straight-back chair. Take several deep breaths and start to quiet your mind.
Begin chanting slowly, and perhaps with a recording like the ones above where you can hear the correct pronunciation. Continue for five minutes or more, then sit in silence for a minute. Afterwards, notice how you feel as you continue with your day’s activities.
Chanting mantra is best on a day where you can spend time afterwards in a quiet environment—unless you are specifically gearing up for something anxiety-producing, then yes, try it right before your big day, activity, or event.
You can also simply chant while you do chores around the house. This is very grounding and will take your mind off the worries that creep in during mundane activities.
As someone who suffers from anxiety too, chanting mantra in my everyday life has been very helpful for me over my years of practice. I hope it can benefit you in the way it has benefited me.