I never imagined I’d be a fan of chanting until I experienced its full power at an ashram in the Himalayas. Three months earlier I’d quit my job on a glossy magazine, and I found myself taking part in a traditional yogic fire ritual - a welcome to the group of 30 or so strangers from around the globe I’d be living with for the next month. As soon as I heard the angelic voice of the Brahmin priest chanting in Sanskrit (the ancient language of yoga), tears began rolling down my face uncontrollably. Rivers of them. I didn’t care - these were tears of relief, as I melted and completely let go. Though I was thousands of miles away from home, I felt like I’d come home. Nothing else mattered in that moment, and somehow I knew everything was, and would be OK.
This feeling made me lose my shyness about how I sounded and in the end, it turned out that the many hours I spent chanting in the ashram had a lasting and transformative effect on me. Of course, there were physically challenging yoga sessions which changed my body, but the chanting enabled me to go further in meditation, bringing a sense of stillness I’d never felt before. On our first day we were given a book containing various Sanskrit verses which would punctuate our daily rituals (meals, classes, even walks) and brought a deep significance to them which resonates even now.
When I started going to yoga 10 years earlier, I’d haphazardly mouthed the word ‘om’, (known as the original mantra), but at the time, it seemed a little ‘hippy dippy’ alien to me - specially combined with British reserve. Then I discovered Kundalini Yoga classes, where longer mantras are used in combination with the postures. Chanting along with the movement felt so good, I began to lose my inhibitions, especially when I realised it’s not about being an accomplished singer, but connecting with your own voice. I found that whatever was going on - work or the general stresses of life - would melt away and this rhythmic ‘singing’ would transport me to a blissful, calm place for an hour or so. I vividly remember one session, the day after the July ’05 London bombings sitting in a circle holding hands with complete strangers at a class in a dank basement, chanting - none of us wanting to let go. In the moments my brain tried to intellectualise the situation, it was too surreal (if my friends could see me now!), but surrendering felt so right and safe. We were all connected in that moment on some deeper level.
Ancient yogic texts are full of the ‘technology’ of various techniques for stilling the mind to bring about a meditative state. Using mantra - or sound vibration is said to be a very direct route to that peacefulness, as I’d found out. Anything that will help us to let go of the constant whirl of thoughts and ‘to do’ lists going on in our minds has got to be a good thing, and let’s face it sitting in silence, alone in the lotus position takes a lot of discipline. But one of the easiest ways to settle your mind is to chant a mantra and arguably, the simplest one is ‘om’. We don’t even have to understand what it means - though just in case you’re curious - it’s said to represent the sound of the Universe. Scientifically, it makes sense because the musical pitch of the Universe is 432 Herz and ‘om' is said to vibrate at this pitch which is why it brings us in harmony with it.
The only way to experience the benefits is to try it for yourself. Start with om chanting. Take a deep breath and simply chant it out loud, gradually internalising it so it quietly repeats on a loop in your head. (Apparently silent repetition has even more resonance). Since there is no complicated meaning to the word ‘om’, there’s nothing to think about. Whenever your mind wanders, you keep coming back to ‘om’ and, with time, you will find it brings a state of calm.
You can also dip your toe the water by trying mantra repetition in English - this technique will help change your mindset and thinking in certain situations, whenever you feel stuck or at a low. There are some great examples on the site in Immediate Help - part of the Life Hacks section of the thinkmiracle programme. And also go to the Chants section where you can sit back and listen to Baba Mahadev - one of Mark’s teachers in India. Baba’s soothing voice will resonate deeply within, bringing a sense of peace and joy.