What are the benefits of spiritual mantras

Meditation with mantras and yantras

Meditation - a journey to yourself

In meditation with mantras, syllables, words or sentences are recited repeatedly - loudly, in whispers or inwardly. The targeted alignment before meditation, the sound and the meaning of the mantra result in states of focused attention with external relaxation, which can transition into trance states of different depths. Yantras are geometric structures that the meditator can visualize at the same time. In the connection of mantra and yantra the depth of meditation increases.

Nada Brahma - the world is sound

The Sanskrit expression "Nada Brahma", which the musicologist and philosopher Joachim Ernst Berendt also chose as the title of his famous book in the 80s, sums up an ontological understanding (ontology = the doctrine of beings) of the cosmos, which also the traditional meaning and use of mantras underlies: At its core, the world consists of vibrations or oscillations that lead to the formation of spiritual and material structures. Interestingly, analogies of this concept can be found in very different worldviews. In Hinduism it is the original syllable "Om" from which all other sounds and forms of the universe manifest themselves. In Christianity, the phrase "In the beginning was the word" from the Gospel of John marks the beginning of the creation story. In modern science, the wave properties of matter have been an integral part of any fundamental physical theory since the last century.

Mantras or repetitive sound patterns are used in various cultures to this day. The oldest records, probably dating back to several thousand years before Christ, come from India and are part of the Vedic body of knowledge as well as other manuscripts written on palm leaves. These texts are written in Sanskrit (the language of the oldest Indian literature, the Vedas) and related languages, which, with their almost 50 different alphabet sounds, can reproduce more varied sounds than European languages. These sounds (e.g. aim, kliem, saum) formed the most powerful mantras as seed syllables (so-called bijas) and were syntactically and rhythmically composed of a formula in order to make different qualities of the world tangible and to give them expression. A mantra is "a mystical energy enveloped by a sound structure", writes the Sivananda disciple Swami Vishnu Devananda. Through continuous meditation, the practitioner can develop his innermost potential and become increasingly aware of himself and the cosmos. Mantras are not only used for one's own spiritual development, but are also used for healing purposes, such as in Ayurvedic medicine and yoga.

research results

There are different approaches to using mantras in the scientific literature. Secularized, i.e. worldly forms such as the Relaxation Response according to Benson or the Clinically Standardized Meditation according to Carrington, emphasize the relaxation effect through the repetition of uniform, meaningless sounds. Spiritual mantra interventions such as Transcendental Meditation® (TM) according to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi or the Mantram Repetition Program by Borman place the application in a spiritual context and use traditional mantras.

A 2012 review examined the psychological effects of meditation on meditators who were not receiving medical or psychological treatment. In the 125 included studies, mean average effect sizes with comparatively strong effects in TM for the reduction of negative emotions and fears as well as positive effects on the process of self-awareness could be demonstrated. These results could not be explained by pure relaxation effects or effects of mental restructuring.

A large-scale review from 2008 of the effects of meditation on people receiving treatment for a physical or mental illness found that TM was also able to successfully lower systolic blood pressure compared to active, behavior-based control groups. However, the study also mainly came to the conclusion that the majority of the studies (813 studies in the period 1954-2005) showed inadequate methodological quality and that the results were therefore assessed as inconclusive overall. Nothing fundamental has changed in this regard to date. A recent review examined only studies at a high scientific level (i.e. randomized-controlled studies) on the effectiveness of meditation on stress and also came to the conclusion that there were not enough high-quality studies available for mantra meditation.

Further clinical studies with modern quality standards are necessary in view of the promising results in healthy practitioners. Since secular meditation techniques grew out of spiritual traditions, it is possible that some of the positive effects are rooted in the spiritual context. This is relevant because most of the research to date has shown a positive relationship between spirituality and mental and physical health. Regarding mantra meditation, various studies have shown that techniques with a spiritual context showed a greater impact on psychological, pain-related, and spiritual variables than the secular variants.

Mantras and basic psychosomatic care

In the naturopathic psychotherapy of Ayurveda medicine and yoga, mantras are used because of their nourishing and cleansing effects on body and mind. The sounds of the mantras put the mind in a harmonious state, just as a healthy diet balances the functions of the physical body. In addition, negative sensory impressions are avoided while concentrating on the mantra, so that the mind can free itself from negative content - symbolically just as the body is able to cleanse itself of waste products during fasting times. While Western psychotherapeutic methods are primarily concerned with dealing with conflicts, misguided behavior and contradictions in the patient's self-image, mantra meditation is not revealing, not analyzing and not interpreting. It interrupts undirected or inexpedient mental activity, which is evolutionarily conditioned - and in the case of certain mental disorders, intensified - and is directed towards negative content. Brooding or the occurrence of automatic negative thoughts are avoided and, with continuous practice, increasingly replaced by the positive experience quality of the mantra. Other negative emotions and thoughts can also be actively alleviated through the use of a mantra, whereby the practitioner increasingly learns to deal with his feelings and thoughts instead of being overwhelmed by them. Another effective factor of meditation with mantras is the detachment from your own thoughts and the inner serenity that arises.

Experiences from practice

In our clinic we have been successfully using spiritual mantra meditation in groups and in individual sessions since 2015. As part of the introduction, the patients receive a list of traditional mantras from different spiritual contexts (e.g. Ave Maria, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Namashivaya, Shalom, etc.). In addition, they can choose a simple yantra (e.g. a cross, an om sign, etc.) for meditation. Many patients learn to relax significantly with the technology within a few weeks. A major advantage over other relaxation methods is perceived that the mantras can be used in many everyday situations, e.g. B. to prevent brooding or when you have trouble falling asleep. Some patients also experience states of deep stillness and timelessness, which they perceive as a new quality of their consciousness. Overall, practical experience shows that mantras are easy to learn on the one hand, but at the same time have the potential for spiritual depth. This makes mantra meditation suitable for clinical applications that are also motivating in the long term. We are currently researching the effectiveness of mantra meditation in patients with severe depression in a study. With the help of our clinical experience, we try to continuously improve the effectiveness of meditation in order to further develop its field of application.

Dr. med. Holger C. Bringmann

Holger Bringmann is head of studies at the Clinic for Integrative Psychiatry at the Diakoniekliniken Zschadraß and a specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy. As a cognitive scientist, he studied the western philosophy of mind in a stay of several years in India, the spiritual knowledge of mantras and yantras in direct tradition.

Prof. Dr. Dr. MA phil. Stefan Brunnhuber

Stefan Brunnhuber is Medical Director and Chief Physician of the Clinic for Integrative Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Diakoniekliniken Zschadraß. He holds an additional designation for naturopathy as well as a W-3 professorship for psychology and sustainability. He has published over 300 lectures and essays in the field of integrative medicine.