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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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How chanting helps with meaningful living

Chanting is a type of meditation that has been part of human behavior for thousands of years, practiced by many different religious practitioners, including Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians. However, the person chanting doesn't need to be religious or even spiritual to enjoy the benefits of powerful mantras. Chanting can be a great part of meaningful living after recovering from an eating disorder. 

In this article, you'll learn how chanting can promote happiness and improve your mental and physical well-being and how you can practice this great form of meditation while living in recovery. 

Last updated on 
October 24, 2023
Person chanting mantras
In this article

What is chanting?

Chanting is a form of focused-attention meditation, a concentration practice involving prolonged and/or intense focus on a single point.1 The most common form of focused-attention meditation is mantra meditation, which involves concentrating on the mental repetition of a specific sound or phrase, the "mantra."

The literal meaning of "mantra" from Sanskrit origins is the liberation, freedom, or tool of the mind or consciousness.

There are many chanting styles, but all styles fall into two main categories: vocalized and silent.1

  • Vocal chanting: The repetition of words or syllables spoken or sung in the same note or a series of notes.
  • Silent chanting: The repetition of imagined words or syllables without any vocalization.

The health benefits of chanting

Research shows that chanting for better health has several positive effects on a person, including:1,2

  • Decreased negative mood
  • Increased positive mood
  • Improved focus
  • Altruism
  • Boosted self-awareness
  • A greater sense of calm
  • Increased social connection when done in a group setting

All these things are beneficial to experience while in eating disorder recovery and can help relieve mental fears around food and body image.

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Chanting can create positive changes in the brain

Numerous studies have shown that chanting regularly over time may elicit positive changes in the brain, including:3

  • Improved mood
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Better cognitive function
  • Improved memory
  • Reduced fatigue

Research suggests that chanting healing mantras may stimulate these changes in the brain by helping to synchronize the right and left hemispheres of the brain, promoting alpha waves. These brain waves are produced when the brain is relaxed and restful.4 

Additional studies suggest that mantra changing can improve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and increase cerebral blood flow in individuals with Alzheimer's disease.5,6

Chanting can improve sleep

Chanting has been shown to help people get a good night's sleep by increasing delta wave band power, which is linked to sleep disorders and deep sleep.2

Chanting can reduce high blood pressure

Chanting for just five minutes has been shown to immediately and significantly reduce blood pressure and heart rate in both men and women with hypertension.7

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How to chant for better health at home

Harnessing the power of chanting for better health at home can help while in recovery from an eating disorder. The ability to thoughtfully connect with your body, breathing, and mind has huge healing potential for meaningful living in recovery.

1. Choose your mantra

Don't worry too much about choosing your mantra. There is no one best mantra, only one that's best for you.

Some people choose the classic mantra syllables "om" or "aum," and another common mantra is "So Hum," which means I am in Sanskrit. Others choose positive affirmations such as "I am enough," "I am content," or "I am calm." 

Regardless of which mantra you choose, it's important to be culturally aware and sensitive to the rich cultural history of chanting and mantras. You can do this by educating yourself on the history of mantras and chanting.

You should try to avoid attending or giving money to white Westerners profiting from Hindu traditions and instead opt for Indian-run or owned mediation classes. If you are worried about cultural appropriation, instead of chanting "Om," you can opt for an alternative like "ahh" or "mmm."

Some mantras to consider, include:

  • Gayatri mantra
  • Lord Shiva mantra
  • Lord Dhanvantri Gayatri mantra
  • Lord Vishnu mantra
  • Mahamrityunjay mantra

2. Make yourself comfortable

Go to a quiet place where you can chant without interruption—this includes turning off your phone. Find a position that's comfortable for you to hold for an extended period. This doesn't have to be in the traditional lotus position; it could be sitting on a chair, lying on the floor, or whatever is comfortable.

3. Focus on your breathing

Once you're comfortable, check in on your body, notice where you're holding tension, and gently release it. Next, shift your focus to your breath and concentrate on the sensation of it filling your lungs and emptying them. This helps clear the mind before you start your mantra practice.

4. Use your mantra

Begin to chant your mantra. You can say it out loud, which may be helpful with mantras intended to produce vibrations, or you can repeat it silently to yourself. These mantras can include positive affirmations around eating or movements. Let your breathing guide you and help you settle into a rhythm.

You may find your thoughts start to wander, particularly if you're new to meditation. Don't force these thoughts away. Instead, shift your focus back to the rhythm of your breath and your chanting.

5. End your meditation

Meditate for as long as you like. Once you're done, check in with yourself. How do you feel? Relaxed? Energized? Happy? You may find it useful to keep track of your progress, to see the impact regular chanting is having on your state of mind.

Person chanting and playing guitar

Chanting tips and tricks

If you're meditating for the first time, it can be challenging. Initially, you may find it boring and feel like it's not a good use of your time. It often takes time to see the benefits, but if you stick with it, you will likely find it worth it. 

The following tips will help you get the most out of your chanting practice.

Choose your intention

Before you start mantra chanting, figure out your personal goals for meditation. Is it to reduce anxiety? Is it to help find meaningful living after recovery from an eating disorder? Is it to harness joyful living? This will help you visualize your success.

Try mala beads

A string of 108 mala beads can help in your chanting practice. The repetitive movement of your fingers across the beads helps ground you and brings a rhythm to your meditation. But, again, it's important to be culturally sensitive to the history of mala beads, educating yourself on the origins and how to use them with intention and respect. Moreover, you may want to purchase your mala beads from a South Asian-owned retailer.

Change your mantra

If you're not having success with your chosen mantra, feel free to change it to something that matches your current state of mind. Also, you don't need to use the same mantra each time. Choose one that resonates with your current intention.

Practicing ways to connect with your body and mind in a healing way through chanting 

Learning to connect with your body and mind through chanting can be a joyful part of meaningful living in recovery from an eating disorder. Practices like chanting can also help with distress tolerance and building other tools for long-term healing.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Perry, G., Polito, V., & Thompson, W. F. (n.d.). Chanting meditation improves mood and social cohesion. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  2. Gao, J., Leung, H. K., Wu, B. W., Skouras, S., & Sik, H. H. (2019). The neurophysiological correlates of religious chanting. Scientific Reports, 9(1).
  3. Moss, A. S., Wintering, N., Roggenkamp, H., Khalsa, D. S., Waldman, M. R., Monti, D., & Newberg, A. B. (2012). Effects of an 8-week meditation program on mood and anxiety in patients with Memory Loss. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 18(1), 48–53.
  4. Dudeja, J. D. (2017). Scientific analysis of mantra-based meditation and its beneficial effects: An overview. International Journal of Advanced Scientific in Engineering and Management Sciences, 31(6), 21-26
  5. Bormann, J. E., Thorp, S. R., Smith, E., Glickman, M., Beck, D., Plumb, D., Zhao, S., Ackland, P. E., Rodgers, C. S., Heppner, P., Herz, L. R., & Elwy, A. R. (2018). Individual treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder using mantram repetition: A randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(10), 979–988.
  6. Khalsa, D. S., & Newberg, A. B. (2021). Spiritual Fitness: A new dimension in Alzheimer's disease prevention. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 80(2), 505–519.
  7. Arora, J., & Dubey, N. (2018). Immediate benefits of "Om" chanting on blood pressure and pulse rate in uncomplicated moderate hypertensive subjects. National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 8(8), 1162-1165.

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