Mantras: How to Take Advantage of the Therapy of Words

Mantras have been described as words or sentences ‘having some influence when recited with meaning’ This wide ranging definition applies equally well to the use of words as curses, prayers, incantation, and oaths, for words are only symbols that, when repeatedly purposefully, will produce mood changes and trigger off chains of associated actions and ideas as surely as Pavlov’s dogs learned to salivate at the ringing of a bell.

Psychologist William James points out in his study of The Varieties of Religious Experience that the repetition of devotional phrases has been used within many religious disciplines to induce the transcendental state of mystic vision. Yogis meditate with the aid of mantras that refer to some aspect of the godhead, the most commonly employed being the single syllable om, which represents God in all his fullness and power. When repeated, these mantras help to create a feeling of ‘oneness,’ a sense of cosmic union, a glorious merging of the self with the infinite. But they also have certain direct physiological effects. The repetition of a mantra can act as an aid to concentration; provide a soothing, repetitive stimulus, like the rocking of a cradle or the crooning of a lullaby; and help direct attention away from obsessive doubts and anxieties, in the way that a person beset by sudden tragedy will sometimes hold on to sanity by repeatedly mumbling an often meaningless word or phrase.

Brian Josephson, Nobel prize winner in physics, speaking at a symposium on transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, suggested that the value of reciting a mantra is that it prevents verbal thinking, allows traumatic experiences to come back unrepressed into the mind’s eye, and induces a state of relaxed concentration that can facilitate creativity.

There is no doubt that words, since they have profound suggestive powers, can influence our moods. Swiss psychiatrist Paul Dubois speaks of the ‘therapy of words’ and suggests that when we are anxious or tense we should try the sedative effect of repeating words like tranquillity, serenity, or peace A similar suggestion was made by the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox in her book New Thought Common Sense. She recommends the use of a rosary, which to her is ‘one of the oldest and sweetest customs among the religious denominations,’ used alike by Catholics, Buddhists and Muslims. She suggests we sit quietly telling our beads, whispering gentle suggestions to our subconscious mind. If we are sick or depressed, we should recite such words as ‘I am health, energy and vitality … Everything I do

will succeed … I am filled with happiness, optimism and strength’ If our problems are tension and anxiety, the litany could run, ‘I am serenity ..Nothing troubles me … I am at peace with the world.’

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(This item first appeared in

The Habits of Health: The Prudent Person’s Guide to Well-Being, second hand copies of which can still be bought online from Abe Books or Amazon for just over £5 a copy, a price which includes postage and packing.)

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