By Jaime Bedard, (LCSW) and Integrated Movement Therapist®

The Lighthouse hosted its first chanting workshop if February, Chant for Wellbeing, as a part of our ongoing Super Soul Sundays workshop series.  Participants enjoyed chanting together for almost an hour and said that it helped them to feel more grounded, supported, relaxed and connected to each other. Some even mentioned that they felt like there were more people – even angels – in the room with them as they were chanting. So, it begs the question, what is chanting, anyway? And how can it help you on your journey through life and healing?  

Many people have questions about what chanting is and what happens during a chanting session. Some are nervous to try chanting for fear of it being “too weird,” in conflict with their personal religious beliefs or because they feel the anxiety that so often comes with “singing” in public.

In this context, we are talking about the chanting of sacred sounds and mantras – mostly Sanskrit words that come from the Vedas, a collection of hymns and other ancient religious texts written in India between about 1500 and 1000 BCE. Jonathon Goldman, American author, musician and teacher in the fields of Harmonics and Sound Healing describes chanting as a universal practice common among all religious and spiritual traditions: “In the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic and Hebrew traditions, you have some sort of chanting of prayer or recitation of a Divine name. Sometimes these chants are used to invoke Divine entities. Other times they’re used for healing or to ask for some benevolent process like bringing rain.”  

Today, chanting is often utilized to promote health and wellness. In order to honor the traditions that these sacred chants come from, we can learn about them and connect to the qualities of the different deities being invoked (like compassion, transformation, fearlessness, and love). We can then imagine inviting these qualities into our lives as we chant.

Chanting is empowering. I like to think of chanting, especially within a group, as a radical act of reclaiming one’s voice. We are born with the ability to make uninhibited, joyful sound. Somewhere along the way, though, this natural right can be conditioned out of us. Maybe you had a music teacher shame you into thinking that you couldn’t hold a tune, or perhaps you’ve experienced interpersonal or societal forces of oppression that told you (in subtle and not-so-subtle of ways) that your voice didn’t matter and therefore it is best to keep quiet. There are lots of reasons why it can be anxiety-producing to make sound. Chanting helps you reclaim your right to let your voice be heard!

Additionally, when you learn a chant and are able to repeat it and even memorize it, you will likely notice your feelings of competence, mastery, and self-esteem increase.  

Chanting is good for the brain. There is a growing interest in research that explores the science of how chanting can improve brain function.  Broadly, we know that taking on an activity like chanting requires our brains to try something new (the brain loves novelty!). By learning new language, engaging auditory centers in the brain that can listen to and repeat a tune, maintaining rhythm and repetition, we build and strengthen new neural networks and increase blood flow to the brain.  

Chanting builds connection. Sometimes, especially when the group is learning a chant, it can sound a bit chaotic and cacophonous. That is all a part of the experience! Gradually, the sound begins to become more cohesive, which can create immense feelings of connection and peace among chanters.  Imagine if we could translate this feeling outside of the chanting session- it could help us to harmonize with the people in our lives in an entirely new way.  

Chanting helps us focus and relax. Mantra can be translated as “mind-tool.”  Focusing on a particular chant- usually for a period of 3 minutes to 15 minutes allows an opportunity for an experience different than feeling stuck in our analytical, ruminating minds.  It allows our brain to move toward a single point of focus (the mantra) which can help us to shift focus from the worries that may be clouding us and causing suffering. Additionally, chanting helps to stimulate the Vagus Nerve, which is a primary part of the function of the Parasympathetic Nervous System, helping us feel relaxed and calm.

Chanting improves mood. There is research to support what ancient spiritual traditions have touted for millennia- Chanting sacred sounds can have actual physiological, psychological, and emotional benefits that support people struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, caregiver-related stress, and other challenges.  One wonderful aspect of chanting is that, once you learn a chant, you can use it anytime you need, either by chanting out loud or repeating it internally. That way, it becomes a free, accessible, powerful tool for self-healing.

Chanting enhances spiritual connection. People have been chanting sacred sounds and mantras for thousands of years, invoking Divine qualities to bless them in their lives. I encourage people to have whatever experience they are having while chanting, no matter their religious or spiritual leanings. For some, chanting yields an experience of feeling profoundly lighter, joyous, less alone and supported by a force much larger and mysterious than themselves.

Whatever your level of curiosity, I encourage you to give chanting a try for yourself! Join our next Chanting Circle at the Lighthouse on Sunday, August 18, 12pm-1pm. All are welcome!