How a Chanting Practice Can Protect Your Heart

Despite stark differences in beliefs, chanting has remained a powerful constant for thousands of years in countless religious and cultural traditions all over the world. To this day, it’s common in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism—just to name a few. And it’s also prevalent in many African, Hawaiian, and Native American customs.

But why?

Well, for one thing, chanting helps people feel more connected to their spirituality—and to each other. But recent research suggests there may be another reason that the practice of chanting has endured for thousands of years…

Though it’s no secret that spirituality and science don’t always see eye to eye, it turns out, one thing they both agree on is that chanting is good for you. Particularly when it comes to cardiovascular health.

So let’s take a look at what modern medicine has to say about this ancient practice…and I’ll tell you how you can reap the heart-healthy benefits yourself—from the comfort of your own home.

How chanting improves cardiovascular function

First things first—what exactly is chanting? Well, it’s exactly what you probably envision when you think of it.

Chanting refers to the repetitious speaking or singing of sacred words or sounds, usually to a simple one- or two-note melody.

And although it requires relatively little effort, chanting can benefit the body in some major ways, like:

  • Elevating mood
  • Improving heart rate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Regulating blood sugar

Of course, these are all factors that play into cardiovascular health.

And some intriguing research shows just how powerful these effects can be. In a 2019 study, researchers examined how chanting affected a group of 22 participants between the ages of 40 and 52 years old.

Each participant performed each of the interventions below, for at least 15 minutes a day, in random order:

  • Chanting the religious mantra “Amitābha Buddha” (which translates to, “The Buddha of Infinite Light and Life”)
  • Chanting the words “Santa Claus”
  • No chanting

Compared to the other two interventions, the “Amitābha Buddha” chanting––the only phrase with a spiritual connotation––resulted in increased stability in the participants’ heart function. Specifically, the researchers found that this chant:

  • Raised heart rate variability––indicating better resilience from stress
  • Enhanced cardiovascular tone—indicating healthier arteries and better blood flow, which helps regulate blood pressure
  • Improved parasympathetic response—indicating enhanced ability to slow heart rate and reach a state of calm

The researchers concluded these benefits stemmed from two major factors. First, they credit chanting’s calming benefits on the body and brain. Second, they credit chanting’s ability to produce vibration that stimulates the vagus nerve––the longest nerve in the body, providing whole-body benefits.

Chanting slows your breath rate, promoting relaxation

An earlier study from 2001 suggests that chanting can also improve heart health by slowing respiration rate (how fast you breathe).

Italian researchers studied chanting’s effects on 23 subjects with an average age of 34. In this study, the participants were taught how to perform each intervention, and did so at random.

  • Chanting the Ave Maria (or “Hail Mary” prayer)
  • Chanting Buddhist yoga mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” (which translates to “Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus”)
  • Talking, without chanting

The researchers found that chanting both the Ave Maria prayer and the yoga mantra had similar effects, slowing the participants’ rate of breathing to around 6 breaths per minute.

Taking six breaths a minute is also called the “2:1 breathing technique.” It’s called this because your exhalation is twice as long as your inhalation.

This breathing rhythm activates the parasympathetic nervous system––the part of your body that I mentioned earlier, that helps slow heart rate and induce a sense of calm.

Get started with your own chanting practice

If you’d like to start a chanting practice of your own, here are a few steps to help you get started:

  1. Begin by finding a quiet place where you can get comfortable. You may either sit or lie down.

  2. Take this time to pick your mantra to chant. It’s easiest to start with a two-syllable chant, and work your way up to chanting more syllables as you feel more comfortable with it.

    If you have a particular spiritual belief system, you can chant the name you use for the Divine (like “Jesus,” “Allah,” or “Yaweh,” for example). You can also use religious phrases like “Amen.”

    You can also try the advanced yoga-based phrases used in the studies: “Amitābha Buddha” or “Om Mani Padme Hum.” (To learn the proper pronunciations, there are some very helpful tutorials on YouTube.)

  3. Now, take a moment to close your eyes and note how you feel mentally, emotionally, and physically.

  4. Begin by taking a deep breath inward for a count of four seconds.

  5. Then slowly exhale for a count of eight seconds, while chanting your mantra.

  6. Repeat this sequence for as long as feels comfortable for you.

  7. When you’re finished, notice how you feel. You should feel much more calm, centered, and relaxed.

To reap the most heart health benefits, aim to end up with about six breaths per minute.

If the exercise feels too challenging, reduce your inhaling duration to three seconds and exhale while chanting for six. Or less if you need.

Always listen to your body and start out with what feels best! The main objective is to exhale and chant for twice as long as you inhale.

Ideally, you want to work your way up to chanting for 10 to 15 minutes, twice a day.

Chanting and the vagus nerve

Remember that when you chant, these vocal sounds are also stimulating your vagus nerve––your body’s built-in healing system. And when this nerve is stimulated it not only helps bring you peace of mind, but also preserves and protects your health. In my Donovan Sound Solution, I walk you through how to do this with several different chants. (Simply click here to learn more or give a try today.)

To learn more about what a spiritual chanting practice can do for you, I encourage you to check out my recent podcast interview with Krishna Das. He’s one of the world’s most celebrated chant performers and full of expert knowledge and wisdom.

I’d love to hear how your chanting practice works for you. Simply drop me a line over at the Sound Health Facebook page.


SOURCES:

Bernardi, L. (2001). Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study. British Medical Journal. 232(22-29): pp. 1446 – 1449. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC61046/pdf/1446.pdf

Gao, J. et al. (2019). The neurophysiological correlates of religious chanting. Scientific Reports. Retrieved from: nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40200-w

How to Use Mantras for Healing: Scientific Benefits of Chanting Mantras. Meditative Mind. Retrieved from: meditativemind.org/how-to-use-mantras-for-healing-scientifc-benefits-of-chanting-mantras/

What Could Mean More? Om Mani Padme Hum. Retrieved from: yowangdu.com/tibetan-buddhism/om-mani-padme-hum.html

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.