How chanting may improve health.
Most of us, when we think of chanting, imagine a secluded temple or monastery filled with somber monks contemplating their existence. But these days, you’re just as likely to find a bunch of stressed-out urban professionals sprawled on mats in a local yoga studio vocalizing in unison. Recent studies have shown that chanting provides real health benefits, which include reducing blood pressure, improving circulation, and increasing the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.
The neuroscientist Ranjie Singh, PhD, author of Powerful Self Healing Techniques goes even further—he believes chanting causes the release of cancer-fighting agents. It works like this: Chanting vibrations are thought to activate the pineal gland, which produces melatonin. According to the American Cancer Society, “because of melatonin's suspected antioxidant properties, some believe it may suppress the growth of some types of cancer cells, especially when combined with certain anti-cancer drugs. Some supporters suggest that melatonin may also stimulate a type of white blood cell called ‘natural killer cells,’ which attack tumors.”
So why does chanting have such therapeutic properties? Both the palate and the human ear play an important role in the body’s nervous system. Experts postulate that vocalization activates the meridians associated with these points, possibly awakening dormant parts of the brain and bringing energy to corresponding parts of the body.
Chanting is also known to affect the vagus nerve, which passes through the neck to service the heart and intestinal tract. Candace Pert, PhD, author of Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, claims that emotional toxicity can remain lodged in the walls of our intestines, due in part to shallow breathing. Since chanting naturally creates long cycles of deep breathing, it encourages this toxicity to be released.
While some may think these benefits far-fetched, it’s virtually impossible to find a member of the medical community who warns against the negative aspects of chanting. So why not try it?
I consider myself to be an amateur chanter. I’ve practiced both alone, and in company. My first group session was a struggle—I had to overcome a now-legendary bout of the giggles when I first tried to chime in. But I found my focus, and was able to get into the rhythm of everyone else’s voices. I found it meditative, and rewarding. My issues of the day receded, my mind opened up and I became aware of the harmony of 15 to 20 people chanting as one. I left feeling more physically energized and mentally relaxed than when I’d arrived.
There are various styles and forms of chanting, among them Vedic, Gregorian, Tibetan Buddhist, Bahai, and Jewish cantillation. Regardless of your religious or spiritual perspective, it’s worth exploring a few to see which resonates with you most—pun intended.