An Ancient Practice for Modern-Day Health
By Arda Itez
From the earliest moments of human history, music and song have been the universal language to reach across cultural divides. From indigenous tribes to industrialized cities, people come together to raise their voices in song during times of great joy and immense suffering. We see it in everyday life with choirs, clubs, and concerts for a cause—think Live Aid, which raised $127 million for African famine relief in the ’80s.
An ancient form of communal singing that’s growing in popularity is chanting, the recitation of mantras to promote inner peace, well-being and, for many, transcendence. Far from the ashrams of India and monasteries of Europe, mantra music can be found in yoga studios, performance venues and even the Grammys, where an album by Snatam Kaur, a Sikh sacred chant singer, was nominated in the New Age category.
A simple internet search turns up multiple scientific reports acknowledging the neurological benefits of chanting for both physical and mental health. Aside from promoting stress reduction, body detoxification, heart and digestive function and immunity from disease, chanting offers significant cognitive shifts when practiced regularly. Reported neurologic changes have been illustrated by analyzing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) images, and with control and intervention groups.
Behavioral studies have included research on the use of mantras to help individuals cope with negative life events such as loss and bereavement. Memorization and recitation of words and phrases has proven to enhance cognitive function, verbal memory, concentration and reasoning ability and to decrease negative thinking. Regular chanting improves blood flow to the brain, reverses memory loss and can promote gene changes to reduce inflammation.
Additionally, emotional health is improved when chanting is practiced in community. Commonly known as kirtan, this call-and-response-style singing requires no previous experience or particular music skill. Frequent participants experience improved mood, more laughter and less anxiety. Kirtan is a wonderful way to explore the multitude of health benefits of mantra and boost physical, psychological and spiritual well-being.
Rev. Arda Itez is spiritual arts program designer at United Palace, an inclusive community that seeks to cultivate compassion, wisdom and peace through spiritual practices born of the great wisdom traditions, sacred service and connection to spirit through music, arts and entertainment.
Gaura Vani, a popular artist in the mantra music scene, is currently leading Chant UP, a monthly kirtan celebration in Washington Heights at the United Palace of Spiritual Arts. He creates a mix of participatory rhythm and song, story and dance, performing in Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia as a solo artist and with sacred music ensembles.
Location: 4140 Broadway at 175th Street. For more information, visit UPSpiritualArts.org.