In Ayurveda, simple daily practices, called dinacharya, attend to the five sense organs—eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin—the way we take in the world. Just as the foods we eat, the air we breathe, and our visual stimuli impact our mental and physical health, so do the sounds we hear—in our environment as well as the chatter inside our heads.
Sounds We Take In Matter
Sound has the power to change our mood, create or relieve stress, affect our blood pressure, produce endorphins, and build proteins in the body that nourish the immune system. There is a decided physical and emotional response to sound. Think of the unrelenting noise of a jackhammer—or one too many ads on television. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the gentle pulse of ocean waves or the coo of your child.
All things have their own vibrating energy, from trees to stars, and of course our own bodies. And all vibrations have a sound, although some not as audible as others. Within our body, each component, such as the liver or heart, emits a sound creating a small symphony that is you.
Long-term exposure to any particular internal or external vibratory patterns—positive or negative—can alter our own vibrations to the new pattern (called “entrainment”). This is why it’s best to be intentional about the sounds we take in or feed ourselves with our thinking.
The Right Sounds Can Heal
Part of attending to the body’s delicate sound system (ears) in yoga and Ayurveda includes the practice of chanting. The accumulated knowledge of the sciences of yoga and Ayurveda are recorded in Sanskrit and for hundreds of years chanting or vocalizing Sanskrit words or mantras has been part of these healing and spiritual practices.
According to Sanskrit teacher Nicolai Bachman, “For millennia the profound teachings of India have been chanted over and over, preserving the essence of their meaning…. [and] forms a direct link to the vibrations of ancient India through sound.”
The human ear and the palate within the mouth hold connections to the body’s nervous system. This includes 82 reflex points located on the hard and soft palates which are awakened by speech and vocalizations. Vocal sound production is also known to affect the vagus nerve, which is key to switching on the parasympathetic (or rest and digest) systems in the body.
The Sanskrit alphabet happens to be perfectly designed for the human vocal apparatus and employs all five mouth positions, activating the nervous system of the body. So chanting a Sanskrit mantra of any length can be especially healing, opening the mind to new energy and grace as well as creating a sense of calm.
A Simple Five-Step Chanting Practice
Recently I’ve attended a yoga class where the teacher incorporates simple one-syllable chanting. Hearing the vibration of several voices repeating the same sound, and my own voice resonating in my body is surprisingly comforting and stabilizing. As a result, I’ve slowly added simple chanting to my personal practice.
According to Ayurvedic doctor David Frawley, much like a yoga posture (asana) brings a certain kind of energy to the body, so do certain Sanskrit sounds or mantras. Mantras are like a pose for the mind.
Here’s a simple chant if you want to give it a try:
1. Find a comfortable seated position, such as sukasana (easy cross legged position), or another position that is comfortable either on your yoga mat or a chair. Consider finding a spot outdoors to mingle with the sounds of nature.
2. Start with the Sanskrit long vowel “ā” आ (pronounced ah as in “father”). Basically all you need to do is open your mouth and make a sound. It stimulates the first position in the mouth which is toward the back of the throat.
3. Place your hands over your heart if you’d like to remind yourself to keep an open heart and better feel the vibration of the sound in your body. Or, on the inhale reach your arms up toward the sky and on the exhale bring them to your heart.
4. Begin to repeat “ā” with your breath in whatever pitch or volume you choose (or happens). Complete as few or as many rounds as you want. This practice encourages lengthening the exhale, so it should feel calming and quiet the mind.
5. Follow this with a long bout of silence. That is golden.