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Sounds of Peace

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a blog by Tami Quinn, Pulling Down the Moon, August 27, 2010

Since our recent flood, my work space at Pulling Down the Moon has moved from an isolated back office in the old location to a desk in the midst of the open loft space of our temp location. As a result, I am interacting much more these days with the Moon’s therapeutic environment.

As we’ve written about in previous blogs, we consciously use sensory input, including soft lighting, aromatherapy and music, to elicit relaxation in our clients. Direct stimulation of the senses targets the most primitive part of the human brain (the limbic system) and can take us very quickly from a state of agitation into the physiological state of relaxation.

A Catchy ‘Tune’

While the light and scent definitely create a calming vibe, it’s actually the music I want to blog about today. Last weekend I found myself at home, humming strains of the music that had been playing in the background of my work week. Words, too, that I didn’t realize had registered in my mind came out my mouth. Surprisingly, the words I’d absorbed were not even English lyrics — they were the Sanskrit mantras that play in the background of a typical day at the Moon.

There are many definitions for the word “mantra.” The simplest is that mantra is a sound, word or series of sounds used to concentrate our attention, which is used in many spiritual practices, including prayer. When set to music or rhythm and articulated aloud, mantra becomes chanting (the word chant comes from the Latin “to sing”).

In his ground-breaking work The Relaxation Response, Dr. Herbert Benson included mantra repetition in his system for eliciting the relaxation response. Instead of Sanskrit, Benson suggested using any calming, resonant word (he suggested “one”) as a mental device to help anchor the mind. Silent repetition of the mantra on the exhaling breath, according to Benson, helped to slow breathing and short-circuit anxiety-provoking mental chatter. The yoga tradition goes one step further than Dr. Benson and teaches that the actual vibration and frequency of Sanskrit syllables can clear negative thought patterns and create deeper awareness in the practitioner.

Creating Peace and Well-Being

At the Moon we teach mantra in our classes as a meditation tool to help students break negative thought habits. But before my inadvertent mantra practice last weekend, I had not realized how mantra could be used more generally to create peace and wellbeing. Here is what I noticed:

  1. The mantra that I brought home last weekend was “ong namo, guru dev namo,” which translates to “I call upon the divine wisdom.”
  2. The mantra would arise spontaneously at times when my mind was resting, like when I was cleaning the kitchen, sitting on the beach and going for a walk.
  3. When I was chanting, I was very present with my surroundings, not lost in thought.
  4. Singing these chants aloud cleared my throat, chest and voice.
  5. As I chanted, I did actually feel noticeably happy and lighter.
  6. All of this was, I decided, a good thing.

Many people are put off by the concept of mantra for religious reasons or because they feel uncomfortable with words or phrases they do not understand. Yet there are many forms of mantra available to us: gospel songs that lift our spirits, sacred hymns from our place of spiritual worship, traditional yogic and Buddhist chants. The practice of mantra harks back to the old advice to “act the way you want to feel.” If you are trying to cultivate joy, peace and gratitude, sing songs of joy, peace and gratitude.

My experience with mantra at work has inspired me to find ways to fill my workplace, home space or commute with meaningful sounds ... and to sing them to my heart’s content.

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