Science of Mantra Meditation

Mantra Meditation Doesn’t Have Scientific Backing… right?

THE FIRST TIME I heard a yoga teacher ask the class to chant “ommm” to start the class, I was too cool to comply.  I just sat quietly waiting to see what everyone else did.  Some students were extremely loud, though most said it rather quietly.  Yet, strangely, I felt rather good with the vibes coming from the syllable.  And as years passed, I now notice that everyone says “ommm” loudly and with great gusto when yoga classes are kicked off that way.

Similarly, the use of affirmations, syllables or “mantras” in meditation is gaining ground.  In my first mantra meditation a decade ago, I recall an inability to repeat some Sanskrit words because they seem odd and a threat to my roots in Christianity.  The meditation coach then explained that it literally translated to “may everyone be happy”.  That didn’t seem so threatening.  In an attempt to confront my own negative biases against Sanskirt language as a threat to my religious beliefs, I took a deeper look at a scientific explanation of why mantras have been so effective over millennia.

According research by Dr Eddie Weitzbery and Jon Lundberg of the Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, humming is an effective way to increase the production and release of nitric oxide through the nose.  Actually, nitric oxide increased 15-fold during humming compared to quiet exhalation, probably because of increased air oscillation that promoted air exchange.  The data showed that humming is an extremely effective means of increasing sinus ventilation. In Weitzbery and Lundberg’s model system, 96% or almost the entire volume of a normal maxillary sinus (20 ml) was exchanged in a single exhalation during phonation, as compared with less than 4% during quiet exhalation.

Nitric oxide is a highly reactive free radical.  First dismissed as an air pollutant, the gas is believed to play a vital role in many mammalian biological events including regulation of blood flow, platelet function, immunity, and neurotransmission. The production of nitric oxide expands the blood vessels, increases blood flow, lowers blood pressure and even clears sinuses effectively.

Sinusitis is a very common ‘disease’ with 14% in the United States self-reporting their suffering from chronic sinusitis.  Side effects include extreme headaches, excess mucus fluid and nasal congestion. So proper ventilation of the sinuses is essential for sinus integrity.  Treatments today aim to promote sinus drainage with nasal decongestants, sinus irrigation, or even surgery.

So in overcoming my own biases against using words in the Sanskrit language, I learnt that, on a biological level, mantras a few minutes a day can actually be an effective solution for sinus integrity and can even reduce the risk for sinus infections.  And on a mindfulness level, focusing on an affirmation like “may I gain good health” can allow the meaning to seep into the subconscious.



  1. Set an Affirmation Based on Your Intention.
    Your intention can be relaxation and you might want to use “ommm” as the most basic and powerful positive vibration to chant.  Or it can be something more complex like “I deserve to be loved, I deserve to be respected”.
  2. Sit in a comfortable spot with low stimulation. Set aside a fixed time and an alarm, and close your eyes.
  3. Focus your awareness on the breath, without forcing it.
  4. When you’re ready, transition to saying your chosen affirmation either out loud of silently. Repeat until you feel like stopping.  Go ahead and use mala beads, a rosary, or even a string of pearls if you’d like to keep count of repetitions
  5. Transition to silent meditation again. Bring your awareness to body sensations and any lingering vibes from your chanting