THE SCIENTIFIC AND SPIRITUAL REASONS FOR MANTRA IN KUNDALINI YOGA.
For many, even the idea of chanting mantra feels uncomfortable, or at least at first. I see many new Kundalini Yoga students struggling with it initially – I did too. We’re just not accustomed to it in the Western World, especially those who have eschewed religion. But man-tra simply means mind-wave – they are a way of altering the patterns of the mind.
When I first started practising Kundalini Yoga, I wasn’t sure about the more traditional aspects of it – the turbans, white clothes and mantras etc. I’ve never been one to just accept and do as I’m told. But I’ve worked with it – I’ve tried and experienced the differences such elements create, I’ve looked at my ego (at why I might not want to wear a turban, for instance) and found my own way with it, which I think is important with any practise. I can tell you, though, hand on heart that the mantras used in Kundalini Yoga work to create specific responses, just as the teachings explain.
I’ve utilised specific mantra meditations daily for months at a time and noted the healing effects first hand. They’ve taken me on journeys into corners of my psyche that had been locked away for years and I’ve worked with them to unpick the maladjusted/protective wiring before compassionately reforming more open and positive neural pathways. Sometimes, a certain mantra can touch you without warning and tears of pure bliss can unfurl. I’ve even had some personal, beyond-explaining moments too, of which I’m sure you’d have as well, should you continue with the practise. Real understanding comes through experience, though, and I encourage you to explore such benefits (in Kundalini we’re taught that it takes 40days of meditation to break a habit, 90 to form a new one and 1000 to master something – miss a day and you go back to the beginning), but I will attempt to explain the story and science behind it too.
Many of the mantras used in Kundalini come from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib – the Sikh Guru or holy book. These mantras are written in a language called Gurmukhi, which was created in the 16th Century as a way for all to understand and recite the poetic hymns of Guru Nanak – the founder of Sikhism. Gurmukhi literally means ‘from the mouth of the guru’. Written languages in India at that time were reserved for the powerful, wealthy and high-castes. Gurmukhi changed that.
Legend has it that Guru Nanak spent much of his younger years in meditation and discussion with the Hindu and Muslim holy men of the Punjab. Around the age of 30 he disappeared for three days and returned enlightened, having been visited by God. He then renounced his previous life and took to the road as a missionary spreading this new message of God. “Chant, and meditate on the One God, who permeates and pervades the many beings of the whole Universe. God created it, and God spreads through it everywhere. Everywhere I look, I see God. The Perfect Lord is perfectly pervading and permeating the water, the land and the sky; there is no place without Him,” Guru Granth Sahib.
Kundalini Yoga is not part of Sikhism (it’s not part of any religion), but Yogi Bhajan, the man who brought it to the West, was Sikh, and so it utilises many of their beautiful words. Words which, as I’ve explained, work in the way they’re designed. When asked why Kundalini Yoga draws so heavily on the Sikh tradition for the mantras, Yogi Bhajan replied: “Those mantras just happen to be correct mantras. It’s not because they come from the Sikh tradition. The mantra, ‘God and Me, Me and God are One,’ you will not find anywhere, but it works. It is an Ashtang mantra. The sound is correct, so we use it. It doesn’t have to be only in Gurmukhi (the vibratory language of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib). I draw correct mantras from wherever I can. There are tons of mantras—I only use those which I know will be very elementary and will work.”
There are, of course, many different types of mantra. The Tibetan Buddhist Om Mane Padme Hum has been used for centuries to invoke the blessings of compassion. Hindus call on Ganesh with Om Gam Ganapataye Namah to remove obstacles. Some might even look at certain pop tunes as a kind of mantra. Anything that attracts your mind, repeats a positive message over and over until it’s embodied is great as far as I’m concerned. Positive Affirmations, for instance, work in this way. But there’s also much more going on with the ancient words.
The language of many ancient mantras are designed with resonance in mind, rather than the contextual style of our modern tongue. There are 84 meridian points on the roof of the mouth and mantra is designed to hit specific areas with the tongue to send signals to the hypothalamus, which makes the pineal gland radiate, stimulating the secretion of the whole glandular system. This is the science to explain how mantras change the patterns or waves of the brain.
The hypothalamus is like the control tower of the brain – it regulates communication between the nervous system and the endocrine system. So things that we often think of as automatic – such as body temperature, metabolism and the nervous system, as well as pituitary secretion, affecting everything from mood to appetite to sleep – are actually managed by the hypothalamus. It is the single most important link in the mind-body connection.
“We have totally forgotten that this Universe is the outcome of vibration. This Universe is not communication. This Universe is not money. This Universe is not love, it is not sex, it is not beauty, it is not even God. That one line is true: ‘In the beginning there was the Word, Word was with God, and Word was God.’ That’s all it is about. What is a word? Creative vibration.” Yogi Bhajan
Even our thoughts have an electromagnetic frequency, which produces a response in the body. The entire universe was built on sound (words), which is simply vibration. Stilling the chattering mind (our thoughts) is challenging, which is why mantra works so well. Mantras can help us change the channel or frequency of our thoughts, just as I’ve explained with my own experiences. Repetition is key however. As we repeat mantras they unravel our individually created ego patterns back to a universal frequency. Remember the essence of yoga is to unify – to connect the body and mind and, ultimately, reunite the finite (our body) with the infinite (all). This feeling of connection brings a certain sense of trust too, one that recognises the play of divine will alongside our own individual choices. We start to understand the importance of the journey (including the downs) as opposed to striving for a destination. We feel a contented, connected, trusting happiness – peace.
I host Kundalini Yoga classes (which use the mantras explained) several times a week in Leeds – please check my timetable for details. There is also a donations-based, non-denominational Kirtan (devotional singing – using mantra, song and other sound forms) running monthly on the last Friday of every month at Yoga Kula – a chance for the community to connect for the community (all funds raised go to the St. George’s Crypt homeless charity). Please get in touch if you require any more details.