Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Mantra Mean?

A mantra is a sacred word, sound or phrase, often in Sanskrit, recited within a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga. The word mantra is derived from two Sanskrit roots; manas meaning ‘mind’ and tra meaning ‘tool’. As such, mantras are considered to be “tools of thought,” used as a means of harnessing and focusing the mind.

A mantra can be understood as any sound, word or phrase that alters consciousness through meaning, tone, rhythm, or physical vibration. When chanted with devotion, certain utterances are thought to create powerful vibrations within the body and mind, enabling deep states of meditation.

Traditionally, mantras are believed to have spiritual and psychological powers, each with its own particular intention and meaning behind it.

Mantras can either be recited in repetitions or chanted with melody. Repetition of a mantra can be used to evoke higher states of consciousness, to harness the power of intentions, to manifest positive affirmations and to enter deeper states of awareness.


Yogapedia Explains Mantra

The use of mantras is ancient, with many scholars suggesting origins that predate the Vedic period in India (c. 1500 – 500 BCE). Some even consider mantras to be older than language itself.

Many of the mantras commonly used in yoga today are believed to have been composed by the sages, saints and practitioners of early Hinduism and Buddhism, though mantras are also found across other religious traditions such as Sikhism and Jainism.

In modern usage, the word mantra is commonly equated to a spiritual aphorism or positive affirmation. In this sense, mantras are used to cultivate a particular state of mind, in which their meaning seeps into the subconscious to transform negativity.

The use, structure, function and importance of a mantra varies according to tradition. However, each mantra is believed to have a distinct meaning, unique vibrational frequency and distinctive healing effects.

When chanting a mantra, the individual begins to vibrate within the frequency of that mantra, not only spiritually, but on a physical, molecular level. When chanting mantras aloud, the vibrations and movements of the tongue stimulate some of the key glands of the endocrine system, which is responsible for governing and regulating hormones in the body.

Additionally, the soothing and harmonious combination of sound, breath and rhythm – an inevitable outcome of mantra chanting – has a profound impact on the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “rest and digest” system. This, in turn, slows the heart rate and triggers the body’s healing response.

By focusing on the repetition of a specific set of words or sounds, mantra chanting can also act as an object of concentration, helping to bring the mind into the present moment. As such, mantras are commonly used to still the mind for meditation, particularly for japa meditation, much in the same way that some practitioners concentrate on the breath.

A great way to retain focus and remain present whilst practicing meditative mantra chanting is to count each repetition on a garland of beads. Known as mala in Sanskrit, these prayer beads are used throughout religious and spiritual practices to mark the repetition of devoted recitations. Meditative states can be used to connect to the Divine within, and mantras are an effective way to maintain that connection.

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