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How to Find Your Personal Mantra—and Why It Matters

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The reasons behind a mantra are your reasons. The Sanskrit word “mantra” lacks any clear definition; it might mean thought or mind or secret speech or something else altogether. Mantras may be silently thought, spoken, chanted, or sung. There is a musical quality to “om,” for example, which is said to represent the first sound ever uttered on Earth or the original sound of creation. 

Your own mantra may align with history or add to it. The oldest known mantras were written as much as 3500 years ago. In 3500 years, countless different mantras have emerged in countless different cultures and religions and for countless reasons. People have viewed mantras as a spiritual act or cleansing, a petition or request for help, a reminder of ritual, a connection to God, a way to discourage demons, a route to supernatural power, and a guide to thoughts. 

Clara suffered from arthritis and sometimes found it difficult to rise from her bed to start the day. She adopted a well-known mantra: May I be healthy, may I be happy, may I live with ease—but she changed the last word to “peace.” By reciting the mantra before she rose every morning, she marshaled calm, hope, and acceptance.

Your primary concern in finding your personal mantra should be whether it resonates with you, with your needs, and with your intentions. Mantras are positive—affirmations that carry you from negative, cycling thoughts about the past to appreciation and acknowledgment of the present. 

Vera had not heard from her son Geoff in many years. She felt herself drowning in the belief that he hated her. Then one day, she thought: I have no evidence that he loves me, but I also have no evidence that he hates me, and there are many people who would love me. She designed a mantra for herself, “Someone loves me.” It lightened her heart, and she was able to move on.

You might choose a personal mantra that:

  • Reflects your experience—perhaps your experience of faith, hope, or love or opposites.
  • Brings you what you need most—perhaps freedom from stress or anger or insecurity or fear.
  • Leads you to where you want to be—perhaps a place of calm, control, or enlightenment.
  • Prepares you to achieve a goal—opens you to love, career advancement, or contentment with who you are or the way you look.

The power of a mantra comes from concentrating on it to the exclusion of all else. You may have many mantras for different reasons and occasions, but you should focus on one at a time. Competing thoughts, petitions, or desires undermine each other.

Art approached every assignment with the attitude that it had to be perfect. His quest for perfection caused him to miss deadlines, antagonize the people who depended on him, and suffer feelings of isolation and self-loathing. With the help of his coach, he developed a mantra: “The person is more important than the work.” The mantra changed his focus and allowed him to finish assignments on time and without stress.

The Science of Mantras

Scientific research into the power of mantras is primarily centered in India, where mantras have the longest history and are most deeply anchored in the culture. Their studies confirm the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits and transformative effects of chanting mantras.

Western studies have revealed clear physiological benefits. A University of California study found that reciting a mantra reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. A Macquarie University study on chanting “Om” for 10 minutes discovered that vocal chanting increased altruism and positivity more than silent chanting. Still, both vocal and silent chanting increased attention and social cohesion. When a single mantra is repeated by members of a group in concert, it builds strong communal ties.

An investigation of 22 long-time practitioners of Buddhist meditation looked at changes to the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) of the brain during religious chanting. The investigators found that chanting increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and the PCC, enhanced relaxation, lowered metabolism, and stabilized cardiac activity. 

According to research surveyed by the National Institute of Health, mantras positively affect mental health, emotional regulation, concentration, and physical well-being for individuals. Similarities exist between people who meditate (with or without mantras) as opposed to those who do not—for example, those who meditate are more likely to use other forms of alternative medicine and to avoid smoking and drinking. But whether those similarities are a cause or effect of meditation is unknown. 

TIP: Consciously or unconsciously repeating negative thoughts, undoes the benefits of a mantra.


Ancient Mantras

Ancient mantras are difficult to translate—the words are often obscure and have no exact equivalent in other languages. Moreover, the purpose behind the mantras and the rituals that surrounded them may have been lost or altered over the centuries. Still, many of these mantras generate a power that still resonates with modern ways of thinking, believing, and behaving. “Om” is one of those. 

The following list is drawn from many sources. The words in parentheses are clarifications, not part of the mantra. You may use them as is or adapt them; either way, once you use them, they become your personal mantra.

  • Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu, peace, and contentment for all living things.
  • Om Namah Shivaya, purify and heal (a mantra directed at yourself, specific others, or everyone).
  • Om mani padme hum, praise to the jewel in the lotus (a mantra asking for wisdom and compassion).
  • Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya, lead me from the unreal to the real.
    Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya, lead me from the darkness to the light.
    Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya, lead me from death to immortality.
    Om Shaantih, let there be peace, peace, peace.
  • Soham, I am that (a mantra of self-acceptance as part of the universe).
  • I am, I feel, I do, I love, I speak, I see, I understand (the 7 Chakras mantra)
  • Om Amideva Hrih, protect me from dangers and obstacles.

TIP: Some ancient mantras have been set to music that is more familiar to Western ears and makes use of modern instruments.


Modern Mantras

Many modern mantras are built on the concepts laid forth in historical mantras—concepts of forgiveness, openness, tolerance, health, unity, and spirituality, among others. Our outside world may have changed drastically over thousands of years but we ourselves, yet our inner world has remained much the same, with identical hopes, desires, goals, and challenges. Again, you may choose to use these mantras as is, or build upon them, or create your own personal mantra:

  • I will be kind, even when I prefer to be right. 
  • I will not judge myself or others.
  • God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, the Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish
    the one from the other.
  • For every ailment under the sun
    There is a remedy, or there is none;
    If there be one, try to find it;
    If there be none, never mind it.
  • There are no mistakes. All of life is a blessing given to us to learn from.
  • Breath in, I sent myself love. Breath out, I send love to someone who needs it.
  • Let it be.
  • Let it go.
  • Everything is going to be okay.
  • Inhale the future, exhale the past. Yesterday is not today.

TIP: Prayer can be used as a mantra (for example, “God loves me”); however, mantras are powerful whether or not grounded in religious belief.

Key Takeaways

Historical, scientific, and modern evidence all point to the value of a personal mantra is changing you physically, emotionally, and mentally. Mantras have many different purposes but are always positive affirmations with the power of improving your resilience, calm, focus, acceptance of the past, and hope for the future.

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