How Humming and Chanting Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Feb 23, 2022

I’ve experienced anxiety throughout most of my adult life, as many of us have, unfortunately.  After years of practicing meditation, mindfulness, and mental fitness, I’ve been able to get it under control, but sometimes it’ll rear its ugly head. 

 

I recently adopted chanting (aka mantras) as my latest meditation add-on, hoping to bring my experience to a higher level.  I felt like my 5 year meditation practice had stalled, so I was looking for something new.  I was shocked when I found out how quickly I was able to get connected when I chanted: “Hail Mary, full of Grace'' for about 7 minutes.  I could feel the energy swirling around me, I felt connected, I felt content and at ease…where had chanting been all my life?! I noticed within about 2 minutes of chanting, my whole body became very calm.  And, of course, my analytical finance brain kicked in and began wondering about the science-backed reasoning behind it. 

 

My research led me to the amazing vagus nerve, which is a long and critical nerve that goes from the brain all the way down the neck, chest, and abdomen, connecting the brain stem to the body.  It’s also associated with taste, swallowing, digestion, and heart rate.  

 

When it’s activated (by humming or chanting or singing, for example), in simple terms: it sends a message to your brain that all is good, which then stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system…resulting in relaxation. 

 

Your larynx (aka voice box) is connected to your vagus nerve (VN), so when you hum (or sing or chant) you naturally activate it. This is why yoga techniques (e.g. chanting “om”) provide amazing results.  Humming and chanting also require you to control your breathing…slowing down your inhalation and exhalation. 

An article on Healthline.com shared extremely helpful information: a 2016 study of 45 inexperienced chanters and 27 experienced chanters found that chanting “om” for 10 minutes can help:

  • reduce stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms
  • improve attention
  • enhance positive mood
  • foster feelings of social cohesion

According to a 2017 paper, humming can boost the production of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide helps regulate the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems. This in turn can help increase blood flow and muscle relaxation.

The 2017 paper also states that when the correct technique is used, chanting can help reduce symptoms of anxiety. This includes slowing heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and oxygenating the brain.  

Using MRI scans, a 2000 study on the practice of meditation found that meditation activates structures within the autonomic nervous system involved in attention and control. This part of the nervous system regulates bodily functions involved in anxiety, such as: 

A 2018 review of 37 studies also suggests that mantra meditation may be a helpful addition to workplace well-being initiatives or education programs. I wholeheartedly agree with this and believe our work environment should be proactive in offering these types of stress reduction benefits.  It would be a win-win as it would actually improve the employee’s focus and communication, while the employer would be showing their employees they care about their mental health. What do you think? 

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