Mantra meditation is a practice that has been around for at least 6,000 years. The goal of a mantra is to focus on words or sounds to bring on a deeper meditative state. If we are successful in integrating them into our consciousness, these sounds can have a calming and positive effect on us, even when recalled in a non-meditative state.
Mantra meditations most likely originated in India, and were first mentioned in the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures. Buddhism embraced the use of mantras in meditations, with the mantra acting as an object upon which to focus. Pagan cultures used sounds and chanting in trance states. It is unknown whether this was an influence of the Eastern religions, or if such techniques were simply discovered and embraced by Western cultures of their own accord.
Mantras are words, phrases or sounds that are uttered--aloud or mentally--while meditating. They provide something to focus on while meditating so that the mind and body can relax. Another theory is that mantras are a form of energy. By creating this energy during meditation, we are changing our own vibrations so that we can be more in harmony with the universe.
One of the most famous mantras is the "Om" or "Aum" mantra, which is a neutral sound that is thought to be the underlying sound and vibration of the universe. Another mantra sound is "So Ham," which stands for the yin/yang symbol, representing balance in all things. Popular word and phrase mantras are often spoken in ancient Sanskrit are "Shanti," meaning peace, and "Sat Nam," meaning truth. Some English-speaking people simply like to use their own terms for mantras, such as "I Am," or "Lord, I Surrender to Your Will."
Mantras are useful in meditation in that they give the mind something solid on which it can concentrate in order to prevent thoughts from wandering and emotions from stirring. The affirmations of positive words and phrases repeated while meditating and in a suggestive state help to permeate our subconscious, thus creating a more positive overall attitude and confidence in our conscious mind.
Health care providers are discovering the benefits of meditation on healing and wellness. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the practice of meditation, in conjunction with professional medical care and treatment, is believed to have a positive impact on health and healing on anything from depression to heart disease. An article in "Psychology Today" reveals that overall brain waves in people who meditate are healthier than in those who do not.