Chanting on the Road to Wellness
by Jody Willows
The opposite of wellness is being sick. Health experts tell us we can create or disrupt wellness in our body in several ways. One is by the nutritious food we eat or don’t eat, another is by doing daily physical exercise or being a couch potato, a third is by taking care of our mental and emotional bodies. One of the ways of doing this is chanting. Although chanting is a lost art, it is defined as repeating or singing holy names [sometimes called “spiritually charged words”] either to yourself or out loud. Common forms of chanting that still survive are whistling, humming a tune to yourself, or singing hymns in church. Since the introduction of the electronic age of computers, cell phones, iPads, and the headphones that go with them, you don’t hear people whistling or singing much anymore, even though these two mediums reinforce a positive state of mind and bring emotional balance. Singing to ourselves and whistling strengthen our state of happiness and enhance our sense of well-being.
Why is chanting important to optimum health? The simple answer is sound and light are beneficial to well-being. Listening to classical music or being close to the sound of the ocean are forms of sound therapy. Being outdoors in the sunshine or having a favourite colour you wear is how we incorporate light into our world. Both make us feel good. Perhaps the best example of chanting as a stimulant to better health is the classic story of what happened in a Benedictine monastery in France where the resident monks went from wellness to sickness in a matter of months. For centuries these monks had a tight schedule that consisted of four hours of sleep, a daily work regimen around the monastery, time for prayer, a sparse diet of vegetables and fish, and singing Gregorian chants six to eight hours a day. Unbeknownst to the powers that be, chanting was the hidden secret to their wellness and was how they were able to keep up their rigorous routine. When a new Abbot arrived, he decided to bring in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. He eliminated the long hours spent chanting in favour of more physical labour. Almost immediately, signs of a deterioration in health occurred, but no one got the message. The monks began losing they vitality, becoming so tired they could barely function. So the Abbot made another change, he increased their sleep time from four to eight hours, and reduced their work schedule. When their fatigue persisted, a health consultant was brought in. He suggested replacing their age-old diet with meat and potatoes. Within a short time the monks were not only tired all the time, but now began coming down with various types of illness. Out of desperation, a sound expert was the next consultant to be called in. He knew that certain sounds are beneficial to our overall state of health and saw immediately the cause of the monk’s problems. He recommended they be allowed to return to their former food and work regimen, that included chanting six to eight hours a day. Within six months, their vitality was restored and they were all as fit as ever.*
No one in today’s world has time to chant six to eight hours a day, but the secret is we can accomplish the same results in 10 to 20 minutes a day. All that is required is to find a quiet place, go inward into the silence of your inner self, put your attention on the centre of your forehead where the third eye is located, and chant a spiritually charged word silently to yourself. Many people today, interested in wellness, recognize the importance of quietude, setting aside time each day to shut out the world and go into meditation, contemplation, or silent prayer. This process is enhanced by chanting certain key words that not only uplift you mentally and emotionally, but also affect your overall well-being. What are some of the best words to use in chanting? Hum or OM is a sacred word used by Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of yoga. Halleluiah is a Christian prayer song used to sing praises to our creator. Gata means the act of opening your consciousness to enlightenment. HU is an ancient name of God that brings peace and harmony into your world. The bottom line is chanting has a calming, healing, and beneficial effect on your body, mind, and spirit.
*The story of the monks in France is taken from the book The Call of Soul by Harold Klemp.
Jody Willows, BA, LLB, lives in Saskatchewan. For more information on chanting as an aid to wellness, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.