By Miranda Hitti
Mantras can help with stress reduction, new research shows.
Mantras, or mantrams, are a word or phrase with spiritual meaning, write
Jill Bormann, PhD, RN, and colleagues in the Journal of Advanced
The researchers studied 30 veterans and 36 hospital workers at the
Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, where Bormann is a
research nurse scientist. In a five-week class, participants chose a
mantra and learned to use it to manage stress.
The study shows that the majority of participants used their mantras to
help them cope with a wide range of problems, including anxiety, stress
from traffic and work, insomnia, and unwanted thoughts.
"We found this to be a very valuable tool for people that they can use,"
Bormann tells WebMD. "It's like a pause button for the mind."
Bormann stresses that while the technique "is actually a very ancient
tradition that's been used in every spiritual practice," it's not just
for religious people. "It's nonsectarian, " Bormann says.
"It's personal, portable, and invisible. It's immediately available,
inexpensive, nonpharmacological, and nontoxic," she continues. Using
mantras can be a "stress-reduction technique for our modern day and age,
when people say they don't have time for stress-management techniques,"
Choosing a Mantra
Bormann's team gave participants a list of suggested mantras that
included major faith traditions. Participants were also free to choose a
mantra without religious underpinnings.
Here are some of the mantras that were on the list:
· Buddhism: Om mani padme hum
· Hinduism: Rama rama (Mahatma Gandhi's mantra, Bormann says)
· Judaism: Shalom (peace)
· Islam: Allah
· Native American tradition: O waken tanka (o great spirit)
· Christianity: "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me," or "Hail
Mary," or "maranatha" (a word from the ancient Aramaic language meaning
"Lord of the heart")
"Sweet harmony" and "take it easy" were examples of mantras not tied to
any particular tradition.
A few participants wanted to use mantras that didn't quite fit the goal.
"We had one guy who said he wanted to know why he couldn't choose
'cheeseburger, '" Bormann says. "When he eats cheeseburgers, it makes him
happy. So he thought that if he walked around and said cheeseburger all
day that would make him happy."
Another man wanted to use the golf terms "greens and fairways" for
A word like cheeseburger keeps people on the surface level of
consciousness, while a mantra has the potential to go deeper and tap
inner spiritual resources, Bormann explains, adding that the
cheeseburger fan switched to a different mantra.
Using the Mantra
Participants were instructed to repeat their mantra silently throughout
the day or night. They could use the mantra during stressful moments or
during calmer times.
"You could say your mantram once or twice, or you could say it for 20
minutes. Most people use it several times throughout the day," Bormann
Bormann adapted the approach from the late spiritual teacher Eknath
Easwaran, who founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Tomales,
Calif. Bormann says she's been to the Blue Mountain Center and has
practiced the technique for 18 years.
"It helps me live in the present moment. It helps me slow down. I feel
that I'm much more compassionate, and I have a better ability to
concentrate on whatever it is I'm doing," Bormann says.
"Sometimes, the biggest roadblock in people coming to this program, I
think, is the word 'mantram,'" Bormann says. "And so, sometimes we call
it a rapid-focus tool or we call it a comfort word, or for people who
are particularly religious … we say it's a prayer word."
Bormann says her work makes the assumption that "human beings are
"We believe that human beings have a mind, a body, and a spirit, whether
we're aware of it or not," Bormann says. "We believe the way you can
become aware of those inner spiritual resources is to quiet your mind
and one way to do that is with a mantram."
Not Just Distraction
Bormann says the effect isn't just about distracting people from stress.
"If I walk around all day and am calling on a name of God or something
that is the highest ideal of what I could become, that's very different
than if I'm just trying to distract myself," Bormann says, adding that
it can take time and practice for the technique to have an effect, which
may be subtle.
Bormann is also studying mantra use in a variety of other groups,
including parents and caregivers for Alzheimer's patients.
She notes that her research has been funded by the National Institutes
of Health (NIH), National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs Research and Development Office.
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Published on March 3, 2006