Mantra Musings

Essay:

On the Organic Origins of Sanskrit and Mantra By Terry Stainton

How does one, as an animal, albeit a spiritual animal benefit from vocalising a few syllables of ‘nonsense’? Many languages have words derived from ‘onomatopoeia’ which are words that closely represent the actual sound or action. The word ‘crash’ when spoken (or even thought !!) sounds like a crash, as we think of it in English. In this sense, word-sounds of language evolved from the subconscious of the primitive people who spawned them. Gabriel Axel: “Mantra is a Sanskrit word for “sound tool,” (a literal translation would be “instrument of thought”. ) and Om is one of myriad such mantras. Sanskrit and some other ancient languages such as Tibetan, prototypical Egyptian and ancient Hebrew evolved as complex systems of onomatopoeia, where the sounds evoke movements of energy.

This evocation is qualitative and subjective and is linked with interoception (inner body sensations) and emotional sense of self, both predominantly represented in the right hemisphere of the brain. Conversely, the narrative strand of sounds in which we give them meaning is done predominantly through the left hemisphere. What is fascinating about mantras is that from a physics standpoint, the sounds themselves, before they are assigned meaning, will resonate in different parts of the body and mind, creating actual interactions or events.” As we see everyday, people listen to music to relax. Possibly what they are accomplishing is distracting themselves from dwelling in past events or worrying about the future. It keeps them in the Here and Now. Some find classical music useful to meditate, as it calms the savage beast. Some may feel that some Rap music and Death Metal have lyrics and themes that are anti-social, leading us to believe perhaps that these listeners are sociopaths. But consider if these people are frustrated, not only with life, but more importantly with “monkey brain”. Wild thoughts may distract them from daily activities. This loud harsh stimulation actually keeps them focused in the way that caffeine and Adderall (clinical amphetamines) do. I believe that this is not a good example of Mantra, but a harsh maladaptation of sound stimulus as a treatment. While it is of course ad-hoc, it may actually be functional.

It is quite possible that Sanskrit is wholly onomatopoeic and that the sound of each word was chosen to resonate with the Central Nervous System (CNS) and invoke a ‘Spirit’ within, related to the perceived characteristics of the object being coded into Sanskrit . Most languages evolve from a base, savage and guttural proto-human beginning and then over time this language is evolved by it’s users. Latin was already dying, by evolving far beyond traditional Latin in the time of Jesus (CE). The Romance languages, (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and yes, even Romanian) were evolved from Vulgar Latin which were local adaptations of true Latin, not Imperial Roman Latin. Sanskrit on the other hand is a cleverly manufactured language. The Sanskrit verbal adjective sáṃskṛta- may be translated as “put together, constructed, well or completely formed; refined, adorned, highly elaborated”. It is derived from the root word saṃ-skar- “to put together, compose, arrange, prepare” The name Sanskrit means “refined”, “consecrated” and “sanctified”. It has always been regarded as the ‘high’ language and used mainly for religious and scientific discourse.

It may be hard to believe that Sanskrit is the ‘mother tongue’ of the Indo European Languages, from Indian, Iranian, Greek, Latin through Western Europe including English. Sanskrit is ‘natural’ and not evolved by the whim of it’s users, as most modern languages have. It is a shame that the mish-mash language we call English is the ‘lingua franca’ of most of the world.

Personal use of Mantra: For a Mantra to have an effect it must be experienced and “felt” within one’s consciousness. Many single word Mantras can create a stimulus response in the brain, where a certain area would be turned “on” roughly similar to Dr. Penfield triggering the sensation of burnt toast. (q.v.) this can become a focal point for introspection and mindfulness. It clears the brain activity to a single point, no mean feat! The classic Om is phonetically “Aum” and is linked phonetically and possible functionally to the word “Amen”. The similarity to Yoga Mantras and Gregorian Chanting is clear. Mantras may have different effects from person to person. The differences are a result of the condition of the body and mind of the practitioner and thus, we can expect that the efficacy of a Mantra to change, as it changes us !!

Gabriel Axel: Mantras can be done vocally, sub-vocally (whispering) or silently in the mind. It is recommended to start aloud, and then proceed with the more silent variations. Silent repetition does have an effect; when the frequency of any sound is high enough, it extends beyond the human range of hearing and eventually achieves stillness, which is beyond sound itself Moreover, group chanting or recitation of mantra can synchronize the brainwaves between the participants, achieving yet another level of collective effect, as has been shown between musicians, which can help to understand the functional basis for group chanting in many of the world’s wisdom traditions. And so we see that mantras have a subliminal effect on the body and mind. This effect changes over the course of Mantra chanting, as the Mantra changes the body and the mind. Many yoga mantras are based on Sanskrit, which itself was intentionally designed to be sonorous and cause a reflection of the thing being vocalized. Mantras may be performed ‘out loud’, quietly (whispering) or silently in the mind.

Yoga and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis sufferers are often caught between a proverbial rock and a hard place. The rock is that they are in pain, the hard place is that exercise – while often painful to do – can help with arthritis symptoms. So, what is one to do? Enter yoga.

Over the years, a number of studies on the health benefits of yoga have been conducted. In general terms, yoga has been found to help reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and improve cardiovascular health. With respect to arthritis, yoga has been found to decrease inflammation. To understand why this is important, one must first understand what arthritis is.

In its most simplistic terms, arthritis can be understood as joint inflammation. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis or OA. According to the Arthritis National Research Foundation, OA is the “‘wear and tear’ arthritis or degenerative joint disease.” Another common form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis or RA. The American College of Rheumatology states that “Ra is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis…caused when the immune system (the body’s defence system) is not working properly.” Like other forms of arthritis, RA results in pain and swelling.

So, if yoga can help reduce inflammation, it makes sense that it is often recommended for those dealing with RA. One arWhat is yoga good for? While yoga is good for many conditions and life challenges one particular condition that benefits from a regular daily yoga practice is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

Low impact strengthing exercise – like yoga – has many key benefits to dealing with RA. According to Susan J. Bartlett, PhD, associate professor of medicine at McGill University, keeping muscles strong so that they can support the joints while incorporating movement to reduce stiffness, is key to dealing with RA.  In her article, Why Yoga Can Be Good for Rheumatoid Arthritis,  Kara Mayer Robinson suggests that yoga:

  1. Creates strong muscles to support joints and improve mobility
  2. Reduces stresses and improve mood which is especially important for people experiencing chronic pain
  3. RA is linked with diabetes and heart disease and yoga benefits the healing of both of those diseases

While there are many benefits to practising yoga – including helping those dealing with RA symptoms – it’s always important to first consult your physician prior to beginning a new exercise regimen. If you believe that yoga could be right for you, we also suggest you let your instructor know about your condition and the joints that are most affected. This will enable your instructor to provide you with modifications to ensure you continue to get all the benefits of yoga without causing further injury or a flare-up of your RA. And yogis, remember to always, ALWAYS, listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right while in a posture, take a recovery pose (savasana and child’s pose are often good) and speak to your instructor after class.

Yoga has a number of health benefits, including reducing joint inflammation – which is key in dealing with arthritis symptoms, especially RA.

Postures to help alleviate RA symptoms

  • Vrkasana (tree pose)
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose)
  • Savasana (corpse pose)
  • Viparita Karani (legs-up-the-wall pose)
  • Reclined supine twist
  • Sun Salutation

Fast Facts on Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic
    inflammation
  • The cause is unknown and it can affect people of any age, but is more common in
    adults 40-60 years old
  • People suffering from RA go through periods of inflammation and periods of remission
  • Inflammation with RA affects the joints by swelling, redness, stiffness and pain, but can also occur in tendons, ligaments and muscles.

arthritic joints

Yoga and Eating Disorders

Laura Mifflin dance instructor & choreographer

by: Laura Mifflin, Dance Instructor and Choreographer

I believe that practicing yoga can be a form of positive treatment for individuals suffering from eating disorders.

This article will explore eating disorders and questions whether or not yoga can be used as a suitable treatment to add some positive outcome or added benefits to those suffering from eating disorders.

With millions of individuals suffering from such disorders, there are several practices and treatments being explored currently which can potentially help them.  One new outlook on treatment is through the practicing of yoga.  Specifically, the practice of asanas, integration of the body and mind, elevated spirit, relaxation, lessened focus on body image or appearance, and more.  The findings reveal that yoga practices do have beneficial impacts on suffering individuals, however, it cannot be stated that yoga is a complete cure-all.  The complexity of eating disorders in general, even when combined with yoga practices, will not provide us with a complete solution to this unfortunate condition.

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a healthy young woman who is in shape, and who has confidence in herself.  I am happy with my body image and I can proudly say that I am comfortable in my own skin.  I believe in myself and I rarely find myself struggling with self-esteem issues.  As I go on living my life in this way, I am almost blindsided by the fact that there are individuals out there who are struggling from eating disorders.  What about those people who look at themselves in the mirror and don’t approve of how they look?  What happens to them?  Sadly, in some extreme cases, these individuals end up suffering from an eating disorder, such as anorexia, binge eating, or bulimia nervosa.  These disorders are serious issues, and cannot be overlooked.

At least 30 million people of a variety of ages and both genders, suffer from an eating disorder in the United States alone. This type of behaviour not only has negative physical effects but also adverse emotional and mental effects on an individual.

In most cases, when an individual is suffering from an eating disorder, especially if they are suffering from a disorder such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa, side effects can include weight loss, pale skin, low energy, fragile nails, thin hair, and several other characteristics which are visibly noticeable.  However, the nature of eating disorders are such that their side effects are not always fully visible.  There are things which we can not always see on the exterior, and there are many more issues which are not visible to the naked eye.  In a study Laura Douglass found that “virtually every bodily function and organ is afflicted by the disorder”.  This statement proves just how serious and lethal these types of disorders can be.  The effects of abnormal eating that occur on those with disordered eating are negative.  There are so many aspects of the individual that are affected in such a destructive manner.

Yoga practices can a form of positive treatment for individuals suffering from eating disorders. In fact, there was a group study performed in 2006 that set out to see if there were any correlations between body mass index, drive for thinness, and body dissatisfaction as well as taking into consideration media influences.  After examination, tests, and constant practice of yoga, the findings were noted that there is a positive correlation between body mass index and drive for thinness and body dissatisfaction, and the results also stated that the yoga preventative program was overall quite efficacious.  I believe that the success of this program is due to the fact that yoga is not a program focusing on how one looks, but rather on how one feels.  It is a treatment of the spirit, as well as the body.

When practicing yoga, you will notice that your body is able to feel sensations never once thought of as possible, and you will discover that you are able to put yourself in a place and in positions that may once have been impossible for you.  Relaxing and breathing into poses and postures personally allows me to enjoy the placement and test my limits.  Pushing the body to a safe but challenging position gives us some satisfaction.  I believe that eating disorder sufferers who involve themselves in yoga, beginning at a moderate pace, would be able to let go of the dissatisfaction they also tie to their bodies, and actually allow for more self-approval.  If satisfaction can be given to an individual, they may also be able to lose that drive for unnecessary thinness, and focus on accepting their body.

As we keep discovering different aspects of yoga as it relates to eating disorders, we see how the idea of improving the wellness of those suffering from an eating disorder is not simple, and the improvement process is no easy task.  According to the study done by Boudette in 2006, yoga contributes to the recovery process of individuals suffering from eating disorders because yoga is able to introduce relaxation to their consciousness, which is often a newly found sensation in this circumstance.  Boudette reports that “the combination of yoga postures (asanas), followed by relaxation (savasana) creates a deep sense of peace and freedom they have never before experienced.” The hope of this relaxing feeling is that it will be a new sensation that the body will be involved with, and hopefully enjoy.  The relaxation will try to let the body of the eating disorder sufferer reach a new level of enjoyment with respect to how it feels.  With the focus being on the feeling of the body, attention has now been redirected away from how the body looks, which tends to be the primarily and perhaps the only focus of the eating disorder sufferer.  Once that focus is shifted away from how one thinks about their physical appearance, the individual suffering from the eating disorder will have some relief.  The pressure to look a certain way, which has been impressed upon them from our culture’s media, or where ever it came from, and the stress of modeling him or herself into this body type will hopefully then be reduced.  I feel that this relief would show the overworked mind of the sufferer some much-needed peace.  With the mind at rest, and the body under less stress, the two should be able to find a better connection and become more stable, if a positive routine is established and reinforced.

One concern that should be mentioned in regards to using yoga as a suitable treatment for eating disorders is that some consider yoga to be a form of exercise.  The issue here with yoga being a form of exercise is that individuals suffering from eating disorders have risks associated with combining exercise and abnormal eating.  It is reported that  “Vigorous exercise can be a means of weight loss or one of several tactics used by the individual to counteract the ingestion of excess calories or deal with body image concerns.  […] terror of being fat can cause some individuals to fall into the trap of excessively exercising while still falling short of the “perfect body”.  Falling into the trap of too much exercise is risky.  If yoga practice were to become the treatment for the patient, I would suggest an easy, controlled yoga class, with constant supervision by the yoga instructor.  This way, it can be ensured that an individual does not take this treatment too far, or cause bodily harm.”

The danger of disordered eating is so dominant to some individuals that any treatment needs to be used with caution.  Disordered eating is a habit which cannot be easily escaped from.  Individuals suffering from disordered eating are constantly under a struggle.  Once personally affected either directly or indirectly by eating disorders, you should understand that there is one source of recovery out there for this serious condition; that being yoga.

Disordered eating is a sickness, and we are in search of the cure, using various methods which we can only hope will be effective, and so we must continue to study these methods if we are to help those who are suffering. We can try, and believe, and practice yoga and preach its many benefits, and see how it positively benefits those individuals who are struggling from eating disorders.  As yoga as a practice continues to develop and be a source of inspiration and assistance to more people, we must make sure that it can also help the people who could really use its benefits the most.  If we can give body satisfaction and self-contentment to everyone, why wouldn’t we?  Let us all practice: living, laughing, loving ourselves, breathing, exercising, and healthy eating.


Back to Home Page


Address

Atlas Yoga Studio
18 Ainslie Street South, Unit B
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
N1R 3K1


Hours

Our studio schedule is dynamically changing with many community collaborations. Check out what's on for today - on our Contact page


Contact

Director: Denise Davis-Gains
Phone: +1 519-240-9642
Email: info@atlasstudio.com