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How to Use a Mantra

Mantras can help train your mind.

Key points

  • Many religious traditions use mantra-like phrases to center the mind.
  • Mantras appear to be especially beneficial in their impact on our breathing.
  • Mantra meditation has been shown to be beneficial for stress, hypertension, anxiety and immunity.
  • You can use it anywhere you go and no one has to know.

The word mantra in Sanskrit translates to “manas” (mind) and “tra” (tool). Mantras are literally tools to train your mind. Mantras are short phrases that are repeated either silently or out loud. I find that mantras are especially useful for my clients who have active minds. If you dabble in mindfulness, you likely have been told to focus on your breath. But for those of us with busy minds, or those who get anxious when focusing on breathing (especially if you get panic attacks), you may find a mantra is an alternative tool to help ground you in the here and now.

I Have Arrived, I Am Home

There’s a large wood sign that frames the lotus pond at the Plum Village Buddhist Monastery that says “I Have Arrived, I Am Home.” I remember standing by this sign at age 19 and repeating the words to myself. They were like medicine. “I have arrived, I am home.”

My thay (the Vietnamese word for ‘teacher” that is pronounced “tai”) taught this simple mantra — I have arrived, I am home — as a reminder that no matter where we are, or how painful life is, we can come back home to the present moment and ourselves. We repeated these lines in meditation, while walking, and even while singing together.

Breathing in, I have arrived

Breathing out, I am home

The Science of Mantra

Mantra meditation has been shown to be beneficial for stress, hypertension, anxiety and immunity (Tseng, 2022). And like other forms of meditation (e.g., breath focus, loving kindness, and open awareness), mantra meditation suppresses the Default Mode Network (DMN) of the brain. This network, which is the constellation of brain regions that run bilaterally down the midline of your parietal, prefrontal, and temporal cortices of your brain, is active when your mind is unfocused and wandering to the past or future. In the 2001 Inaugural Article of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers called this network of the brain the “default” mode. It’s default because when your brain is not actively engaged, its rest state is to be wandering about, to everything but the present moment.

Your mind is a lot like a puppy on a walk. It wants to wander backward, sideways, or way ahead of you—anywhere but right here. One of the first commands you teach a puppy is to “heel.” You may repeat the command “heel’ with a gentle tug on the leash to train your dog to stay at your heel. Like training a puppy, repeating a mantra trains your mind to stay with you, not in front of you.

Mantras also appear to be especially beneficial in their impact on your breathing. According to James Nester, author of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, when repeated slowly, many mantras engage what’s called “resonant breathing.” They slow your breath down to an "ideal count” of about 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. For example, Nester shares about a 2001 study on subjects participating in Christian prayer cycles, that found the pattern of breathing was 5.5 breaths per minute. When subjects in the study breathed in this slow pattern, the blood flow in their brain increased and the functions of their heart, blood circulation, and nervous systems became synchronized for maximum efficiency.

Mantra Across Cultures

Many religious traditions use mantra-like phrases to center the mind; for example, the Hail Mary prayer in Catholicism or Sat Nam in Yogic tradition. But you don’t have to have religious roots to try a mantra. Simple words like Breathing in, I calm my body or Just this moment can be powerful mind-body tools.

These days, I am using the simple mantra as I walk: Yes, Yes, Thank you, Thank you. As I plant each foot, I use one word. Stepping I say yes to this moment, stepping again I say yes to the earth, stepping again I say thank you to this moment, and again, thank you to this earth. A simple “heel” practice like this is really healing.

As someone who has used mantras and chanting in various forms and languages over the years, I can attest that a mantra can be a very useful tool — whether spoken outwardly or inwardly — to slow my mind and body down and return to the present moment. The beauty of a mantra is that you can use it wherever you go and no one has to know. Before I get online for an interview, I will practice I have arrived, I am home, or when I’m anxious while taking off on an airplane I’ll repeat the mantra I first learned in my yoga teacher training: ham sa. Lately, I’ve also been exploring the simple mantra In this moment, I am enough, that my friend Ofosu Jones-Quartey, a Buddhist hip-hop artist, introduced to me. Are you interested in starting a mantra practice? Here’s how you can design your own.

Develop Your Own Practice

  1. Choose a word or phrase. What words settle you, soothe you, make you feel at home? Create a list of possible phrases or words and say them out loud. Which feel best in your body?
  2. Slow it down. Ideally, repeating your mantra would take about 5 counts for your inbreath and 5 counts for your outbreath. If you choose a single word you can repeat it slowly so that it lasts for a count of five.
  3. Include a humming or a sighing sound. Choose words that make that sound, and allow for a slight sigh at the end of your breath to have maximum soothing effects.
  4. Practice your mantra. Choose a cue or location where you will repeat your mantra. It can be the first thing when you wake up in the morning, driving to work, or when walking. If you like, you can use a timer or count them with beads, using a tool like a mala, which is a string of 108 beads and means “garland” in Sanskrit.
  5. Go slowly. The point isn’t to get through it, but to train your mind to stay with it.


To learn more, listen to this skill building episode on the Wise Effort show.

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