Mantras and the Breath of Life

lung healthThe lungs are an ideal container for the breath and the production of sound. Breathing takes a unique combination of strength and relaxation. As you breath in, the alveoli—clusters of tiny “balloons” at the end of the branches of your airways—are filled and expanded. As you breathe out, the “balloons” relax.

The capacity of the lungs can be increased in several ways, including the singing of mantras and singing in general. The diaphragm (below the lungs) and the intercostal muscles (between the ribs) play a key role in singing and breathing. As you expand your lungs to breathe deeply for singing, the intercostal muscles will strengthen and increase the potential volume of your lungs.

There are particular vowels, syllables and words connected to the breath. At a fundamental level, vowels are feminine energy: consonants are masculine energy.

Vowels are generic and formless. Consonants set parameters around the feminine energy to create form from formlessness. In other words, consonants create a container. The breath itself is feminine; the lungs are masculine.

The syllable “AH” assists with the health and strength of the lungs and energizes the mind. The AH sound is also a key sound for the heart, appearing in many Sanskrit mantras in the form of words like “namaha.” Namaha is a word of salutation of praise, sometimes translated as “I bow” or “not me” as in “it is not about me.”

Another key syllable for the lungs and heart is HRIM. HRIM is a combination of three sounds: “ha” for prana or breath, “ra” for fire and light and “ee” for focus and motivation. HRIM is primarily a seed (bija) syllable for the heart, promoting circulation and thus positively affecting the lungs and nervous system.

sun symbolIn Vedic astrology, HRIM relates to the sun. The solar energy and fire of the sun brings the outward expression of attraction and charisma. In terms of the Eastern five element system (water, wood, fire, earth, metal), HRIM is primarily a fire mantra with air as a secondary element.

The lungs and breath are also associated with the heart chakra. In Sanskrit, this chakra is called Anahata. “Anahata” means “unhurt, unstruck, unbeaten.” At the same time, Anahata means “pure” or “clean.” The heart chakra is symbolized by a twelve-petaled lotus with interlocking triangles in the center. This is a depiction of yin and yang or male and female.

There are two other key words used in mantras for the breath. These are “hamsa” and “sohum.” The word “hamsa” means “swan.” Hamsa is used as a device in meditation to focus on the inhalation (ham) and the exhalation (sa). Some authorities use the syllables in reverse: sa followed by ham.

The word “soham” can be used for the same purpose: “so” as the sound of inhalation and “ham” as the sound of exhalation. Soham can be translated as “I Am He” or “I Am That.” The use of “hamsa” or “soham” during chanting or meditation gives a focus for the mind.

Expanding your lung capacity is literally expanding your capacity for life itself, filling your body with energy and oxygen. The cyclical breathing required for chanting mantras synchronizes the mind and body for greater health. Take a deep breath and sing!

More information on chanting and kirtan can be found at

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