Cryptic incantations echoing through incense-tinged temples as crowds go into a trance—sounds like a cult right? Why would a logical person consider chanting in a language they don’t even understand? What if I told you that modern scientific research says it’s good for your brain, can get you high without drugs, and improve your relationships?
While chanting has been used in many religious and spiritual practices, it is actually a form of meditation that anyone can use, regardless of beliefs. Chanting is simply the repetition of a phrase—called "mantra"—to focus and calm the mind. Emerging scientific research on the benefits of chanting has shown surprising results.
According to clinical research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, chanting “can improve cognition and activate parts of the brain that are central to memory” in addition to reducing stress . Two groups of adults with mild cognitive impairment underwent 12 weeks of study in the experiment. One group conducted a well-established brain-training program for an hour and 15 minutes every day, while the other group did one hour of yoga per week and 12 minutes of chanting daily .
We were a bit surprised by the magnitude of the brain effects
— Dr. Helen Lavretsky, Study Co-Author
Both groups showed improvement in neural connectivity (brain function) and cognitive testing, but the chanting group “performed much better on a test of visuospatial memory” and “also had developed more communication between parts of the brain that control attention, suggesting a greater ability to focus and multitask” . Additionally, only the chanting group experienced improvement in their moods . Scientists believe that the benefits are mediated by “the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth while making these sounds” stimulating acupuncture points on the upper palate related to beneficial biochemical transformation in the brain .
While you don’t have to be a talented singer, chanting is usually done in song, and when done in a group can foster a sense of deep connection and enjoyment, releasing feel-good chemicals like β-endorphin, Dopamine, and Serotonin, according to an article published by UC Berkley . According to the article, research shows that singing in a group can break down social barriers more quickly and forge meaningful bonds  which can be important in our increasingly digital social environment.
Whether you use chanting to calm the mind and induce focus—like many other forms of meditation—or for spiritual practice, you may enjoy positive side effects extending to your brain, body and even relationships!
 Journal of Alzheimers Disease. Lavretsky H., Khalsa DS, et al. 2016;52(2):673-84. Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27060939
 New York Times. Yoga May Be Good for the Brain. Gretchen Reynolds. JUNE 1, 2016. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/yoga-may-be-good-for-the-brain/?smid=fb-share&_r=2
 Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation. Practice Kirtan Kriya Meditation. http://alzheimersprevention.org/research/kirtan-kriya-yoga-exercise/
 The New Science of Singing Together. Jacques Launay, Eiluned Pearce. December 4, 2015. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/science_of_singing