Recently, researchers have started to investigate the power of this practice. A study published in the journal Brain Behavior described research in which participants were asked to lie down, first with no instruction, and then, after a few minutes, with the instruction to silently repeat a simple mantra to themselves. Throughout the test, their brain activity was observed with a functional MRI machine.
While they were repeating the mantra, participants had a marked decrease in brain activity, in what neuroscientists call the default mode network—the part of the brain that is involved in planning and self-focused thinking. When they weren’t repeating the mantra, however, participants’ default mode network had normal levels of activity. Simply stated: repeating a mantra occupies the brain enough so that it doesn’t get caught up in obsessing, planning, and wandering. This, the researchers write, accounts for a significant “calming effect.”