Girish, a touring performer of world music, has one message he believes everyone can partake of, regardless of their yogic experience: mantras can help us find our center, ease our anxiety, discover our true selves, increase our health and amplify our creativity.
“A mantra provides something unique: it first engages the poetic, the purely musical part of us, the metaphorical part, rather than the rational left brain,” says the Santa Cruz, California, resident. “At the same time, it is you putting forth your own sorts of wishes and intention-setting, you conceptualizing what your prayer is. You are bringing in the left brain’s focus of intentionality.”
Girish is the author of Music and Mantras: The Yoga of Mindful Singing for Health, Happiness, Peace and Prosperity, released in 2016.
His musical journey began as a child in New Jersey, when he began “drumming everything.” His parents bought him a tiny red snare drum at the age of 8 to sate his interest in rhythm.
Girish remembers a spiritual sensation at the age of 11, related to his continuous interest in “the unexplained, the mysterious and an after-life.”
“It was a dream, but a waking experience,” he recalls. “I was ‘downloading’ this beam of light that was radiating the undeniable experience and knowing of a brilliant future filled with happiness and success. It was a strange moment, an almost alien experience, of an archangel beaming a message of hope and inspiration to me that was undeniably real.”
He went on to drum wherever he could, including in marching bands and jazz bands. Eventually, he attended college in Knoxville, Tennessee, still performing with improvisational jazz musicians, experiencing “unexplainable moments of synchronicity and intuition that felt like magic.”
Girish was attracted to an “Eastern” way of perceiving spirituality, first through a philosophy class and then through a recording of mantras. “I had no idea what the words were, but I still remember the general phonetics, and the melody, and the timbre of the man’s voice after all of these years.”
Upon graduation, he joined an ashram, where he continuously listened to and contemplated mantras. “Music felt like a pale attempt to get to the height of vibrational bliss that one can achieve with mantra meditation,” he says. His return to music started when he discovered the tabla, a two-headed drum played in the Hindu tradition. The instrument merged his early drumming instincts with his spiritual awakening. He went on to study yogic music and drumming under several mentors.
Now a traveling world musician, he shares what he’s discovered about music and mantras. “Mantra literally means, ‘mind-tool’,” Girish says. “It’s the act of concentrating our minds and our spiritual energy in one focused direction, like light through a tunnel.” For people who may be uneasy with the Eastern religious overtones of mantras, Girish reminds them: all of the world’s religions have some form of mantra by another name, “a repetition of prayers, or sacred sound formulas with intentionalities.”
He’s gratified to see his beliefs about mantras increasingly supported by research. Modern studies show that breathing patterns associated with mantras activate the nervous system, slow the heart, and calm stress hormones.
Singing in groups is shown to promote heart rate variability, which indicates the heart is active and responsive to differing conditions and activities. And research shows we can change the way our brains work and reorganize our brains, largely through meditation, which is facilitated through mantras.
“Singing mantras is about merging yourself with the formula … surrendering to and connecting to this formula you’ve chosen and willingly embraced,” Girish says. “From that place, there is inspiration.”
This article was originally published in YogaIowa’s Summer 2017 issue.