Neuroscience and the ‘Sanskrit Effect’

Neuroscience and the ‘Sanskrit Effect’
Science Proves the Power of Chanting

Many of us have heard the Gyuto Monks of Tibet. With their extraordinary chanting and the low throaty drone of ancient sacred texts, they have kept audiences in the West spellbound with their long, careful and accurate recitations of potent Tibetan Buddhist texts. Sitting in their presence, you feel clarity and a potent spiritual transference of energy and healing. The Buddhist tradition stems from India and the sacred language of Sanskrit. While Tibetan Buddhists have a rich chanting tradition, in India, this age-old tradition goes back even further.

Sanskrit scholars in India learn to chant ancient texts from a tender age. They chant simple mantras, Sanskrit poetry, and prose, along with memorising and chanting the most ancient Sanskrit texts, including the Shukla Yajurveda, which takes six hours to chant. While those listening to these chantings receive the gift of the sacred texts they are sharing with us, the chanting of long texts does, in fact, have an amazing effect on the brain.

Neuroscience shows how rigorous memorising can help the brain. The term the ‘Sanskrit Effect’ was coined by neuroscientist James Hartzell, who studied 21 professionally qualified Sanskrit pandits. He discovered that memorising Vedic mantras increases the size of brain regions associated with cognitive function, including short and long-term memory. This finding corroborates the beliefs of the Indian tradition which holds that memorising and reciting mantras enhances memory and thinking.

An Unexpected Discovery…

Dr. Hartzell, a Sanskrit devotee and postdoctoral researcher at Spain’s Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Language, spent many years studying and translating Sanskrit and became fascinated by its impact on the brain.

I noticed that the more Sanskrit I studied and translated, the better my verbal memory seemed to become. Fellow students and teachers often remarked on my ability to exactly repeat lecturers’ own sentences when asking them questions in class. Other translators of Sanskrit told me of similar cognitive shifts.

India’s Vedic Sanskrit pandits train for years to orally memorise and exactly recite 3,000-year old oral texts ranging from 40,000 to over 100,000 words. We wanted to find out how such intense verbal memory training affects the physical structure of their brains.

Dr. Hartzell’s research is the first study to examine the brains of Sanskrit scholars. Using structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) at India’s National Brain Research Centre, they scanned the brains of 21 Sanskrit pandits and 21 control subjects.

What we discovered from the structural MRI scanning was remarkable. Numerous regions in the brains of the pandits were dramatically larger than those of controls, with over 10 percent more grey matter across both cerebral hemispheres, and substantial increases in cortical thickness. Although the exact cellular underpinnings of grey matter and cortical thickness measures are still under investigation, increases in these metrics consistently correlate with enhanced cognitive function.

He reports that the right hippocampus of the scholars, a region that plays a vital role in short and long-term memory, and is specialised for patterns, such as sound, spatial and visual patterns, had more grey matter than the brains of the control subjects. The right temporal cortex, associated with speech prosody and voice identity, was also substantially thicker.

Chanting improves brain performanceRegions in the pandits’ brains were dramatically larger than those of controls. Image: Natasha Connell.

Past Studies

Dr. Hartzell is not sure whether the effect relates particularly to the Sanskrit language and plans to conduct further research. The power of sound and chanting is becoming widely documented, and even short chants have an energising and healing effect on the body and mind of those who are chanting sacred mantras or verses. Interestingly, fifty years ago, a French scientist noted that Christian monks who chanted the Gregorian Chants have exceptional memories.

In 1967, Alfred Tomatis, a French physician, psychologist, and ear specialist, studied the effect of chanting on Benedictine monks who had been part of a tradition with a strict schedule of daily chanting of up to eight hours a day. When a new Abbott changed this schedule, cutting out the chanting, the monks became tired and lethargic, even though they were getting extra sleep. In fact, the more sleep they got, the more tired they were. Alfred Tomatis believed that the chanting was energising their brains and bodies, so he reintroduced the chanting and the monks were soon full of energy again.

Dr. Hartzell’s recent study raises the question of whether this kind of memorisation of ancient texts could be helpful in reducing the devastating illness of Alzheimer’s and other memory affecting diseases. Apparently, Ayurvedic doctors from India suggest it is the case and future studies will be conducted, along with more research into Sanskrit.

While we all know the benefits of mindfulness and meditation practices, the findings of Dr. Hartzell are truly dramatic. In a world of shrinking attention spans, where we are flooded with information daily, and children display a range of attention deficit disorders, ancient Indian wisdom has much to teach the West. Even introducing small amounts of chanting and recitation could have an amazing effect on all of our brains.

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Dr. Rajkumari Trikha
Dr. Rajkumari Trikha
3 years ago

A very good article, highlighting the benefits of mantra chanting. I have seen a video about effects of mantras on water on YouTube. Your research is beneficial to mankind

Anthony Gonzales
Anthony Gonzales
3 years ago

SHOUTING is not same as RECITING. MUSLIMS do nothing but SHOUTING at TOP OF THEIR VOICE. PURE NON-SENSE. And this SHOUTING BREED TERRORISM AND RADICALIZE THE YOUNG MINDS.

Nagakumar G
Nagakumar G
3 years ago

Absolutely trashable. Doubt if uplift has mechanism of verifying the opinions n claims made in these proclamations.
The results of all the great chants are available verification, did anyone care to do an audit of great claims?
(Reserving my comments)

CYNMURTHY
CYNMURTHY
3 years ago

Dears n loved ones,
Pranaams.i am happy a great section of our creed at least are putting forth their findings n sharing their worth in this NOBLE direction.But But there is one more dimension I would love to share.THAT IS FORGOTTEN LANGUAGE OF HEART.THAT IS LOVE.THIS LANGUAGE IS ALL ENCOMPASSING N ALL EMBRACING WHICH WILL DEFEAT ALL ARGUMENTS WHETHER IT IS SANSKRIT,ARABIC,TAMIL AND WHAT HAVE YOU.ALL ARGUMENTS WILL RESPECTFULLY END WHEN WE TASTE THIS LANGUAGE CALLED THE LANGUAGE OF HEART.ULTIMATE SETTLING N CULMINATION HAPPENS ONLY ONLY ONLY IN HEART N HEART ALONE.THE JOB IS CULTIVATE,IRRIGATE,POLISH,ILLUMINATE,EXPAND,CLEAN,OUR HEART N YOU HAVE SERVED THE PURPOSE OFBEING BORN.EVENTUALLY YOU YOURSELF WILL FIND PEACE N YOU WILL BE ABLE TO TRANSMIT LOVE WHICH IS THE TWIN INSTRUMENT WITH WHICH THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE WAS,IS,GOING TO BE RUNNING THE SHOW.MAY WE ALL TASTE,SHARE,SPREAD ‘THAT LOVE’WHICH MAKES EVERY ARGUMENT IMPOTENT AND THUS WE REALISE THE GLORY OF SILENCE N LOVE.
BEG FORGIVENESS FROM ALL IF THERE IS ANY MISGIVING N SEEK CORRECTIONS.
BROTHERLY
CYNMURTHY.
[email protected]

Vijay Laxmi
Vijay Laxmi
3 years ago

Om Tat Sat

Sarada Sundaresan
Sarada Sundaresan
3 years ago

Extraordinary findings!! A very informative and a useful article. Must be introduced from pre school. Thank you.

N. K. Tawakley
N. K. Tawakley
3 years ago

I will welcome you all to read my book Understanding Sanatan Dharma. It’s available on amazon.in, amazon.com, amazon.uk etc. The entire process of moving towards Moksha is achieving super intelligence. Each one of us human beings is capable of achieving that super intelligence. Visit
http://www.understandingsanatandharm.in
Book published last year.
Website under construction.

दिनेश तेरेदेसाई, मुंबई
दिनेश तेरेदेसाई, मुंबई
3 years ago

अभिनंदन मंदार जी
आपले संस्कृत संवर्धनासाठी चे प्रयत्न प्रशंसनीय आहेत. आपल्याला यश लाभोच आणि इतरांनाही ते प्रेरणादायी ठरोत.

KRUPA
KRUPA
3 years ago

I would correct it to ” Hindu” tradition and not Indian tradition. Because Indians consists of all religions.

P A Natiala
P A Natiala
3 years ago

I wish to be a part of this meaningful discourse chain for human race. I wonder if I can be in your subscriber list ?

MANDAR
MANDAR
4 years ago

*असे आम्ही.. कसे आम्ही भारतीय !!*

आम्ही- स्वतःला भारतीय म्हणवणारे (हिंदू म्हणवून घ्यायची लाज वाटणारे), जे ज्ञान शतकानुशतके आपलंच आहे पण इतकी वर्षे हेतुपुरस्सर दुर्लक्षित होतं; आता गोर्‍यांनी सांगितलं ना, मग आम्ही ऐकू.. नव्हे, त्यांचं अनुकरण करु.. कारण अजूनही आम्ही गोर्‍या कातडीचे मिंधे आहोत. ते जी म्हणतील तीच पूर्व दिशा समजतो.
स्वतःची दिशा, स्वतःचा मार्ग निवडणे किंवा पूर्वीच्या आपल्या ऋषींनी ग्रंथांत लिहून ठेवलेल्या गोष्टींचा अवलंब करणे हे तर करतच नाही उलट जो त्या मार्गावर चालायचा प्रयत्न करतोय, त्यालाही आम्ही (सेक्युलॅरिझमच्या नावाखाली) खाली खेचतो..

*असे कसे आम्ही भारतीय ?*

पण, असेही आम्ही भारतीय..
आपल्या त्याच पूर्वजांची पुण्याई म्हणा किंवा आत्ताच्या काळातल्या काही निवडक कर्त्या लोकांचे अनुशासित धोरण म्हणा; सगळंच अजून मातीत मिळालं नाहीये.
माझ्या सारख्या ‘तरुण पालक’ वर्गाला याचं महत्त्व समजलंय आणि आपल्या संस्कृत श्लोकांचे श्रवण, पठण आपल्या पाल्यांना सुरू केलंय. एवढंच नाही तर काही शैक्षणिक संस्थांनीही शिशु आणि बालवाडी पासूनच अभ्यासक्रमातच संस्कृतचा अंतर्भाव करून आपला वारसा जोपासण्याचा आणि नवीन पिढीच्या सर्वांगीण विकासास सुरुवात केली आहे.
श्लोकांचे पठण करून काय, किती, कसा आणि कधी फायदा होईल, याचा कूट पाडत बसण्यापेक्षा आम्ही आजचे भारतीय, आपल्या संस्कृतीचा अभिमान बाळगतो आणि त्याची ओळख आपल्या पुढच्या पिढीला करून द्यायचा प्रयत्न करतो आहोत.

*असेही आम्ही आजचे तरुण भारतीय !!*

-मंदार दळवी
पुणे.
७ फेब्रुवारी, २०१९

David Walmsley
David Walmsley
4 years ago

It crossed my mind while reading this that stage actors, who have to remember all the lines of the characters they play in an abundance of different productions, might also get similar results. Film and TV actors of former times, before the instant replay was invented, should also have benefitted. And no doubt the poetry my parents’ generation had to memorize had some effect too. This news is a magnification of ‘use it or lose it’.

Ranjit Jagannath Wagh
Ranjit Jagannath Wagh
4 years ago

Reciting things during early childhood helps one in concentrating on an extemporaneous subject in a chaotic surrounding. This is true even in children who are in habit of rigorously reciting Quran or any similar texts.

surajit laha
surajit laha
4 years ago

i am in mid 50s. i can recite sanskrit slokas learned in class Viii-X better than any poems of my curricula. More over the slokas give me mental strength during tough times and i realised that those help reducing my tension and mental disturbance.
My most preferred slokas are “ASATO MA SATGAMAYO, TAMOSO MA JYOTIRGAMOYO, MRITYUT MA AMRITAM GAMAYO, ABIRABIMO EDHI, RUDRA JAT TE DAKSHINAM MUKHAM TENO MUM PAHI NITYAM.
i BELIEVE STONGLY THAT THESE FEW WORDS ARE GOING TO CHANGE ANYBODY FROM MATERIALISTIC WORLD TO ENLIGHTENED SELF REALISATION. YOU CAN TRY IT.

Neil Rane
Neil Rane
4 years ago

Not surprising for those of us in India who do chant Gayatri mantra, atharvashrisha, etc. BUT what is astonishing in your report is the way you “researchers” conveniently forget to name the people who actually have done the Chanting. Just called them “MONKS” like you are studying some lab Rats. And you article could find the space to name the doctors. BUT NOT THE AYURVEDIC DOCTORS who gave you the information. This is why Hindus and Buddhists should be wary of such “Research Teams” who eventually will treat Hindus/Buddhists as lab rats and will claim Nobel prize, claiming that it was THEIR RESEARCH. Have some shame you colonial thieves of Hindu knowledge!!

GOVI.SUBA.KUMAR
GOVI.SUBA.KUMAR
4 years ago

Even animals can be attracted through music.eg.Flute in the forest . Sea Animals like Dolphins cab be brought to shore by playing instruments or calling them by specific sounds. The problem here is acceptance of such things. Bharathiar words: How many Crores of Happiness made available on this earth by the God.

Venkatesh Kamvar
Venkatesh Kamvar
4 years ago

We are really elated.
It doesn’t mean that we Indians alone need to be proud of this ancient text to be holding as our Assets and proprietary over these texts.
in India it is a common phenomena to share with all the human beings and see that all get the benefits of the the research has been longing for for centuries to be shared

Ramesh Venkat
Ramesh Venkat
4 years ago

In Sanskrit- there is a concept of Aacharyam ( Guru- Value based Leadership) Vichaaram ( Concern) Prachaaram (to recite & propoganda). It’s only by word of mouth that such recitals with precise decibals, intonation, voice modulation, rythms with breathing techniques one could refine the science of both teaching, preaching & learning. Discipline was of core value to adapt routine.Glad that these are now researched & inferences truly heartening.

Matthew Strickland
Matthew Strickland
4 years ago

Great info! Inspiring! Thank you!

Krishna Kumar Agrawal
Krishna Kumar Agrawal
4 years ago

The findings in the first reading seem corroborated by the fact that when writing was non existent even on palm leaves, chanting to memorize was in practice for all Shruti’s, viz., Vedic and Vedant and spiritual literature transferred from Gurus to shishyas who in turn did so further. Even now, specially in Southern part of India, Vedic chanting is taught by daily practice recitation starting at early childhood.
I shall like to be associated with your organisation. I am Civil Engineer, engaged in my own R&D and trying to engage in study of our spiritual epical literature. I give here-in-below my name and email ID for kind advice.
(Krishna Kumar Agrawal)
([email protected])
+918691050820
+91-22-28304836

Ronnie Dhanapalan Naidu
Ronnie Dhanapalan Naidu
4 years ago

Exactly – the greatest spiritual master of the 21 st century / Avatar ( God descends in human form to the Hindus in India) Bhagawan Shri Satya Sai Baba had initiated the chanting of Vedic mantras in the Ashram in Puttarparthy India – he had also encouraged overseas devotees to learn the mantras and recite – now we have devotees from afar – Russians /Americans /Italians /South Africans / Iranians /Malayasians and other countries have starting reciting of these holy mantras – there are various mantras to be learn but the most popular and easiest mantra – THE GAYATHREE is by far the most popular and easiest to recite – these definately increases the power of the brain

K R Ramamoorthy, Chennai
K R Ramamoorthy, Chennai
4 years ago

Does this has any scientifically proven testimonials? What about the financials? rgds

Mira from Isalayam
Mira from Isalayam
4 years ago

Thank you for this article. 🙂 But I believe the Sukla Yajurveda takes much more than 6 hours to chant. Pundits are chanting all 4 vedas simultaneously in our Ashram every year (in a ceremony called the Chaturveda Yajna), and it normally takes 5 or 6 full days to complete.

Tranquil
Tranquil
4 years ago

Very interesting. Hope to read more about the vagus nerve and reduction of systemic inflammation in the context of chanting.

Shanthala
Shanthala
4 years ago

We have experienced it our selves the above research is true.
I have observed changes in our behaviour. Ex it helps in increasing our awareness.
After the chanting we can feel the vibrations in surroundingsthis hleped me learn more
Thank you

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