Yoga mantras and rosary prayer may be good for the heart, a study published in the British Medical Journal reports.
University of Pavia researcher Luciano Bernardi and colleagues recorded 23 men and women reciting the Ave Maria in Latin and the yoga mantra om-mani-padme-om. They found that during recitation of the Ave Maria and yoga mantra, breathing was regular and slowed to a rate of about 6 breaths per minute compared to spontaneous breathing and random talking.
Slowing the breathing rate to 6 breaths per minute appears to synchronize breathing with cardiovascular rhythms that also have a 6 per minute cycle.
The results are enhanced heart rate variability and arterial baroflex sensitivity, both powerful and independent predictors of long term outcome in heart disease.
It seems remarkable that yoga mantras and rosary prayer, two culturally distinct practices, are similar in rate (6 breaths per minute), duration (mantras are usually repeated more than 100 times and the rosary, 150 times) and cardiovascular effects.
Bernardi and colleagues suggest that Tibetan monks adapted the mantras from yoga masters in India and from there it passed thorough the Middle East to the crusaders, who introduced the practice to Europe.
They propose that in the Christian culture of the Middle Ages where body consciousness was not encouraged, the rosary prayer may have taken hold because it was a method of slowing breathing, increasing concentration and, by synchronizing cardiovascular rhythms with breathing, inducing a sense of calm and well-being without actively focusing on breath and the body.
Bernardi L, Sleight P, Bandinelli G, Cencetti S, Fattorini L, Wdowczyc-Szulc J, Lagi A. Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study. British Medical Journal. 2001;323:1446-9.