Reciting the rosary or chanting yoga mantras induces more than just inner calm. The slow, rhythmic breathing that results is the key to a healthy heart and lungs, a study reveals today.
Scientists found that repeating the Ave Maria or an incantation slows the breathing to six respirations per minute, which is the natural rate for a human. This has a favourable effect on the cardiovascular system, increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, concludes that incantations are so beneficial that they could be "viewed as health practice as well as a religious practice".
Luciano Bernardi, of the University of Pavia, recorded breathing rates in 23 adults during normal talking, recitation of the Ave Maria, yoga mantras and controlled breathing.
Breathing was more regular when the Ave Maria was repeated 50 times in Latin and when the mantra "om-mani-padme-om" was chanted.
Prof Bernardi says that the mantras may have evolved as a device to improve concentration and induce calm. Similarly, the rosary, may have partly evolved because it instilled a feeling of well being and increased responsiveness to the spiritual message.