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What are mantras?      

           Mantras are energy-based sounds. The Indian metaphysical tradition explains that the body is composed of the combination of five elements and the first of them is sound. Studies in sound symbolism suggest that vocal sounds have meaning whether we are aware of it or not. And certainly there can be multiple layers of symbolism associated with each sound. So even, if we do not understand them, mantras are not meaningless; no vocal utterance is entirely without meaning.
One's subconscious mind can find its solution through meditation and recitation of mantras. A mantra, when repeated constantly during meditation, first loudly and then through silent and mental chanting, changes the consciousness.

      Mantras exist in all languages and religions. For example, Ave Marie is a common mantra chanted by Christians around the world.  A popular Tibetan mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum is chanted for world peace and OM, is considered to be the first primordial sound of the universe.

Why Sanskrit?

          Sanskrit is not a religion. It is a language that has been dated back to 3,500 B.C. that is said to be the origin of all the Indo-European languages we speak today.  Sanskrit is a purely phonetic language.  These ancient sounds create energy vibrations that can replace negative energy with positive ones.  When chanting to Sanskrit mantras, the chanter benefits from thousands of years of powerful energy accumulated from the Divine and from the millions of devoted chanters. 
Resources I have found useful to learn more about mantras and the power of the mind.
Chakra Mantras, Shakti Mantras by Thomas Ferrand-Ashley-
Spritual Growth: Being your higher self by Sanaya Roman
Mantras: Words of Power by Swami by Sivananda Radha
Baby Buddas: A guide to teaching meditation to children by Lisa Desmond
Kundalini and the Chakras by Geneivieve Lewis Paulson
Sanskrit Mantras site by Richard Homes-
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogandanda
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert