“Inside of me there’s a mantra going on that reminds me of who I am. It’s that place inside – that niche in the wall where the candle flame never flickers. Always bringing me right to my heart where we dwell eternally.” -Ram Dass
A ‘mantra’ is like a beautifully wrapped gift that we take our time to open; something that has so many layers of meaning that eventually reveals itself to us over time. Rather than ripping through the wrapping paper of instant gratification, we start to see the value of its essence the longer we hold onto it and believe there’s something more inside of the box. The word ‘mantra’ in Sanskrit comes from the root ‘manas’ (the thinking mind) and ‘tram’ (to protect, to free, or to go across). Therefore, the word ‘mantra’ means to free ourselves or protect ourselves from the thinking mind. It moves us beyond the the lower state of conscious thought to bring awareness to our higher state of consciousness.
In the Western world, you may have heard ‘mantra’ being used as an affirmation or a phrase that helps empower us. While this is great motivation for us in the long run, diving deeper into the spiritual aspects of mantra used for meditation will help guide us back to our divine nature and help expand our yoga practice. Being a lover of sound and music all of my life, I was immediately drawn to mantras when I started practicing yoga. I loved that I could make sound in another language and it didn’t matter if I understood what I was singing or not. That was what made the sound ‘Om’ so special for me in the beginning. This big, primal sound was stopping me from thinking. Yeah of course, I cared about what I sounded like at first, but once I got over that and realized that the mantra ‘Om’ connected me and my fellow yogis together in a profound way, I started to incorporate mantras into my practice.
While mantras don’t necessarily have to be in Sanskrit for them to work, we can travel further away from distracting thoughts when we don’t use our native language. For instance, if I create a mantra in English like ‘I am strong,’ I am already creating stories about the word ‘strong’ or perhaps old memories are coming up about a time I wasn’t strong and so forth. If I use a sanskrit mantra like ‘Om Namah Shivaya,’ it allows me to tune out any hardwired word associations and forces me to focus on the sound of the mantra:
“That is, when a mantra is done sufficiently it gets into a certain kind of vibration or harmony with the universe in a certain way which is its own thing. The conscious beings who evolve certain languages such as Sanskrit specifically evolve the sounds of these languages to be connected with various states of consciousness – unlike the English language- so that a Sanskrit mantra, if you do it over and over again, will take you to a certain state of consciousness.1”
Everything in this world is made up of energy. Even thoughts are energy (and all energy has a resonance or vibration) that produces a frequency that our cells, organs, and brain responds to. This is why the Sanskrit language is so powerful. Through the repetition of chanting mantras, we have access to the 64 meridian points on the hard palate and the 20 meridian points on the soft palate. When these points are stimulated, the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus respond by strengthening our immune system producing endorphins and ‘feel-good’ hormones that dramatically shift out mood:
“…chanting yogic mantras, particularly in Sanskrit, stimulates the vagus nerve, which is situated near the jaw, and is considered to be the single most important nerve in the body; it services the heart, lungs, intestinal tract, and back muscles.2”
With that said, not all mantras have to be sung or spoken. Once you have heard the sound of your mantra audibly, that sound can be transmitted silently. This is where the meditation practice opens up that beautiful gift. The silent mantra now becomes the one-pointed focus and over time, it becomes part of us. If you continue to practice with mantras, they can become even more meaningful, release the mind from limitations and connect us to the depths of our spiritual being.
Practice: Pick a mantra that you’ve connected with. If you’re unsure, just start with ‘Om.’ Start by audibly chanting it. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out Om. It can be short repetitive Oms. Chant for 2 minutes, then work your way up to 5 minutes, then 10 minutes. After you chant audibly, silently repeat the mantra for another 5-10 minutes. Let go of the mantra for another few minutes and sit silently. Notice how you feel. Observe the mind and if you start to create unnecessary thoughts, come back to your mantra. Repeat this for 30 days and then if you’d like, choose a different mantra next month.
- ‘The Yoga of Sound: Tapping the Hidden Power of Music and Chant’ by Russill Paul
Article written by Monica Ott.