We typically think yoga is a physical practice that involves various poses and breathing techniques. Did you know that the mindful repetition of a word or sound is also a type of yoga? Mantra yoga, or the silent repetition of sacred sound vibrations, is one of the most powerful ways to clear your mind, focus your concentration and calm your emotions. This type of yoga is a simple yet potent practice that can be easily incorporated in your everyday life.
What is a mantra?
Chanting is used as a spiritual tool in virtually every cultural and religious tradition. In the yogic tradition, a mantra is a Sanskrit word that has special powers to transform mind, body and spirit. A mantra is a word, or a series of words chanted aloud or silently to invoke spiritual qualities. ‘Manas’ translates as mind and ‘tra’ means instrument or tool. It is commonly translated to mean “an instrument or tool for the mind” or “that which when reflected upon gives liberation.”
Mantras are unique mystical formulas of sacred syllables, which were originally revealed to the Rishis (seers or sages) in the deepest states of meditation. They are one of the earliest components of yoga and are quite possibly the first type of meditation that was developed. The most well-known mantra is Om or Aum, and it is often used as the seed mantra in longer chants.
A yoga mantra has three components: intention, meaning and vibration or sacred sound. Intention is the why of your practice—it’s reason, goal and purpose. Meaning is the what of your practice—the definition and meaning of your personal mantra. Sacred sound is the how of your practice—your connection to the vibrational sound and life force energy that your practice cultivates.
Mantras can be spoken aloud, softly whispered or said silently in the mind. Vaikhari Japa is reciting the mantra aloud as a way to practice the pronunciation, deepen concentration and connect with the vibration of the words. Upamsu Japa is whispering or humming the mantra quietly as a way to cultivate peace and harmony. Manasika Japa is internal chanting, or chanting within the mind only, and requires a great level of focus and attention. Silent chanting is considered to be 100,000 times more effective than chanting out loud.
Affirmations are often confused with yoga mantras—they are similar but significantly different. An affirmation is a positive statement in your native tongue that you occasionally repeat to yourself. Affirmations are a tool that assist us in modifying our way of thinking, which in turn helps in changing our actions and behaviors. Affirmations are most often used to help you attract more prosperity, peace, love, etc., or to help you achieve your goals. While mantras can be used for material goals, they are primarily used for spiritual and healing powers. Anyone can create an affirmation, but a mantra can only be created by a meditation master.
The three types of mantras
There are three main types of mantras, Bija (seed), Saguna (with form), and Nirguna (without form). The Bija mantras can be used individually, but are most often incorporated into Saguna mantras to invest them with a special “seed” power. The Bija mantras correlate to the seven chakras and to the main Hindu deities.
The Saguna mantras invoke the forms of the individual deities or personalized aspects of God. It is said that the recitation of the Saguna mantras gives rise to the actual form of the particular deity, thus manifesting its power.
The Nirguna mantras originate from the Vedic texts and are thus the oldest mantras of the three types. As no deities or personalized aspects of God are invoked with these words, they are very difficult to interpret and are considered to not have a specific form or meaning to them. These mantras are said to have their identification with all of creation, and contain the fundamental truths in yogic philosophy. It is said that the mind must be very strong to be able to concentrate on the abstract Nirguna mantras, and thus they are not recommended for beginning students.
Function of mantras
As each mantra invokes a precise power, they can be used for very specific purposes: spiritual power, the healing of diseases, and for the attainment of worldly desires. When combined with the user’s intention, they can become even more targeted and empowered. Mantras are believed to be a link between the devotee and the Divine.
The mantras are said to increase in power in direct relationship to the number of times repeated. A mantra is fully empowered by becoming “seated” in the heart after 125,000 repetitions, achieving what is called Mantra Siddhi.
Mantra yoga is a form of yoga that is designed to help a person achieve inner peace. While you can chant mantras just about anywhere, anytime, and for any length of time, there are structured types of chanting and traditional rules. The main practices of mantra yoga are japa, kirtan, and community chanting. The meditation technique of mindfully reciting mantras is called japa. Kirtan is a devotional practice that involves call and response singing of mantras set to music. While an individual kirtan may vary, the practice typically involves a leader who chants and a group of people who repeat their chants. Community chanting is often part of a ceremony or used in the invocation or closing of a yoga practice.
Japa meditation technique
The practice of chanting a mantra is considered the easiest form of meditation. Sitting in a comfortable position, with the eyes closed, the repeat the word or phrase silently or aloud. Pay careful attention to the speed and rhythm of your chanting, the correct pronunciation, aim, and esoteric meaning of the mantra. Allow the mind to be focused on the mantra, letting the thoughts go and maintaining a slow and deep breath. A mala (string of beads) can be used to count a series of 108 repetitions of the mantra.
Benefits of mantras
Like prayer and affirmation, the repetitious use of mantra can have powerful effects on the mind, body, spirit and emotions. Mentally, japa meditation increases concentration, and improves memory and focus. Physically, japa meditation lowers the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and activates the relaxation response to allow healing and rejuvenation to occur. Japa meditation builds self-confidence and self-empowerment, reduces stress and balances the emotions. Spiritually, mantras are said to dissolve one’s bad karma, produce jnana (wisdom) and are considered one of the many yogic paths towards self-realization. A daily meditation practice is recommended to receive the most benefits.
Mantras are used for many purposes, including healing, meditation, personal growth, and prayer. By linking your breath to the vibration of sound, the repetition of a mantra helps you enter a deep meditative state, clears your mind of negative thoughts, and connects you to your higher self and the divine. Chanting these sacred sounds affect the energy channels in the body and is calming to the mind and spirit. By practicing mantras, we can learn to access the spiritual wisdom within us, become more mindful in our daily life, and help ourselves heal and transform.