Mantra is defined as a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation, but it if you look at the root sounds of the mantra man- “to think” or “the thinker” and -tra, which means “tool or instrument”, mantras literally translate to a tool for the thinker (or a tool for the mind). It is no wonder then that this ancient practice is circling back into the mainstream.
This week we offer a helpful guide to learning more about mantra and how to begin a mantra practice.
1. BRIEF HISTORY OF MANTRA
There are many practices from the ancient wisdom of yoga that are overlooked in the Western World depending on which kind of yoga class you go to. One of them is the practice of mantra. Mantra has been chanted for thousands of years, the first being composed nearly 3000 years ago in Vedic Sanskrit in India.
2.WHAT IS MANTRA
Mantra is the practice of repeating words or sounds, and just as we use asana to keep the body busy, we can use mantra to keep the mind busy. Many of us know the sound of Om that is repeated in many yoga classes, this is perhaps the simplest and most sacred mantra of them all. Perhaps you were doing mantra all along and didn’t realize it!
Mantra is repeated three, six, nine, twenty seven up to 108 times (in some cases you chant much more than that, it really depends on the manta you are doing, for example there is a Chanra Namaskar mantra that you would chant 10,000-11,000 times over a specific period of time). There are some manta’s, like those from the Kundalini lineage, which are practiced for a certain amount of time (i.e. 3 minutes, 11 minutes, 62 minutes, etc). In addition, many mantra practices are carried out over a 40 day period…more on that to come.
3. BENEFITS OF MANTRA
Through the practice of manta you can clear the mind of distracting thoughts – you know, those stories you make up your head that create drama and fire up the senses when they don’t really need to. Mantra helps the mind practice mindfulness, to stay focused on one object (not very easy today given the dozens of different directions in which the average human is pulled on a daily basis).
Aside from calming and centering the mind, there are many other benefits according to India Times that one might experience due to the vibrations that reverberate through the body during the practice of mantra. Mantra improves Immunity by stimulating the Hypothalamus Gland, balance the chakra’s, improve concentration, for a healthier heart, relieve stress and symptoms of depression. In fact, if you dive deeper into Yoga, and its sister science Ayurveda, you can learn about Marma points int he body and how compession on these marma points with mantra can actually help allievate other physical ailments and prevent and treat dis-ease.
Mantra helps improve air and blood circulation which makes your body more beautiful and healthy on the inside and out. In the end, mantra can make your more happy, which in turn makes your entire body more healthy.
If things start to get a little overwhelming, t is not always possible to roll out your yoga mat but there are two things you can ALWAYS do no matter where you are or what you are doing, one is pranayama (breathing), and the second is mantra. That is what makes it so powerful.
4. WHEN TO CHANT MANTRA
There are two simple ways to incorporate mantra into your daily life. The first is on an “as needed basis”. For example you are having a super stressful day, the mind is filled with drama and stories, pull up a mantra in your mind, YouTube or your Itunes and let it bring your mind back to the present.
The second is a dedicated 40-day practice. In this case, you would choose a mantra and repeat it every day for 40 days, chanting it 108 times, ideally, you would use a mala necklace to help you keep track of the counting (note: you can always do more than 108 but never less than 108). Between the chanting and the counting, this could become a deeply powerful and peaceful part of your day. By choosing to commit to a 40-day mantra, it is a great way to help establish a new habit.
So how long does that take? It depends on the mantra.
If you were to chant some mantra’s 108 times, like the Gayatri mantra, it would take several hours. Most people don’t have that amount of time to commit to a mantra, but there are PLENTY of shorter, very powerful mantras, that you can do in 10-15 minutes. This makes it so much more accessible for the modern “yogi”.
It is also said that you can break up the 108 throughout the day, but it is really best to do it all at once after all the goal is to practice concentration. If you can’t quickly make it through 108 recitations then start small. Start with 3, then 9, then 27, then 54, then 108 (yes these are the specific numbers you follow).
5. HOW TO CHANT
When learning how to chant there are two things to consider, one is your physical body during the practice and the other is your voice projection during the practice.
Ideally, when you do your mantra practice it is best to be in a seated, comfortable position, the back is nice and tall and straight. Remember the vibrations of the chant can and will be felt throughout the entire body, which means your chakra’s, so the straighter your spine the more easily the energy can flow.
It is possible to chant during activity, for example walking, hiking, riding the subway to work, driving to school or work. This is not ideal but if that the only way you are going to fit it in then do it. Just tune out anything else that is going on (except the driving of course) and be attentive and say the mantra with full love and conviction.
There are three schools of thought when it comes to chanting a mantra, in most cases, people use them interchangeably depending on the environment in which they are chanting.
- Chanting the mantra out loud also referred to as Vaikhara Japa. This practice allows the vibrations of the chanting to be felt in the physical body.
- Chanting the mantra silently but the lips and tongue still move, also referred to as Upamsy Japa. This is said to be 10,000 times more effective than Vaikhara Japa.
- Chanting the mantra in the mind also referred to as Manasika Japa. This is said to be 100,000 times more effective than Vaikhara.
The reason silent mantras are more effective is that it requires a greater level of concentration, focus, and attention.
The core principal of a mantra practice is to chant it with full faith, awareness, and attention so whether you choose to do it out loud or silently is up to you.
6. WHAT NOW?
Now that you have a better understanding of mantra what are you going to do with it? Pick a mantra that resonates with you and start using it. Start by chanting it when the mind wanders or you feel stress or tension, then slowly work toward a daily practice maybe using the guidelines above, to begin with three times a day, then six times, then nine, until you can work up to 27,54, or 108. Pretty soon you will be doing it every day and you will crave the solace it provides and the mindfulness and concentration it will help foster.
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