What is Mantra and How to Practice it
By Jeanne Heileman, Published on International Yoga.
Every living thing vibrates. Even a rock vibrates at a dull rhythm that is hard to detect. A blooming flower emits a subtle vibration that can be felt across the globe without us realizing it. An extreme action like the bursting of a volcano emits powerful vibrations that are clearly felt, yet we often don’t know what is going on within us.
Vibration is not only the source of all existence, but it is also behind our behavior and the rhythm of our respiration, which dominoes into thought patterns. Thus, thoughts are formed by vibrations. Have you ever been with someone who was so angry that you could feel their anger, even though they didn’t speak a word? You were feeling the activity of their thoughts, which began as subtle vibrations and emanated into the person’s breathing pattern and whole being. Humans are vibrational beings and the deepest source of that being is our subconscious thoughts.
For most of us, the internal dialogue of the mind becomes a consistent song of repeated worry, negativity, and irritation. Each person is walking around with a negative song playing at such a deep-rooted frequency, we are unaware of its existence. It is valuable and healing to discover our main song of negative internal dialogue that affects every aspect of our life. Most of us don’t know the existence of a negative internal song until we stop moving and get quiet. Discovering the song is often so uncomfortable that we cover it up with busy-ness and the conclusion that we can’t meditate. For some of us, we have figured out the song, and now we are ready for a method to stop it.
Practice The Power of Positive Thinking
Practicing the power of positive thinking is a popular method to remove the negative vibrations in the mind. It works; to a degree. If someone is plagued by the song, “I’m not good enough,” for example, (which affects speech, respiration, the physiology and function of the body,) this internal belief will also ripple into one’s actions which shape the future. It is something that was likely learned at a very early age, ingrained by a troubling experience. Simply telling oneself that “I AM good enough,” is not going to convince the three-year-old without years of deep therapy. Even after therapy, the three-year-old within the adult may still need to cling to this familiar tune for survival.
Mantra works with a different approach. Instead of resonating with the vibration of “I’m not good enough,” one repeats a set of sounds from the ancient Sanskrit language. Every letter in the Sanskrit alphabet is directly correlated to one of the Chakras. Thus, when we repeat a Sanskrit Mantra, we are re-wiring ourselves from the subtlest form. This ripples into the tangible and can actually change one’s thought-construct, without us realizing it. This positive change ripples to the rhythm of respiration, the function of the body and come out through new speech and behavior. We don’t have to believe the mantra’s message, but its vibration starts to change our deep inner patterns. These changes move outwards to our consciousness and our life.
Mantra de-conditions the mind by breaking up the unconscious vibrations and helps to rebuild with new vibrations of positivity. Instead of feeding our mind poor nutrition, we feed it positive vibrations which lead to a brighter being.
For most of us, meditation is difficult because once sitting down, meditation isn’t easily accessed, which can lead to the feeling of failure. Just as we prepare the shoulders and torso in order to do a headstand in a yoga class, we must prepare the mind before going into meditation. We must cultivate the skill of concentration, (Dharana) which can then lead towards the path of meditation, (Dhyana.) There is no meditation without strong concentration. Mantra is a workout for the mind which tunes it for stillness so that we can see within.
It is only when we get quiet that we start to hear the pulse of unconditional love and wisdom that has been resonating within us since our birth. This is known as our True Essence. It who we are once the masks of identity with our job, relationships, economic status, race, and other labels are removed. The whole point of yoga, according to numerous scriptures, is to access this joy. Mantra is a tool to untangle the knots of ignorance and guide us to this wonderful center. It takes us home, ensuring a safe journey along the way.
There are many types of mantras to use for meditation practice. Some of the powerful ones must be given to a student from a teacher who is part of a living lineage and has permission to hand them down. Until that is easy to arrange, here are a few which are just as potent and available to anyone who bothers to practice.
Easy Mantras for Meditation Practice
Supreme Superior Consciousness. This is the most important of all mantras, it represents the Divine Word itself. It serves to energize or empower all things and all processes. Thus, all mantras begin and end with OM. OM clears the mind. OM carries the essence of the Vedas in its sound. It is said that one doesn’t have to study the Vedas but simply repeats the mantra and all of the Vedic knowledge will reveal itself through OM.
I am THAT. This mantra helps us remember that the Divine dwells within us, as us. It is believed that the ancient Rishis received this sound and heard “So” with each inhale, and “Hum” with each exhale. They realized that all beings vibrate to this rhythm. Therefore, when we weave this mantra with the rhythm of our breath, we are aligning with all of Nature. Since most of our problems are a result of feeling separate from Nature, this is especially helpful.
THAT am I. This is the inverse of the earlier mantra where the focus of the sentence now begins with the Divine instead of the chanter. It represents a greater embodiment of the knowledge that the Divine dwells within the chanter.
How to Practice
- SIT in a comfortable position; either seated in a chair with your feet planted onto the floor, just below your knees or cross-legged on the floor with a prop to lift the hips above the knees. Align your ears and shoulders with your hips so that the spine is as long as possible. Close your eyes.
- BREATHE steadily. I recommend a few rounds of Ujjayi breathing to activate the diaphragm which deepens the breath for relaxation. Balance inhale and exhale so that they are the same length and depth.
- CHANT silently and mentally the chosen Mantra. While speaking these sacred sounds is powerful, moving them inward towards the mind and soul becomes even more transforming. You can pulse the sound in sync with the rhythm of the breath. You can also change the repetition to move quickly, or slowly. Try all three and one method will feel more comfortable. As your focus begins to sharpen, relax the Ujjayi and try to feel the pulsing vibration of the mantra within you.
- CONTINUE repeating the Mantra, even as thoughts arise and ideas pull you toward a memory or idea. Stick with the mantra instead of allowing the sounds of thoughts to draw your attention. One can hear thoughts and choose not to listen to them. The mind is designed to think, so you are not a bad person for having a zoo of thoughts.
- CHOOSE to continue returning to the Mantra, no matter how tempting and exciting the ideas and thoughts become. This works the muscles of concentration in the mind. It is harder than the most demanding physical activity you will ever experience. Just keep trying. This is a practice.
- STOP the Mantra when the mind begins to still. Sit in stillness and allow the internal silence to lovingly wrap itself around you. When the mind becomes active again, return to pulsing the Mantra.
- CLOSE your practice by giving thanks to the part of you who bothered to sit. Even if your mind was all over the place, you tried. You also fed the subconscious some positive vibrational medicine. It takes a warrior to be willing to face oneself and try to be with oneself. Offer your efforts for anyone important to you.
Divinity Exists Within Every Sacred Mantra
The ancient yogis believe that divinity exists within every sacred Mantra. So, when you pulse one of these offered Mantras, you are filling yourself with energy from the Divine. Bring a sense of appreciation and benevolence to the practice. Weaving mantra into your meditation helps to remember that each of us radiates with the energy from the Sacred Source. The more we repeat the sounds, the more our subconscious is able to see and connect to its True Essence. This positive song has a wonderful way of working through our breathing pattern, speech and actions to a brighter future. It takes time, and, it really works.
By Jeanne Heileman, Published on International Yoga.