If you have been exploring the world of meditation, you have probably come across the subject of mantra meditation. This type of meditation is widely praised and practiced in Indian and Tibetan cultures. However, it seems to remain somewhat of a woo woo topic among modern yogis in the West.
When I first came in contact with using mantras for meditation, it opened my eyes to an entirely new way of meditating that quickly transformed into one of my favorite parts of my yoga practice. I keep discovering new ways to integrate them into my yogic life and I am now growing a whole playlist with great mantra music for my private post-meditation dance parties (that alone is a big plus).
However, when I talk to people about the benefits I am getting from using mantras, I tend to get some questionable looks. Well I mean, I get it, it does sound a bit like:
I’ve joined some shady new age cult;
and lost all sense of sane judgment;
while I’m levitating through my days;
in white flowy robes with bell sleeves;
repeating some incomprehensible word sequence.
Okay, don’t get hung up on the details, but I feel like this pretty much describes the picture a lot of people get when I’m talking about mantras. And while some of them know about the powerful mantra of ‘Om’, that’s about as far as it goes.
I believe it’s time we beat this mysterious prejudice and start embracing this amazingly mind-opening practice until #mantraeverydamnday starts trending on our newsfeeds! Are you with me?
The meaning of mantra
So, what exactly is a mantra? The word ‘mantra’ is a combination of the Sanskrit words ‘man’, meaning ‘mind’, and ‘tra’, meaning ‘vehicle’. So literally it translates to a vehicle for the mind, to carry the mind from a state of agitation to one of concentration, which is exactly what it does.
In Buddhist tradition, however, the meaning of the word ‘mantra’ is considered to be ‘to protect the mind’. I am personally leaning a bit towards this interpretation because it just makes so much sense. There are few things that can harm me more than my own mind when it’s on the loose and a soothing mantra will quickly pop it into a straitjacket and protect it from itself. Works like a charm, every time.
Part of being a Vipassana meditator is to understand that the only true way to develop mastery over this reckless mind is to objectively observe it in the midst of its mayhem. Not to distract it with repeating a mantra when it’s going riot. But I believe there is a proper time for everything and as long as mantras are not interfering with my Vipassana practice, I see no harm in enjoying their benefits!
Mantras should be clearly distinguished from affirmations. When you say an affirmation, your focus is on the meaning of the words and the feelings that come with it. By making positive suggestions to the subconscious, you sync up with the vibrations of this alternate reality. This is what causes the energetic shift.
When using mantras, it is not the meaning of the words that causes the shift, but the sounds itself. Therefore it doesn’t matter if you understand the words of the mantra in order for it to work for you. Although understanding the meaning of a mantra helps you to select the right one for your intended purpose.
The benefits of using mantras
Practicing mantra meditation is believed to have numerous benefits. While each individual mantra has its own perks, there are some universal effects that come from chanting. Here are 5 reasons why you should give it a try next time you hit the mat!
Repeating a mantra helps your mind to get concentrated easily, by chanting the same word(s) over and over again, your mind gets deeply focused.
By taking your focus away from sensory objects, chanting mantras soothes the overstimulated mind and helps to achieve a state of deep relaxation.
Chanting mantras stimulates the right brain which is in charge of creativity, intuition, imagination and artistic awareness. In our modern society, this part of our brain usually takes a back seat in favor of the logical, scientific and analytical functions of our left brain. Chanting will get them to team up and promotes a healthier brain balance.
Chanting regulates the breath, which is the key to balancing the hypothalamus (the part of our brain that controls the nervous system). This helps to strengthen your immune system and heal the effects of stress.
Relieving stress through regular chanting will allow your body to come back to functioning at its highest level, which will increase your productivity and creativity.
And that is only the tip of the iceberg. But while I admit these benefits are pretty cool, they just can’t hold a candle to the more spiritual and heart-opening effects of chanting. The transcendental feeling of surrendering yourself to the mantras, letting the sounds emerge from the depth of your core, rush through every fiber of your being and fill your space with their vibrations, while your soul is dancing and your heart is doing somersaults to the rhythm of the words. THAT experience, my dear friend, is just beyond words. It will take you to a whole new level of consciousness. Chanting has proved to be so immensely liberating and healing for my soul and I know I am not alone in this. And really the best way to learn about these wholesome qualities of mantras is by experiencing it for yourself. You’ve just got to feel it to believe it!
How to practice mantra meditation
Are you getting excited yet? Now let’s discuss how to go about when you want to start practicing mantra meditation, so you can start to experience all of this goodness for yourself!
There are no set rules as to how you should practice, but there are a couple of guidelines that can help you get established in the technique and get the best results. I’ll take you through a couple of steps to set up your own practice.
1. Choose a setting
Mantra meditation can be practiced either by yourself or in a group setting. It really depends on what you’re most comfortable with and on the facilities that are available in your area. If you’re just starting out, practicing by yourself can be a little less intimidating because there’s no one around to hear you chanting (by the way: being on-key is totally beside the point). But on the other hand, it can be very helpful to have a teacher to guide you as you get acquainted with the practice and the power of multiple people sacredly gathering and chanting together will amplify the vibration, making it increasingly more palpable.
I personally started out with practicing in a small class with about 3 to 5 people. There was no use of any instruments and the first couple of times I felt completely naked and exposed. As you can probably imagine this pushed me way out of my comfort zone, but it has actually helped me break through some deep-rooted issues surrounding shame (which is kind of a big deal!). Later on, I also starting joining a class where they use a harmonium to guide the chanting, which is a beautiful addition to the practice that helps me to open up even more.
You can set up your space like you usually would for any other type of meditation. Find a quiet spot where you won’t be distracted and make sure you get all the props you need to sit in a comfortable position, with your hips higher than your knees.
2. Select a mantra based on your intention
Start by setting an intention for your meditation. What quality do you wish to cultivate through this practice? Connecting your intention to your practice will help to strengthen your development of the virtue you have chosen, on and off the mat.
Instead of setting an intention you may also choose to dedicate your practice to a specific person or situation, sharing the positive energy that you cultivate during your practice.
If you’re practicing by yourself, you can choose a mantra that closely fits your intention or dedication. For example, if you’ve set as your intention to cultivate compassion, you may choose to chant the Buddhist mantra of compassion: ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’.
To get you started I have created a guidebook that lists 6 popular Sanskrit mantras and explains what they mean and how you can use them. So if you’re not a member of my tribe yet, make sure to sign up below and grab your copy!
If you’re new to the practice then don’t worry too much about choosing ‘the perfect’ mantra (if there even is such a thing). You may start using a universal mantra, like the sound of ‘Om’. Once you get more experienced it will become easier to notice which mantra draws your attention and you can start exploring more ways to shape your practice.
3. Combine chanting and meditating
Now we get to the fun part! Make yourself at ease, sit in a comfortable position and open your practice with three healing sounds of ‘Om’. ‘Om’ is the sound of the universe and by opening with chanting this mantra, you’re tuning into to the vibration of everything being interconnected, yourself included.
After opening your practice, you may choose to first do a grounding exercise, or just start with chanting the mantra of your choice. It doesn’t matter how many times you chant, how loud you’re chanting, if it sounds nice or how long it takes. Just try to let the sounds come from your soul, don’t hold anything back.
Some believe mantras should be chanted a certain number of times, like the highly spiritual number 108. If you wish to do so, you can get a set of mala beads to keep track of how many times you’ve chanted your mantra.
If you’ve selected a mantra but you’re not sure how to pronounce it, you can just look it up on YouTube. You’ll find many videos with people chanting the same mantras in different ways, so just choose one that you resonate with and you’re good to go!
After you’re done chanting, you could stay seated in silent meditation for a while and feel the effect of the vibrations. You could also lie down in savasana if you feel like it. Just play around with it a little and find what feels right! It’s all good.
And that’s how you get started! When you get more into it, you’ll discover a whole world of mantra goodness to explore, like for example a fabulous thing called kirtan, but we’ll save that for later!
For now, I am super psyched to hear about your experiences with mantra meditation and how it has impacted your practice. Be sure to drop me a message!
Love and light,