As a yoga teacher, many of us have played cd's during class that consist of mantras. Some people may simply view this as "New Age" music. Yet, the reality is is that mantras pertaining to the yogic tradition are thousands and thousands of years old. As teachers, we may play these cd's and have them fill the background of the class without having a purposeful or complete understanding of the power of these sounds. But, there is forgiveness from these magical, mystical and age old sounds that are eternal, withstanding the test of time and space. The forgiveness I speak of refers to that even if the forefront of our ego mind hasn't developed an understanding of what these mantras are doing our deeper and more consciously alert mind "gets it" and will slowly permeate through the various layers of the ego and transform those parts of us that don't "get it." In this, there is no coincidence when any particular mantra calls to us as part of our classes because on some level our higher and more awakened selves has arranged it as such.
In our training of classical vedantic based yoga, of the main branches of classical yoga Mantra Yoga is the most powerful and profound expression, practice and experience of yoga according to the Vedas. According to Deepak Chopra, "the word mantra has two parts: "man", which is the root of the sanskrit word for mind; and "tra", which is the root of the word instrument. A mantra is therefore an instrument of the mind, a powerful sound or vibration that you can use to enter a deep state of meditation."
Even without asana practice Mantra Yoga is considered a hierarchy as a science that can transform the mind and body at its roots. Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley) states "The development of concentration through mantra is one of the best tools of psychological healing. It can help break up deep-seated habits, addictions, and traumas, releasing the mental energy and prana trapped within them. It helps dissolve negative emotional patterns, even those forgotten by the conscious mind. It does not require that we analyze the unconscious, relieve out traumas, or dig up old memories. The mantra changes the energetic structure of the mind, so they such negative patterns have no place to develop or remain."
Sound is the first of form manifested and light comes with this. Sanskrit alphabet is embedded in the chakras and with this the power of creation and creator. Transformative. Shifting and enlightening. The body and all that has form contains a vibration of sound. Dr. Vasant Lad (an internationally known master yogi and Ayurvedic Physician) teaches us that each person has a particular mantra that is the seed and root of our manifestation into form. He proceeds to say that if we find our personal mantra that we can heal all afflictions and diseases of the mind and body. His authority comes from his personal experience through highly meditative states and his sharing of what the vedas teach us. Furthermore, the medical science of Ayurveda, uses mantras prescriptively as a means to enhance performance and quality of herbs, magnify effects of asana, as well as meditation, and to basically use to support the mental and physical health of an individual as a whole to expedite deeper healing.
BREATH AND MANTRA
There is a level of mastery that occurs when mantra is combined with all the other yogic practices. An alchemical process of this relationship affords and benefits us by magnifying the effects of the physical practices with the outer limbs of yoga as we shift from the outer to the inner limbs of yoga. The gateway is pranayam, according to Patanjali, where mantra and pranayam guide us to the more subtle realms of consciousness and we sail through cosmic breath into stillness and meet the divine.
Slow deep, rhythmic, intentional, consistent and full breaths through the diaphragm is one of the main ways to "calm the savage beast" known as the mind and all its rippling turbulent and crippling dysfunctional thoughts. To accentuate this process we couple it with mantra/prayer to the divine/God, through disciplined and continuous practice the mind can becomes subdued. "Yogi's" strive to replace thoughts with mantra/prayer and then eventually (knowing these are still thoughts but of a "higher" nature) these thoughts are also offered into the master of silence where the thoughts are digested and dissolved. All that you're left with is silence. This is samadhi. This is satchitananda. This is the Nirvana which Buddha shares with us as an inevitable possibility.
I recommend practicing with one mantra that grabs your attention. The ancients teach us that the power of the mantra comes from its constant repetition. Though, it's not just repeating it mechanically. Practicing like this becomes what Ed Zadlo, my first mantra teacher, called it "mental chewing gum." No, mantra practice with intent contains the power of shakti ma as shakti prana that energizes accordingly.
Remember that none of these mantras are "new" and that on some level we know the mantra because we are the mantra. Our current state of reality in these bodies just has to catch up. As we practice the mantra it will come alive and transform ever cell of our being. When the mind finds itself distracted simply focus on a mantra over and over again. Vamadeva states that it takes over 100,000 repetitions of the mantra to continue with momentum that is unstoppable. Another very potent way to receive the mantra is through a guru, a teacher who has achieved a level of mastery and/or enlightenment. The teacher who has practiced the mantra with such dedication and continuity has embibed the mantra and the mantra itself has shakti that penetrates deeply. The teacher can pass of the mantra that is specific for an individuals sadhana (spiritual practice.) Mantra itself becomes one of the most powerful meditation practices, aside from surrendering into silence. Mantra can lead us to silence as do all roads of spiritual practice.
For me, my first Guru Ammachi (Mata Amritananadevi), gave me a personal mantra that only I and she knows. This is a traditional practice to maintain the shakti and preserve it within the being it was passed to. It is also about meeting the student where we're at. Sometimes due to the nature of a mantra, to simply and otherwise give a random mantra, would be like giving an herb/medication for one person and ailment whereas the same herb/medication may not exactly be what another person would benefit from in that moment. The very first mantra that came to me as a yoga student coming from a catholic background was "Om Namah Shivaya." I hadn't known what it meant but as soon as I heard it it stuck and began instantly repeating itself and showing up in my mind when I wasn't even thinking of it. I suppose Shiva has this effect and I suppose this is similar to the love for a lover. Right? I resisted the urge of my monkey mind to dissect what meaning of this mantra and surrendered my need to do so because I had this subtle understanding that I already did and that there was no further need to distract myself by doing anything other than simply receiving the blessing of what it was and had to offer. Sometimes, most often, we don't really need to know because we already do. We just have to question who is the who that needs to know.
Other means of receiving mantra is through Kirtans and Bhajans. Kirtan and bhajans are similar in the sense that they both involve singing the names of the divine but the main difference is that bhajan is a sing a long and kirtan is a call and response practice. There are great kirtanists and local communities that have bhajans circles available, or at least in my area and major cities, that are somehow affiliated with yoga and meditation centers.
Finally, one other way which mantra can come through is via meditation itself. As we sink into a quieter place within ourselves and connect with the cosmic breath we can hear sacred verses being uttered. The yogis know that there is one mantra that exists throughout the entire universe and that is the "So Hum." The sound of "So" corresponds to the inhale and the sound of "Hum" is the exhale. We know that the entire universe is inhaling and exhaling. Therefore, if we struggle with finding any mantra that resonates we can all always come back to the breath by following So Hum. Consequently, in recent times, NASA reported that there is a sound frequency amid space this is low but eternal similar to a humming. In yoga teachings we learn this sound to be Om.
Another point to mention is that I have witnessed many sacred rituals here in the USA and in India called Pujas (offerings) and Yajna's (fire rituals) that invoke the divine with mantra incorporated as a main component to these practices that help synergize the experience and take it to a whole other level.
Please understand that mantra is not limited to the language of sanskrit or India. Ancient languages all have prayers and verses that support calling the divine name somehow. I am excited to share this with you and hope that it inspires you into a deeper relationship with mantra as it can be not only part of asana practice but also as a practice in and of itself. In yoga this can be witnessed through the practice of Ajapa Jap which is the practice of continuous practice.
I am humbled and aspire to reach my own version of this through my own journey within consciousness. As a student, I stumble in navigation from becoming the doer to simply just being, as I encouraged to move into stillness in the moment of now. I am grateful to the community that I am connected to, that I'm surrounded by and have been nurtured by that has and continues to feed me with such nutritive sustenance. My soul dances and can reach such a state of being as mantras integrate into my practice on a daily basis. At this stage in the game and within the matrix, thoughts of a chaotic nature are being progressively replaced by mantras that are inevitably transforming and transcribing themselves into the transition of silence and stillness. I'm grateful mantra yoga has made its way to me and through me!
Hari Om Tat Sat!
**Are available upon request.
**Much of this information shared has been a result of my personal practice, as well as my reflections and teachings based on my clinical training and class notes from lectures.