The key element in any yoga practice is breath. When you combine breath control with a mantra- a syllable or collection of syllables in Sanskrit- you tune yourself into a celestial song that has been sung for centuries. Following the principal that vibration is creation, chanting a mantra opens your physical self into connection with your higher Self, and the sound that you create is creating your universe. Knowing that the body is the holy temple of the divine, the use of a mantra in practice is simply singing a hymn.
As defined in Vēdānta, a mantra is “a sacred word, verse, or Vēdic hymn. Also, the name of God which a guru gives to a disciple at the time of initiation.” When you call upon the divine to be with you in your āsanās and your meditation, the sum is greater than the parts. Mantra is a compelling force that uplifts as is it unites.
Vivēkānanda says- “These words are not sounds of words but God himself , and we have them within us”.
The sound that we hear with our ears has a cause. The birds are singing, the breeze is blowing the wind chimes, someone is speaking, and we know where the sound is coming from. The universal sound is a constant, without cause. It is often referred to as “the unstruck”. The sound reflected in the syllable “OM” is, in reality even more subtle that that. It’s more of a vibration than audible sound. The concept of Mantra yoga is the use of vibration to open and stimulate the energy centers of the body, and connect the yogi with that subtle, universal vibration.
By chanting OM, the most basic mantra of all, you are connecting yourself to the song of creation, and allowing vibration to create with you. As every breath is an exchange of energy with the world around you, opening yourself to vibration is another way to receive. Using a mantra cultivates a certain kind of energy, a particular vibration that calls to something in the universe- a quality, a deity, a feeling- and there are thousands of mantras to practice.
George Feuerstein, a widely published author on the topic of yoga, notes that “Over many centuries, the Vedic and Tantric masters have conceived, or rather, envisioned, numerous primary power sounds besides OM. These seed syllables (bīja) as they are called, can be used on their own, or more commonly, in conjunction with other power sounds, forming a mantric phrase. According to the Mantra-Yoga-Samhita, there are eight primary bīja-mantras, which are helpful in all kinds of circumstances but which yield their deeper mystery only to the yogin..”
This same text, the Mantra-Yoga-Samhita, states that ‘OM’ is the best of all mantras, noting that all other mantras receive their power from it.
These mantras, considered to be the eight basic mantras are as follows-
OM “Om (peace, creation, calm)
OM NAMAH SHIVĀYA “Om, obeisance to Shiva”
OM NAMO BHAGAVATE “Om, obeisance to the Lord (Vishnu or Krishna)”
OM NAMO GANĒSHĀYA “Om, obeisance to Ganesha”
OM NAMO NĀRĀYANĀYA “Om, obeisance to Narayana (Vishnu)
OM BHŪR BHUVAH SVAH TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM BHARGO DĒVASYA DHĪMAHĪ DHIYO YO NAH PRACHODAYĀT – ‘Om, earth, mid-region, heaven, let us contemplate the most excellent splendor of Savitri, that he may inspire our visions. (This is also known as the Gāyatri, the mantric salute to the sun.)
OM SAT-CHID-ĒKAM BRAHMA “Om, the singular being of consciousness, the absolute.
OM SHĀNTE PRASHĀNTE SARVA-KRODHA-UPASHAMANI SVĀHĀ- “Om, at peace, pacifying, all anger be subdued. Hail!
Recitation, also called japa, can be the beginning of a practice or a meditation. Some schools of thought feel it is most beneficial to move between the two, repeating the mantra until it is too challenging, and then resting in meditation. Meditating until it is too challenging, and then refreshing one’s focus with mantra.
Japa can be performed in three ways-
VĀCHIKA- spoken aloud
UPAMSHU- whispered (lips move soundlessly)
MANASA- silently in the mind
It is also noted that after many repetitions, a mantra simply recites itself, like a song that gets stuck in your head, but much better. It is not just a phrase repeating itself, but an energy that is opening the mind to transformation.
The fourth chakra, the heart center, is traditionally held to be “ the wheel of the unstruck sound”. The universal constant vibration of “OM” reverberates here. Without opening the heart, awakening the fourth wheel, the teaching of the mantra cannot enter the body. The heart center can be opened slowly just by cultivating kindness and caring in daily life, allowing the vibration to find an open door. It is vital to note how all the texts that instruct the practice of Mantra emphasize the vibration over the sound. While the correct breath and pronunciation is very important, it is the actual vibration of the syllables that carries the intention of the japa. Most teachers emphasize using a consistent number of repetitions in practice. Just as with an āsanā practice, using the same time and the same place every day gives a strength and a resonance to the practice that cannot be overvalued.
The practice of reciting the mantra 7 times, (as in a beginning practice) or 108 times, with OM at the beginning and at the end (in a more advanced japa) gives a yogi the needed breath and framework to begin to experience the vibration of the chosen mantra.
Swami Chētanānanda states that “Ultimately, our practice of any mantra is intended to refine our awareness to the point where we experience that pulsation going on within us all the time. When we can do that, we forget about the mantra itself because we are now aware of the dynamic event going on within us and around us. As a result, the total vibration of what we are is changed. In the process, we transform ourselves.”
- Vēdānta, Voice of Freedom, Vivēkānanda, Vēdānta Society of St. Louis
- Tantra, the Path of Ecstasy, George Feuerstein, Shambala Press
Copyright Yoga Next, 2012.
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