A mantra practice can be done mentally (as we have already explored in the japa practice) or out loud. Chanting mantras is a form of yoga. It is different from singing in that you need zero musical talent or experience to benefit. Purely on a psychological level, when we produce sound vibrations and allow them to resonate within and around our organism, we are tonifying the Vagus nerve, which regulates recovery from the harmful effects of stress. This in turn, puts us in a better mood, improves our immune function and contributes to healthy aging.
Chanting mantras can take on many forms. You can practice chanting one short mantra (bija or seed syllable like OM) out loud repetitively for 5-30 minutes (or more!) at a time. You can chant a longer, but still simple mantra, like LOKHA SAMASTA SUKHINO BHAVANTU or OM NAMAH SHIYAYA for several minutes. You can chant a series of mantras and take as much time as you wish. You can chant one long mantra for several minutes, like the Hanuman Chalesa or Ayurmantra. Working personally with an experienced teacher is helpful to ensure proper pronunciation and technique, and also to recommend specific mantras. Although mantra is a Sanskrit work, mantras exist and are practiced in almost every language.
In the Vedic tradition, as well as in many others, different names of the Divine are repeatedly chanted as a form of devotional offering. Spiritual seekers can find deeper connection to and union with the specific archetype or deity they are are working with through this practice.
“Mantra, in Sanskrit, means mind tool, and it’s a tool for exploring and becoming aware of your mind and how it works and ultimately a tool to shift your relationship to it. It seems obvious to me now, although, it was not always obvious to me, that it’s possible to watch my mind and think “who is thinking?”, to be having the thought and simultaneously be asking this question of “who is having that thought?”, or “where is that thought arising from?”. It’s possible to think about thinking, or to become aware of one’s self and that one is having thoughts, as opposed to being simply lost and immersed in those thoughts. Mantras are very useful for this. Also to sing a mantra is in a sense to give your mind something to do, it’s like giving a child a toy to play with. So once the child is busy and occupied, it’s no longer making the same demands on you, and that allows you to get involved in potentially other more interesting things. Freed from the constant chattering of your mind, which is something that can happen when you deeply immerse yourself in something like singing, or asana, or dancing, allows you to have the experience of what it is to not be involved in your mind and its thinking all the time. And for most people that’s really refreshing.”
“I prefer to think of devotion as a sort of feeling that the divine is something that’s streaming through you, the energy before there was a universe or before there was time. And maybe it’s really a sense of awareness of how intimately connected to the source of all things that you are. It’s simultaneously holding a sense of both your insignificance and feeling to be at the center of things. So devotion, in this sense, would mean a kind of a yoga of being at home in the world. It is a yoga of a feeling imbued with the sense of wonder and mystery and imagination.”
-Dave Stringer, kirtan artist and musician
On our 200 hour immersion yoga teacher training intensive in Costa Rica, France and Italy (the best yoga teacher training program in the world ;), we incorporate ritual and ceremony into our three week journey. We use mantra as a form of meditation and chant together daily (sometimes for 30-60 minutes!). We incorporate chanting into our asana practice and also open each teaching module with sacred sound.
About Dr. Liz Lindh:
I am Dr. Liz Lindh, Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, holistic skincare and natural beauty expert, Yoga Teacher and Yoga Teacher Trainer. I am the Director of The Sanctuary at Two Rivers in Costa Rica and Founder of Lakshmi Rising School for Yoga & Wellness.