I remember the first time I heard a room full of people chanting OM. I felt submerged in the sound, like a fish in a tank of water, lifted and supported, floating and secure all at once.
Afterwards, in asana practice, it was as though the sound had vibrated all tension from my mind and body; there was nothing but a flow of energy, steady, soft and strong. Since then Mantra has been at the center of my Yoga and my life: a practical support, spiritual inspiration and a subject of complete and total fascination.
OM is a bija (seed) Mantra, which are one-syllable sounds comprised of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, 50 in all, each one of which is sacred. In Vedic thought, sound is the primal energy of the universe, the vibration of its endless expansion; and OM is the primal bija Mantra, encompassing all the sound vibrations in the universe. Yet OM is only first among equals in Mantra Yoga. There are as many bijas as there are letters in the alphabet, 50 altogether, as well as special compound bijas that create more complex single syllable sounds. Bija Mantras can be chanted singly, or sequenced in groups, and in either case are likely to be preceded by OM. Terse and immensely powerful, bijas are the building blocks of all words, thought and language. Each bija relates to one of a multitude of Gods and Goddesses who in turn represent specific aspects of universal energy. To chant bija Mantras is to activate their cosmic energy within your own body and mind.
Mantra Yoga is thought to be the oldest of all Yoga practices, dating back to the hymns and chants of the Vedas, the ancient texts that are the basis of all Indian spiritual thought. However, it was in Tantra Yoga, a form of yoga devoted to the Goddess Shakti, that the practice we know today was shaped. Shakti is the female principal of cosmic energy, the creative force of Shiva, who is the principal of universal consciousness, the cosmic masculine. Without Shakti, Shiva cannot move a blade of grass. Without Shiva, Shakti does not exist. In Tantric philosophy, Shakti, creative and dynamic, is sound itself, and Shiva, all-knowing unmanifest consciousness, is meaning. The power of Mantra Yoga is that it unites these fundamental universal energies, male and female, sound and meaning, into one vibration, which is heard and experienced viscerally in practice.
Historically, Mantra was considered suitable for everyone because it is so basic – single syllables, easy to learn, easy to remember, easy to use. Today, in a time when Yoga is practiced in multitudinous forms, principally related to asana, or physical practice, Mantra is the least performed of the Yoga disciplines, and except for OM, not well known. I’ve found that many people think of it as kind of esoteric, a separate sort of Yoga practice, not really applicable to asana, and too complex, requiring too much to learn, for use in meditation. In reality, Mantra is an extremely practical, user-friendly way to deepen both your asana and meditation practices, and even more significantly, to support and enrich daily life.
Applications of Mantra
- Mantra Meditation provides a dynamic, direct and involving mental focus, which promotes pratyahara, the withdrawal of your senses from the outer world, a significant stage in the meditative process. Mantra is a direct connection to psychic energies within your deepest Self.
- In asana practice, Mantra awakens energy flow, the sound itself providing actual physical support in movement, particularly when connected to Chakras.
- A vital aspect of Ayurveda, Mantra is a healing practice that can be applied to anything from muscle tension to soothing a cough to pain management and stress reduction.
Mantra can be chanted out loud; and inwardly, in silence. You can practice less than five minutes if you’re pressed for time; or for you entire meditation; or intermittently throughout the day as a way to center and refocus.
- Chanting aloud animates an aura of energy around you as well as within, and is, energetically speaking, a great way to get yourself going, energized, and enthused for the day.
- Inner chanting is heard by your inner ear alone, in the depths of your being. Inner Mantra is considered to be the highest form of practice, a direct route through the density of your endlessly over-active mind into your deeper conscious being, a place of quietude and calm.
- Inner chanting is a totally portable form of Yoga. Bijas, alone or in sequence, possess an almost magical power to clear your mind even – and especially – in the midst of stress and activity.
Whether to chant out loud or silently is your choice. Just as you choose whether to chant a single bija or a series of bijas; use a Mantra dedicated to a particular psychic energy or Deity, or create your own Mantra; devote a period of time to one particular Mantra or explore different Mantras each time you practice. There are no rules to obey. There are only the bijas to learn and explore through the practice itself.
Mantra is a visceral experience of psychic energy….
Try it yourself:
- OM HAM OM, a Prana (life force) Mantra. Chant out loud 3 times.
- Then take the Mantra inside and hear it within.
- Let your breath float; let the sound vibration expand.
- Repeat three 3 X 3 times.
It doesn’t take long – less than 5 minutes to hear and experience the sound vibration of Prana – and take its power with you into the whole of your day.
Repeat as necessary.