If you would have asked me several years ago about mantras, I wouldn’t have had much to say.
My knowledge of them was limited, and I didn’t have a meditation practice of my own.
Up until that point, meditation for me included sitting cross-legged and (unsuccessfully) trying to quiet my mind for longer than five minutes.
In short, it was torture.
After attending a yoga teacher training course in India several months ago, though, my eyes were opened to the profound world of meditation. A part of the teacher training course included a mantra chanting class, and, as it turns out, this is what had been missing from my own meditation practice…a mantra!
The very first thing we learned in class was the meaning of the word itself. “Mantra” comes from two Sanskrit words, “man” (meaning “mind” or “to think”) and “tra” (meaning “protect/free from” or “instrument/tool”).
So, what exactly is a mantra then?
Mantra is the vehicle that takes our mind from activity to stillness. Rather than trying to forcefully calm your mind, mantra gently guides it there.
It can also be looked at as something to free or protect our mind from intrusive and distracting thoughts.
Let me explain.
If I were to give you the task of writing down every single thought you had in a 30-minute period, how many things would be on that list? If you’re anything like me (and most other humans on Earth), you would have a very long list.
Now, erase everything off that list except for one thought.
Then, imagine if you focused all of your energy and intention on that one thought, exclusively. Imagine how powerful that kind of focus would be.
That is how mantra works.
If you want to try adding a mantra to your meditation practice, then the very first step is to choose a mantra. There are plenty to choose from, with some rooted in ancient practices and others super specific to your current goals in life.
Below are a few of my favorites.
Best ancient mantras for meditation
The earliest mantras were handed down from the Vedic scriptures written 3000 years ago. Some of these words have no literal meaning and instead focus on the vibrations that the sound makes when said out loud. The combination of words and sounds are believed to have spiritual powers.
You may have heard this mantra chanted at the end of yoga class, but it might actually be better suited for your meditation practice. It is the most basic and powerful mantra that you can chant.
It is believed to be the first sound of the universe, to which we are connected to when we chant it.
While its spelling is usually “om,” it is sometimes written as “aum” to highlight each of the sounds. The word itself actually has no meaning, but the sounds together signify the Hindu triumvirate, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Om namah shivaya (“I bow to Shiva”)
This mantra was presented to me while visiting the holy city of Varanasi, so it is very special to me. It is one of the most popular of the Hindu mantra as a holy salutation to Lord Shiva. This mantra is associated with qualities of prayer, divine love, grace, and truth.
The nature of this mantra is calling upon the higher self. When you are feeling down or doubtful of your abilities, you can turn to this mantra. It will remind you of your own divinity and inspire self-confidence and compassion.
Modern Mantras for Meditation
Perhaps chanting in Sanskrit is not your thing, or maybe you are having trouble connecting to words that are foreign to you. While mantras may have all started with the ancient Hindus, it has since spread into other philosophies, practices, and cultures. It has especially been adopted by Buddhists, Taoists, and others. Even in Western cultures, mantra meditation has proved to be a powerful tool that we continue to use today.
The importance of the mantra lies in the repetition, so you can easily choose a quote or phrase in English just as you would in Sanskrit.
The most important thing though is to find something that speaks to you.
Many people (myself included) choose mantras that address some of the challenges of modern life that many of us face. Here are some English mantras that you might find a connection to:
“I am enough.”
You are enough, period!
You need absolutely nothing in order to be complete. This is easy to say but difficult to truly believe. We have commercials telling us we need to be thinner, stronger, or richer. Social media constantly throws us the glossed over details of our friends’ and acquaintances’ lives. Using this mantra reminds us that everything that we need, we already possess.
“I am exactly where I need to be.”
After hearing this in a yoga class years ago, it is one that I always come back to. Modern life is all about multitasking and productivity, but tends to pull people in multiple (impossible) directions.
Basically, we are overloaded and expected to do it all.
Maybe you’ve worked through all of your tasks or maybe you’re buried beneath your to-do list. Using this simple mantra will bring you back to the present and help you see how it is a larger part of your whole journey.
“I surround myself with those who make me better.”
Relationships can be the source of either joy or pain. They have the ability to ruin or transform a person. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that we all yearn for loving relationships that allow us to evolve and grow.
So why not put a little energy toward exactly that?
If you are looking to improve the quality of your relationships, use this mantra.
Now that you have your mantra…
Don’t focus on the words as much as the feeling that they create. Pay attention to the vibration created from the chanting of the mantra, or the meaning of the mantra that you’ve chosen. Choose a mantra that works for you and keep it personal.
So how do you incorporate it into your meditation practice?
Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine. Ideally, a position that you can sit in comfortably for at least 30 minutes. Close your eyes gently and begin to observe your breath. You can set an intention here if you choose.
Begin by chanting or singing your mantra aloud. Repeat until you notice thoughts fading away. From there, you can move to a whisper.
Eventually, you will seal your lips and continue to chant silently. Imagine that you are still speaking the words and feel the vibrations of those words run through your body.
If this feels a bit weird to you at first, don’t worry. Meditation is difficult at first, but you can start small, with as few as three minutes per meditation session.
Commit yourself to practicing your mantra each day for a few weeks, and you will start to notice the beautiful, profound impact that meditation can have on your life.