Mantra mediation is an ancient and beautiful way to calm the mind.
I am a big fan of Kundalini Yoga. This beautiful practice involves lots of mantra repetition and chanting, often combined with movements[i]. I find that the chanting gives me energy and focus, with a wonderful sense of calm afterwards. I often use a mantra or repeated phrase in my personal prayer times. Sometimes life is difficult and I struggle to find words of my own. Praying the Rosary or meditating with prayer beads is especially centering and supportive at times like this.
A Tool for the Mind
The word Mantra is derived from two Sanskrit words: manas, meaning mind, and tra, meaning tool. A mantra is a tool for the mind – a help for anyone seeking to settle the mind or access higher connections and levels of consciousness.
Contrary to common belief, meditation does not require you to empty your mind. Our minds naturally think. It is virtually impossible to stop the thought process altogether. A mantra gives the mind something to do. In meditation you can focus on the breath, on sensory experience or on a mantra. These are all ways of occupying the mind in a simple and calming activity. This helps to slow the brainwaves and settle anxious and over-active thoughts.
Mantra Meditation and Science
Mantras have been used in many faith traditions for thousands of years. They are also often recommended in modern secular mindfulness practice. Scientific research confirms the value of mantra meditation for health and wellbeing. People practising meditation using a mantra were shown in controlled research studies to be more relaxed and to have less distracted brain activity[ii].
Mantras are used in many Yogic and Hindu traditions. Many people believe that the Sanskrit language is especially spiritual and that the vibrations of Sanskrit phrases carry transformative power. The sacred syllable Om or Aum is believed to be the essential vibration of the Universe. By chanting Om, Yogis, seek to align themselves with this eternal reality.
Other popular Sanskrit phrases for mantra meditation include Sat Nam, meaning ‘truth is my identity’ and Om Shanti, which is an invocation for peace. Om Mani Padme Hum literally means ‘the jewel of the lotus’. This is interpreted to refer to the spiritual path of indivisible wisdom and method leading to enlightenment[iii].
Mantras in Other Traditions
Many faith traditions use the repetition of simple phrases in prayer and contemplation. Muslims repeat the name Allah or meditate on short phrases from the Qur’an[iv]. Jews recite Barukh ahah Adonai (‘Blessed art thou, O Lord’). Christians in the Eastern traditions pray the Jesus prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’[v]. Catholic Christians pray the Hail Mary on rosary beads.
Malas, Beads and Knotted Ropes
Beads or knotted ropes are commonly used across many traditions with mantra meditations and prayers. Buddhist mala beads usually consist of 108 beads plus one guru bead. The beads are held and fingered in meditation, with one bead being counted for each repetition of the mantra being used. 108 is a sacred number in Buddhism[vi].
Many other faiths also use beads or knotted ropes as an aid to mantra meditation or prayer. The tactile experience of handling the beads is soothing and quickly comes to be associated with a contemplative and calm state of mind. The beads or knots also serve the practical purpose of counting the repetitions of the mantra.
Mantra meditation is sometimes combined with the use of Mudras. A mudra is a hand position or movement believed to affect energy flows in the body and mind. There are many mudras for many different purposes. A popular one is Gyan Mudra where the thumbs and index fingers are lightly touched together on both hands, with palms open. This is thought to be conducive to meditation and wisdom[vii].
You Don’t Have to be Religious
Anyone can benefit from mantra meditation, whether or not you follow a faith or tradition. A mantra can be any word or phrase, in any language, that you find helpful or meaningful. You might like to use a traditional Sanskrit mantra. But many people like to use phrases in English or their own language. The meditative repetition of a positive or calming phrase can induce deep relaxation and can even have self-hypnotic effects.
Mantras for Sport, Birth or Challenging Times
Mantras can help us keep going through difficult challenges. Athletes and marathon runners encourage themselves by repeating phrases like, ‘light and smooth’, ‘keep moving forwards’, or ‘eat my shorts’ (my husband’s favourite!). For the adventure of birthing, a mother might breathe ‘open’, ‘I am strong’, or ‘yes I can’ as each surge brings her baby closer. A mantra is a powerful affirmation of purpose and identity. It reminds us who we are and what we can achieve.
Choosing a Mantra
A good mantra is any word or phrase that feels good for you now. You can repeat your mantra silently or aloud. It can be an encouragement, a prayer or a sound to soothe and relax. Here are some of my favourites:
I am safe, I am loved.
Today’s Calming Practice
Take ten minutes today to practice mantra meditation. You can choose any mantra, in Sanskrit, English or another language. You can pray in your own faith tradition if you wish. You might like to place your fingers in Gyan Mudra, or use a Mala or Rosary if you have one.
One lovely way to meditate is to sit with one hand on your heart and the other hand resting in our lap. Close your eyes and quietly repeat ‘I am’. Continue for five to ten minutes. Then rest and relax.
Thanks for reading this blog post. I am writing a series of 31 blogs every day this August. I plan to publish them later in the year as a book entitled, ‘Finding Your Calm Space – 31 Ways to Find Calm in a Crazy World’.
I’m Karen. I am a Yoga teacher, Reflexologist and busy mum of seven. I live with my family in Billericay, Essex, UK. In the past I have worked as a Midwife, Health Visitor, Baby Signing teacher and Tax Inspector. I love getting outdoors, swimming in the sea, walking and writing. Helping people relax is one of the things I do best.
You can learn more about my Yoga classes and Reflexology at my website www.thecalmspace.co.uk