In our westernized, modern-day spiritual practices the word “mantra” has become as mainstream as “intention.” But the two are actually quite different. The word mantra can be broken down into two parts: “man,” which means mind, and “tra,” which means transport or vehicle. In other words, a mantra is an instrument of the mind—a powerful sound or vibration that you can use to enter a deep state of meditation.
Like a seed planted with the intention of blossoming into a beautiful perennial, a mantra can be thought of as a seed for energizing an intention. Much in the same way you plant a flower seed, you plant mantras in the fertile soil of practice. You nurture them and over time they bear the fruit of your intention.
Mantra in Meditation: Stillness and Silence
At the Chopra Center, where Primordial Sound Meditation is the favored meditation technique, students are given a personalized mantra, their Bija, which is the sound vibration the Universe was making at the time of their birth. This mantra is repeated silently over and over during the meditation practice to assist the student in transcending the activity of the mind. The mantra is silent and has no meaning so that the mind isn’t focused on any particular quality or outcome. It is simply a vehicle that helps you access heightened levels of awareness.
Awareness, in this context, refers to the ability to pay attention to the choices you make in your everyday life, and recognize when something isn’t working so you can change it. Many people face a lot of stress day to day. You wake up, cook breakfast, feed the kids, get them to school, go to work, drink coffee for lunch, and burn through the day. By the end of it, you’re ready to crash. Then you repeat the cycle the next day.
Developing a daily meditation practice helps you to cultivate a more present, peaceful, and balanced lifestyle, which ripples out into every other aspect of your life. Mantras can help bring you back to that present state of mind.
Mantra in Yoga: Setting an Intention
In many yoga studios in the West, class begins with the instructor sharing a theme for the session. He or she may invite the students to set an intention for their practice, and may offer suggestions for mantras to use during class. Mantras like, “I am strong,” “I am focused,” or “I let go and surrender” can help the practitioner maintain a connection to the state they wish to cultivate during their time on the mat.
This mantra is used in silent repetition during movement to help keep the mind focused. It’s been said that in yoga, Asanas are postures of the body and mantras are postures of the mind. Mantras, when used in this fashion, are more like affirmations and help to keep you connected to a particular state of mind.
Mantra: The Sacred Language of Sanskrit
Getting to the ancient root of it all, mantra, at its core, is the basis of all religious traditions, scriptures, and prayers. According to Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (Dr. David Frawley), when carefully chosen and used silently, mantras are said to have the ability to help alter your subconscious impulses, habits, and afflictions. Mantras, when spoken or chanted, direct the healing power of Prana (life force energy) and, in traditional Vedic practices, can be used to energize and access spiritual states of consciousness. Mantra as a spiritual practice should be done on a regular basis for several months for its desired effects to take place.
At the end of the day, the mantra is meant to bring you back to simplicity. We live in such a complex world that it’s easy to get lost in all the details. Mantras can help you circle back to the simplistic approach to life and focus on those things that inspire you and truly make you happy.