I’ve dabbled in meditation and mindfulness practices for the last 20 years. It wasn’t until about five years ago, when I was on the verge of burnout at my job, that I made the leap to cultivate a daily practice that fit my lifestyle. It started with a meditation training through The Chopra Center. It was seven days and helped me to dispel a lot of the myths and misconceptions I had around meditation. It was a game changer for me. So I share the following information less as a formal mantra teacher, but rather a mantra enthusiast.
The primary technique they teach at The Chopra Center is primordial sound meditation in which each person is given a personal mantra. According to The Chopra Center:
Primordial Sound Meditation, a powerful meditation technique rooted in the Vedic tradition of India. When you learn Primordial Sound Meditation, you will receive a personal mantra. A mantra is a specific sound or vibration—which when repeated silently—helps you to enter deeper levels of awareness. A Sanskrit term that translates as “vehicle of the mind,” a mantra truly is a vehicle that takes you into quieter, more peaceful levels of the mind. The mantra you will receive is the vibration the universe was creating at the time and place of your birth, and it is calculated following Vedic mathematic formulas.
Mantra is an effective tool that simply requires a gentle repetition and can be especially effective for those of us who tend to have type “A” tendencies. Repeating any phrase over and over again (aloud or silently) can settle down the nervous system and create new neural pathways. There are different schools of thought when it comes to mantra meditation (just google mantra meditation), but in general, they all involve either using a personalized mantra as referenced above or a more generic one (OM, Hum-Sah, So-Hum, Sat Nam). But the technique in general always involves repetition which can help train one’s attention to focus more easily on one thing at a time.
Below are few insights to consider when exploring mantra meditation, including some of my go-to resources.
1. Anything Can Be a Mantra – While Sanskrit mantras, which dates back to Vedic times and has roots in Hinduism and Buddhism is the most traditional practice, mantra practice can include repetition of anything – a number, phrase (all is well), traditional mantra (hum-sah), or prayer.
Tip: Silently repeat IN on the inhale, OUT on the exhale
2. Focus On The Sound – Regardless of the origination of the mantra, the purpose is to focus more about the sound vibration vs. the meaning of the mantra. This allows us to not get caught up in a personal association or story we may create around the meaning, and rather allows our mind to relax on the repetitive sound.
Tip: Silently repeat HUM on the inhale – SAH on the exhale. (HUMMMMM, SAAAAH) – almost as if you are listening to it. You may notice the mantra wants to stay coordinate with the breath or speed up or slow down. Just find the cadence and rhythm that works for you.
3. Use A Gentle Repetition – With any meditation technique, we use a non-judgmental awareness and a gentleness in the repetition. If your mind becomes distracted (which it will), gently return your attention back to the repetition. It doesn’t matter how many times you have to keep coming back to the mantra. The constant interruption of the mantra to your thoughts works to settle the mind. It is also normal to either forget the mantra or it gets garbled in someway. If this happens, it’s important to maintain a beginner’s mind and simply begin again. You can always stick with the simple repetition of OM (the sacred Sanskrit syllable representing universal oneness or sound the universe makes).
4. Chanting vs. Silent – Mantras can be practiced in silence or chanting aloud. Chanting mantras are a beautiful way to experience mantra. The Sanskrit mantras can be quite complicated, so it is nice to explore chanting with a teacher, in a kundalini class or listening to a guided chant.
Tip: Explore Deva Prema’s rendition of the popular sanskrit mantra – Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha (remover of obstacles).
5. My Go-To Resources
- DavidJ – Beyond having one of the most chill voices around, DavidJ teaches from a joyful and lighthearted place. He manages to teach very complex spiritual philosophies as related to various mantras into a very accessible understanding. His 40 days of Transformation is a stable in my meditation library.
- Deva Premal & Mitten – This dynamic duo provides beautiful chanted mantras and eloquent teaching around the history and spiritual meaning of various mantras. Mantras for Precarious Times is one of my favorites mantra compilations.
- The Chopra Center – Explore their retreats, online trainings or free 21-day meditation challenges which all feature various mantras.
- A Beginner’s Guide to Essential Sanskrit Mantras – This is an excellent resource from the Sonima Foundation that provides a good overview of common Sanskrit mantras.