So much more than a melody or part of your yogic craft, the mantra is a sound, word, or even a string of words woven together to anchor our body and mind in the moment and to help us deepen our awareness. It can be seen as the key to a higher power. Understanding the ancient art of mantra can help you to grow your awareness around the practice and call on it to pave the way to wisdom, intention, and connection. In this article we will take a closer look at:
- Mantra: Meaning and Origins
- Benefits of Mantra Meditation
- The Science of Mantras
- How to Start a Mantra Practice
- Choosing the Right Mantra
- Mantra FAQs
Mantra: Meaning and Origins
The word mantra is a Sanskrit word and while in our modern-day language we associate it with the meaning of intention, it can actually be split into two words - man which means mind and tra which means something similar to transport. This reinforces the meaning of sounds or chanting being used to ‘transport the mind’. Scholars have also traced the word mantra back from the Sanskrit word for man, which means ‘to think’. All these interpretations have something in common - the seed of thought, planted, to bloom. Research shows that the use of mantras goes back to before 1000 BC and is born from the eastern traditions and spirituality. It has also been recorded that one of the earliest uses of mantras was found in the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism. Along with being used in Hinduism, mantras are also integral parts of other spiritual and religious cultures like Buddhism, Jain, Sikhism, and some New Age religions too.
Benefits of Mantra Meditation
When it comes to meditation, there isn’t a ‘correct’ way of doing it as it is entirely a personal spiritual experience. Even though it draws on the philosophies and practices handed down throughout the ages, meditation isn’t a one size fits all approach and is a journey rather than a destination. That said, there are many benefits of mantra meditation and meditation practice in general. Along with increasing self-awareness and reducing stress, it can also sharpen focus and bring the benefits of breathwork too. We take a look at some of the positive reasons to practice mantra meditation.
Finding focus in our modern world can be a challenge but chanting mantras can help you to anchor your mind and stay connected to the present moment. This can be especially useful for those who tend to have a wandering mind when it comes to meditation. If you struggle to sit in silence and keep your mind on track, using the anchoring tool of mantra can help to hone that focus. If we think of focus as a muscle, a mantra is the exercise that can strengthen that muscle and the results aren’t just a short term solution but can leave a long term imprint on how our brains work.
Repetition of a mantra during meditation not only anchors our minds but can also encourage our body to find a natural breathing rhythm. As mantras tend to have a rhythm and flow, it brings our breath into that same flow which leads to us feeling more relaxed and tuned in to our body. The breath is hugely important and brings us bodily and spiritually into the present moment along with inviting us to rest and recuperate and find balance once more.
Chanting and mantras also have a positive impact on the mind and can greatly improve stress levels and grow mental awareness. The act of repetition, the effect it has on breathing, and the fact that it reigns in the mind to let go of scattered feelings and simply focus on the here and now means that relaxation can wash over you.
The ancient practice of chanting has been scientifically proven to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression, and can encourage an uplifted mood by having a positive impact on the parasympathetic nervous system along with activating the vagus nerve.
The Science of Mantras
Mantras are art, science, and spirituality. While there is definitively a high spiritual element there is also concrete science behind how mantras work. In the simplest sense, the mantra gives the mind something to focus on and something concrete - words and sounds. A Swedish study used brain imaging to see how mantras affected the mind. The part of the brain that is active during times when the mind is wandering was known as the default mode network. Studies showed that when the mind was in an overwhelming default mode, it was distracted. After the introduction of chanting and other spiritual practices, it was proven that the default mode network was reduced and participants experienced a calmer state of mind.
In short, the use of a mantra or chanting led to different brain flow patterns which helped deactivate the part of the mind that is most concerned with judgement and reflection. When we call on mantras, it occupies the brain and trains it to be stiller, quieter, and more controlled.
How to Start a Mantra Practice
Once you decide to start a mantra practice, it’s important to remember that consistency is super important. It is the repetition of the practice that ensures you master this form of meditation and reap the healing benefits. Remapping the mind takes time and practice if you want to enjoy the long term benefits. Starting a mantra practice can be simple, it doesn’t need to take deep knowledge just a committed and consistent approach. Here are some steps for starting your mantra practice.
- Start out right by getting comfortable. You can sit in a way that makes you feel comfortable or you can lie down.
- Say your mantra silently and repeat it on each inhale and again on the exhale.
- Try not to fixate on the mantra or become bogged down by it.
- Set time aside each day to practice your mantra. This can be anything from 5 minutes to an hour depending on your schedule and dedication. You can choose to do it at the start or end of your yoga practice or at any time of the day.
- You can also use mala beads to help with your focus during your daily meditation as mala beads can make it easier to turn your mind to something and fall into that meditative state.
Choosing the Right Mantra
Try not to become overwhelmed when choosing the right mantra as you can change and ada[t it as you go along. It helps to have a little information on the different kinds of mantras and affirmations as words do have subconscious power and can assist us in achieving our intentions. Take a look at the different types of mantras below and see which style speaks to your own intuition.
The Bija Mantras are seven short sounds, each corresponding to one of the seven chakras and to the main Hindu deities. Bija means seed, and when these seed mantras are spoken it can create harmony across the body, mind, and soul as the chakras attune to the vibrations of the sound.
The Saguna Mantras are believed to evoke individual deities. The word Saguna comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘with attributes’ or ‘qualities’ and they are thought to help manifest the divine power of the deity or the actual form of the deity. They can be single syllables, words, or phrases designed to steady and calm the mind.
Nirguna Mantras are the oldest style of mantras and can be difficult to decipher. These mantras mean ‘without form’ and aren’t used to invoke specific attributes, deities, or chakras. Instead, they are used usually in deeper meditation or transcendental meditation or for those who are more advanced as they require a higher level of concentration.
Mantra meditation is an amazing practice to bring into your life. Easily accessible to everyone and loaded with beautiful benefits, tapping into this special form could work wonders for your body, mind, and soul. Even though mantras have a long and deeply spiritual history, in our modern world we can keep things simple. By picking a phrase, sound, or word and spending just five minutes a day in repetition, you can change the way your mind works, dramatically decrease stress levels, and nurture deeper connections and inner Zen along with improving your overall well-being.
Which mantras will you be trying out? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
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