to use a Mantra
in Yoga Practice
Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati SwamiJ.com
Mantra practice is a central aspect of traditional Yoga. Following are
tips on how to use a mantra or sacred word. These suggestions are
general in nature and should apply to most any use of mantra.
Opposites can both be
useful: Mantra japa (repeating or remembering mantra) can seem a bit
complex when we ask what one should or should not do, or
what is right versus wrong to do. Actually, two seemingly
opposite practices can both be useful, with one simply being subtler
than the other, or having a greater tendency to lead attention inward.
One method may be a starting place that naturally evolves into the other.
ends of a spectrum: All of the descriptions
below contrast one pole of a spectrum with the other (external-internal
or gross-subtle). In this way, the practices can easily
be compared, while seeing the relative value of one versus
the other. One form of practice might be useful at one stage, and the
other more useful later on.
Universal seed mantras:
The foundational, primary sounds are called seed or bija
vibrations in Sanskrit. Such universal sounds can also be called basal,
prime, primordial, essential or basic sound vibrations, as well as other
Om is such a sound,
especially when focusing on the Mmmmm... sound vibration, which is
somewhat like mentally remembering the sound of a buzzing bee. Both
inhalation and exhalation might be done smoothly and slowly, while
remembering that Mmmm... sound mentally. Om Mantra
can be used as a seed vibration alone, or along with deeper
is a universal mantra vibration, with Sooo... being remembered with
inhalation and Hummm... being remembered with exhalation.
Ahhh... can be
remembered with inhalation and Ummmm... remembered with exhalation.
Many other such sound
vibrations can also be used, whether or not coordinated with breath.
For example, any of the single-syllable vowel sounds can be used,
with or without an Mmmm... sound at the end.
It is the practice itself
that will convince one of the viability of such universal sound
vibrations as means of relieving the autonomic nervous system, while
calming and focusing the mind. Mantra practice like this will prepare
the mind for deeper meditation beyond the syllables of the mantras.
There are many longer mantras in many languages. Some are like positive
affirmations and some are for specific, desired benefits. Some are
related to religions, and some are not. The principles of using mantra
that are listed below are universal, applying to all of the many types
Some mantras can be described is as short, compact prayers. One can
easily think of examples where a particular sentence or phrase from a
longer prayer or writing forms a compact prayer or mantra. Once again,
the principles below are universal, applying to any of these types of
can recite a mantra solely as a mental process, somewhat like
training a parrot in rote repetition. While this may help train the mind to be one-pointed, it is not
beneficial as reciting the mantra with feeling. Recitation along
feeling is a deeper process that brings greater benefits.
In either case, it is important
to note that the use of mantra merely to repress emotions is not
the intent. With emotional challenges, mantra can have a
stabilizing effect while a person deals with those challenges in
other healthy ways as well.
initially use willpower to remember the mantra. This training
the mind has a centering or balancing effect. (However, it is not
a good idea to use mantra to repress, avoid, or escape from other thoughts and
Another approach is to sit
silently, with attention inward, and allow the mantra to arise
and repeat itself. It might take some patience, but this is a
Notice that repeating with
willpower is a form of expression, while allowing mantra
to arise and repeat itself requires attention. (Expression
and attention relate to the indriyas.)
The process of attention is
more internal than the process of expression. Also, attention
leads to concentration; in turn, concentration leads to
meditation; and then, meditation leads to samadhi.
Some practitioners and teachers
of mantra recitation intentionally see how fast they can recite
the mantra. This can definitely create a groove in the mind
for remembering the mantra.
A more advanced or internal
practice is to allow the mantra to come at it's own
speed. Over time, the mantra
will naturally shift in speed, sometimes moving very fast,
faster than the mind might normally be able to recite. At other
times, it will naturally move very slowly.
Counting practices can help to
focus the mind and create deep
impressions that have a stabilizing effect.
A practice where a specific number of mantras is done
over an extended period of time (called a purascharna) can be a very
beneficial practice in clearing or purifying the mind. For
example, one might do 125,000 repetitions over a few months. A
larger and longer practice is called a maha-purascharna.
Yet, when counting mantras,
awareness might tend to stay
more on the surface level due to the external aspect of the
When the counting is set aside,
the mantra can more purely shift to a deeper form of meditation,
where attention is naturally drawn to the mantra as a single
object of focus.
Both practices, counting and
not counting, are useful and have their place in sadhana
the beginning of using mantra, it can be beneficial to use mala or counting
beads when remembering mantra (mala usually has 108
beads). By getting the physical body
involved through the motion of the fingers, it can be much
easier for the mind to stay focused.
However, setting aside the
mala, disengaging the use of the motion of the body (the karmendriyas) allows the attention to more purely go inward,
past body and sensory awareness, following the mantra as it
leads you inward.
Both types of practice, with or
without mala, are useful and have their place in sadhana
Mantra will naturally move
inward through stages, if allowed. It is important to remember
this, so as to not unintentionally keep meditation shallow when
it is trying to move into deeper peace.
For example, the word shanti
means peace or tranquility. The feeling that gradually emerges
is more internal and peaceful than is the repetition of the
syllables alone. When the syllables drift away, one might
then meditate on the feeling of peace itself, which is more
subtle. Initially, this feeling might fade quickly, and be
resurrected by again remembering the syllables of the
Gradually, that feeling has
fewer breaks or distractions, and becomes a somewhat constant,
This eventually leads
inward to a deep awareness that is the root of the sound. It
somewhat defies description, but as a root of the sound, it is
like a soundless sound of the mantra that is resting in
Sometimes the mantra is
naturally trying to lead attention into silence, and the
practitioner thinks that mantra is being forgotten. There may be
extra effort to then continue to recite, or internally speak the
Deeper than this is to allow
the mantra to naturally lead attention to its deeper, subtler
aspect that rests in the silence.
This leading process can be
tricky in practice, as one might just be falling asleep. It
requires a bit of practice and attention to notice the
difference between drifting off into sleep and going into a
deeper, quieter, more clear state of mantra
This leading quality is
one of the most important aspects of mantra practice.
"listening to" or "remembering" the
A good way to understand this
dimension is to think of songs you may have heard. Once those
sounds are in your mind, they automatically arise, without any
Initially one may internally
speak or recite the mantra.
Later, the practice is more like
listening to or remembering the mantra,
than actively speaking.
One may or may not literally hear
an inner sound. It is the mental stance of listening or
remembering that is being practiced here. It is somewhat like
remembering a person whom you love. The name of the person may
come and go in your mind field, but the memory of the person is
not dependent on the presence of the name.
(To further understand the
significance of the difference between speaking and hearing,
see the paper on the indriyas.)
thoughts to flow through the mind before remembering
Mantra can unwisely be used to
repress ones thinking process. Mantra should not be used to
avoid life and dealing with mental and emotional issues. At
meditation time, one can easily get into an inner fight between
the mantra and the stream of thoughts. This is not the best
thing to do.
Better than fighting, is to
allow a period of time for inner reflection or internal dialogue
to explore and deal with those thoughts and emotions. Then, it is
much easier to remember the mantra as it naturally arises in the
stream of the mind.
Some translate the Sanskrit
word Japa as reciting or repeating, while
others translate Japa as listening or remembering.
One is an active process of expressing, while the other
is a passive process of paying attention.
These are two different
approaches to the use of mantra (mantra japa). The process of actively
reciting or repeating is more externally focused, while
the process of listening or paying attention is more internally
The active process is
easier to practice in the beginning, while the attention
process is more internal and advanced.
that "ajapa japa" means automatic repetition
that "ajapa japa" means constant awareness of
For the approach whereby mantra
means actively repeating (noted above), this process
might become automatic over time (like spontaneously singing a
song you have heard many times). This automatic repetition is
one form of the term ajapa japa.
For the approach whereby mantra
means listening or paying attention, that
awareness might gradually become a constant awareness of the
underlying feeling associated with the mantra. This is another,
subtler form of the term ajapa japa.
Where mantra japa means repetition,
then putting a- in front of it means without
repetition. Hence, ajapa japa is repetition without
repetition (it is automatic).
Where mantra japa means listening
or remembering, then ajapa japa means constant
remembering without the effort of reciting to cause that
WHOLE BEING AN EAR FOR MANTRA
From: The Art of Joyful Living
My way of
using the mantra is different from yours, because I do not
want to fool around with the process. I sit down, and I
observe my whole being listening to the mantra. I do not
remember the mantra or repeat the mantra mentally, because
then the mind repeats many things.
make my whole being an ear to hear the mantra, and the
mantra is coming from everywhere. This will not happen to
you immediately in meditation, but when you have attained or
accomplished something, then this will happen to you. Then,
even if you do not want to do your mantra, it is not
possible to avoid it. Even if you decide that you do not
want to remember the mantra, it will not be possible.
even the mantra does not exist; only the purpose for which
you repeat the mantra is there; you are There. The mantra
might still be there, but it exists as an experience that
overwhelms your whole being, and is not separate from you.
This site is devoted
to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of
the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways,
while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or
practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in
direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the
Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute
Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the
Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the
intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which
complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the
classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well
as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra
Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge
into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the
pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.