Mantras are spiritual formulas that alter the pattern of your mind. Really, you ask? Yes, really! Chanting mantras with your daily yoga practice instantly connect you to divine vibrations. Chanting may be one of the most widely misunderstood practices, often falling under the ‘too woo-woo’ category in yoga studios afraid of alienating students. This is such a shame, because chanting mantras can really help you unlock deep spiritual power. In this article, I’ll demystify the practice of chanting mantras, explain how they work, and share tips for integrating mantras into your yoga practice.
Keep in mind that mantras are a lot like food or exercise: They affect every individual body differently. While I’ll outline some general benefits and tips for chanting mantras, it’s always most important to explore how each mantra meditation affects you personally. When you chant mantras, you’re tapping into your intuition and spiritual power. And that looks, sounds, and feels different for everybody.
What is Mantra?
Mantras are universal codes encased in repetitive chants. With mantras, the power is in the energetic and audial vibration of words in the body and in the air. Mantras are traditionally written in Sanskrit, the ancient, sacred language of yoga. It’s important when chanting a mantra to bring intention to every sound and every syllable. That’s where the power lies.
Mantras are especially powerful because they work from the inside out. Unlike yoga asana where you’re focused on using your outer experience (your body) to bring you inwards (mindfulness), mantras work from the inside out by projecting your inner vibrations outward to create external reality. In general, mantras help to provide a deeper understanding of one’s life force and the power of the cosmos. And of course, all of that starts from within!
Mantras work by stimulating chaos in the body so that you can change your energetic frequency and activate your whole body intelligence. In my Kundalini Demystified training, Guru Singh and I go into depth about what this means. Basically, mantras have three effects:
1. Stimulate chaos
Maybe chaos isn’t a word you want to associate with your yoga practice. But chaos of the internal body means you’re shaking up the energy within you. You’re allowing for new, fresh ideas to come forward and clear away anything that’s stuck. To visualize this, imagine a singing bowl filled with water. When you glide the mallet around the singing bowl, the water moves and jumps around. You create a similar field of energy within your own body when you’re chanting mantras. This can help you change frequency, and potentially open up to a new point of view.
2. Change our energetic frequency
As you create chaos in your inner body, it opens you up to a frequency change. Those familiar with the chakras may recall that all the chakras have bija mantras or seed sounds. These simple mantras can act like keys, opening the door of each chakra’s specific frequency to you. If you find yourself stuck in your head or in a low vibrational state, you could use a mantra to help shift you out of that vibration.
3. Activate our whole body intelligence
Guru Singh, the Kundalini yoga master who co-teaches Kundalini Demystified with me, is always talking about the three brains. Yes, you have three brains – not one! Your three brains include a head brain, a heart brain and a gut brain. When you say a mantra aloud, you may ask yourself where in the body you feel it resonating most. Do you feel it firstly in your mind, your heart or your gut? Inquiries like these give you an insight into which bodily intelligence the mantra activates for you.
Naad & Shabd
When discussing the why behind chanting mantras, it’s important to define the terms naad and shabd. Naad refers to songs or melodies that have special, vibrational harmonies that connect you to the sacredness of life. It can be used to strictly describe spiritual music, but others attest that any and all music can have naad.
Shabd is a sound that dissolves your ego or removes blockages. This is the sound that connects you to your most universal, aligned self. Shabd is sound that merges you with the infinite and dissolves any blockages that keep you from your most universal, highest self.
- Shabd: sound current that dissolves blockages
- Naad: sacred sound, vibrational harmony that connects you to the Universal Consciousness
Shabd Guru: Sound As A Teacher
Once you understand the meaning of Naad and Shabd, you can tap into Shabd Guru. This refers to the use of Naad (sacred sound) to alter your consciousness. You can think of Shabd Guru as using sound as a teacher. You use sound through various mantras or chants to access your innate wisdom and tap into the divine within you.
Many of us have a limited perception of ourselves. That’s like, the human condition in a nutshell! Connecting with Shabd Guru helps to remove those limited perceptions and remove the blockages that keep you separate from divine embodiment.
Mantra Chanting Tips from Guru Singh
For those potentially new to – or still a bit intimidated by – chanting, here are some simple tips to help you feel more comfortable and get the greatest benefit from your practice.
1. Release Judgment
It’s important to note that chanting is not singing. You’re not meant to worry about sounding “good” while you chant mantras. It’s about cleansing your body with the individual tonic that is your own voice. Singing is performative, chanting is healing.
This is another tip from Kundalini master Guru Singh. Beyond just “not worrying” about your chanting, try to experiment and have fun with it. Allow yourself to be silly. Try tones and notes that feel out of the ordinary to you. Use your mantra time as a time to discover your voice and heal your throat chakra.
3. Personalize Your Mantra Practice
Adapt and adjust your mantra practice to your own body. Take your practice into your own hands, and begin to notice how you feel before and after chanting mantras. Don’t be afraid to adjust things so they work well for you. This is the real-life practice of svadhyaya, or self-study.
Playing with Variables when Chanting Mantras
There are many different factors within a mantra that you can personalize. Use these different mantra variables to experiment and play with your mantra practice.
- Volume: experiment with whispering mantras versus bellowing and yelling. It all counts, and it all has different energetic qualities.
- Duration: how long would you like to meditate? Try something for three minutes, or 30 minutes.
- Meter: Is your practice in 4×4 or 2×4? How many beats are you using with your mantras? You may find yourself drawn to mantras with a certain meter.
- Pace: Is your mantra long and drawn out, or fast and repetitive? How many breath cycles are you using to complete one mantra? You may find yourself drawn to slow, drawn out mantras or faster ones.
- Sound: Where does the sound resonate in your body? This calls back to the three brains we mentioned before.
Do you feel your mantra most in the head, heart or gut?
Rhythmic Breath: The Bridge Between Mantra and Pranayama
The more you practice, you may notice your mantra practice becoming an extension of your pranayama practice. When you’re chanting mantras, you’re practicing rhythmic breathing, which is the core of pranayama. It might be difficult to chant effectively without taking a big inhale and lengthening into the exhalation. In this way, mantras can be thought of as sheet music for your pranayama practice.
Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System
When you chant, you also bring healing to your central nervous system by stimulating the Vagus Nerve. The Vagus Nerve is the central nerve that tunes the rest of our nervous system. Ideally when chanting, you’re practicing to stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System – the part of the brain that tells you it’s ok to rest and digest.
5.5 Breaths Per Minute
For optimal wellbeing and soothing of the nervous system, it’s been found that taking 5.5 seconds for each inhale and exhale is optimal. If you look at some of the most important mantras around the world like om mani padme hum, the long om, even a long amen, they all utilize this breathing structure. If you can take notice and prioritize taking longer breaths like this, it will help you to relax and find inner peace.