How mantras work and how you can start
using them today!
Curious how mantras work and why you might want to use them? Keep reading to learn more about the beautiful, ancient practice of mantra.
What is a mantra and where did mantras originate?
Before we learn about how mantras work, we need to learn about the origin of this practice. By understanding the roots of a practice, we start to uncover it’s meaning and purpose.
Mantra is repeating a word, sound, or phrase to help you focus. Mantras are thought to have originated before written history and were passed by word of mouth. The earliest mantras are found in scriptures called the Vedas. The Vedas are the world’s most ancient spiritual texts and they also happen to be the source of yoga’s traditions.
Yoga, the Vedas, and Hinduism all originated from the same time and from the same place. This is why there are so many similarities between Yoga and Hinduism, both of them incorporate wisdom from the Vedas. Though there are similarities between the two, the difference is that Yoga is a spiritual practice, not a religion. Yoga is about turning your attention inward and looking within yourself to explore your spirituality. All are welcome to practice yoga no matter your religion, culture, or background.
Mantra is just one way to practice yoga and to illuminate your connection with your highest self. Considering how long ago mantra originated and that it has so far stood the test of time, I’d say it’s a pretty powerful practice.
Mantra origins vs. Mantra today
As discussed, mantra was first found in the Vedas, an ancient text from India. This text is written in Sanskrit; Sanskrit is a very old language. If you practice types of yoga like vinyasa, you may be familiar with hearing Sanskrit words as many yoga pose names are in the language of Sanskrit. A common yoga pose that many people use the Sanskrit name for is chaturanga dandasana. In English, this pose would be called four limbed staff pose. Another example you may have heard is a yoga teacher calling warrior poses “virabhadrasana”. Virabhadrasana is the Sanskrit word for warrior pose.
Mantra itself is a Sanskrit word. When you break the word “mantra” into parts, the first part is derived from a word that means mind and the second part of the word means protection or instrument. So think of mantra as an instrument for the mind, the instrument is your voice and it’s changing the focus of your mind. Mantra brings your mind away from the mundane and leads you to connect with your highest state of being. This is how mantras work, the vibrations of your voice are changing the perception of your mind and helping you see through maya. Maya is a concept in yoga regarding the “illusion of this world”. You can learn more about maya here: “Start seeing the world more clearly.”
Getting back to mantra origins versus mantra today, many popular mantras or chants are in the language of Sanskrit as this is their origin. But with that said, I want you to know that you can say a mantra in any language. Remember the definition of a mantra is a repeating word, sound, or phrase. There’s nothing saying the words need to be in Sanskrit although Sanskrit words are a little extra special which we’ll talk more about later.
If you prefer to use English or any other language, that’s totally fine. Using your native language can be helpful if you are trying to invoke a specific quality. For example if you’re working on increasing your confidence, you might find more success by using the phrase “I am confident” in English as this may have more meaning to you than if you said it in Sanskrit.
How Sanskrit can give your mantra practice an extra boost
Sanskrit is a vibrational language meaning the sound of Sanskrit words express their meaning. What this means is that the sound of the word helps describe it’s essence. This may be why it isn’t always straightforward when translating Sanskrit to English. Sanskrit words really do have deep meaning which makes this language so beautiful and intricate. The more you practice mantras in Sanskrit, the more you actually feel their power within your entire being.
If you’re feeling skeptical about this, I was too when I first learned to chant in Sanskrit. I thought, “what does a vibrational language even mean?” But I’ll tell you, I have felt the power of this language and it’s something incredible. The more you work with a specific Sanskrit chant, the more you’ll feel it’s effects within you. Your entire being starts to recognize the higher vibration and it starts to tune into this frequency leading you to feel an overwhelming sense of peace, bliss, and joy. It really is something that has to be experienced.
There are many Sanskrit chants out there so you can find one that resonates with you. A great source to learn different traditional Sanskrit chants is a book called “Sacred Sound,” by Alanna Kaivalya. I also offer a mantra practice on day 6 in my free 7 day yoga experience; you can access this here: “7 Days of Yoga“.
Using your voice & How mantra works
Your voice is a tool that can help you break through barriers and reach higher states of consciousness. I think this is an important point to make because I believe that so many of us underutilize our voices. By using your voice through mantra, you’re allowing energy to flow through what is called the throat chakra. The throat chakra allows us to express our true selves. When the energy in this area is balanced, not only will we feel uplifted, but we also will uplift others.
If you don’t know about the chakras, read this post here: “What are the chakras?”
Mantra can be really powerful for us introverts who tend not to use our voice as much, but it’s also powerful for extroverts because with mantra you’re using your voice in a different way than you would in everyday life. This is particularly true in regards to traditional Sanskrit mantras, by speaking these specific words you’re connecting with something greater than you. You’re speaking positive, uplifting words that your mind and soul deserve to hear, and when they hear these words over and over again, they respond to them and you feel their power within you.
If you have difficulty meditating by sitting quietly, I highly suggest giving mantra a try. It gives your mind something to focus on, and since the focus is on a single word or phrase, it’s still keeping you in the present moment just like meditation does. This can be really helpful for anyone who finds difficulty in quieting their mind.
And lastly, when looking at how mantras work, we have to look at the power of sound and vibration. The vibrations of mantra and using your voice whether chanting or singing can help you “tune” or align your energy and bring your entire being back into balance. With our voice we are tuning our “instruments” that we use to connect in this physical world, our mind and body.
This tuning can happen with a variety of mantras but the easiest and simplest mantra for this is “Om”. If you have practiced yoga before, you’re probably familiar with chanting “Om.” Om is simple yet powerful. Om brings you back into balance and reminds your mind, body, and spirit of their connection with all that is.
Thinking mantras vs. Speaking mantras
While I highly suggest speaking or singing in your mantra practice, mantra can also be performed quietly in the mind by thinking the words. If you don’t feel ready to speak aloud, this is a great place to start your practice. Although the vibrations of mantra are powerful, the repetition of the words is also part of how mantras work. Repeating a single word or phrase keeps you focused on one specific thing which allows the body and thinking mind to rest. So based on this fact, mantras will still provide their power whether they are said aloud or silently.
Another suggestion is to start your mantra practice saying the words aloud and then move into silence when you feel ready. After moving into silence, you can continue repeating the words in your head. You can then move into complete silence in the mind and let the mantra go. At this point you can sit in meditation and just feel the effects that the mantra has provided for your mind, body and soul. This is personally how I tend to practice mantra and I find it to be very effective.
I hope this post has helped you understand how mantras work and has inspired you to give mantra a try. There are so many mantras out there, don’t be afraid to try out different ones to find which ones resonates with you. Whatever mantra you choose should make you feel good and uplifted. Free your voice and use it for healing and love!
Judith, Anodea. Wheels of Life: The Classic Guide to the Chakra System, Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN, 2019.
Kaivalya, Alanna. Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth & Meaning of Mantra & Kirtan, New World Library, Novato, CA, 2014.
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