You must live alone, at least internally, in a quiet place. – Bhagavad Gita
Have you ever caught yourself repeatedly reciting a word, phrase, or affirmation in your mind? Perhaps you’ve told yourself “you can do this,” over and over as you nervously walked into a job interview, or repeated that “everything will be OK,” even when it certainly didn’t feel that way. Though this may seem like a mindless coping method, it is actually considered by many religious and spiritual traditions as a means of harnessing and focusing the mind. In Sanskrit, such affirmations are known as mantras, or “tools of thought.” A mantra can be understood as any sound, word or phrase that alters consciousness through meaning, tone, rhythm, or physical vibration.
The Meaning of Mantras
In modern society, the word mantra has almost lost its meaning. It is thrown around as a flippant cliché, far removed from its sacred origins. Traditionally, mantras are believed to have spiritual and psychological powers. When chanted with devotion, certain utterances are thought to create powerful vibrations within the body and mind, igniting intentions and enabling deep states of meditation. But the truth is that we need mantras now more than ever. A chaotic mind slips all too easily into negative thinking patterns, allowing negative energy to take over actions and behavior. Mantras enable us to see that we can manifest and harness the power of our intentions and energy, and that the positive affirmations we tell ourselves can become a reality. Repetition of a mantra is also a simple way to bring presence to your innate, positive qualities.
Since each mantra has a distinct meaning and vibrates on a unique frequency, each one is also believed to have distinctive healing effects; and not only spiritually, but on a physical, molecular level. When chanting mantras aloud, the vibrations and movements of the tongue stimulate some of the key glands of the endocrine system, which is responsible for governing and regulating hormones in the body. What’s more, the soothing and harmonious combination of sound, breath and rhythm – an inevitable outcome of mantra chanting – has a profound impact on the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “rest and digest” system. This, in turn, slows the heart rate, relaxes muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, and triggers the body’s healing response. When the physical body is at ease in this way, it is much easier to connect with your mind and consciousness on a deeper level.
The Benefits of Chanting Mantras
By focusing on the repetition of a specific set of words or sounds, mantra chanting can also act as an object of concentration, helping to bring the mind into the present moment. As such, mantras are commonly used to still the mind for meditation, much in the same way that some practitioners concentrate on the breath. A great way to retain focus and remain present whilst practicing meditative mantra chanting is to count each repetition on a garland of beads. Known as mala in Sanskrit, these prayer beads are used throughout religious and spiritual practices to mark the repetition of devoted recitations. Meditative states can be used to connect to the Divine within, and mantras are an effective way to maintain that connection.
Although mantras are typically chanted in Sanskrit, modern versions are increasingly used throughout all aspects of yoga, often to encourage a sense of connection to your intentions for the practice. For example, silent repetition of “I am present” during an asana class can motivate you to stay focused on the movements of the body, preventing your mind from running away from the classroom and straight into the arms of your to-do list. In this way, mantras can be used to cultivate a particular state of mind, allowing their meaning to gently seep into our subconscious and transform negative energy into positive power. Whether it’s an inspirational quote, a favorite lyric, or the wise words of a grandparent, if it leaves you feeling grounded, centered or uplifted, you can consider it a mantra.
5 Mood-Boosting Mantras
If you’re having trouble merging mantras with your practice, why not give one of the following mood-boosting mantras a try? Each is specifically designed to tap into and nurture a particular aspect of being: happiness, peace, prosperity, love, and connection with the Divine.
To get started, find any comfortable seated position, close your eyes, regulate the breath and simply repeat the mantra aloud in whichever rhythm feels natural to you. There is a modern version paired with each mantra just in case you’re not comfortable with reciting Sanskrit, leaving you with no excuse to not give it a go!
1. A Mantra for Happiness
Sanskrit Mantra: Om Paraanandaaya Namaha
Modern Equivalent: Happiness is a choice
Meaning: This mantra serves as a reminder that happiness is our inherent nature; we were born happy, long before negative thoughts, labels, and desires colored our experience. In remembering that true happiness comes from within, the chase for external and material happiness becomes redundant.
Practice Tip: Smile as you chant this mantra – you will find it hard not to feel more joyful!
2. A Mantra for Peace
Sanskrit Mantra: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Modern Equivalent: May all beings everywhere be happy and free
Meaning: Used for centuries as an invocation of peace, this mantra reminds us that we are all connected with one another as part of the same universe. By radiating this sentiment out to the world around us, we are able to step away from the ego and concentrate on universal well-being.
Practice Tip: Take a deep inhale and try vocalizing the whole of this mantra on the out breath.
3. A Mantra for Prosperity
Sanskrit Mantra: Om Gam Ganapataye Namah
Modern Equivalent: I can overcome any obstacle
Meaning: This is the mantra of Lord Ganesha who is known in Hindu tradition as the remover of internal and external obstacles. This mantra can be used to stoke the fire of transformation and blaze your way to success.
Practice Tip: Try doing the Ganesha mudra while repeating this mantra. It is believed to boost self-confidence and courage, helping you to overcome any obstacles in your path to prosperity.
4. A Mantra for Love
Sanskrit Mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum
Modern Equivalent: Love pervades all
Meaning: A Tibetan Buddhist prayer of compassion, this mantra is said to contain all the teachings of the Buddha. This mantra instills a sense of loving-kindness toward all beings, reminding us that the power of love is innate in everyone.
Practice Tip: Om Mani Padme Hum is not directly translatable into a simple phrase. Try focusing on the vibrations of this mantra rather than getting lost in its meaning.
5. A Mantra for Connection With the Divine
Sanskrit Mantra: Om Namah Shivaya
Modern Equivalent: I am one with universal consciousness
Meaning: One of the most popular Hindu dedications to Lord Shiva, this mantra is used to connect to the Divine within and to draw attention to omnipresent universal consciousness. When repeated with devotion, this mantra is thought to bring spiritual insight.
Practice Tip: Om is believed to be the sound and frequency of the creation of the universe. Try elongating this syllable for an entire exhale, paying close attention to the vibrations it creates within the body.
Mantras can help you remain present in the moment, focus your thoughts and intentions on what’s important to you and, ultimately, manifest beautiful things in yourself and the world around you.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Rachel Bilski. Rachel is a devoted yoga teacher and freelance content writer for Yogapedia, a yoga encyclopedia and resource that shares the philosophy and practice of yoga.