What is Mantra?
"Mantra" is often translated as "mind protection". It is believed that mantra has the power not only to affect the body and mind by offering healing, relaxation and rejuvenation, but also to purify and protect your mind, your consciousness, from harmful energy, and also to purify your negative karma. You don't have to believe in karma or anything else to benefit from mantra. It is as easy to understand as recognizing that a happy thought makes you feel good and an angry thought makes you feel bad. The practice of mantra can be understood in basic terms as conditioning your mind towards positive thoughts and positive feelings.
How Mantras are Used
As a Yoga teacher, a Buddhist and a resident of India, I am no stranger to the practice of mantra and have included mantra as part of my daily life for many years now. Previously I used mantras mainly to generate a particular quality of mind. For example, if I wanted to strengthen my compassion, or offer compassion to others, I would chant the Mani Mantra. If I wanted to feel inspired towards enlightened activity (good deeds) then I would chant the Tara Mantra. And if I needed support in shedding harmful thoughts and feelings, or to reflect on emptiness, I would chant the Mantra of the Perfection of Wisdom. I never used mantras for the purpose of physical healing. But in November 2021 in the span of 3 days I met two different women who use (and teach) mantras for healing the body. They had very different styles and came from different spiritual backgrounds, but they both used mantras for healing the body. The experience of meeting these two ladies was something that I reflected on for several days. Then, something happened that inspired me to try mantras for my own physical healing.
My Recent Experience with Mantra for Healing
Since June 1st of this year, I was suffering with a terrible flare up of the old back injuries that were the result of 3 different freak accidents I had in my 20's. This particular flare up was the worst ever and caused excruciating sciatic nerve pain. I started doing everything I could think of to heal this ongoing health challenge including; specific Yoga poses, Reiki, Ayurvedic medicine and physical therapy. Finally after over 5 months of agony, the pain was decreasing. One morning I woke up and thought, "Wow, I am so happy that I am not in pain any more. I can move freely. I am so grateful." That morning I had a private yoga session with a client and after the session I did my physical therapy exercises as usual. When I tried to stand up afterwards, I noticed that my back felt completely stiff as if all the muscles of my low back and hips were clenched. I couldn't stand up straight and it was painful. It was not as excruciating as the nerve pain had been previously, but I was definitely in pain. I felt utterly discouraged. After all of my efforts for healing, it felt like I was stuck in the same place as always, walking around in pain and hunched over as if I were 90 years old. I felt like giving up, but instead I used the heating pad and then the ice pack. I attached one of those menthol pain patches to my back. My husband gave me a light massage with oil that the Ayurvedic doctor had prescribed. I stretched gently. I did everything I could think to do. I went to bed that night hoping to wake feeling better, but that didn't happen. The next morning I was still very stiff and sore and deeply discouraged. That's when I thought about the two ladies I had recently met who used mantras for healing. Neither one of their styles really resonated with me, so instead of following their particular practice, I spontaneously made my own mantra. It was like a positive affirmation that I turned into a mantra. It went like this;
"Happy, Healed, Hydrated, Hooray!"
You can probably understand why I used the words; "Happy" and "Healed" but let me explain "Hydrated" and "Hooray". The weather had become very dry here in India, and I could feel in my body that I was not getting enough water. My lips were dry and my nostrils also felt uncomfortably dry. The dryness and dust was aggravating my sinuses and causing daily sneezing too. I also remembered that the Ayurvedic doctor had told me to drink lots of water, so I added it to my mantra as a reminder. The "Hooray" is not only because I love alliteration, but I wanted my mantra to be an affirmation of WHAT IS and not a begging plea. (Many mantras and positive affirmations end with "soha"or "svaha" meaning, "and so it is" or "so be it" for this same reason. It is similar to the "Amen" of Christian tradition) I began to sing these words over and over in varying improvised melodies. Sometimes I added "I am" at the beginning. When I found a particular melody that felt good to me, I stuck with it for a while, singing the words over and over again as I went about my day. And guess what happened? I began to FEEL happy, and I also noticed that I was able to stand up straight. My pain had reduced by at least half, maybe more. Each time I sang the word "hydrated" it reminded me to drink more water. And every "Hooray" reminded me to celebrate life and all of my many blessings. I wasn't completely cured, but I felt happier and could move with greater ease. So it worked. My little experiment showed me that mantra is not only for health of the mind but also can be very healing to the body too! It might sound silly, but this was my true experience. And I love to sing anyway, so going through my day singing is not exactly out of the ordinary for me! Even if you aren't a singer you can definitely benefit from a mantra practice, whether you sing them or say them, whether aloud or in your mind.
Mantras aren't just for Yogis and Eastern Spirituality, in fact mantras are very similar to positive affirmations and many Western health practitioners have embraced the use of mantras for healing. Click Here for an interesting article from Elevate Sport & Spine Therapy in Colorado that discusses the benefits of mantra for back pain.
How to Begin Using Mantras
There are many beliefs about mantra and chanting. More important than learning about the spirituality and history of mantra and chanting, I suggest that you focus instead on how you feel when listening or reciting mantras. Notice if you feel an increase in relaxation in your body and mind. Perhaps you feel a sort of cleansing, that the mantras, especially after many repetitions, help to rid your mind of distracting or disturbing thoughts. Perhaps you find that the mantras increase your level of concentration and help you to focus on accomplishing other tasks after listening to them. Take time to notice how you feel, and then use mantras in the way that would best serve you.
Find or compose your own mantra - to say or to sing - that resonates with you and your goals. Sure, you can use my mantra if it feels good to you. Just remember that with mantras as well as affirmations, the words should feel good to you. You can call it "having faith" or "vibrating in harmony with" but it is important that you feel a connection to the words and/or to the teacher who gave them to you. If you don't connect with the mantra on a heart level, it will not be as powerful, although you may still get some benefit. And remember to "seal" it with something like "Hooray!" or "and so it is" so that you feel it in your NOW with joyfulness.
Any positive affirmation repeatedly chanted or sung can become a mantra as long as your mind is tuned into the task and not merely repeating words mindlessly.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that mantras
"...must be spoken in concentration, with body and mind focused as one. What you say in this state of being becomes a mantra."
I described above how I chose 4 words to use in my mantra experiment. You can do the same with a few words or you can use a full sentence. Since positive affirmations can make wonderful mantras I will share with you a few of my favorites that I have collected over the years;
I move through life with ease. I am always supported.
I release the past with love and forgiveness.
I trust the process of life. All is well.
I am surrounded by love. I am safe.
My heart is at peace. My mind is serene.
The Power of Suggestion
A student shared with me once that she felt positive affirmations were of no benefit because in her view "repeating lies to myself doesn't make them true." This is why it is so important that you do feel a connection to the words, but also, it is not exactly about what is true but more about what could be true. Let's look at the last affirmation that I listed above; "My heart is at peace. My mind is serene." You might be in a state of grief, of pain or confusion and these words won't feel true at all, BUT they could be true. Your heart has the ability to be at peace and your mind has the potential to be serene. Our minds are very susceptible to suggestion. When you recite the mantra, again and again, it becomes a truth. It is similar to how, even if you are feeling down, when you look in the mirror and smile at yourself you start to feel a little better. That first smile might be a "lie" but then, when you see yourself smiling, you actually DO start to feel better - or at least you got a good laugh at yourself grinning in the mirror! When I coach singers about creating more space in their mouth, I instruct them to imitate a yawn. It is difficult to yawn instantly on command and so we fake a big yawn. Then we talk about the anatomy of the mouth and throat and how we can recreate that open space, similar to a yawn, while singing. ALMOST ALWAYS, within a few short minutes the student will have a REAL yawn come over them. I share this to again demonstrate how we are very open to suggestions and what we hear and see can have a true affect on our body and mind. (In fact I yawned after writing this paragraph! Just writing the word, "Yawn" was enough to stimulate a real yawn.)
Therefore, choose words that feel good, and that could be true. As mentioned above, the quality of your mind while reciting the mantra is the force that gives the mantra the most power. If you believe the mantra is a lie, then it will be a lie to you. If you believe that the mantra could be true, then it will become your reality. But don't believe my words alone - Try it for yourself!
If you would like to learn more about Mantras and begin using the healing power of mantra practice, consider enrolling in my online course; "Mantras for Healing & Happiness" https://beautiful-souls-academy.teachable.com/p/melodic-chant
In the course you will learn the meanings of the mantras mentioned in this article and more. You can enjoy downloadable recordings of me singing several mantras as well as downloadable PDF files of the written mantras for your convenience. "Mantras for Healing & Happiness" is a self-paced online course. After enrolling in the course, you have unlimited, lifetime access to the material AND you can contact me directly with any questions about mantras. So, although you can go at your own pace, I will be here to support you whenever you need it. I hope to hear from you soon about how mantra practice has brought positive change and healing into your life.
Lots of love,