Updated: Jun 14, 2019
I remember my first OM, an awkward peak out of one eye, as I silently mouthed the sound and observed everyone else in the class. I grew up hearing Buddhist chanting often, but this was my first exposure to Naad (essence of all sound) yoga. The instructor began rolling Oms, first starting in unison and slowly branching off into a slow building om-orchestra. I quietly chanted my first Om, Did I do it right? How's it sound? I pushed myself to continue, finding my volume rising with the group. In one moment, I could hear my voice above those around me as I started solo and felt my internal volume and energy blast wide open as they joined in seconds later. It wasn't that we were particularly loud, or harmonic, it was the actual sound current and repetition that lured me into a deeper state of meditative focus. I felt the vibration of prana (life force energy) travel through my chest, up to my throat, and pulse at my lips and third eye. Try chanting a single om and see if you can feel where the vibration flows.
During my training in India, the Gayatri Mantra kept showing up for me. I often heard it playing in the cafe in the ashram I lived in, and recall its sound spilling out of tiny shops and stalls in Rishikesh. We chanted it often during the training, most memorably 108 rounds at the unforgettable sunrise summit of Kunjapuri Temple. It felt natural to continue Gayatri upon my return home where it became a part of my first 40 day sadhana (daily spiritual practice). The healing, empowering and transformative qualities of mantra are accessible at any level of listening and chanting, but are cumulatively most powerful . Each memory of chanting is stored in the cells and is reactivated every time you return to it. Much like revisiting a favorite memory or song, although in this case, deeply ingrained in healing and restorative wisdom.
Each experience with mantra leads me to greater trust in the felt experience of dissolving subconscious layers. Leading from this intuitive heart space compliments the analytical one we are so often stuck in, and surpasses it. The deeper I go into mantra practice, as with yoga or meditation, it isn't about the performance: achieving the fancy pose or sweet sound, those are lovely, but the focus, love, and clarity that are birthed in the space of heightened awareness is the real medicine. From my experience, there is far more potency to be gained from the immersion of chanting, listening and feeling the Naad current over the knowledge of what it all means. Similarly to music, we might appreciate the emotional connection and meaningfulness of the words of mantra, but it is the bhakti (love and devotion) and essential power that is in the sound itself that is meant to be felt.
"Mantra is a vehicle to bring our minds, hearts and prana to the level of both primal sound and primal meaning , in which we can return to the original state of unity with all. This requires that we use mantras with an intention, focus and aspiration to reach the supreme." - Pandit Vamadeva Shastri
What is mantra?
Sacred sounds and words repeatedly chanted aloud or internally to transform consciousness, heal, cultivate desired energies and remove blocks. Mantra helps us bridge the gap from sound to silence, making it easier to drop into different layers of consciousness in meditation.
Perhaps the most widely known and simplest sound of mantra, Om (ohm), is one of the bija or seed mantras. There are several principal bija mantras as well the chakra bija mantras which correlate to each of the seven chakras, or energy centers of the body that absorb and radiate energy (Ashley-Farrand, 1999).
Why practice mantra?
In addition to energetic and vibrational shifts, mantra has been scientifically proven to change the chemistry of the brain and alter consciousness. “There are eighty-four meridian points, or pressure points in the roof of the mouth.” When practicing mantra, “the tongue stimulates those meridian points, and they in turn stimulate the entire glandular system,” causing an intense pranic shift and bliss. It is a scientific and direct way to unite the finite with the Infinite Consciousness” (www.3ho.org, teachings of Yogi Bhajan).
"Mantras are not small things, mantras have power. They are the mind vibration in relationship to the Cosmos. The science of mantra is based on the knowledge that sound is a form of energy having structure, power, and a definite predictable effect on the chakras and the human psyche."
~ Yogi Bhajan
Gayatri Mantra divine luminescence
One of oldest and well known Sanskrit mantras, the Gayatri Mantra, honors the deity Savita, who "represents consciousness within the sun as symbolic of the divine light, especially the transformative power of light. Savita represents the power that changes night into day and day into night. This is why the Gayatri mantra is chanted at sunrise, noon and sunset, the transformational moments of the sun’s movement. In Vedic thought, the sun is not simply a material globe but the source of prana, intelligence and Divine grace. The sun is the primal guru. The Vedic mantras themselves reside in the rays of the sun as powers of light and prana” - Pandit Vamadeva Shastri
Gayatri as the guru: gu=darkness, ru =light, brings the person chanting from darkness to light, raising knowledge and consciousness.
-Ashley-Farrand, Thomas. Healing Mantras. New York City: The Random House Publishing Group, 1999.
-Frawley, Dr. David. Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound: Secrets of Seed (bija) Mantras. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press. 2010.
-Kaur Khalsa, Shakti Parwha. Kundalini Yoga The flow of Eternal Power. 1998