Sound is an important component of a yoga class. This is why a yoga class will typically begin and end with a sound or phrase that you may or may know how to pronounce, let alone know the meaning of. These words may be in Sanskrit or translated into English but you are chanting a mantra. To add meaning and benefit to the opening and closing of your time in a yoga class, read on further to find out about this sacred practice of chanting Sanskrit mantras!
What is a Mantra?
Sanskrit mantras have been an important part of a holistic yoga practice. You may have experienced the power of mantras in your yoga class or a chanting session. The word mantra is comprised of two words man and tra. Man means the conscious and subconscious mind and tra means system. So mantras can be defined as a system to control or affect our conscious and subconscious mind. Mantras are made up of sounds that can be used to control the mind. Mantras can also be a word or phrase with a specific meaning attached to it, or without meaning.
What a mantra is not
It is common to find Sanskrit mantras on YouTube and Instagram. We are called upon to chant these mantras 9 or 108 times. We are prompted to chant these mantras with the promise of good health or wealth, protection, or good luck. It must be clearly stated that mantras have no inherent magical powers. Instead, chanting Sanskrit mantras with the right understanding can help one set an intention before practice and can be used to keep us in present time. To reiterate, the sound or phrase of mantras are meaningless on their own, and just mindlessly repeating mantras over and over again, will have no positive impact on you or your yoga practice.
Mantras and yoga
The mind naturally wanders. Mantras act as a tool to reign in the mind, back to present time and back to the intention of the practice. Mantras can control the mind by giving it direction and focus. When we chant a Sanskrit mantra and know the meaning of it, we are then able to steer the mind in a positive direction and keep it focused. This is why setting an intention before a yoga class is so important. If we have an intention, we have direction.
The Benefits of Mantra
Mantras are in the Sanskrit language. As explained, mantras must be understood and pronounced correctly to have any meaningful impact. You can enjoy various benefits such as:
- Mantras help you keep focus in your practice.
- Mantras helps bring calm to the mind.
- Mantras chanted as prescribed can emit feelings of gratitude, positivity.
- Mantras can help improve one’s mindset and welcome the wisdom of yoga philosophy into one’s belief system.
It is worthwhile to find a mantra that resonates with you and find the meaning of that mantra. Set your intention using the meaning of the mantra. For example, there is a mantra from the Krishna Yajurveda Taittiriya Upanishad that is recited before the scriptural study. It is chanted to set an intention for Guru and disciple. Subsequently, you can then truly enjoy the benefits of chanting mantras.
Om Saha Naav-Avatu
Saha Nau Bhunaktu
Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai
Tejasvi Naav-Adhiitam-Astu Maa Vidvissaavahai
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
Om, May we all be protected
May we all be nourished
May we work together with great energy
May our intellect be sharpened, may our study be effective
Let there be no Animosity amongst us
Om, peace (in me), peace (in nature), peace (in divine force)
Reciting this Sanskrit mantra with understanding and intention sets the tone for learning. It is an intention the Guru keeps focus on to return to why she is teaching. It is an intention the disciple keeps focus on to return to why he is learning. This is the power of chanting a mantra with intention and understanding.
Key mantras for yoga and meditation
Indeed it is now clearer that for mantras to be useful, they must be pronounced correctly. To help with this, here are some tips to help you with pronunciation:
- Using the mouth and throat as an apparatus
- Using the above to develop the sound of the mantra clearly
- The sound of the mantra itself; each syllable
- Coordinate breath to the sound of the mantra
AUM stands for God or the highest form of Divinity.
- In this mantra, there is an ‘n’ sound at the end as in “AAAUUUMMMNNN”
- Start with the “a” sound at the base of the throat, the larynx.
- The “u” sound uses the mouths and lips.
- The “m” uses the nasal cavity and for the “n” sound, imagine the sound being directed upwards toward the crown of the head.
Om is the seed mantra of the Third Eye Chakra.
- The “O” sound comes from the mouth
- The “M” comes from the nasal cavity.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
At the end of a yoga class, you may hear “Shanti,” which means peace. We chant it three times to bring peace to the physical, astral, and spiritual bodies.
The Gayatri Mantra
This Sanskrit mantra is directed to Goddess Gayatri. The Sun is a divine symbol with a male and female side. Surya is the male side and Gayatri is the female side. We use this mantra to ask Goddess Gayatri for light in the darkness of our ignorance so that we may move to Truth.
Om bhūr bhuvaḥ suvaḥ
dhiyo yo naḥ prachodayāt
Truth & Peace Mantra
This Sanskrit mantra is about dissolving one’s ignorance, darkness with the light of Self-Knowledge, and liberation from the birth-death cycle.
Asato Ma Sat Gamaya
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya
From illusion lead me to truth,
From darkness lead me to light,
From Death, lead me to Immortality.
May you find the right mantra for you and use it correctly in your yoga practice!
About the author
Ram Jain is the Founding Director of the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams India and The Netherlands. Since 2009, the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams have become renowned internationally for their professional yoga teacher training courses, and have up to present trained over 6000 yoga teachers from all over the world.
Born in New Delhi, India, in a traditional and spiritual family, his yoga philosophy education started at the age of eight years as a part of his primary school education. Presently, he is the lead teacher for various teacher training programs at the ashrams as well as at the Arhanta Yoga Online Academy. You might be interested in his Yoga Alliance accredited online Meditation Teacher Training.