Mantras for Everyone

Perhaps you’ve chanted OM in a yoga class, repeated a personal affirmation silently to yourself, or listened to the sound of your breath as a means to anchor your attention to the present moment. All are variations of a mantra practice: instruments of the mind used to settle your stream of consciousness and uncover the silence beneath your thoughts.

Mantras enhance meditation by coordinating sound (whether sung or repeated silently) with the steady rhythm of your breath, allowing you to interrupt the internal dialogue that might otherwise impede your practice.

Mantras are prolific across cultures and religions, incorporated into Tibetan Buddhism (Om Mani Padme Hum or “the jewel is in the lotus”), in Christianity (Maranatha or “O Come Lord”), and in the Hebrew Jewish tradition (Shalom or “peace”), to name a few examples. Catholic rosary beads, used for repetition of prayer, can easily be interchanged with Buddhist and Hindu prayer beads (mala beads), meant to be worn with intention to signify a personal affirmation.

Whether your mantra practice is used to strike a devotional tone or simply as a method of present-moment awareness, it can serve as a powerful tool to detach yourself from your monkey mind. Consider the word Bali and what it evokes: perhaps you’re imagining the froth of aquamarine waves collecting on the sandy shore, or the sweet, watery sip of a freshly cracked coconut, or the warm, salty air whispering in palm fronds. This immediate barrage of images exemplifies the weight of words: how intensely we associate Bali with compelling visualizations that can send our imagination into overdrive or incite an emotional response. On the other hand, if we break the word Bali into sounds dissociated from meaning, BAH…LEE, our brain activity diminishes and we experience a moment of relief.  

Given the preference for syllables as opposed to words, Sanskrit phrases, once the foundation of the ancient language of India, are popular in mantra practice, as their meaning is of little consequence to the modern meditator. Below are two examples that can be easily incorporated into your daily breathwork.

Ham Sah Mantra: Sacred Sound of Breath

Breathing in and out of your nose, become aware of the sound of the breath circulating in your nose and throat. Connect with the sound “hum” on your inhalation and the sound “saw” on your exhalation, taking as long as you need to experience the vibrational noise of this cycle.  

Silently repeat the sound “hum” on your inhalation and the sound “saw” on your exhalation for a few minutes.

If you become distracted, come back to the ham sah mantra, back to the sound of breath in the throat and nose, and back to the experience of the cool air on your inhalation, and the warm air as you exhale.

This method can be incorporated into a full meditation or used as a means to quiet the mind before practice. 

Bija Mantra:

Bija (seed) mantras are one syllable seed sounds used to activate the energy of the chakras, thereby balancing body and mind and clearing the path towards transformation. The following vibrations have no direct translation; they are simply meant to resonate within the body. After singing each syllable, attempt to hum for an extended period of time.  

Draw awareness to your root chakra, found at the base of your spine. This red chakra serves as your foundation and is associated with your survival. Take a deep breath in through the nose, holding for a moment. On your extended exhalation, sing the word “LAM” for as long as possible, humming at the end, before allowing your breath to return to its natural rhythm and depth.

Take a cleansing breath before transitioning.  

Bring attention to your sacral chakra, located in the lower abdomen below the navel. This orange chakra is the source of your creativity and sexuality. Take a deep breath in through the nose, holding for a moment. On your extended exhalation, sing the word “VAM” for as long as possible, humming at the end, before allowing your breath to return to its natural rhythm and depth.

Take a cleansing breath before transitioning.  

Focus now on the solar plexus chakra, found in the stomach area. This yellow chakra is the source of your confidence. Take a deep breath in through the nose, holding for a moment. On your extended exhalation, sing the word “RAM” for as long as possible, humming at the end, before allowing your breath to return to its natural rhythm and depth.

Take a cleansing breath before transitioning.  

Draw your awareness to your heart chakra, located in the center of your chest. This green chakra is associated with your ability to love. Take a deep breath in through the nose, holding for a moment. On your extended exhalation, sing the word “YAM” for as long as possible, humming at the end, before allowing your breath to return to its natural rhythm and depth.

Take a cleansing breath before transitioning.  

Bring attention to your throat chakra, located at the center of your neck. This blue chakra is the source of our ability to communicate. Take a deep breath in through the nose, holding for a moment. On your extended exhalation, sing the word “HAM” for as long as possible, humming at the end, before allowing your breath to return to its natural rhythm and depth.

Take a cleansing breath before transitioning.  

Focus now on your third eye chakra, located between the eyebrows. This indigo chakra allows us to expand your consciousness. Take a deep breath in through the nose, holding for a moment.  On your extended exhalation, sing the word “OM” (ah-om) for as long as possible, humming at the end, before allowing your breath to return to its natural rhythm and depth.

Take a cleansing breath before transitioning.  

Finally draw your awareness to your crown chakra, located at the top of the head. This violet chakra is the source of your connection to the world, spiritually or otherwise. Take a deep breath in through the nose, holding for a moment.  On your extended exhalation, once more sing the word “OM” (ah-om) for as long as possible, humming at the end, before allowing your breath to return to its natural rhythm and depth.

Allow yourself a few cleansing breaths before completing your practice.