Japa Explained: Five Mantras & How To Use Them

Background, how to & benefits and much more

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Japa is a type of mantra meditation practice using mala beads.

The mantras (words or verses) can be chanted out loud or silently but should be done in a low voice. Japa meditation is a great way to focus the mind and improve concentration. It is also a very spiritual practice that can lead to a deep sense of calm.

“Japa is training by which the ever dancing rays of the mind are compelled to behave in a certain order and rhythm.”


Mantra is a ritualistic practice that can help practitioners to gain a deep sense of peace. In this article we’ll take a look at:

a man holds japa mala beads against a black background

What is Japa?

Japa is the chanting of a mantra using Japa mala beads. Each bead is counted while performing a mantra to aid concentration and focus. The mala beads are often made from crystals or gemstones and are said to have a special energy to them.

The mala is a tool to help you count the repetition of a mantra.

Japa is a Sanskrit word. Etymology: it comes from the root word jap which can be translated as “to utter in a low voice, repeat internally, mutter.” Literally, the word means:

Ja – “to destroy the cycle of rebirth in English”

Pa – “to destroy sins of oneself”

The word Japa appears in Vedic texts such as the Rigveda and Yajurveda.

Traditionally Japa mala are used in a similar way to a rosary within Christian traditions. They are used within the traditions of Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Tantra, and Hindu religions. Many people now use them as a meditation practice and not as part of a religion or tradition.

Japa meditation is used to concentrate the mind through the mantra, and the mala beads are a big part of this. Each bead represents one utteration of the mantra, and most mala contain 108 beads.

Reciting Japa is said to be a tantric practice that can remove chakra blockages, negative thoughts and develop awareness. It is a practice that leads to samadhi or bliss.

“A mantra when constantly repeated awakens the consciousness.”

a woman in red clothes holds japa mala beads

What are the different types of Japa?

  • Vaikhari Japa – This is when the mantra is chanted aloud.
  • Upamshu Japa – This is when the mantra is chanted quietly – almost in a whisper.
  • Manasik Japa – This is when the mantra is chanted mentally. This is the preferred type of Japa mantra meditation, and it is considered the most powerful.

Japa meditation can also be written down, which is called Likhita Japa and it replaces the use of the mala beads.

How to practice Japa mantra meditation

Like all meditation practices, it can be done pretty much anywhere, but if possible, it’s wise to select a calm and quiet environment. It’s a great idea to turn your phone off and remove additional distractions.

Sitting in a comfortable asana or meditation seat is ideal. This could be cross-legged on a yoga mat or sitting upright on a chair.

Be sure to pick a mantra that calls to you. Choose something that is not too long or complicated so that you can recite it easily. Be sure to recite it clearly with a steady rhythm and try not to rush.

The Japa mala beads are to be held with the right hand. The thumb moves the beads which are hooked over the middle finger of the hand. Be sure not to touch the Japa mala with your index finger as it is said to hold negative energy.

Try not to let the Japa mala beads touch the ground, and be sure to keep them high up so that they do not drop below your stomach. You can use your left hand to hold the hanging part of the mala beads.

If you become distracted, try chanting out loud instead of in your mind.

a woman sits cross legged and holds japa mala beads against a yellow circle

How to use the Japa mala beads

The largest bead on the mala which often has a tassel or string attached to it is called the meru or guru bead. This is where you start your mantra meditation from.

You should practice the Japa mantra 108 times or the full count of the beads. Once you reach the guru bead change the direction in which you sift through the beads. Once you have completed the full cycle then sit and let the practice resonate for a few minutes. Don’t be in a hurry to rush out of the practice.

When is the best time to practice Japa mantra meditation?

The optimum time to practice is either at dusk or dawn but really, any time of day works.  The important thing is to get the practice into your day.

Things to consider

  • It is said that the Japa mala should be washed and cleaned after each use.
  • The Japa should be completed rather than stopping before reaching the full 108 beads.
  • Practitioners believe that facing east or north while performing a Japa mantra meditation is a way to make it more powerful.
a woman holds japa mala beads in her hands

What are the benefits of practicing Japa?

Japa is said to be a great practice for increasing positivity. Like other meditation practices, it can help to reduce stress and anxiety as well as other health benefits. Some of the reported benefits of Japa include:

  • Increased focus and concentration
  • Improved sleep
  • Patience
  • Resilience
  • Discipline

Why 108 beads?

Generally, a mala will have 108 beads – this is because, within Buddhism and Hinduism, the number 108 is said to be auspicious and spiritual.

According to the Vedas the number 108 forms the whole of creation and represents not only the universe but our whole existence.

a woman sits cross legged and holds purple japa mala beads

How to activate a Japa Mala

If you receive your Mala from a guru, then it will most likely already be activated. It needs to be activated so that the dormant energy can be awakened. By activating your mala beads they become unique to you. You should not use the mala of others or share your own.

To activate your mala:

  • Come into a comfortable meditative seat.
  • With the mala in the right hand roll each bead separately towards your body, starting from the guru bead.
  • Begin by reciting a mantra. Choose something that resonates with you.
  • When you have completed one cycle hold the mala and bring it upwards to your third eye, the space in between your eyebrows and then to your heart.
  • Sit for a few moments and let the resonance of the practice settle.

Wearing a Japa mala

Many yogis wear their Japa mala – they are beautiful, after all, but they are not a piece of jewellery. There are some considerations when wearing a mala around the neck or wrist.

The mala should not be worn over clothes but should be in contact with the skin and it should be treated as sacred. Therefore, you shouldn’t wear a mala while going to the bathroom.

Mala beads should be kept in a mala bag.

a man in a robe sits cross legged and holds japa mala beads

Which mantra should I use?

You may already have a mantra that resonates with you. If you don’t then try out one of the following five and see which one you prefer. The meaning of the mantra is only important to you.

Om/Aum – Known as the sound of the universe, nobody really knows where Om originates from. It is a powerful vibration that is all-encompassing. As you’ll see, lots of other mantras contain Om within them.

Om Namah Shivaya – This mantra which contains Om within it is said to lead to self-realization and to the contemplation of absolute reality. It means “salutations to Lord Shiva”.

So Hum – This mantra is great for beginners.  It means “I am that” and it can be linked with the inhale (so) and the exhale (hum).

Guru Om –  The literal translation of gu and ru is darkness remover. A powerful one if you’re looking to shift your energy.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti – Shanti means peace. Chanted three times, it represents peace of the body, peace of the mind and peace of speech.

a woman sits cross legged and holds japa mala beads

Japa Mantra meditation roundup

“Mantra Yoga is an exact science.  By the constant thinking of mantra, one is protected and released from the round of births and deaths. A mantra is so-called because it is achieved by a mental process.”


Now you know a little about the practice of japa here a few key things to remember:

  • Practicing early in the morning or in the evening is the optimum time to practice and you can start off with as little as five to ten minutes.
  • Think of Japa meditation as a healthy habit. Try committing to a regular practice over the course of forty days.
  • When starting out it may be easier to repeat the mantra out loud and then progress to a whisper before moving on to reciting the mantra silently in your mind.
  • Consistency is key like with many other meditation practices.
  • Take time to choose a Japa mala and mantra that resonates with you. Use your mala to help you recite your mantra at least 108 times.

What next?

If learning about Japa mantra meditation has got you interested in other meditation practices then why not take a look at Loving Kindness Meditation?

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Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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