“The Yoga of sound”, or Mantra Yoga, originates from Tantra Yoga practices. It uses the power of vibrational sounds to purify the mind and body.
A mantra is a mystic sound with an energetic force comprised of a syllable, word or phrase. When emitted correctly, it awakens higher levels of consciousness.
Reciting mantras creates a vibrational frequency that shifts and balances energy throughout the body. These reverberations are also produced in the subtle body within the chakras (psychic energy centers) and in the mind, which can lead the practitioner into a meditative state.
In Sanskrit, man means “mind” and tra translates as “tool”, so mantras are essentially tools of the mind which play an important role in the spiritual evolution of the practitioner.
Read on discover:
Elements of Tantra practice: Mandala, Yantra and Mantra
These tantric practices have the common goal of training and preparing the body and mind to obtain balance and reach higher levels of consciousness.
Each of these elements materializes with increasing levels of consciousness:
- Normal state of consciousness (day-to-day functioning): our experiences are constructed through thoughts and emotions.
- A deeper level of consciousness: the practitioner may gain an internal pictorial representation of cosmic forces known as a mandala.
- Next level of consciousness: the practitioner’s experience may involve a vision of an abstract symbol known as yantra.
- The deepest level of consciousness: the experience may be manifested as pure sound or a mantra.
According to Tantric philosophy, every single thought we have generates a corresponding image- or form- each of which has its own vibrational sound1 www.yogamag.net. (n.d.). Tantra Art: In search of Life Divine. [online] Available at: http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1970s/1977/7710/7710art.html [Accessed 30 Dec. 2023]..Therefore, each yantra has its own mantra. When this particular mystic sound is produced, the potential power of its yantra greatly increases.
Mandalas and yantras are visual representations of consciousness and mantras are their direct link to the “great beyond” because they are thought to have evolved from the origin of Supreme Consciousness2 Anon, (2021). Supreme Consciousness – Truth –. [online] Available at: https://mohanji.org/blogs/satsangs/youtube-talks/supreme-consciousness-truth#:~:text=Supreme%20consciousness%20is%20the%20unmanifested [Accessed 30 Dec. 2023]..
The Tantric texts state that the use of mantras is a science3 www.yogamag.net. (n.d.). The Science of Mantra. [online] Available at: http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2000s/2007/0708/0708scmn.html [Accessed 30 Dec. 2023]. with the essential purpose of awakening consciousness. Mantras act as a vehicle to transport the individual consciousness back to the source of the creation and the Cosmic consciousness4 Chopra. (2014). What is Cosmic Consciousness? [online] Available at: https://chopra.com/blogs/meditation/what-is-cosmic-consciousness [Accessed 30 Dec. 2023]..
It is said that mantras appeared to the Rishis (sages or seers) in deep states of meditation.
The power of vibrational sound
A mantra is essentially a structure of sound with a unique energetic force. Our entire universe is comprised of sound and its distinct vibrational frequencies. For this reason, sound (Nada in Sanskrit), is considered the most subtle, yet powerful, aspect of nature.
It is believed that, through Tantra Yoga, a practitioner can unlock the energetic potential of mantras and combine this with the energy of yantras and mandalas to experience the full force of sound.
In tantric practice, the repetition of the mantra creates a resonance that travels up the energetic pathway located along the spinal column, known as Sushumna nadi. This vibration helps to calm the mind and its positive effects reach the three vital bodies5 Anon, (2023). The 5 Koshas & 3 Bodies: Meaning, How To Transcend, & More. [online] Available at: https://www.arhantayoga.org/blog/the-5-koshas-and-3-bodies/ [Accessed 30 Dec. 2023].: the physical (gross) body, the Astral (subtle) body and the Spiritual (causal) body.
The balancing and spiritual power of Bija Mantras
There are infinite psychic-energetic centers, or chakras, in the human body although only eight are considered the most important in Tantra and its succeeding yogic practices (hatha, kundalini, kriya etc.)
Located along the spinal column, each chakra is directly connected to the brain. When the chakras are awakened through yoga practices, they act like a switch and activate a heightened level of consciousness.
The energy within each chakra vibrates at high speed, generating a unique color, geometric forms and images of the lotus flower petals.
Each chakra has a corresponding essential, or “root”, vibrational sound called Bija Mantra. The Bija Mantra is one of the vehicles for awakening the chakra’s energy and, when in balance, for activating associated positive effects:
Muladhara (Root chakra)
Bija Mantra: LAM
Effects of balanced activation: feeling safe and secure, sense of loyalty and community
Swadhisthana (Sacral chakra)
Bija Mantra: VAM
Effects of balanced activation: feeling comfortable with oneself, placing importance on own needs and pleasure.
Manipura (Solar Plexus chakra)
Bija Mantra: RAM
Effects of balanced activation: increased vitality, drive, perseverance and self-discipline
Anahata (Heart chakra)
Bija Mantra: YAM
Effects of balanced activation: unconditional love, attitudes of caring, forgiving and giving
Vishuddhi (Throat chakra)
Bija Mantra: HAM
Effects of balanced activation: honesty, truthfulness, effective communication, awakened creativity
Ajna (Third Eye chakra)
Bija Mantra: OM
Effects of balanced activation: rationality, impartial observation, heightened awareness
Sahasara (Crown chakra)
Bija Mantra: OM, or AUM
Effects of balanced activation: sense of completeness, clear direction, experiencing the joy of life, transcendental consciousness, sense of connection with all beings.
Reciting the Bija Mantras helps to calm the mind, increase focus and balance prana (energy). For this reason, the Bija Mantras are believed to have healing spiritual powers.
The importance of mantra yoga in spiritual transformation
Mantra yoga is a spiritually transformative technique that plays an important role in Tantra practice and philosophy.
According to Tantric thought, there are specific mantras for each part of the body which are recited in the Nyasa6 www.hrdayamschoolofyoga.com. (2021). Nyasa- The Origin of modern Yoga Nidra practice. [online] Available at: https://www.hrdayamschoolofyoga.com/nyasa-the-origin-of-modern-yoga-nidra-practice [Accessed 30 Dec. 2023]. ritual. Translated from Sanskrit as “to place”, the ritual involves placing hands over certain parts of the body and reciting the corresponding mantras with the intention of transforming the body into a divine force.
Reciting the Bija Mantras to awaken the energy of each chakra is another example of Mantra yoga and is key to spiritual practice and transformation.
The energy stored within the chakras is also referred to as kundalini. It is believed that at its creation, kundalini energy descends from the Crown Chakra (Sahasara), down the spinal column to the Root Chakra (Muladhara), where it resides in a dormant state.
While this energy remains dormant, the individual is thought to be self-centered, with a sense of individuality, and aware only of the physical world. Through reciting Bija Mantras, the practitioner may trigger a progressive awakening of the chakras and deeper states of wellness.
This practice reverts the direction of kundalini energy from the Root Chakra back up to the Crown Chakra to awaken heightened levels of consciousness and see through the veil of illusion of the world as perceived by our external senses (Maya). It is thought that this allows the detachment from the self; no longer identifying oneself as their body or mind.
When kundalini is returned to Sahasara Chakra, it unites with Pure Consciousness (also referred to as Shiva) and the practitioner may experience the state of Samadhi, otherwise known as enlightenment, Nirvana or bliss.
4 Inspiring ways to share mantra yoga in class
1 Learn the meaning of the mantra OM
Many yoga teachers invite students to chant this Bija Mantra of the Ajna and Saharasa Chakras to open or close a class, but how many students are aware of the significance of what they are chanting?
Taking a moment at the beginning of a normal or specialized yoga class to teach or ask about the meaning of OM can help students feel more connected with their practice, possibly sparking their interest in spirituality. This goes for a beginner’s class too!
Students might be interested to know:
- The syllable OM represents the whole Universe: it is considered the past, present, future and beyond.
- OM consists of three distinct sounds: A-U-M
- Each sound symbolizes a God of the Trimurti7 Wikipedia. (2021). Trimurti. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trimurti.:
A represents Brahma, the Creator
M represents Shiva, the Destroyer
2. Incorporate the Teacher and Student Mantra at the beginning of class
Considered a Shanti mantra for its invocation of peace, this mantra is traditionally practiced at the beginning of yoga practice and in India it is often recited in school and university classrooms.
The function of the teacher and student mantra is to call upon the Divine to protect both parties and to invoke the blessings of the knowledge being imparted in the class.
To enhance the power of this mantra, it should be recited by both teacher and student(s) at least three times:
OM Saha Naavavatu
Saha Nau Bhunaktu
Saha Viryam Karavaavahai
Tejas Vinaa Vadhi Tamastu
Om shanti, shanti, shanthi
3. Practice mantra yoga with mudras and movement
Incorporating movement while reciting mantras is an effective and memorable way to heighten consciousness of the body, and how vibrational sound in combination with gestures generates, moves and liberates energy.
Repetitive movements combined with chanting also help practitioners to calm the mind, develop focus and enter a meditative state.
Why not try…? The Prana Mantra
Prana is the vital force within all beings that connects us with the Cosmos. In essence, it is the “breath of life”.
Within the human body, prana is stored in different places where it acquires specific functions.
The Prana Mantra incorporates postures and mantras that represent the 5 Vayus (literally “winds”, or layers) of the body, with a salutation to improve the functioning of each.
How to practice:
First, the syllable Om and the name of each vayu is recited as a mantra with an expression of devotion9 Grandmaster Shailesh (2010). The hidden Yogic meaning of ‘Namah (नमः)’. [online] Divine Heart Center. Available at: https://www.divineheartcenter.com/blogs/blog-1/the-hidden-yogic-meaning-of-namah-%E0%A4%A8%E0%A4%AE%E0%A4%83 [Accessed 30 Dec. 2023].:
Next, the suffix -aya is added to each mantra, and the word swaha to incporporate the salutation into each mantra. This translates loosely as “I offer myself”.
These mantras are recited while simultaneously performing the following movements (see images)
Om Pranaya Swaha
Om Apanaya Swaha
Om Vyana Swaha
Om Udana Swaha
Om Samanaya Swaha
Each mantra could be interpreted as “I make an offering, for the benefit of my respiratory, excretory, circulatory, sensory, and digestive systems”.
Why not try…? The Guru Gaitri Mantra
Popular in Kundalini Yoga, this mantra is believed to foment courage as it allows the practitioner to see fears and challenges as opportunities. Through reciting the characteristics of God, or Brahma, the practitioner requests liberation by removing physical and emotional blocks.
While practicing this mantra, the practitioner should focus on the heart chakra to foster love and compassion.
Each word is recited in combination with a mudra, a gesture or movement, (see images) to enhance its power and induce a meditative state.
How to practice:
Hariang (destroys all)
Kariang (creates all)
4. Sharing circles
From my experience of teaching mantras in class, students always enjoy sharing their experiences and reflections after the practice. Finding differences and similarities in their reactions to the mantras helps them to explore and better understand the meaning and energetic effect of each one.
It’s interesting to invite students to reflect on suggested translations of a mantra, both before and after chanting, to see if their own interpretation changes.
The sharing circle works well as a repeated activity after each mantra and/or as a conclusive reflection of all the mantras from the class.
I like to use these prompting questions to guide a sharing circle:
- What do you think the purpose of this mantra is?
- How do you interpret the suggested translation of this mantra?
- What do you feel when you hear this mantra?
- What do you feel when you chant this mantra?
- Did you notice a change in your energy?
- Was your awareness heightened? If so, what were you more aware of?
4 More Notable Yoga Mantras:
The oldest known sanskrit mantra, first recorded in the Indian Vedic period. It is said to contain all the knowledge in the universe:
Om bhuh, bhuvah, swaha (Aumm Bhoor Bhoo-va Su-va-ha)
Tat savitur varenyam (Tat Sa-vee-toor Var-ayn-yam)
Bhargo devasya dhimahi (Bar-go Day-vas-ya Dhee-ma-hee)
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat (Dhee-yo Yo Nah Pra-cho-da-yaat)
Om Namah Shivaya
One of the most popular mantras in Hinduism and for yogis alike. It translates as “O salutations to the auspicious one!” (Shiva).
It is often chanted 108 times, keeping track of each repetition with the use of mala beads, or japa mala.
The Maha Mantra
“Hare Krishna”, you may have heard of it. Maha means ‘the great’.
Stemming from the Upanishads, this reverent mantra rose up in the Bhakti movement and you can often hear it being sung by bhakti yogis in the streets.
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
The most important mantra in Vaishnavism, this mantra translates as ‘I bow to the ultimate reality’.