What are Yantras? And How to Use Them In Your Meditation Practice

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At a glance, yantras are systematic patterns of colors and shapes that are pleasing to the eye.

These geometrical images hold a status as mystical diagrams that expand beyond the surface of vivid artwork into a realm of symbolism, self-inquiry, and transformation. 

Yantra is a Sanskrit word derived from the root word yam, which translates to ‘control or hold.’ 

The second syllable tra is from the root word trans, which translates to ‘liberation from bondage.’

Together they form the term yantra, which refers to a tool or instrument which can aid or support freedom of the mind. 

In this article, we will uncover the significance and intention of these auspicious instruments through a deeper understanding of: 

  • What are Yantras?
  • The History of Yantras
  • Patterns of Yantras 
  • How to Use a Yantra 
  • The Benefits of Yantras
  • Implementing Yantras into Your Practice
a deep red yantra

What are Yantras?

Yantras are derived from the Indian Tantric tradition.

Tantra, the practice of Tantric ideals, is a philosophy that brings together the sciences, especially psychology, mathematics, Ayurveda, and all that encompasses life.

In his book Tools for Tantra, scholar Harish Johari explains that Tantra draws human knowledge together like beads on a string. 

He describes the Tantra practice as a “beautiful rosary [that] forms a unique instrument for enhancing the physical, mental, and spiritual life of man and woman.” 

Yantras are a gem on said string that supports a pathway to a deeper connection with the divine through symbolism.

Yantras can be two-dimensional, drawn on the ground, cloth, or paper, or etched into a flat surface. They can also be three-dimensional and constructed of metal, stone, and other mediums.

Traditionally yantras are found in and around places of worship and are placed on altars or near deities.

In Southern Indian festivals, yantras decorate the entrances of homes and businesses. They are typically made from natural materials such as flour, colored sand, flower petals, and powdered limestone, and are referred to as Rangoli Art.

a gold yantra

The History of Yantras

Early cultures attributed spiritual meanings to geometric shapes such as squares, circles, and triangles.

When put together in a precise way these mathematical inspired designs are used as a form of communication to a higher state of consciousness.

The early use of yantras can be traced back over 5,000 years ago to the Vedic period in India, around 1500 – 500 BCE.

They were first mentioned in the revered text, The Rigveda, as an instrument for worship.

The oldest example of a yantra is the Baghor Stone found in the Son River Valley near the village of Medhauli, India. 

The stone is a naturally occurring triangular piece of sandstone, decorated with a vibrant yellow pigment. 

Yantras gained popularity in Asia and eventually made their way into Western culture intriguing many in the new-age spiritual movement of the 1970s. 

Yantras are used today by many faiths and spiritual devotees to unite with universal energy.

Different Intentions of Yantras

The usage of these visual symbols is to support various rituals and concentration.

The Four Main Varieties of Yantras are:

  1. Astrological yantras are used in correlation with the energy of the planets. 
  1. Shakta yantras are representations of the divine Mother in Hindu mythology. 
  1. Numbers form numerical yantras.  
  1. Architectural yantras are used in the planning and placement of buildings and temples.

A yantra being used for a spiritual ritual invokes the energy of a deity often together with a mantra: a sacred verbal utterance.

Using the visual aid of a yantra with the auditory guide of a mantra allows the practitioner to be intentional and present.

This practice transforms the yantra into a depiction of that idol channeling it as symbolic energy for the ritual. 

An example of this kind of Yantra is the Sri Yantra representing Tripurasundari, the Goddesses of the Heavens, the air, and the Earth.

When a yantra is used as a centering tool, it helps the practitioner to withdraw awareness from their surroundings and direct it to their inner realms.

This process and realization is referred to as turiya and is experienced through meditation. 

Turiya is the supreme state of consciousness as explained in the Mandukya Upanishad, and is often described as a state of profound peace, joy, and bliss. 

It is the state beyond all duality and beyond all limitations of time and space. In this state, the individual experiences a sense of oneness with the universe and all of creation.

a multicoloured yantra

Yantras Vs. Mandalas

Yantras are sometimes mistaken to be mandalas. 

A mandala is usually larger in size, uses more color, and is more elaborate in nature. 

Mandalas appear in various cultures and traditions around the world, whereas yantras are primarily used in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. 

While you can use both yantras and mandalas during meditation, they have different intentions. 

Spirituality, mandalas represent the inner self and are more artistic. A mandala helps to bring balance and connect to the inner and outer realms of the spiritual Self.

Whereas yantras are often used for rituals and symbolizing deities. They also tend to be more geometric in nature than mandalas which tend to be more uniform.

Patterns of Yantras

Yantra diagrams are typically designed with a square outline, consisting of circles, lotus flowers, triangles, and other shapes on the inside. 

The yantra image consists of three parts, the bindu, shringara and the chakra. 

  1. Bindu The center point of a yantra is called the bindu or the dot. It represents the original form of the divine Self before all preconceived notions are formed. 
  2. Shringara The energy that moves from the bindu is referred to as the shringara. The petals or lines of a yantra are the patterns that represent the creative. flow. 
  3. Chakra The outermost part of the yantra is the chakra. It is represented by a square, aligned circles, or floral designs. The outer layers of a yantra speak to the different outlooks on the world such as the five elements or yogic chakra system.

Each shape has its own meaning and energetic responsibility in addition to where it is placed within a yantra. 

Some examples are:

  • External square represents doors or openings to the four cardinal directions. 
  • Downward-pointing triangles symbolize divine feminine energy. 
  • Circles within Yantras provide clarity and evoke manifesting energy 
  • Hexagons are used to represent the unity of feminine and masculine energy. 
  • Lotus petals or flowers are the symbol of purity.  
a rose gold yantra

Yantra and Yogic Chakra System 

In modern-day yoga practices and studies, yantras are most frequently seen when working with the yogic chakra system.  The use of yantras and the understanding of the chakra system are closely linked.

Each chakra or subtle body energy center is associated with a specific yantra, which can be used as a visual instrument to activate and balance that particular energy center.

For example, the Heart Chakra Yantra is composed of two intersecting triangles, one pointing upwards and the other downwards.

The upward-pointing triangle represents the masculine energy of Shiva, while the downward-pointing triangle represents the feminine energy of Shakti. Together, they symbolize the union of opposites and the balance of energies in the Heart Chakra.

Meditating on the Heart Chakra yantra is said to help open and balance the Heart Chakra, leading to greater compassion, empathy, and love for oneself and others.

How to Use Yantra 

Whether a yantra is being used for symbolic contemplation or as a device for concentration in meditation, it provides visual support.

The process of using a yantra to support focus in meditation is called Trataka, meaning to look and hold a constant uninterrupted gaze. 

a golden yantra

Applying Trataka Meditation to a Yantra Practice

  • Begin with the geometrical design in front of you at eye level.
  • Softly gaze at the image, holding your attention on the dot in the center.
  • Be mindful not to strain the eyes.
  • After a period of time, allow the eyes to close and visualize the pattern in the mind
  • This is where a mantra, the names of a deity associated with the yantra can be recited if this is the intention of the practitioner.  
  • If the imagery becomes difficult, open the eyes and begin again. 

The Benefits of Yantras

Depending on the intention of the practitioner there are many benefits of using yantras. 

On an energetic level, yantras promote calming the mind and stilling the thoughts allowing the state of meditation to evolve. 

Some yantras are believed to connect the yogi with the divine power of life promoting health

While others are used with the intention of protecting against negativity or attracting love and abundance.

Implementing Yantras into Your Practice 

When incorporating new techniques into your practice, it is important to start simple and slow. 

Allowing for an open mind and time to explore allows an unfamiliar technique to evolve authentically and safely.   

Whether practicing vinyasa, gentle yoga or meditation, as a yoga teacher, I find using yantras a powerful tool for spiritual growth and self-awareness.

Working with these visual guides can help you to access deeper levels of consciousness and bring forth the energy to support your daily life and devotions. 

For more information on what yantras are and how to use them, check out Tools for Tantra, by Harish Johari.

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Willow Marcotte is a Yoga Alliance 500 hour E-RYT with expertise in Yoga Nidra, Restorative Yoga, and alignment as taught by BKS Iyengar. Her journey in yoga began while studying Tibetan Buddhism and Meditation. A long-standing appreciation for philosophy and ancient texts, she found the path of yoga a welcoming, and natural progression of her personal interests. Willow invites students to dive into themselves, embracing balance not only on the mat, but in the yoga of life as well.

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