Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Many of us may have trouble transcending the sometimes relentless chatter of the mind when trying to meditate. When I first started meditating, it felt more like just thinking with my eyes closed, trying really hard not to think, and then realizing I was thinking anyway. It can be a frustrating experience, and I wish I had learned about mantras many years ago when I needed some tools to help me meditate.
So what is a mantra anyway?
A mantra is a powerful sound and vibration created from chanting Sanskrit words. The practice of chanting mantras originated in traditional Vedic practices and was/is used to energize or access spiritual states of consciousness. Mantras are different than affirmations or intentions, though in the west these words have gotten muddled (appropriated) and are sometimes used interchangeably. "I am peaceful" is an affirmation or intention you might choose to set at the beginning of your yoga asana practice. "Om Shanti" is a mantra you might chant that is an invocation for peace using sound vibrations and the power of meditative states it induces.
What are the benefits of mantras?
We established that mantras are vehicles to enter meditative states. The repetitive nature and simplicity help focus and still your mind from the clutter of thoughts, freeing you to transcend your mind. Other benefits include increased self-awareness, a greater sense of calm, improved attention, increased concentration, and reduced stress.
How to incorporate mantras into your day
There are many different mantras that you can use depending on what your intention or goal is. The simplest and most sacred one is "Om". In Hinduism, it is considered the very first sound of the universe. Om is also tied to Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity and almost all major religions. Om, pronounced as AUM, can be understood as the A sound standing for creation, U standing for preservation of creation, and M the destruction of creation. Om is a powerful, cosmic, all-encompassing vibration, but you don't have to get too bogged down or wrapped up in the meaning. The mantra is just as effective without worrying about dissecting it.
I like to start my morning with mantras before I even get out of bed. It feels pretty low effort when I first wake up and sets a powerful spiritual tone for my day because I'm choosing to intentionally begin with a mantra I need. If chanting doesn't feel accessible, it's also effective and powerful to listen to the mantras. I like to use YouTube and listen to and/or chant the mantra "Om Shanti Om" to invoke peacefulness.
Commit to trying chanting mantras for a least 3-5 minutes for several days in a row and notice any shifts. Traditionally, mantras are chanted 108 times, but you can start small. It might feel awkward at first or like nothing is happening or "working". That's ordinary. And it's also ordinary to feel a big shift in your overall wellbeing and state of mind very readily after chanting mantras. It depends on many different factors what your experience will be like.
The point is, your task is to find what works for you and to work it. Commit to your alignment with wellness and keep coming back to that commitment, being open to trying different or new things and continuing to practice, even if you don't experience transformative, miraculous benefits instantly. The gift is in the unfolding of the journey.