Have you ever seen a yogi sitting in lotus pose with one hand resting on their knee in jnana mudra while the other hand holds a string of mala beads? Their eyes are closed and it seems they’re muttering to themselves while drifting off to some far away, transcendental place. No, they’re not practicing some sort of weird, occult-like ritual. They’re simply practicing japa mantra meditation, one of the most ancient and most popular tools to quiet and control the mind in the yogic tradition.
Japa is a powerful practice for all of us, and especially for beginners. By repeating a powerful sound, or mantra over and over again, we naturally begin to quiet the fluctuations of the mind. This is one of the primary aims of yoga and meditation. A disturbed mind wreaks havoc on one’s life, but a mind as placid as a lake brings gifts on a multitude of levels.
Here you will learn the makings of a japa mantra and how to perform your own japa mantra meditation.
Choose a Mantra
These yogis are actually whispering a mantra over and over again, or muttering a mantra over and over again. Japa actually means “to mutter,” in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. It is a reference to the repeated mantra, which is spoken 108 (or more) times while holding a mala.
The mantra that one chants varies, but some examples include Om, Om Hreem Shreem, Om Namah Shivaya or So'ham. In the meditation tradition of transcendental meditation, a trained teacher actually gives you your own personal mantra, which is said to resonate with the particular vibration you give off.
A mantra is said to hold profound power to heal and transform one’s life. So, when you repeat a mantra, you’re bringing forth seeds of positivity while extinguishing darkness and negativity in the mind. You become more connected to your source energy, more connected to your Supreme Self.
(To help you choose yours, here are 5 Sacred Mantras to Jump-start Your Japa Meditation Practice.)
Silently or Aloud. Here or There.
The most potent and effective way to practice japa mantra is to repeat it soundlessly in your mind. However, it’s initially easier to speak the mantra out loud, or whisper it softly to yourself.
The beauty of this is that you can practice japa wherever you are. If you’re taking a walk or jogging, simply repeat your favorite mantra over and over again. If you’re standing in line at the bank, do the same. If you get triggered by your spouse and want to avoid reacting, take a step back and begin muttering a mantra, then see how easily you relax.
Add Your Mala Beads
It’s also soothing to chant a mantra while working with a beautiful mala. This is a lovely ritual to do first thing in the morning. Mala beads are used to keep track of how many times you repeat a mantra. Because 108 is an auspicious number in yoga, a mala has 108 beads, and you’ll want to do one full round of 108 with your mala as you practice.
Mala beads are a beautiful addition to your spiritual accessories and come in a wide variety of materials and colors. Think pink rose quartz, earthy sandalwood or blue lapis. Once you’ve chosen a mala that inspires you, you’ll be much more motivated to practice.
Because malas are said to be infused with the sacred, you’ll want to take care of yours and treat it as you would something divine. If you see it as a way of helping you connect to your innate divinity, then you’ll naturally respect your mala and your japa practice.
(More on Meditating With Mala Beads.)
Relax, Reconnect and Realize Your Inner Wisdom
Japa can be used to help us answer questions in our lives that may have us feeling confused because it brings us to a place of inner peace. This is a place of inner wisdom — where truth abides and only you know the answers. So, rather than looking for advice outside yourself, practice japa regularly and wait for the answers to come as your mind becomes more and more still. Stillness is the key to revealing our true nature (a goal of yoga) — to live from a place of heart-centered, present moment awareness, rather than the place of the ego and its monkey mind.
Japa is also the perfect yogic tool to help release stress, depression and anxiety. If you’re plagued by these modern-day conditions (as most of us are from time to time), consider integrating japa meditation into your daily routine. If you want to connect and awaken to your Higher Self, japa will support you on your journey. Japa is a practice that benefits the body, mind, emotions and spirit. You’ll find many gifts as you explore this profound tool of awareness.
(Read on for A Year End Self-Reflection of One Yogini's Yoga Journey.)