Mantras are some of the most effective tools in the yogic toolbox for accessing states of deep meditation. They help us still the vritti, or fluctuations of thought waves in our minds, while also holding sacred energy within them. (Learn more in Vritti: Calming the Waves of Your Mind.)
Here are five of the top mantras for you to experiment with as you get started with japa (mantra meditation) so that you can find one that resonates with your soul.
Om is often referred to as the “hymn of the universe.” It’s probably the most powerful mantra available to us because it contains the most powerful vibration. Yogis believe that when the universe was created, Om was the sound with which everything came into being. When you chant Om, you can access this powerful vibration and align your awareness with the awareness of all creation. Om is the perfect mantra with which to begin practicing japa meditation. Start with Om and see where it takes you. (Learn more in The Meaning of Om.)
So Hum (or So'ham) translates to “I am that.” It’s another mantra that’s perfect for beginners because you can link it to your breath. On your inhale, imagine the sound, "Om"; and on your exhale, imagine the sound, "Hum." Historically, So Hum was first mentioned in the Upanishads and comes from the Sanskrit, sa, which means “that,” and aham, which means “I am.”
When we align our breath with this mantra we become more focused. Try practicing japa meditation with the So Hum mantra for a few weeks and see if it becomes your favorite. (Read more in So'ham. I am That.)
Om Nama Shivayah
Om Namah Shivayah is an iconic mantra because it calls upon Lord Shiva, the supreme god of yoga. It is said that when we meditate with this mantra, we can become Self-realized, while also accessing deeply spiritual states of being and even supernatural yogic powers.
Om Namah Shivayah is so powerful because it contains first and foremost the mantra, Om, which is the sound vibration of the beginning of creation. Then we have namah, which is the Sanskrit word for "salutations," and shivayah, which means Lord Shiva, but can also be thought of as Absolute Reality. When we get deeply in touch with the word, shivayah, we understand that we and the Absolute are one and the same.
“Salutations to Lord Shiva” is what we are essentially saying when we chant Om Namah Shivayah. Because this mantra contains six syllables, it’s a bit more complex than the previous two we touched upon, but once you get into the rhythm of it, you’ll find it flows quite naturally.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti is another powerful and profound mantra that’s also perfect for beginning meditators. Again, it contains Om, that great hymn of the universe. In fact, some traditions say that Om is the sound of the universe itself. Shanti is a word in the ancient Pali language that means "peace." The reason we chant it three times is because it represents peace in the three parts of our existence – body, mind and speech.
When we meditate with the mantra, Om Shanti Shanti Shanti, we invoke a deep state of peace within our being. We’re also wishing the same experience of profound peace for others. This invocation of peace is important for both Buddhist and yogic traditions. Work with this mantra for 40 days and see how you begin to access states of deep peace on all three levels – peace in your body, peace in your mind and peace when you speak with others.
Once again we have the universal sound vibration of Om. When we place the word guru before or behind Om, we’re invoking a guru and paying our respects to our guru. In the Hindu tradition, gurus are said to be avatars, or incarnations of a god. So, chanting to a guru is like chanting to a god who just happens to be gracing us with his/her presence on the earthly plane. You can chant “Om Guru,” “Guru Om,” or “Om Guru Om.” Play around with all three and see which one feels more natural.
Use Mala Beads
As with all the mantras, a sacred set of mala beads will help you stay focused and disciplined. Purchase a beautiful mala to help you get started as you explore the healing practice that is mantra meditation. To make these mantras more powerful, try practicing each one for 40 days in order to let them seep into your consciousness. This is said to be the perfect amount of time to create new habits and experience profound transformation. Each time you chant your mantra, use a mala and repeat the sounds at least 108 times. You might then begin to see profound changes taking place in your consciousness. (Learn more in Meditating with Mala Beads.)