In Ayurveda, mantras are considered the most important tool for influencing the mind. These words and phrases are not simply sounds. They carry specific vibrational energies that affect one’s physiology and psychology, which is why mantras are so powerful.
We’ve all experienced the power of sound firsthand. Our mental conditioning is primarily the result of sound, derived from listening to the words of others, both kind and harsh. Words can reach deep inside the subconscious mind. Even as adults, we’re still affected by words that were spoken to us as children. Sound holds an immense sway over our psychology. This principle is what makes mantras so potent. When chanted repeatedly in the form of japa, a mantra can improve our mental conditioning by positively altering the energetic structure of the mind. It may be calming or invigorating, expanding or streamlining. (Learn more in What's a Mantra? and What is Japa Mantra?)
Mantras Can Heal
Every mantra has its own unique effect. Certain mantras have the capacity to heal, helping to balance the doshas (dynamic energies) or cleanse the nadis (subtle channels). Any phrase or word that we say repeatedly to ourselves can be considered a mantra and they’re not always positive. If every time we look in the mirror we think to ourselves, “I’m fat,” this negative mantra permeates our being. It keeps the mind at a low level of disillusion and tamas, or darkness. Positive mantras, on the other hand, promote sattva, or peace and purity. Sattvic mantras can be used to replace these negative impressions with positive ones. (Learn 3 Steps to a More Positive You.)
Focus on the Positive
While modern psychology encourages talking about and analyzing our hangups, the Vedic approach is considered more effective because rather than replaying whatever situation has made us feel distressed, mantra is used to eradicate unconscious thought patterns and move toward those that promote a higher level of awareness. This is considered a more useful tool than dwelling on a problem, as it restructures the mind. As David Frawley so perfectly describes in his book, "Ayurveda and the Mind," "mantras are like asanas for the mind."
Chanting a mantra repeatedly exercises our focus and concentration. At the same time, it strengthens the mind so that it is less vulnerable to negativity. Both of these benefits make mantra the perfect prelude or entrance into meditation. Chanting mantra can guide the mind toward one-pointed focus and a true meditative state.
However, mantras need not be reserved for meditation. They can be chanted at any time of day and for all kinds of intentions. Chanted at bedtime, the right mantra promotes sound sleep. Chanted upon waking, they promote positive thinking for the rest of the day. The right mantra can be used to eradicate fear, stimulate the digestive fire, or to ask for forgiveness. According to Vedic astrology, each planet has several mantras that can be chanted to pacify its negative effect or promote its positive effect.
And although the sound vibrations steady the mind, mantras don’t necessarily need to be chanted aloud. Mantras can also be whispered, repeated silently, or even written. Anyone who’s been to at least a few yoga classes will have experienced the potency of chanting mantras. Teachers usually begin and end class by chanting the mantra, Om. All sound is said to be carried on Om, and the most attentive listener and conscious yogi will be able to hear the buzz of Om in all of nature. Three rounds of chanting Om have an amazing ability to separate the mind from the day’s thoughts and bring it into the present for yoga practice. (Learn The Meaning of Om.)
Types of Mantras
Vedic mantras are generally either bija, or "seed," mantras (one syllable) or a Sanskrit phrase. While a mantra in any language is powerful, Sanskrit mantras are perhaps the most potent as they carry a high vibrational power. Because Sanskrit is an ancient language, any traditional Sanskrit mantra has been chanted thousands, if not billions, of times by millions of people, increasing its energy. It’s important to note, though, that correct pronunciation of Sanskrit mantras is a must or they may not carry their intended effect.
These are some of the most common bija mantras:
- Om - Everything in the universe is carried on this mantra. It energizes all of life, awakens our prana, clears the mind, and opens us up to positivity.
- Ram - Ram is considered a mantra of protection. It strengthens our mental capacity and our immunity, warding off fear and anxiety.
- So'ham - In Jyotish (Vedic astrology), So'ham is the mantra for the moon. Just like the moon, it has a cooling, calming effect that also brings joy and calm energy. (Read about So'ham. I Am That.)
To experience the potency of mantra, choose one of these bija mantras and chant it for 108 rounds. Sit quietly afterward and notice the effect it has on the mind. Do the same with the other two mantras on different days to understand their differences. The best way to experience the power of a mantra’s vibrations is firsthand! (Read on in The Sacred Meaning of Mantras.)