The Sakskrit word mantra originates from manas (mind) and tra, "to free from," "deliver" or "protect." A mantra shields the mind and frees it from the world. Chanting mantras is not an end in itself, but a way to approach the ultimate truth or highest state of consciousness. "Mantra is a combination of words that stand for the Supreme Reality," says Swami Ramdas.
Mantra yoga is a type of yoga that uses sacred and potent Sanskrit mantras to create and deepen the meditative aspects of a hatha yoga practice. Mantra yoga is a spiritual science that is meant to absorb the mind through focusing on sound, duration, and the number of mantra repetitions. Repetition of the mantras is a way to get closer to Atman, the divinity within, and it creates powerful positive vibrations that serve both the one who chants and the one who listens.
Mantra yoga is also referred to as Japa yoga. Japa is a Sanskrit word for the act of repeating and chanting Sanskrit mantras. Swami Vivekananda tell us "Is prayer a magic formula, by repeating which, even is you do not work hard, you gain miraculous results? No. All have to work hard; all have to reach the depths of that infinite Energy. Behind the poor, behind the rich, there is the same infinite Energy. It is not that one man works hard, and another by repeating a few words achieves results. This universe is a constant prayer. If you take prayer in this sense, I am with you. Words are not necessary. Better is silent prayer."
In the Indian Vedic tradition, mantras have a unique blend of sounds. The vibrational energy released through the repetition of mantras, or japa, out loud, wispered or soundlessly, sets up a powerful pattern of effects in the mind and body that may assist spiritual transformation, bringing us more in tune with our higher selves.
Mantra yoga counterbalances rajas (agitation) and tamas (inertia), which allows the practitioner to move into a complete state of consciousness. Chanting mantras quiets and calms the mind, creates inner-focus and is great for slowing the breath. Mantra yoga is highly beneficial to the practitioner as it improves overall health and mental stability.
Although Mantra yoga is considered an innovation of Yoga, it has been adopted and developed by other religions as well. Religions like Buddhism and Jainism have embraced Mantra yoga as part of their own efforts to reach enlightenment.
Mantra yoga can be practiced in three ways. The first is called baikhari, wherein the mantra is chanted out loud. This type of chanting is beneficial for removing unwanted thoughts from the mind to make the meditation process easier. The second method of chanting is called upanshu, in which the mantra is whispered in a voice that only the practitioner can hear. The third method is chanting the mantra silently in one's head. This is called manasic and it is used by advanced practitioners. Individuals may also like to use malas (yoga beads or Hindu prayer beads) to keep count of their repetitions.
There are three main types of Sanskrit mantras: conceptual sounds such as Om, which refer to or identify with the Absolute, invocations of specific deities and seed or bija mantras derived from Sanskrit sounds of the chakra energy centers. A mantra should independently be chosen and bestowed by a guru or mantrakara (mantra-maker), handed down from the guru to his disciple through the generations intact from the primary ancient rishi (seer) who first received it. The stringent rules which govern the sound's pronunciation and duration, pitch and intonation ensure that a mantra is preserved in its vibrant, original form.
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