December 09, 2012

MANTRA: Training the Mind, Tuning the Spirit


Did you ever get a song stuck in your head?  Or realize you’ve been humming the song that was playing in the store you’ve left, and didn’t even realize you were doing it?  We all have, because our brains are set up for “looping” – thinking the same things over and over again.  In fact, research shows that for the average person, 98% of the 12,000-60,000 thoughts we think each day are exactly the same thoughts we had the day before.  Only 2% of thoughts are new and these quickly become the 98%.  Additionally, of the people studied, 80% of the thoughts were negative.

The yogis understood well this characteristic of the mind.  They offered us the technique of “mantra”, a repeated word or phrase that not only focuses the mind – making us more alert, better listeners, more mentally agile, more connected and empathic in relationships, and better able to concentrate without distractions – but also has the ability to re-wire these thinking patterns, whether the mantra was said out loud or just thought silently.  Mantras operate at a certain frequency and have the ability to change the frequency of other thoughts, or seeds of thought.  It’s like ripples in a pond – each ripple will take on the quality of the other ripples until everything matches up. 

We live in a sea of vibration.  Ancient wisdom and modern physics tells us that all matter is energy, vibrating in a particular way to create a field of energy (gravity, magnetism, etc) which then seems to take physical form.  Everything you can see or touch is vibration masquerading as physical matter.  Even thoughts, feelings, and memories are the result of a biological process based on matter, based on fields, based on vibration.  Mantra is a powerful ripple that slowly and subtly changes everything it comes in contact with. 

Did you ever notice yourself becoming depressed or sluggish around a low-vibrational, or “dark cloud” kind of person, or happy and energized around a person with a sunny disposition and “infectious energy”?  Could this shift be traced back to a physical sensation?   It’s like a radio.  We tune the dial to a certain frequency and we pick up that station.  There are hundreds or thousands of other stations floating in the air around the radio, but we’ve made our choice.  Or maybe we haven’t chosen consciously.  Maybe the thoughts that ceaselessly spiral through our minds aren’t even ours, but messages from parents, teachers, and society that keep us from tuning the radio of our lives to the channel we want.

Some people recommend the use of positive phrases in our own language, more of an affirmation, which is great.  I’m talking about a frequency here, something that works much deeper than the level of mind or beliefs.  The practice of mantra meditation slowly brings the ripples of our conscious, sub- and un-conscious minds into coherence with our highest selves.   The thought patterns that used to feel like home begin to seem strange and out of place.  We start to hear the snap judgment we make about someone we see on the street - a process that used to happen deep below the level of awareness - and notice that it’s just our own projection that has nothing to do with that person.  For what may be the first time, we hear the way we berate, criticize, or belittle ourselves and it suddenly feels alien.  Mantra tills and fertilizes the soil of our thoughts so that the old weeds of negativity feel less comfortable sprouting and growing.  That’s what it’s doing for me, anyways, and that’s why, to me, mantra feels like the most transformational practice in the science of yoga.

Mantra Practice:

Remove as many distractions as possible, physically and mentally.    Find a comfy position.  Sitting up is best, because there’s a tendency to fall asleep laying down, but do what you need to bring the focus away from physical discomfort and towards the thoughts.  Choose an amount of time you’ll practice and set a timer.  5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 – pick a time that’s a bit of a stretch – focus is a muscle that strengthens over time.  But better 5 minutes twice a day than 20 minutes once a week.  The effects seem to last 12- 24 hours and compound more quickly with twice-daily practice.

A few minutes of focusing on the breath is good, maybe some pranayama or “aum-ing”.  After repeating “Aum” out loud a few times, say it a few times silently.  I start with a gratitude chant and do ten minutes of ujjayi breath (pg XXX), feeling the breath wash up and down my spine.  Sometimes I move my hands to deepen my awareness of the movement of breath and energy.

Begin your mantra.  “IAM” is a good one for all-over purification and upliftment.  Relax the mouth and tongue, trying to make the mantra repetition as subtle as possible.  Hear it in your mind and feel the ripples that emanate out from it.  Don’t link the mantra to the breath, but if the breath finds its way to the mantra, don’t worry about it.  Just keep the focus on the mantra.  If the mind wanders off, that’s cool, just gently bring it back like calling to a little kitten.  So soft, so loving.  Every time your playful inner wisdom sneakily directs you away from the focus of your mediation, it’s a blowing away of seeds of thought not yet sprouted.  When you realize you’re off, it’s at the moment of release.  Appreciate that, and gently return.

Spend a few minutes at the end listening.  Every time you say your mantra, you set the dial of your radio.  At the beginning, it will immediately slip back to another station.  Over time, it’ll stay put and you may be able to relax even the active repetition of the sound and just hear or feel it looping.  Just like a radio wave is there whether or not there’s a radio to pick it up, mantra is a frequency that exists whether we’re listening or not, or even here to listen.

Another practice:

Silently repeat a mantra as you perform mundane activities.  Use mantra to time things.  Brushing your teeth say “Om Sohum” (infinity has manifested as me) once for every side of every tooth.  Taking a shower say “Ung Sung Wahe Guru” (the whole universe is in every limb of my being) for each part of the body.  Driving, say “Om Gom Ganapataye Namah” (I align with the frequency that removes obstacles).  You’re going to be thinking something anyways, unless you need to get information or actively make a decision, most likely your thoughts aren’t really getting you anywhere.  At best.  Instead, supplant those repetitive loops of yesterday’s habits with a new way of vibrating, a new way of thinking, and a new way of seeing yourself, the world, and your place in it.


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