How Mantra Transports The Mind’s Awareness to the Heart
In 2006, I enrolled in yoga teacher training. They sat us in a circle of 20 people and asked us to say our names and something fun about ourselves. My mouth got dry, my armpits started sweating, and like many introverts who are shy about public speaking, I waited to go last. By the time it was my turn, the nerves had totally built up.
I gave a terse introduction, all the while speaking through a shaky voice as I felt the nervous sweat dripping down my body. I realized I was terrified of speaking in front of my peers and loathed having all eyes on me. That evening I visited the leader and told him I was quitting teacher training.
It’s 2021 now and I can say honestly I’m glad he didn’t let me, but I am still, to this day, fearful of public speaking. During the first class I ever taught I received a comment card saying I had a robotic voice! But my motto ‘fake it until you make it’ one day turned into ‘fake it until you become it.’ That’s why I chose to continue to master my trade and teach yoga full time.
In 2009, I trained with Janet Stone at her very first teacher training where we sang and sang. I was introduced to the power of mantra. Maybe I loved it because I am half Filipina and lived in the Philippines—Filipinos love to sing! Maybe it was because my Dad, as a diplomat, played karaoke songs when I was little and I knew all the words to New York, New York by 5th grade. Ever since the training, mantra has been my savior.
What is Mantra?
Mantra experienced its first wave in the east during the 15th century. The second wave hit the West at the end of the 20th century and brought with it the Hare Krishna movement and its followers.
The Hare Krishna movement familiarized us with the singing of Sanskrit mantras or ‘Kirtan,’ meaning ‘to sing.’ Often it’s performed in a call-and-response style, as the devotional practice of singing or chanting. Sanskrit is an ancient language based on vibrations, so this chanting allows the body to actually feel specific energies.
A mantra is a phrase, whether in your preferred language or in Sanskrit. It’s a phrase you use to wake up certain dormant energies. Some examples of dormant energies may be presence, strength, courage, or power. We hold certain energies in our heart spirit that have magical and spiritual powers.
Mantra is a mental release. In a very short time, the mind can no longer resist past or future thinking. The mind gets coaxed into the present moment. ’Man’ means mind, and ‘tra’ means transport or vehicle. The mantra becomes a way to transport our mind’s awareness to our heart, which only knows the present moment.
Mantra and the Throat Chakra
One reason chanting mantra with my classes has been so helpful to me is because of the impact mantra has on the throat chakra. A chakra is an energy vortex, with the throat chakra being our fifth, or Vishuddha Chakra.
Negative energies, such as fear of public speaking, guilt, or insecurities will block the energy flow in the throat chakra, which allows for creative expression and honest communication. Speaking our truth cleanses blockages in the throat chakra.
Mantras Impact on the Nervous System
Mantra has also been effective in stimulating compassion. The vagus nerve originates in the brain stem and extends to the tongue, vocal cords, heart, and other internal organs. The vagus nerve is one of the most important elements of the parasympathetic nervous system. Existing in a parasympathetic state feels peaceful, present, and relaxed.
Mantras and Connection
A study was conducted on a church choir as they practiced their setlist to observe the effects of singing together. This study was done by scientists interested in seeing if joining together in music and song had any noticeable impact on a group of individuals.
It was discovered that when people get together and play music or sing, their brain waves connect. It was also discovered that their heartbeats synced as well. I love to tell yoga participants, whom I am lucky to chant with, that we are singing from one big, beating heart! And to never underestimate the power of the big heart and the intention being set.
If you’ve ever watched any shows or documentaries in search of the true meaning of happiness, they all come to the same conclusion; happiness is found in the community and through connection.
Regardless of whether you’re chanting a single OM with your class, or participating in a drum circle with strangers, the connection is there. Our voices come together as one. It doesn’t matter how well you think you can sing. It doesn’t matter how well you think your neighbor thinks you can sing, it’s about something bigger. It’s about feeling less alone and more connected to those you know and those you don’t.
Mantras for Beginners
I generally default to one of my favorite deities as a recommendation for a beginner to start using a mantra. Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity is known as the Remover of Obstacles and Lord of New Beginnings. He helps us see where we tend to get in the way of ourselves through fears, insecurities, and anxieties. His essence helps us dig deep into our courageous true nature to overcome these obstacles.
Ganesha is also associated with the Earth element. He connects us to Earth and helps us feel grounded when times are tumultuous. His mantra helps us feel safe and grounded.
If you are newer to Sanskrit and prefer to use English mantras, please use the following: ‘I am safe and grounded.’
One of the mantras to access the same feeling in Sanskrit is: ‘Om Gam Ganapatiyey Namaha.’
The sound of Om holds the three syllables of A, U, and M. These stand for beginnings, middles, and endings, and honors that everything is constantly changing. Gam is the seed sound for Ganesha. Or a sound that holds true to all of his energies. Ganapati(yey) is another name for Ganesha, and Namaha simply means ‘I call upon.’
OM GAM GANAPATIYEY NAMAHA.
I AM SAFE AND GROUNDED.
Use these mantras by saying them out loud, or silently to yourself. It doesn’t matter how many times you repeat them. But they are there to help you feel less overwhelmed and more connected to yourself and the Earth. Om Gam Ganapatiyey Namaha!
Hanuman: Myth, Mantra and Asana
Hanuman was born on the wind and a prayer. His father was Kesari, a sort of meditating gladiator monkey-like humanoid, called in Sanskrit, a “vanara”. His mother, Anjana, held the essence of her name: “anj” in Sanskrit means reverence.
Anjana and Kesari really wanted a kid and prayed to Lord Shiva for the blessing of conceiving a son. Shiva, pleased by their devotion and prayers, sent Vayu, the god of wind, to carry Shiva’s essence to fulfill their wishes, perhaps something like a sacred stork.
Turns out that Vayu delivered a pretty gifted kid. Like his gladiator father and like many of our modern-day mixed martial art competitors, Hanuman had a plethora of skills and talents. He wrestled demons, transformed himself to fit the needs of the particular circumstances against which he was fighting, and did so all with unwavering devotion.
Hanuman was devoted to Lord Rama, the god of righteousness and virtue.
Through his devotion, he was characterized as a lifelong Brahmachari (celibate). The belief that Hanuman’s celibacy is the source of his strength became popular among the wrestlers in India.
Hanuman: Behind the Name
Sanskrit texts mention several stories about how Hanuman got his name. Hanuman had a lifelong obsession with the sun, and as a youngster, blazed towards it, mistaking the sun for a mango and mischievously chomping a bite out of it. This really pissed off Indra, the king of the gods, who struck Hanuman’s jaw with lightening, to scold his impetuous nature. A bit harsh, right? Regardless, Hanuman is said to have received his name from the Sanskrit words “hanu” meaning jaw, and “man” meaning prominent or disfigured.
Another lore credits the name as a derivative of the Sanskrit words “han” meaning killed or destroyed, and “mana” meaning pride; indicating that Hanuman is the one whose pride was destroyed.
As Saul David Raye shares in Earth Heart Hanuman, “humility comes when the jaw is broken.” Whether you’re an elite mixed martial artist, or simply a modern-day yogi maneuvering through daily challenges, we discover that when our hearts are full of devotion, our spirit is unbreakable. Saul David Raye says that the stories of Hanuman can teach us, “the balance of incredible opening while still staying balanced.”
It’s Hanuman we can thank for the devotion it takes to practice Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskars, which are a series of poses linked by the breath. Sun Salutations invite us to bow to and unite with the sun, as a pathway to the divine.