Mantras and chanting have been an integral part of the practice of yoga since the tradition began thousands of years ago. This practice is a key component of Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion. Chants or mantras are inspiring and evocative for those they resonate with, but they may exclude some yogis of different religions or non-religion. In the spirit of inclusion, here are some traditional chants that don’t necessarily refer to specific deities:
Om shanti shanti shanti
This Sanskrit mantra means “peace,” a uniting idea that aligns with most philosophies, ideologies, and religious beliefs. It may be used as a personal or global intention at the beginning, middle, or end of yoga practice.
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
This translates to “may all beings be happy and free.” It is a powerful mantra/chant to perform at the end of practice when we may want clarity, a balanced mind/spirit, and peace upon other beings. One can follow up by setting a concrete intention to go out into the world and share the energy that’s been cultivated our yoga practice.
Om mani padme hum
One of the many interpretations of this chant is “the jewel is in the lotus,” which represents a yogi’s path to enlightenment. Much as one could peel back the hundreds of petals of a lotus flower to reach its center, as we peel away the layers of our identity (job titles, gender, wife, daughter, sister, husband, son, etc.), we discover the jewel within: our true self that has no identity.
Lam vam ram yam ham om
These sounds represent the 7 chakras. There are 7 major energy centers (aka chakras) in the human body. They run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. In Sanskrit, chakra translates into “wheel”. These “wheels” can be thought of as vortexes that both receive & radiate energy. Emotions, physical health, & mental clarity affect how well each chakra can filter energy. This in turn dictates how pure the energy is that’s emitted from different parts of the body.
Lam: Survival (root chakra)
Vam: Pleasure (sacral chakra)
Ram: Self-Esteem (solar plexus chakra)
Yam: Love (heart chakra)
Ham: Communication (throat chakra)
Om: Wisdom and intuition (third eye chakra)
Silence: Enlightenment (crown chakra)
All six seed sounds may be chanted in sequence, or may be chanted repeatedly alone.
The Opening Ashtanga Mantra (which I use in my Ashtanga practice) is a blessing of gratitude offered to the lineage of teachers and their students who have enabled this ancient practice to survive through thousands of years so that we can experience its benefits today. The recitation of this mantra is believed to cleanse the energy of the space we have chosen to practice yoga, as well as preparing the mind, body and emotions for the forthcoming Ashtanga sequence.
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
I bow to the lotus feet of the Supreme Guru
which awaken insight into the happiness of pure Being,
which are the refuge, the jungle physician,
which eliminate the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of Samsara (conditioned existence).
I prostrate before the sage Patanjali
who has thousands of radiant, white heads (as the divine serpent, Ananta)
and who has, as far as his arms, assumed the form of a man
holding a conch shell (divine sound), a wheel (discus of light or infinite time) and a sword (discrimination).
There is no real implied deity here, but unlike many other chants, this one can be directed to a yogi’s deity of choice. Non-religious yogis may direct this chant to The Universe or even to their own intuition.
Try some of these chants in your next yoga practice. They can serve as a powerful way to bring clarity, focus and attention to the present moment.
Om, or Aum, is the primordial sound of the universe or the vibration of creation. Om is both a sound and a symbol rich in religious meaning and depth. It is said to be both the sound of the creation of the universe, and the sound of silence. It represents both the highest level of divinity and the path to enlightenment. The chanting of this simple mantra can change your thoughts and emotions into a cohesive and graceful pattern. Traditional yoga says that the parts of the mantra Aum have a deep resonance that guides us to our essential natures. The rhythm of the sound works on a subconscious level to permeate the body’s inner rhythms. So whether or not you focus on the intellectual and metaphysical dimensions of Om, the vibration of the mantra can alter the dimensions of your meditation and yoga practice.
Om for Meditation
Patanjali, author of the yoga sutras, writes that chanting "om" while simultaneously contemplating its meaning guides the mind to one-pointed consciousness. This focused state of mind is considered ready for meditation. Author Richard Rosen suggests that chanting "om" may be the easiest way to touch the divine within yourself. Rosen also states that the om mantra actually consists of three letters: Aum. Aum can be chanted while focusing on the vibrations through the body. The resonance of the "a" can be felt in the abdomen, the "u" in the chest and finally the "m" vibrates in the head. By focusing on the physical vibrations in your body while chanting "om," you guide your mind to focus on one thing: the sound of "OM." The sensations in the body guide you through a simple meditation.
Om in yoga practice
Many yoga classes begin with the chanting of the sound of "Om." In this setting, it represents the beginning of the yoga practice and guides the students’ awareness not only to the external practice of yoga, but also the internal experience. When chanted before a yoga class, Om can guide the student to consider the practice as a moving meditation. The Om symbol is a popular icon for many yoga practitioners; the symbol is seen on T-shirts, yoga mats, jewelry, tattoos and various artwork. In Yogic tradition, many yoga teachers begin and end their classes by chanting Om in order to create harmony and unity between the students and teacher. Many believe that chanting Om in class or in private meditation aligns their own vibration with the sacred vibration of the universe, which provides a peaceful, calming effect and puts the practitioner in an peaceful frame of mind for yoga practice.
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