When I first started taking Kundalini Yoga classes, I was perplexed by “Sat Nam” — the most common mantra of the tradition. We were instructed to silently vibrate “Sat” on every inhale and “Nam” on every exhale.
Right away, I questioned. I didn’t know what my teacher meant by vibrate. So, I thought the sounds. We were told that “Sat” means truth and “Nam” means name and translated the phrase means, “Truth is my name.” Huh? I wonder if everyone keeps one skeptical eye open, as I did, when they first hear about this technique and mantra.
It doesn’t make a lot of literal sense, but this is part of its beauty. Over the years, I relaxed and tried and kept both eyes closed as I thread the mantra through my consciousness —silently thinking “Sat” on my inhale and “nam” on my exhale. Over time, it became an automatic focus when my mind wandered in yoga.
Through the years, my interpretation of “Sat Nam” has shifted and evolved , and I’m sure it will continue to. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate most about it is how open it is — big and wide enough to find my own way.
And my way isn’t a literal understanding. It’s an embodied, yet amorphous, sense of truth, which at times I feel as the divine spark within, or the creative force in the universe, or my inner voice. One of my teachers said “You are Sat Nam” once in class and I experienced that as a realization that I can’t really articulate.
I understood the mantra well before I got what it means to vibrate. Now I see vibrating as a way of letting the sound be in my consciousness without the effort of thinking, moving away from the thinking mind. It’s a very subtle thing.
Of course, the way the mantra weaves it way through me and finds moments of expression will be very different from how someone else engages with these two little (yet so very big) words. You may want to experiment with it, especially if you find it difficult to quiet the mind. This mantra could become an invaluable tool. Here are three easy ways to begin working with “Sat Nam.”
1. Silent Repetition. As you inhale, silently vibrate the word “sat.” As you exhale, vibrate “nam.” You can do this as a meditation, sitting in easy pose with the eyes closed, or you can do it as you practice a yoga sequence.
2. Chanting Long Sat Nams. You can also chant. I like to do this along with a track, like the one below by Joe Panzetta. A beautiful way to chant and get the mantra in your body is to begin in easy pose with the hands in prayer and then open the arms wide (as if you’re opening up to give someone a hug) as you chant a long “Sat” and bring the hands back to prayer as you chant a brief “Nam.”
3. Use as a Greeting. If you go to a traditional Kundalini Yoga studio, you may be greeted with “Sat Nam.” It’s used much in the same way as “Namaste” is used in other yoga traditions to mean, “I recognize the light in myself. I recognize the light in you.”