When you first get into Kundalini yoga meditation, the mantras can twist your tongue and make you feel as awkward as some of the yoga postures you’re learning. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! In the beginning mantra can be difficult to pronounce and to understand, but persistence pays.
The basic idea behind mantra is a transformation of the self brought about by the vibrations of the sound. The entire Universe is a vibration of energy. Science has shown that vibration exists behind our physical matter at different frequencies, even solid matter. A mantra’s sound current vibrates the fluids in your body and brain. We are 70% water after all! This helps to re-align your cells and even your DNA to a healthier vibration. It’s like plucking a string in your body and letting the vibration of the instrument spread through all the other strings in the body.
The specifics of mantra use vary depending on the tradition, in Kundalini yoga we use mantra to elevate ourselves to a higher state of awareness. Pronouncing the mantras produces a pattern with the tip of the tongue on the upper palate to stimulate the neurons and glands in the brain to bring you to higher states of awareness and the neutral mind. This is the reason good pronunciation is important and often emphasized, but hope is not lost for the pronunciation-ally challenged. Having a steady, fixed rhythm is equally important. While you’re chanting also focus on the origin of your chant. You want to vibrate from the purity of the soul, which means beginning with the power of the navel and moving that energy through the central channel up to the heart. This may take some time, but that’s why it’s called a practice!
The vibrational changes are the reason we chant mantra rather than sing mantra. We want to vibrate the sound in the conch of the head to stimulate the pineal and pituitary glands (among others). This effect is easiest to feel when you chant the Adi mantra to tune in at the beginning of a Kundalini yoga class. Chanting the –ng of the “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo” is the easiest way to feel how to vibrate mantra in the conch, your head should swim in the vibration.
In order to flow through life in these higher states you can repeat a mantra, which is called japa. This can be done with mala beads for 108 repetitions or you can use a specific length of time such as 3, 7, or 11 minutes. Repetition of mantra will break through unwillingness to chant mantra by vibrating to remove blocks in the subconscious. Sometimes you know it’s good for you, but you just don’t want to do it. Repetition helps you move past that. For japa you can use long mantras or short seed mantras. (If you like the Adi mantra “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo”, use the complete version for repetition.) Longer mantras will have specific effects while bij mantras (ex. “Sat Nam“) plant seeds into the subconscious that will continue to grow and help you on your journey.
Sometimes mantra and chanting are associated with religion or prayer. Mantras chanted for devotion, as in the Christian “Hallelujah”, the Vaishnav “Hare Krishna” or the Tibetan Buddhist “Om Mani Pad Me Hum” are used for Bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is a devotional form of mantra where you devote yourself to some expression of the Infinite (or God *), whether it be love, compassion, truth or something else, in order to bring your mind and actions in line with the purest form of that aspect. Prayer, as Yogi Bhajan described it, is talking to the Infinite, while meditation is becoming clear and still to allow the Infinite to speak to you.
Selecting a personal mantra can be a challenge. In some traditions mantras are given by a master to a student, sometimes a mantra will come to you when it’s time (heads up!) and you can always choose one. There are many sources for mantras (check the Mantra-pedia). Making up a mantra is usually not a good idea. Mantras are time tested to bring you to a certain vibration. Sure you could plug your ears and chant “La La La La“, but what vibration are you reaching? Having a personal mantra is like carrying a sharp ax that can cut through negativity and transform it into a positive. It cuts internal and external negativity and after enough repetition the mantra will vibrate in the central pranic energy channel, sushmana, so you can call on it at times of peace and challenge.
On your journey, you may discover that some mantras will bring you to a feeling of bliss and others that will bring you to a brick wall and challenge you to climb it. While we’d like to always float in bliss, it’s taking the challenges and turning our weaknesses into strengths that truly empowers us!
* In Kundalini Yoga G.O.D. stands for the Generating, Organizing and Destroying or Delivering aspects of the Universe