Author, Yoga Wisdom: Warrior Tales Inspiring You On And Off Your Mat
Yoga has become a part of your life. You’re experiencing the benefits and are loving the changes you’re seeing in all aspects of your life. You’re the real deal. But, what if you’re hiding a secret? I was. After years of practice and dwelling in divine bliss after committing to daily practice, I was ashamed to admit I just wasn’t getting the “chanting thing.” Was I simply not able to understand this science that is meant to engage the mind through focusing on sound, duration and repetition—or worse yet, devoid of the ability to access this state of deep wellness and bliss? Neither. I was simply shy. Friends at yoga retreats and workshops would chant into ecstatic dance till their hearts seemed to explode into a room of writhing bodies that shared smiles, tears, sweat and love. Although I love to dance in a club, ballroom or in my kitchen, I was uncomfortable gyrating in some creative free-form way that seemed to expose a part of my soul I simply preferred to keep private. All the while, though, I felt like I was missing out on some aspect of yoga that could add depth to my growing yoga life. While in yoga teacher training I learned a great deal about Japa, which is the Sanskrit word for the act of repeating mantras. Chanting mantras is a way to transform feelings; filling the heart and soul. The repetitive sounds penetrate the depths of the unconscious mind and adjust the vibration of all aspects of your being.
The fantastic news for me, though, was I learned that in addition to chanting them aloud, I could use this powerful tool through writing, mental practice or by listening to them. To become comfortable with the idea I created a ritual after walking my dog in the morning that eventually became something very creative. I listened to mantras I found on YouTube that I simply played in my kitchen while I was heating the water for my French press coffee. The cadence and repetition were soothing and comforting. I created a playlist of Buddhist monks chanting, popular Sanskrit mantras with devotional lyrics floating by, and peaceful positive energy mantras eventually selecting favorites including the Gayatri Mantra and Om Namah Shivaya Mantra as my top two favorites. Next I decided I would teach myself how to write my own mantras. Here’s my take on this ancient idea: the exploration of sound and consciousness can lead you to a whole different understanding of your place in the world and the world you create for yourself every day. More than positive affirmations, I rely on mantras to interrupt negative thinking, navigate past fear and harness my creativity. Used during a yoga class they can heighten your experience.
Here's how to craft your own powerful mantra to call in the energy that pervades all life:
›› Figure out your default. Is it negative thinking, a critical voice, worry, or simply checking out all together? This is a critical step as most may not have spent the time to see that the more you ‘practice’ seeing this as an entry point (instead of a state you enter into, like a victim, and stay there) the faster you will become at defaulting to a positive, life enhancing mantra.
›› Grab a sheet of paper and sit quietly for a moment to decide what you need/want.
›› Commit to writing one or two. Once you get going you may write more, but don’t set huge expectations only to quit. Start small. Aim for better quality, not quantity. This will help you change a few core beliefs that may be holding you back from living your life at its greatest expression.
›› Start with the words “I am.” State what you want in the present tense. Be brief. The shorter, the better.
›› Make it specific.
›› Include an action word (usually ending with -ing).
›› Keep it personal. There are loving mantras for the whole world, which I highly recommend at some point, but until mantras become a habit, stick to something for yourself, not others.
›› My test to see if I “wrote it correctly”: It should be written as though you are experiencing yourself differently right now.
›› I layer my own personal mantra over existing sounds I’ve heard. No outward judgment, I simply think of it as an internal hum.
›› Take one with you onto your mat. I think of this as moving visualization. I focus on having what I desire, the feeling, as already accomplished. If I repeat “I Am Joy” then I feel joy. Reflect on how you FEEL after class.
Om (or Aum) is the most basic and powerful mantra you can chant. It is often combined with Shanti, which means peace in Sanskrit. A popular Kundalini mantra is Sat Nam which is supposed to bring balance, awaken the soul and bring your destiny present. If you’re like me, I felt happy chanting these in various classes I’ve been in, but the real ‘work’ for me came as I cultivated multiple ways to experience vibrational harmony. I had hidden my fear of ‘not getting it’ only to experience this spiritual tool in solitude. My favorites at the moment are “I Am Light and Love”, “I Am Worthy,” “I Am Love”, “I Am” which I hum internally to myself during my day, while hiking, driving, walking my dog, and yoga (just to name a few) – whenever I wish to stay grounded and present in a positive way. It now makes sense that the mantras I’ve heard in Sanskrit online or during a workshop are powerful, drawing on thousands of years of shared consciousness, but I have come to feel more intimate with my own creations. They seem more organic and harmonious. If trance dancing in my kitchen is about as public as I’m going to get, so be it. At least now I feel like I taped into the mystical formulas of sacred syllables without feeling like I had missed the boat somehow.
Not unlike a positive affirmation, your personal mantra can lift your spirits, shift your life dramatically the more you repeat it. In time, it can become a positive default mechanism tapping into the greatness within you.
With an eye towards the future, but steeped in wisdom from 38 years of practicing yoga Stephanie Spence is a yoga educator, author, inspirational speaker, activist, and creative leader, based in Coronado, California.