A mantra is a syllable, word, or phrase that is repeated during meditation. Mantras can be spoken, chanted, whispered, or repeated in the mind. Most mantra meditation techniques have two essential components: mindfulness meditation and mantra recitation or chanting. While this age-old practice is known to have Buddhist and Hindu roots, forms of “sacred word” recitation exist within a great variety of spiritual traditions, including Judeo-Christian and Shamanic. Nowadays, mantra practice is also gaining popularity as part of secular mindfulness practice.
People do mantra meditation for different reasons. For some, it serves as a kind of mental protection against unwelcome distractions or emotions, as when battling sleeplessness or coping with fears associated with travel. For others, mantra meditation serves a deeper spiritual purpose. In certain Hindu and ancient Christian traditions, for example, mantra recitation is used to focus the mind-heart and connect with the divine, both within and without. In Buddhism, one of the benefits of mantra recitation is that it helps keep the mind focused and receptive to the blessings of the present moment. As Buddhism is a non-thesitic tradition, mantra serves to evoke positive qualities and confidence rather than an external deity.
How to do mantra meditation
- Find the best mantras to suit your intention
Before you start, ask yourself why mantra meditation techniques appeal to you. Do you want to maintain or regain your health? Are you plagued by distractions? Are you looking to forge a deeper spiritual connection?
Some people find that using mantras during their meditation practice helps them relax in a positive, sustainable way. This sense of well-being can lead to lower blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety. In this case, mantra meditation is a form of mindfulness practice where repetition of a word or phrase helps settle the mind.
- Get comfortable and remember your intention
As with any other form of practice, you’ll enjoy mantra meditation more if you have a comfortable seat! Look for a quiet space and avoid bright light and sensory overstimulation so you can concentrate on your mantra meditation without too many disturbances.
Try to remember your intention as you defined it in the previous point. This could range from “May my practice help me overcome destructive personal habits,” to “May my practice help me be more patient,” “May my practice connect me with the divine,” “May my practice lead to spiritual awakening,” or any other goal you’ve identified for yourself.
- Next, sit correctly and focus on your breathing
Sit in your usual position for mindfulness meditation (see our Take Your Seat video on Mindworks Course for basic posture instructions). Spend some time checking in. Notice where tension or resistance may have crystalized in your body and gently let it go. Pay attention to the breath. This will help settle the mind before you start your mantra recitation or chanting practice.
- Chant your mantra
Now that you’ve reiterated your intention and settled your mind through basic mindfulness of the breath, it’s time to recite or chant your mantra. Don’t look for a “transcendent experience” – just be yourself, relaxed and aware of the moment. Go with the flow. You can also just focus on the sound of the mantra itself.
You can continue for as long as you’d like. There’s no need to put pressure on your mind or body – relax into the joy of the practice! Mantras give your mind a buoyant anchor to hold onto when waves of thoughts or emotions threaten to wash your meditation away. People who regularly do this kind of practice say that mantra meditation becomes second nature and is something they look forward to at the beginning or end of their day.
What’s the best mantra for meditation
It’s a trick question! There’s no universal best mantra, but there may be a mantra that’s best for you.
Some people use positive affirmations as a mantra. If this appeals to you, you can choose one you’ve discovered or create your own based on the message you feel will benefit you. Imagine what your best and wisest mentor, friend or family member would say to support you, coin it in a short phrase, and try it on for size. Shorter affirmations work best. For example,
- I am content in this moment.
- My heart will guide me.
- My treasures lie within.
The possibilities are endless.
If your focus is spiritual, your best mantra is likely to be associated with your faith tradition. One popular Judeo-Christian phrase is “Let go and let God.” A favorite Christian “mantra” is the ancient Aramaic prayer “Maranatha:” Come Lord or The Lord Cometh. We particularly like the Four Immeasurables prayer in the Buddhist tradition, which starts with “May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”
The Sanskrit “peace mantras” Om Shanti Om or Om shanti shanti shanti (“shanti” means “peace”) are popular and may be familiar to those who practice yoga.
A very profound and well-known Buddhist mantra is “Om Mani Padmé Hum,” a Sanskrit phrase that carries tremendous spiritual benefit. The “Mani mantra” is the sound of the enlightened speech of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion (Chenrezig in Tibetan). Avalokiteshvara’s practice brings forth our inherent qualities of compassion. His mantra is found throughout Tibet and the Himalayas where it is carved into stones, printed on prayer flags, and repeated or chanted by virtually every inhabitant. Famed Tibetan singer Ani Chöying Drölma gives one version of the chant here.
To go deeper into any form of spiritual practice, you’ll need a reliable, genuine guide who will help you navigate your meditation as it evolves. His or her main focus should be to lead you to discover and develop your spiritual strengths with honesty and integrity. But rather than traipsing all through the universe searching for a guru, you can find excellent spiritual guides in Mindworks online meditation courses.
Whichever form of mantra practice you make your own, your ability to remain focused and in sync with the practice will determine how beneficial it can be. Mindfulness is the tool that refines and enhances this ability.