When i first started practicing yoga, i thought mantras were weird and woo-woo. I didn’t even like to sing, felt self-conscious about my voice, i don’t speak Sanskrit, and why would i chant to a god i don’t believe in? I felt similarly about affirmations – cheeeeeesyyyy!!! I felt uncomfortable talking to myself.
Well, things change (and how!). These days i chant or recite mantra almost every day. What happened? Experience. If you’ve never om’ed in a group of at least 100 people, i highly recommend it. Put it on your bucket list. It will change you.
So why sing in a language you don’t speak? Sanskrit is considered to be the primordial language. More than just sounds and symbols, each letter and syllable is a vibration that corresponds to an aspect of existence. It’s comprised of sounds that resonate, sounds that are universal. Take the mantra OM, for example – it breaks down into the sounds we make at the best times of our lives. Ahhhh….. ohhhhh….. mmm….. this isn’t anything esoteric, it’s just delicious. Sanskrit is about the essence of an experience. The same is true of chanting the names of deities – chanting the name of Shiva isn’t any different than singing to whatever deity you put your faith in, or simply praising the manifestation of the world. Chanting to Shakti, or Kali, or Saraswati, isn’t about worshiping some specific goddess, but about delighting in the yin, feminine aspects of life. I’m just now beginning to conceptualize how subtle vibration can affect the body. Om is supposed to be the “seed” (bija) sound of the universe, and we do now know that matter is vibration. Sound and form are inextricable. Take a look at this cymatics video (warning, high pitched sounds).
Mantras are useful in English, too, and can feel more accessible. Most of us already have them, but they’re unconscious. What kinds of things do you repeat to yourself on a daily basis? Probably on any given day you’d find yourself thinking, “I am…” something. I’d hazard to guess that for lots of people that blank gets filled in with something negative. I know it does sometimes for me, but it used to on a far more regular basis. These days if i find myself chanting the mantra of “i am lazy,” or some other thing i don’t want to be, or which isn’t really true, i back up and re-think it as something healthier – or even just “i am,” one of the most primordial meditations. Just by catching your unconscious mantras and reshaping them, you begin to reshape your brain (literally!) and your beliefs about yourself.
Repetition is powerful. Repetition is powerful. (Haha!) We are what we believe we are – this comes up in many different modes of healing. We all have stories about who we are, what we can do, what other people think of us. These stories are formed by what we habitually think, or our unconscious mantras. Yoga calls this habitual thoughts samskaras, and we are not their prisoner, though it can sometimes seem that way. We can take charge of our samskaras. I often try to work directly with samskaras in my classes. Like i do with myself, i sometimes will ask my yoga students to think of a negative belief that they have about themselves, and then think of something positive to replace it with. Then, as we practice, i remind them to repeat the new, positive thought. This can definitely feel cheesy at first, but put your corny meter on hold and give it a try. Remember, if we can convince ourselves that something is true on just a very basic level, if we can show it in our body language, it will start to manifest. Other people will see it and begin to treat us as if it is true. Then, the next thing you know, it IS true. I use this intentional reshaping practice as much as i can. It was a profound experience to use it to work on my body-image and beliefs about beauty. A time when i really rely on it is when i feel unsafe, like if i’m walking in an unfamiliar city alone at night. I repeat to myself, “I am safe, i am protected. I am safe, i am protected.” When i do this, i can feel myself standing taller, more centered, and therefore less appealing to anyone who might prey on me. The power of vibration – far from being woo, it’s the stuff our very bodies are made of.
What stories do you tell about yourself? How could you begin to shift them? Remember, as with any process of growth, the first step is observation. You have to recognize your patterns before you can change them.