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Focus of the Month - Mantra

"Mantra orders the mind so it has its proper place in the harmony of the universe... a confused mind is of little use to anybody or anything." - Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati

Sound has power, big power. Pop in your favorite CD or scroll to a beloved song on your playlist, hit the "play" button and...something happens. We have an abundance of music at our fingertips and we've all experienced the kind of mysterious alchemy that occurs when we open up to sound and experience the sensations as the notes, instruments, voices and compositions wash over us.

Mantra is a complex subject and impossible to cover in a short essay. I was fortunate enough to apprentice with a teacher (Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati) who taught for hours on the yogic science of sound and who taught us to thread mantra practice into asana practice.

Mantra practice is based on the fundamental truth that sound is vibration and vibration plays a role in the creation of form. Yoga practitioners have explored and utilized the power of sound as means of affecting consciousness. While the notion of sound affecting consciousness might sound esoteric, the truth is that, like so many yogic tools, the use of mantra is immensely practical.

Mantra is a kind of technology. If you think of your brain as the hardware, and what we call "mind" as the software, mantra works on the level of refining and rewiring our software. Just like the brain has its gross level of matter (the parts i.e.; the amygdala, pre-frontal cortex, hippocampus) the mind has its subtle level patterns that are created via energy and blood flow which are directed to areas of the brain. The hardware works on the gross (obviously physical) level whereby the software (mind) is an example of a more subtle sheath of creation. Mantras affect consciousness and since our consciousness is often scattered, a mantra has the potential to pull us back from our fractured state of mind and into sharper focus and more refined consciousness.

There is a rich and cogent metaphysics that mantra practice is based upon. To aid in your exploration of the subject I would suggest starting with understanding the essential concepts of spanda, bindu and nada.

Mantra, the word is derived from two words combined.

Manas- refers to mind

Trana- refers to that which protects

As the quote by my teacher at the start of this essay implies, mantra is a technology for ordering the mind. It is a sound charged with power. All sound carries frequencies. Sound frequencies have an effect on conscious beings. A mantra can come in the form of a letter, syllable, a phrase or a word. Bija, or seed syllables, are condensed "repositories of power" (Parvathi Nanda Nath) that add power to a mantra. Often a mantra is given to a student by a teacher; however, it is not necessary to have been given a charged mantra from your teacher to begin a mantra practice. Something as seemingly simple as chanting "OM", regularly and often, can be an effective gateway into a deepening mantra practice. Mantras need not be said aloud, many yogis who have a mantra practice repeat their mantras in silence.

At the start of many yoga classes, after we have taken our seat, aligned our spine and guided our attention inward, we sound the original seed syllable, the source of all primordial creation- that sound is Om. Om is divided into three component parts and that is why when sounding the syllable we attempt to sound it strongly and precisely because the "ah" the "ooh" and the "um" sound work in concert together. The three components of Om represent three planes of reality: the gross plane of matter, the subtle plane and the causal plane. Om has power and since sounding it can, and does, stimulate our body and brain in positive ways, it is an integral part of yoga practice.

Over the next few months I plan on offering my students the opportunity to integrate sound into hatha (asana) yoga practice. Mantra practice need not conflict with any faith you might practice because at root, mantra is universal and not dependent upon your subscribing to a particular faith. In fact, most faiths and wisdom traditions have built within them a belief in the power of sound and sound repetition. The bible states: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God." It's always interesting to find parallels and congruencies from different wisdom traditions. For me such parallels signal that something is worthy of more investigation. And, the best way to learn about the effects of mantra practice is to investigate, be receptive and weave it into yoga practice.

If you wish to explore the energy and focus that mantra can add to hatha yoga practice, I invite you to attend my yoga classes on either on Mondays at 4:15 or Tuesdays at 6:30.

I Hope you see you soon.

Donna February 2011

If you feel inclined to explore Mindfulness Meditation practice and deepen your ability to allow the world to tickle your heart, please join us here at The Living Seed for an Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation. We will meet on four consecutive Thursdays.
Next Session April 21st, 28th, May 5th & 12th 2011 from 6-7:15 pm.
Pre-registration necessary, call 255-8212

More Essays by Donna Sherman

Satya - Truthfulness
Sankalpa - Intention