THE MEANING OF MANTRAS
A SIMPLE PHRASE WE REPEAT DAILY CAN GIVE US POWER OVER OUR BUSY BRAINS
Many spiritual tools and concepts can enrich and even transform your life when you truly understand their potency and how to apply them in your daily ritual. I’ve spent more than a decade studying yoga, meditation, reiki, plant medicine, holistic healing modalities, Eastern religions, and psychology...all the while being a busy working mom, wife, and friend. I'm often asked, “What’s the deal with this?" or "Does [blank] really work? This column will delve into the story behind the esoterica and guide you into incorporating it into your life in an approachable, beneficial way. Below, we look at mantras, the practice used for thousands of years to transport us beyond our thoughts.
In her 2019 commencement speech at Colorado College, Oprah revealed her personal mantra to the bright-eyed graduates: “Everything is always working out for me. Everything is always working out for me.” She didn’t pause to define the term “mantra” because, due in large part to Oprah herself, it has become a part of pop culture lexicon.
But what does “mantra” really mean, and what gives it this transformational magic? Do you simply repeat, “everything is always working out for me,” in the mirror enough times and suddenly all you’ve been pining after becomes yours and all your wildest dreams come true? And if it is truly that easy, why aren’t we all doing it with rigor? Turns out Ms. Winfrey’s mantra isn’t exactly what the Vedas—the ancient sacred texts of Hinduism where the origin of mantra is traced—had in mind. In our fast-paced, tech-fueled times, however, mantra is an incredibly powerful tool that when used consistently and correctly, can have you meditating for longer periods of time comfortably, feeling relaxed yet purposeful, and focused on your goals.
What’s In a Word?
Like many new-age terms, mantra is a Sanskrit word, comprised of the root words “manas” meaning mind/to-think, and “tra” meaning vehicle. So a man-tra is literally a “mind-vehicle” or a way to transport us beyond our thoughts. A mantra can be a powerful, affirming statement or simply a collection of resonant symbols with no literal meaning. Mantras derive just as much power from what they steer you away from—busy, swirling thoughts—as they do from what they might steer you towards. Traditional Sanskrit mantras, including the primordial sound of “Om” which students chant to open and close yoga practice, are said to be especially potent because of the vibratory quality of the syllables in this ancient language.
The cornerstone of many popular meditation schools, including celeb-fave Transcendental Meditation (T.M.), is the repetition of one’s personal mantra. When you undergo T.M. training, a teacher gives you a personal, secret mantra that you repeat silently during your twice-daily 20-minute practice. T.M. mantras are all traditional Sanskrit mantras and in the T.M. methodology, an effective mantra must be a meaningless sound—so you don’t get caught up focusing on its meaning instead of meditating—and must have a resonant vibration that is pleasing to the mind and naturally attracts attention. In that way, the mind settles into the mantra rather than feeling forced to focus on it, lulling the meditator deeper and deeper into blissful awareness.
By selecting a mantra that directs our mind intentionally—whether it be a meaningless sound that helps us chill or an inspiring phrase that helps us focus—we take power back over our busy brains.
And this bliss is not only happening “in your head,” so to speak. In Kundalini yoga, mantras are often chanted aloud in a rigorous and systematic manner. Here, the focus is not only on the sound and vibrations, but on the way the tip of the tongue touches the 84 energy meridians in the roof of the mouth. “Yogic mantras stimulate the secretions of the pituitary gland, which is located only millimeters from the palate.” The gentle pressure of the tongue to the hard palate - the area right behind your upper teeth on the roof of your mouth - when chanting something simple like, “Sa Ta Na Ma,” sends signals via these energy meridians to the glands and organs associated with them. This will, “orchestrate a healing response and send out packets of information in the form of neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain and throughout the body,” writes Dharma Sing Khalsa, M.D. Kundalini practitioners assert that when you are vibrating at a certain frequency, you attract that frequency. Specific mantras are used to change our internal vibrations and thus call in that which we are seeking externally to us like a magnet. In other words, “your vibe attracts your tribe.”
So what of Oprah’s mantra, that is neither in Sanskrit nor a meaningless, pleasant sound? How does her personal aphorism relate to the secret, silent, multisyllabic mantras of the T.M. tradition and the scientifically stimulating Kundalini chants? The common threads that unite these seemingly disparate definitions are in the act of repetition and quality of vibration.
Dani Katz, author, illustrator, and masterful communicator offers what I consider to be the perfect modern definition of mantra: “A mantra is a phrase or sentence repeated over and over and over again. There are intentional mantras that support us, and there are unconscious mantras that harm us,” which include those creeping limiting beliefs and anxious spirals that we allow to unintentionally loop in our minds. Words when repeated, she says, actually program our self-conscious beliefs. And our self-conscious beliefs, responsible for 95 percent of our thoughts and behaviors, are a pretty powerful thing to program. Language, she says, is “creation technology,” and by repeating phrases to ourselves over and over, we actually create our life circumstances.
Katz’s most recent book, Word Up, introduces the world to the term “Quantum Languaging” (and I recommend you all buy it NOW). She defines Quantum Languaging as,
...an evolutionary communication paradigm that invites us to consider words beyond mere intellectual connotation or dictionary definition, to encompass the energetic frequencies encoded in our languaging patterns, and the effects these frequencies have on our subconscious minds, our emotions and our psyches, as well as on the world at large.
To break this down: the words we choose to say and think—particularly those we repeat most frequently—have a monumental impact on our vibrational frequency and our vibrational frequency, in turn, determines our, well...everything. Anxious words, anxious human, anxious life. Empowering words, empowered human...empowered life.
Finding Your Phrase
“Mantra and quantum languaging are predicated upon the influence the vibrational frequencies embedded in our language have on our subconscious minds, our emotions, and our realities,” Katz says. What we say (and think) to ourselves matters. And what we repeat over and over really matters. By selecting a mantra that directs our mind intentionally—whether it be a meaningless sound that helps us chill or an inspiring phrase that helps us focus—we take power back over our busy brains. Mantras don’t have to just be used during meditation or yoga class. These mind-vehicles can be used all day long as a centering tool, particularly if you find anxious, unwanted thoughts dragging you down.
Sakara is actually a Sanskrit word meaning, “thoughts become things,” and if you are to believe ancient Hindu scholars, Transcendental Meditators, Kundalini Yogis, modern linguists, and Oprah herself, we just might be onto something. To inspire your own practice, we gathered some of the phrases we’ve heard around Sakara HQ and ones shared with us over the years from very wise souls.
"I see all the beauty and magnificence there is to see." —Danielle Duboise, Co-Founder, Sakara
“Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better"—Émile Coué, French Pharmacist; Psychologist
“I am ready to learn through love.”—Gabby Bernstein, Author, Inspirational Speaker, and Spirit Junkie
This Sanskrit mantra that calls upon the Hindu goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, to grant both worldly and spiritual prosperity...“Om Shreem Maha Lakshmiyei Namaha.”
Or simply… "Om."
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