In mantric meditation, instead of focusing our attention on the sensation of breathing, we focus on a specific phrase that we repeat over and over again, either aloud or silently. The mantra engages the mind by actively giving it a task to perform. The use of repetition effectively lulls the mind into a relaxing trance state that can be useful for further spiritual development.
You can deploy mantras selectively or exclusively as your main meditation practice. Many practitioners of breath mediation will occasionally employ a mantra when their mind is particularly agitated. When thoughts are racing and concentrating on the breath is all but impossible, then it can be wise to chant a mantra and forego breath meditation until your concentration has sharpened. So if your typical breath meditation practice has become too strained and you feel that you are forcing it, then try including a mantric chant for a portion of the meditation and see if that helps with the mind-wandering.
Chanting mantras is the heart of many spiritual practices and in some religions, comprises the entirety of meditation. So it’s certainly possible to reach transcendent heights through the dedicated use of mantras. Here are a few methods for mantric meditation that you can try out:
Of course, the most ancient and simplest mantra to chant is the classic Vedic symbol for the primordial sound of Creation: Om or aum. Om represents the eternal vibration that is the source of all existence. By chanting Om, you are aligning yourself with this universal force and its creative power.
To intone this sacred sound, take a full breath by pushing your belly out as you inhale. Begin the “a” sound deep in the belly, then let it come up through the back of your throat, rounding out in the mouth to become the “u” sound, and then going up through the roof of the mouth into the nasal cavity to become the “m” sound. Let the “m” linger until your breath fades, then take another belly breath and begin again.
If intoned correctly, you should feel the vibration begin at your navel, rise up through the body and project out the third eye. You should also hear the harmonic resonance of the sound: it’ll sound like a second, high-pitched note ringing in harmony with your voice. It is a strange, surreal effect that greatly adds to the hypnotic qualities of this powerful mantra.
Another popular mantric meditation method is to chant the vowels. This practice is found in Japanese Shintoism among other traditions. Simply intone each of the five vowel sounds slowly and deeply. As before, start with a deep belly breath and let the sound rise up through your chest.
Rather than saying the name of the letter, you want to actually chant the vowel sound. So you would say something like, AH, EEE, Eh, Oh, OO.
In Shintoism, the five seed syllables are considered the foundation of all creation, dovetailing with the teachings of both Hindu mystics and quantum physicists who say that everything is vibration.
3. “The breath in the nose in the now.”
This mantra is obviously not very ancient or mystical. It’s simple and to the point. If you practice breath meditation but your mind is particularly agitated and restless, then try deploying this mantra to keep the mind preoccupied with a task while you maintain your awareness on the breath in the nose in the now.
4. Your own affirmation(s)
While there’s value in working in the same mantra regularly in order to maximally charge up its power for you, you can always try new variations and innovate. If a certain phrase, idea, saying or aphorism resonates with you, try deploying it as a mantra. Simply reduce the phrase to its simple essence such as, “I am powerful” or “I am beautiful” or whatever your mantra of the day is.
Many people who chant mantras use mala beads to keep track of their repetitions. Most mala beads have 108 beeds and a tassle to indicate the loop. For those chanting certain religious names for specific numbers of repetitions, the mala bead is a simple way to effectively keep track of your mantra.
Some say that the mantra itself is irrelevant: that repeating any sound ad nauseam will produce the desired results of one-pointed relaxation and trancelike focus. Find out for yourself by experimenting with all of the mantras mentioned above and see which ones work best for you. Ultimately, your preference won’t necessarily signal the rightness of one mantra over another, it will just reveal what works for you. If gibberish effectively brings you to a state of one-pointed focus, then more power to you.
But if you believe that there is something miraculous in the nature of sound and language, in the relationship between vibration and meaning, then it’s not a far stretch to imagine that words themselves could be magical and that their repetition could focus their creative power to produce meaningful results.
If your meditation practice has grown stale or if you’ve simply plateaued and can’t seem to progress further, then try incorporating some mantric mediations into your practice. But be forewarned: since mantric meditation actively engages the mind, some people end up more mentally agitated after practicing mantras, because their mind actually gets revved up and energized by the repetition.
Since the results of any technique will vary from person to person, you should find what works for you. If you find that mantric meditations cause even more anxiety, then return to your normal breath meditation. But if you find that mantric meditations are an easier way for you to calm the mind, then feel free to use them liberally.
However, remember the day will come when even the mantra must be ditched in favor of true realization through self-examination. The mantra is a stepping point to reaching one-pointedness which is not enlightenment but the tool necessary to achieve enlightenment. So once you’ve reached one-pointedness, you can abandon the mantra as you ascend higher & higher.