Beginnings, Creating Awareness, Mantra

Mantra 101 – What is Mantra?


Confession: Sally Kempton is my Justin Bieber. Do you all know Ms. Kempton? She writes the Wisdom column for “Yoga Journal” and her articles always resonate with me in a deep, profound way because she explains very simply how to apply yoga philosophy to everyday life with a practical perspective.

I’m so lucky to be taking a 3-week telecourse with her in mantra practice. For some reason, “mantra” has been calling me lately so when the offering of this class appeared, I signed up immediately.

I’ve now spent thousands of hours in various yoga studios (literally I added it up. Four, 90-min classes per week for about 5 years is 1,560 hours). Perhaps because most of my yoga teachers are western trained working with mantra outside of, or corresponding to, an asana or meditation practice has not been mentioned in any form to me.  In fact, I haven’t seen that much written about it in our yoga media outlets either.

I have one teacher with a little, second generation Jivamukti influence (her teacher trained in it but she did not) but besides her “parroting-method” of she calls out a mantra accompanied with a harmonium and we chant it back; there’s no explanation of the significance, application, or meaning of it.

Why is mantra practice so elusive to us? My own conclusion is because it takes a combination of thorough knowledge in Sanskrit and Eastern spiritual practices to truly understand its power, fragility, and appeal.

So if you’re interested, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far from the telecourse:

  • In Tantra, Sikh, Buddhism, Sufism, Kabbalah, and mystical Judaism mantra is considered the key to inner awakening and to having an intimate relationship with a deity and your inner self. 
  • The meaning of the word “mantra” comes from etymology of the Sanskrit “man” from the root meaning “mind” and “tra” means “instrument” or “tool.” It’s an instrument for the mind. Another translation is, “that which liberates the one who ruminates over it.”
  • The power in mantra comes from the vibration, the power of sound. Not all words are “mantric.”
  • We’re formed out of sounds which makeup words. The crystallization of sounds that we identify with creates our identity, ultimately our body and mind. In our daily experience, these words, these identifications lock us into our limited vision of ourselves. They keep us bound in this ordinary, mundane reality; the separation, contraction, the feeling of isolation which is why in the yoga tradition we try to clear the mind to go into silence so that the consciousness that’s normally bound by words can expand.
  • Can use mantra practice to go deep into meditation, to cleanse karmic patterning, soothes when mind distracted, scared, or worried, and tune into the felt sense of subtle energy and presence inside body and mind.
  • If you resonate with it, it can accompany you through every stage of your life. Mantras can open your heart, help you go to sleep, and help wake you up. They can clear out your consciousness by breaking through the thickets of your negative self talk, your inner dialogue and replace it with the clarity and the beauty of its transformative rhythms. 
  • Will clear away enough of the stuff around your heart, around your subtle body so that you will begin to feel in a regular way the sweetness that is your essence, if you don’t already. Sweetness is an innate capacity in the human heart. In moments it can be hidden from us, it’s really always there.
  • Mantra is the most efficient means that has ever been devised to make this inner sweetness accessible to you. It will mingle with your inner consciousness in such a way you will experience aspects of yourself awakening.
  • You have to allow the mantra in, to soften the edges of your consciousness so that it can start to show you who and what you are.
  • Mantra is identical with the deity who is the goal of the mantra and also it is identical to the lineage for which you receive it. So it has a lineage empowerment attached to it. You actually receive the fruits of the practice of many, many, many practitioners.
  • We’ve been working with the mantra: Om Namah Shivaya Om. Shiva “is the Guru who reveals the truth of your real nature as the divine.” 

Conclusion: Mantra is a method of deepening our mental practice because it helps us to connect to our true nature. But like our physical practice, we have to stay true to our individuality and what speaks to us. Just chanting or repeating any mantra is not sufficient. 

Please keep in mind, I’m not doing this material the justice it deserves and I highly recommend if you have the opportunity to take a class from Sally, go for it! She will not disappoint! In fact, she’s such a wealth of information I’m on yogic-overload in the best way. What’s listed in this post is just what speaks to me and you may resonate with something else.


2 thoughts on “Mantra 101 – What is Mantra?”

  1. Lately, I’ve been doing the Wahe Guru mantra. I first heard it off Snatam Kaur’s CD. As much as I love listening to her voice, she captured the melody straight through me. Kinda like rocked my world! Looked up the meaning of the mantra… and you can sooo love the Universe when I researched on it.

    The complete mantra is Guru Guru Wahe Guru, Guru Ram Das Guru. A healing mantra giving protective energy, bowing to one’s own humility to allow guidance from Guru Ram Das. It’s Yogi Bhajan’s personal mantra.

    I find myself humbling, feeling quite small when I chant this. Don’t we often question the world why such things happen that give us so much pain? This mantra makes me shut up. 😉

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