I first learned about practices of meditation when I was at college. I read a great deal about Eastern religion in those days, exploring new forms of spirituality. I really enjoyed reading about Buddhism, but felt quite sure that I couldn't identify with it completely. Yet some of the practices intrigued me. I also learned about the disciplined yogi of India and of their dedication to turning inward for learning deep lessons about life's existence.
Any attempts to actually teach myself meditation usually failed. Even when I attended a group mediation, I found myself feeling foolish and unable to focus on the task of focusing my mind the way the group leader asked me to do. I am a visual thinker by nature, so the only successful forms of meditation for me back then, centered on visualization techniques versus "sitting and breathing" as I thought of it.
It took me a while to realize that I had already encountered visualization techniques at a very young age, when I was 6 or 7 years old. My Mom enrolled me in a children's yoga class at the local YMCA. I remember our yoga teacher instructing us to lie on our mats at the end of class and close our eyes. We had to imagine that we saw a brightly-colored ball, like a bouncing ball we might have played with. Our teacher asked us to think about this ball growing larger and larger until it was so large that we were inside of the ball. This was a way to help us to focus, relax, and refresh. (Not an easy feat with a class of rambunctious children!) In my child's brain, I didn't know I was meditating, but I was.
Visualization remains my most effective tool for mediation, but my thoughts about the practice have changed pretty radically in the recent past. I am beginning to see that the chants really do help me connect with the universe when I am alone or with others collectively when I chant in a group setting. The effect is very similar to what I experienced in years of choral singing. The vibrations and rhythm help bring control and order to my existence.
The word resonate is the one that sticks most with me when I think of mantra.
Grown-up me has finally begun to unlock the potential of mantras. I started taking yoga again about four years ago as a means of stress-relief. I have had some amazing teachers, but my favorite one uses mantra combined with yoga poses (asana) and/or hand gestures (mudra).
One of the first simple mantras I learned in her class is the one she says she taught her two sons, it is a series of four key sounds made in the Sanskrit language of ancient India: SA TA NA MA These four sounds, made with hand gestures translate to mean: "Infinity, life, death, and rebirth."
In another class, my teacher taught a mantra that has become my favorite. It's intended to be a chant to invoke the power of women, the feminine aspects within the universe. It's a hauntingly beautiful chant, but also very raw and energetic. I loved it so much that I found a dance-groove mix recording of it by musician Erin Kamler and her colleagues, performing as Mantra Girl.
The chant is:
ADI SHAKTI, ADI SHAKTI, ADI SHAKTI, NAMO NAMO,
SARAB SHAKTI, SARAB SHAKTI, SARAB SHAKTI, NAMO NAMO,
PRITHUM BHAGAWATI, PRITHUM BHAGAWATI, PRITHUM BHAGAWATI,
KUNDALINI, MATA SHAKTI, MATA SHAKTI, NAMO, NAMO.
One yoga website describes this ancient mantra as:
The First Shakti Mantra tunes into the frequency of the Divine Mother, and to primal protective, generating energy. Chanting it eliminates fears and fulfils desires. Adi Shakti means the "Primal Power," Sarab Shakti means "All Power", and Prithum Bhagawati means "which creates through God."ation while I was in college.
--quotation from "Kundalini Yoga" website, www.kundaliniyoga.org
Now, thanks to my same teacher, I am learning a new mantra. Along with it come a set of mudra (gestures), and some yoga poses that enhance certain of the words that form the mantra.
I am choosing to learn this mantra because I went through a month of anxiety and sleep-disorder that I had not experienced in many years. The affects of not being able to sleep were so disruptive to my health that I needed something new to get me back into the healthy rhythm of life.
Just as singing a favorite song can lift your heart, mantra can also help raise your spirits. It is intensely focused (unlike some songs) and if you chant the mantra long enough it begins to change you. It doesn't change you on the outside, but it does change you on the inside, where it counts most.
My new mantra combines the Sanskrit words representing the building blocks of all things: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether, and Light.
LAM, VWAM, RAM, YAM, HAM, OM
It may sound weird, and even childish to read the words on the page, but when you chant these words for a long time and make the hand gestures things change.
This post dedicated to Lara and all the brilliant yoga teachers out there