The Art of Japa
Have you ever wondered how you would feel if you could stop your constant thought patterns that only serve to create anxiety and worry? In yoga, we call these vrittis, or thought whirlpools. As is the ever-useful toolbox of yoga, it has a tool for curing this defect of the human mind.
In yoga we are taught that we have complete control over our thoughts. At any instant, we have the choice to choose a negative thought or a positive thought. This may sound harsh to those suffering from anxiety. But, as all things in yoga, the harshness is only to help you recognize your inherent strength.
Some thought patterns are more difficult to break than others. One way to break these difficult thought patterns is through mediation. Mediation helps us to find the space behind the thoughts. It helps us to realize that we are not our thoughts.
I understand how difficult this is. We identify with our thoughts. Without our thoughts, who are we?
This is a challenge I present to you; to find out who you are without the ever-nagging, anxiety-producing thoughts to which you so tightly cling.
Don’t worry, I won’t leave you without an extremely powerful tool to help you meet this challenge.
This tool is called Japa.
Are you having trouble starting a meditation practice? Do you sit down, close your eyes only to see countless thoughts come to the surface?
If so, you’re not alone.
A basic google search says we have somewhere between 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day, or 35-48 thoughts a minute. In this day of information overload, it’s no wonder we can’t seem to find the space between our thoughts.
In Ayurveda, this can lead to vata vitiation in the manovaha srotas – or too much movement in the mental field. When our minds are overwhelmed, this will lead to imbalance in the body. After all, the mind and body are intricately related.
We know that when we are stressed and our sympathic nervous system is active, it results in decreased digestive ability. The question is, how to convince our mind that we are safe and in turn activate the parasympathetic response to improve digestion and physical wellbeing?
A great place to start is mantra repetition, also known as japa. Mantra is a sacred thought pattern used to replace the negative thought patterns and elevate our thoughts a higher form.
Japa is also known as the mental protector. It also works as a strengthener of mind by increasing one-pointed attention.
How to choose a mantra?
The mantra can be given to you by a teacher, or it can be one to which you are drawn.
The most universal mantra is So-Hum. You can utilize this mantra by synchronizing it with the breath. On the inhale, mentally repeat So; on the exhale, mentally repeat Hum.
A more traditional mantra is Om Namah S(h)ivaya. It invokes the energy of the form of the God Shiva, who is the destroyer of the lower self. The lower self is composed of the senses, thoughts, cravings of the body etc. When we can transcend this lower self, we are able to experience the Higher self. The goal of yoga is ‘union’ or union of the lower self with the Higher.
When I began my yoga practice, I had a teacher that introduced the mantra ‘Ram’. I repeated this mentally and verbally, with no real understanding of the power of the practice. All I can say, is within a few months, the practice proved itself. I began to experience my life as magical. I am convinced that it was this practice which lead to my current path and destroyed the path which was not helpful for my personal evolution.
The ancient Vedic texts recommend the use of Japa during our current age of Kali Yuga. It was taught that we would enter an age of immense distraction and darkness; that in this age there would be less virtue and more vice. Due to the immense pressure of vice that surrounds, the best way to uplift one’s self is with uplifting thoughts.
Creating space for transformation
Mantra creates a pathway in the mind, which when repeated, the pathway becomes stronger.
This practice is meditative in that it trains the mind to be one-pointed. It is said that the greatest of sacrifices, is the sacrifices of your own thought. Thankfully you don’t have to sacrifice your first born or a lamb to reach the kingdom of heaven, just your own thoughts!
So what do you sacrifice these thoughts to?
To a higher version of yourself. When you create space between thoughts, you create room for transformation. We hold our beliefs, our values, our thoughts in such high regard, that we rarely examine them to see if they are of use.
Japa sacrifices the thoughts to ‘mindfulness’; filling the mind of beneficial thought. Each mantra has a meaning. The meaning can be taught, but as time goes on the meaning is revealed to you at a deeper level. When you start to understand the essence of mantra, the practice deepens.
How to start a practice
The great thing about japa is that it can be practiced anywhere. It is most beneficial to have a designated time and space for the practice in the morning and/or evening. The use of a mala helps to ground the practice. Preferably made of rudraksha beads, which are said to help aid a meditation practice.
A mala is like a rosary, but made of 108 beads. Mantra is repeated once for each bead, continuing along the strand until you reach the ‘guru bead’. At this time you have completed 1 mala, or 108 repetitions. To continue onwards, you start counting backwards, never go past the guru bead.
I wear a mala on my wrist, which is useful for practicing during car rides, plane trips, or during a quiet moment at the office. The practice is discreet, yet powerful.
So often we look to meditation to produce a ‘high’. While the high may be experienced, it is quickly fleeting. The true benefit of mediation is the strengthening of your mental will power and clarity of thought.
Mediation in the form of japa is a workout for your mind. I feel so productive following a session. But it’s not a workout in that you’re exhausted when it’s done. It’s a workout that is rejuvenating, refreshing and helps you to find the strength to battle your day.
So, if you’re like most of us, busy with work, school, kids and travel, the best way to implement a meditation practice is to start with japa. Use a mala and repeat the mantra for one round. Or just repeat the mantra mentally whenever you can. It is said any effort in spiritual advancement is never wasted.
The first book I read on japa was Mediation and Mantras by Swami Vishnudevananda. It is highly recommended if you would like a more in-depth explanation to the power of mantra. There is an affiliate link below, which will help support this blog.
We all have so much light and love to share with the world. My sincere hope is that your meditative practice will help you to shine and overcome any difficulties you may encounter.
Om Gam Ganapatya Namah
ॐ गम गणपतये नमः
[Ganesh mantra – Lord Ganesh is the remover of obstacles]
Many blessings and Divine thoughts to you!
Love & Om