Practice mantra meditation to tune in to the stillness that resides within you.
When you want to listen to music, you know what to do—tune your radio to the right station and there it is, playing nonstop. Meditation with a mantra, my teacher Swami Satchidananda used to say, works the same way: When you want to connect with your spiritual consciousness, repeat a mantra to tune in to that always available inner frequency.
The mantra works like a tuning fork, using sound to create a physical sensation that vibrates in your body and mind. The practice of mantra meditation, which is also called Japa Yoga, will ultimately quiet the thoughts that dominate your mind, so you can experience your full potential and realize your true nature.
Sound is a powerful force. Many spiritual traditions recognize it as the first form of creation, the primordial manifestation of Spirit into matter. The Vedas identify "Om" as the first, most elemental sound; the one that creates and includes the full spectrum of sound and that represents the infinite universal Spirit. Om and other mantras traditionally used in the practice of yoga originated from the inner exploration of ancient sages. In deep meditative states, these sages heard subtle inner sounds that were eventually codified into the ancient language of Sanskrit.
The Rig Veda, which may date as far back as the 12th century bce, is generally accepted to be the first scripture where Sanskrit mantras are found in written form. However, since mantras are from an oral tradition, it's believed that people used them long before that. These early seekers, attempting union with the Divine and liberation from suffering, developed a series of sounds that, when chanted internally, could draw the senses inward and quiet the mind. In this stillness, they experienced the more imperceptible aspect of being that resides beyond the mind: oneness with all life and profound peace.
Also see What Is Mantra?
How to choose a mantra
Ideally, a mantra for meditation is composed of only a few words or syllables, so you can repeat it easily, without getting lost in a long phrase. And while the mantra you choose may be imbued with meaning, when you use it for meditation, you repeat it steadily as a way to engage your mind rather than think about its meaning.
Perhaps the simplest and most profound mantra is "Om," and many traditional Sanskrit mantras include it. Each one produces a specific experience of vibration that corresponds to its meaning. For example, Om shanti, which refers to the supreme peace of the universal Spirit, creates a subtle yet powerful vibration of peace; Hari Om refers to the Spirit that removes the obstacles to awakening; and Om namah sivaya means salutations to auspiciousness, the transformative aspect of Spirit.
But you don't have to limit yourself to Sanskrit. You may use "Amen," "Shalom," or "Peace"—any word that's meaningful to you. Choose something uplifting, a word that inspires you and engages your heart. Avoid words that stir up thoughts or disturb your mind. Experiment to see what feels right. But eventually, you'll want to stick with one mantra and use it regularly to help you experience the full benefits of a deep meditation practice.
Also see Healing "I AM" Mantra Practice
Preparing Your Instrument
While meditation is about focusing your mind, it's difficult to steady it if your body is uncomfortable or your breath uneven. Before you start, do an asana or Pranayama practice to relax and revitalize your body and to undo breathing patterns that create mental agitation.
Before you sit, decide how long you want to meditate. If you're new to the practice, sit for 5, 10, or 15 minutes. If you enjoy it, you can always sit longer. As with most things, it's more effective to practice regularly—even briefly—than to do an occasional marathon meditation.
Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, supporting your posture with a blanket or a cushion. Find a position both aligned with the natural curves of the spine and relaxed, so you can remain fairly still. Close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths or do some breathing practices for several minutes, then relax your breath completely.
Repeat your mantra slowly and steadily, concentrating on its sound as fully as you can. Repeat it in unison with the natural rhythm of your breath, either splitting it so you repeat half the mantra when you inhale and the other half when you exhale, or repeating it on both the inhalation and the exhalation.
After about 10 recitations, repeat the mantra silently by moving only your lips (this helps you keep a steady pace). Then, after another 10 repetitions, recite it internally without moving your lips.
As thoughts arise, simply return to the mantra, knowing this is a natural part of the process. Gently bring your attention back again and again, experiencing the internal sound as fully as possible.
Continue for the period of time you set aside for meditation. Come out of the meditation by taking a few deep breaths and then sitting quietly to see what you feel. You may feel calm and centered. Or you may be flooded with old thoughts and feelings from your subconscious, which might be uncomfortable. This is quite normal and ultimately beneficial. Regardless of your immediate reaction, take comfort in knowing that regular practice has immense benefits: It enables you to experience the present moment more fully and to make conscious choices instead of falling into habitual reactions.
Underneath all the busyness of thought, you will discover a vast healing silence, a source of light that can expose and unearth the roots of suffering, and a source of wisdom that can profoundly transform your life.
Swami Ramananda is the director of the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City, and a senior disciple of Swami Satchidananda, the founder of the institute.