Ever bumble your way through chants in class? Here’s your chance to learn the words—and pick up a new practice. These Sanskrit and Gurmukhi mantras are classics you'll likely encounter again and again.
Reading mantras in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, can certainly be intimidating. (How exactly do you pronounce śāntiḥ again?) Gurmukhi, a sacred script used in Kundalini Yoga, is more straightforward than Sanskrit but can also sound like a mouthful, at first. The good news: you don’t have to memorize a sonnet-length mantra to achieve positive results. Even single-word mantras—like Om—can be pretty powerful.
Think of a mantra as a mental instrument that fine-tunes your yoga practice. “Incorporating mantras into practice can help to make it sacred and take it out of the realm of the physical and into a higher state of awareness,” says Zoë Slatoff-Ponté, author of Yogavataranam: The Translation of Yoga.
Cultivating a sonic presence can be liberating in a way, as you experience the numinous nature of the sound. It is said that each chakra has a particular vibration and certain mantras can resonate and harmonize that energy. “A mantra is a much more complex concept than a mere chant,” adds Risha Lee, curator of Exhibitions at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. “It unites sound, body, and mind in a deeply philosophical experience.”
While reciting a mantra before or after you step on the mat can enhance your practice, you don’t have to be in yoga mode to chant. Mantras are a yoga tool you can use to calm your mind anywhere, anytime. Feeling stressed, lonely, anxious, excited? Pick a word, phrase, or invocation and chant it in a way that works for you: loudly, softly, or even internally. To reap the most benefits, shorter mantras should be chanted 108 times (mala beads can help with that) and longer mantras can be repeated up to three times. In any case, allocate a few minutes to focus your attention on the sound.
“The pronunciation of mantras is very important,” Slatoff-Ponté says. “Ideally, one learns the correct pronunciation from a teacher, who can also recommend a specific mantra for you.”
If you don’t have a teacher to tell you what you need, you’ll surely find it this list of 12 essential mantras—whatever your mood may be.