If you’ve ever started or ended a yoga class with “Om”, then you have chanted mantra! Yay!
Mantra is a Sanskrit word derived from two roots: man, meaning “mind”, and trai, meaning to “protect”, to “free from”, or “instrument/tool”. So mantras are tools of the mind or tools to protect or free the mind.
Mind-protection tools?? How awesome is that?!
Mantra for Meditation
A mantra is a word, sound, or phrase. When recited repetitively, it serves as a form of meditation. We use the repetitive sound – the mantra – to focus the mind. “Om” is the most well-known mantra. This style of meditation is one of my favorites because it’s so accessible. The repetition of a mantra gives your mind a concrete anchor to focus on, making it a bit easier to keep the mind from wandering.
It does not matter if you speak your mantra loudly or quietly, or even silently, but there is a traditional progression to mantra meditation, which goes as follows:
You repeat it out loud. This engages more of your senses, making it easier to keep your attention focused.
The lips and tongue move, but there is barely any sound. This practice is subtler and deeper than the verbal recitation.
You repeat the mantra silently, in your mind. This is more difficult to do, which is why we start with verbal recitation.
At this point, you are no longer repeating the mantra, but the mantra goes on by itself in your mind, spontaneously, all the time. This will start to happen if you stick with a mantra for an extended amount of time, reciting it every day.
If your mind is super busy, or there is a lot of ambient noise, you might want to “turn up the volume”, so to speak, to make it easier to focus. Mantra meditation is my go-to when I can’t find a quiet place to meditate because it allows me to block out the sounds around me.
You can set a timer and practice for a certain period of time, or you can practice a set number of “repetitions.” Traditionally, you recite 108 repetitions of your mantra. The significance of the number 108 is open to interpretation, but it has long been considered a sacred number in Hinduism and in yoga.
If you want to practice 108 repetitions of a mantra, you’ll want to use a mala to help you keep count.
What is a Mala?
Used for keeping count during mantra meditations, a mala is a strand of 108 beads, plus a guru bead. Malas can also be made with 27 beads for use in shorter meditations (or you can go around the mala four times to complete the 108 repetitions). They are often placed in shrines as a reminder of the intentions behind the meditations.
Round beads are utilized for making malas; this shape allows them to glide easily through your fingers. These beads are usually 7-8mm, or 10mm in size. Traditional malas are made with rudraksha beads, lotus seed beads, yak bone, bodhi seeds, or wood.
Some malas are made from gemstones, which have different properties and colors. Some popular mala gemstones are black onyx, turquoise, rose quartz, or jade. One of my favorite malas has lava beads! You can select gemstones that match the intention of your practice or your mantra.
There are several mala styles. Some have only 108 beads and a guru bead; others also incorporate a tassel. All malas with 108 beads can be worn as necklaces or as wrapped bracelets, and many Western practitioners wear their malas when they are off the mat to remind them of their yoga practice and their intentions. Short malas have 27 beads, for shorter meditations; these malas are often worn as bracelets off the mat.
Choosing a Mantra
Traditionally, a teacher or guru gifts a mantra, but you can choose a mantra for yourself depending on what you are seeking. When choosing a mantra, consider your motivations for practicing meditation. Perhaps you’re looking for positivity, health, happiness, self-love, or to find balance. Whatever it is, choose a mantra that aligns with that.
You can choose a mantra in English, such as “I am abundant”, or “I am grateful for all that I have.” Or you can select a Sanskrit mantra.
Sanskrit is the ancient language of India, and it is unique because, in Sanskrit, the meaning of a word is not separate from the sound of the word. The sound is the meaning. Further, sound is vibration, and each sound of the Sanskrit alphabet has a corresponding vibration in our body. When we chant Sanskrit mantras, the sound and meaning of the words reverberates within us.
Here are some of my favorite Sanskrit mantras:
Translation: The sound of the universe. It’s the first, original vibration and represents the birth, death and re-birth process.
When chanted, the sound Om vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz, which is the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature. This is what makes Om the basic sound of the universe. By chanting it we are symbolically and physically tuning in to that sound and acknowledging our connection to all other living beings, nature and the universe.
Lokah Samastah Sukino Bhavantu
Pronunciation: Low-kaah Sah-muh-staah Soo-khee-noh Buh-vun-toh
Translation: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
This mantra encourages cooperation, compassion and living in harmony with the environment, animals, and our fellow human beings. This is one of my favorite mantras because it reminds me of the kind of life I want to lead; particularly in these highly polarized, divisive times. This is a nice one to chant if you want to dedicate your practice or meditation to someone.
Om Gam Ganapataye Namah
Pronunciation: Ohm Gahm Gah-nah-paht-ah-yeh Nah-mah-hah
Translation: I bow to the elephant-faced deity, Ganesha, who is capable of removing all obstacles. I seek his blessings and protection.
In Hindu teachings, Ganesha is the god of wisdom and success, and the remover of obstacles. This mantra is perfect to chant when you are embarking on something new or when you need some guidance. Ganesha is my favorite deity and this is my favorite mantra. I always draw on it when I’m facing a big challenge in life, or when I’m feeling uncertain or ungrounded.
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha
Pronunciation: Ohm Tah-reh Tew-tah-reh Tew-reh So-hah
Translation: I bow to the Goddess Tara, who liberates us from fears and blockages.
Also known as Mother of Mercy and Compassion in Tibetan Buddhism, the Goddess Tara is attributed with abundance, protection, enlightened activity, long life, and compassion. By chanting this powerful mantra, we invoke the blessings of Goddess Tara and request her protection from danger and from our fears. You can also chant this mantra to overcome mental, physical, or emotional blockages, as well as blockages in relationships.
How to practice mantra meditation:
- I recommend a seated position for mantra meditation; spine long and the eyes closed or gaze lowered
- Take a few moments to focus on your breath; simply observing the natural flowing of your breath in and out of the body
- Begin to repeat your mantra, silently or out loud, over and over
- If you’re using a mala:
- Hold it in your right hand, draped between your middle and index fingers.
- Place your thumb on the bead to the right of the guru bead as you begin reciting your mantra.
- At the end of the mantra pull the mala bead towards you with your thumb and move onto the next bead for another recitation.
- Do this 108 times, traveling around the mala, until you once again reach the guru bead.
- If you wish to do another round of repetitions, do not skip over the guru bead. Instead, begin to push the beads in the opposite direction.
Using a mala gives you another anchor to focus your attention – the physical sensation of the mala in your hands.
Ready for your own mala?
If you’re looking to get a mala for your mantra meditation practice, you’ll want to consider whether you want gemstones or not. You can seek out gemstones that align with the intentions you want to manifest; or if you’re looking for something simpler, you’ll probably want rudraksha or sandalwood beads.
There are tons of malas on Etsy that you can check out – many handmade and just gorgeous. A few mala makers that I love are Malas With Love, Mala Collective, and Buddhahood Beads.
I happen to be a Malas With Love ambassador, so if you like their stuff and want 15% off, use code _ROAMINGYOGI15 at checkout!
Do you have a favorite mantra? Share them in the comments!
As always, if you have any questions, comments, concerns, please drop them in the comments below or shoot me an email 😃
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I am extremely engaged in this method. I love the enthusiasm and I am thrilled with my progress. Thank you for your support!
Hi Tiffany! I’m so happy to hear that. It’s such a wonderful form of meditation 🙂 If you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!
My name is Ayathuray Rajasingam. I am a Hindu and a strong devotee of Lord Shiva. I am 79 years old and now a vegetarian.
Having known that Rudraksha mala is the favourite ornament of Lord Shiva on account of its connections with earth, fire, sky, water and air which are the gateway to enlightenment and miracle energy, I wore the Rudraksha mala around my neck and began to chant the mantra OM NAMASIVAYA while being on meditation. I tried to see the third eye which is in the centre of my forehead and felt some vibration but occasionally felt strain. In fact, there were tears on my eyes. Recently upon reciting the mantra OM NAMASIVAYA, I also felt some vibration within my body. I could not belief myself of the miraculous vibration which is like transmitting an electro-magnetic charge throughout my body for a moment. I wondered whether this Rudraksha mala helped me to neutralize the negative energy. It is difficult to explain but felt easiness in my body. However, I knew it was a salutation to Lord Shiva and for the first time I realized it has greatly boosted spiritual energy. After all, I am just a ordinary citizen. Should I keep practicing this. It is my routine to wear the Rudraksha mala and worship. Should I keep practicing this. Will it do any harm to my body. I am clueless.
Hi Ayathuray, Thank you for sharing. I do not believe that wearing a Rudraksha mala will cause harm to your body. Continue to observe the sensations and if at any point it feels unsafe, please seek out the help of a doctor.
I recently purchased a beautiful mala from a well established yoga company & they told me the importance of the 108 beads when I bought it They have a woman in Colorado who makes them with semi-precious stones & blesses them.
I loved mine so much, I bought another for my yogi girlfriend who practices meditation regularly. She was excited to learn how to use a mala & read up online. Then, my girlfriend counted her beads…which led me to count my beads…and we both have 113 (not counting the Guru bead or another large bead (do we have 2 guru beads). Any who…the importance of 108 beads…and sacred value kind of define a mala…right?
I contacted the lovely yogi at the company I bought them from & she sent me the link to your article on how to use a mala. She was as stumped as I am about 113 beads & never counted them herself. She said she will ask the maker.
Do you think I should send the “Malas” back and ask that they be restrung with only 108 beads? They cost over $100 each.
Your thoughts would be much appreciated!
Thank you for the beautiful article as well!
Apologies for the delay in getting back to you, it’s been a busy couple of months! A mala is intended to be used as a tool for your meditation practice, and should you choose to wear it, to serve as a reminder of your practice and your intentions. While the number 108 does carry spiritual significance, having extra beads on your mala will not detract from it’s intended purpose. If you feel that it is serving you and your practice, it’s ok for it to have some extra beads. If, however, you connect to the significance of the number 108 and you would like for your mala to have the intended 108 beads, then you are perfectly in your right to ask for it to be restrung.
I’m curious, did you ever hear from the maker as to why they used 113 beads?
I hope this helps!