Last week was a bit of an overshare, but at the beginning of my attempts at a regular meditation practice it was so helpful for me to hear from those who made it look so easy.
It takes time and practice to settle in and over time those words, to me, as they will to you, came to take on a newer more nuanced meaning. It also took some work with different meditation techniques for me to settle in to what has now become a practice of about 60-minutes of silent meditation where I just “drop in” to my quiet mind.
After the visualization technique, which I explained last week, I experimented with a number of techniques until I found a really interesting style of meditation: mantra meditation.
A mantra is defined as a word, a series of words, or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. It can be something as simple as the traditional “om,” which is heard in yoga classes worldwide, or it can be a more personal affirmation. Your local yoga or meditation guide can direct you to a mantra that is perfectly suited to you, your needs and beliefs if this phrase is not coming to you easily.
As I settled in to try mantra meditation I selected “om” because, frankly, it was the Sanskrit (though you are not limited to Sanskrit mantras) I felt the most comfortable pronouncing and repeating.
Seated comfortably on my meditation pillow I took a couple of breaths to help me settle. I then closed my eyes and started to repeat, in a very tentative and quiet whisper, Om. Over and over, Om, Om, Om. Before I realized it the om was longer, extending to the length of each exhale, Ooooooommmmmmm. I relaxed a bit. I could feel myself slowing down.
Then the thinking mind crept in and I began to wonder what “Om” really meant. Until that very moment I had just taken for granted that “Om” was an opening and closing chant stated in yoga classes to help raise the collective vibration, consciousness of the room. And, while this sacred sound of Om is that, it is so much more. (Here is an article to help explain om in more detail.)
As I settled into a regular practice I started to experience Om at the beginning of a breath as AH, the middle of a breath as OH, and the end of a breath as MM. YES!!! The illusive breath in meditation! I had finally found it! The answer was right in front of me the whole time. But, the experience of it was just beginning to unfold for me.
The second piece of the meditation puzzle was revealed to me in this sound and the vibration that resonated through me. I opened my eyes, my whole body … buzzing … is really the best way to explain it. I could feel my whole body, alive and active, though I was simply sitting and breathing. My mind was peaceful and I felt like I had just found the key that I could use to unlock all that was me that I had not ever been able to access before.
I sat for days after this experience trying to get back to this place. But, I failed. I was frustrated. And, then I remembered something one of my wonderful first meditation guides recommended and I incorporated a mala to my mantra meditation.
A mala is a strand of 108 beads plus a “guru” bead traditionally used for meditation (and prayer). Malas can be created with different intentions and different precious and semi-precious gem stones to allow for different intentions to be recognized in a practice.
I happened to have a sandalwood mala nearby. (Sandalwood is believed to help enhance meditation practices, among other things). I took the guru bead (the largest bead on the mala and is typically near the mala’s tassel) and started chanting AH-OH-MM with my breath. With each exhale, and the beginning of the chant, I moved my fingers along the strand to the next bead. I did this the entire length of the mala, 108 beads, and rested. I opened my eyes and, though I didn’t feel the buzz I described earlier, I felt the same heightened sense of my own physical being.
For over a month I repeated this every day. It became second nature to me and I was able to focus the vibrations in different parts of my body. The sensation of the breath and the vibrations were (and remain) especially strong in my spine, but this can vary by individual. Anytime I am feeling anxious I repeat Om silently to myself and the vibrations return and help me calm. My breath settles … and, for me, that was the greatest gift of mantra meditation. (I often secretly joke to myself that this meditation became the seed of my practice.)
To try mantra meditation follow these steps:
Return to your meditation practice space
Find a comfortable position
Take a couple of breaths to settle
Chant your chosen mantra
Repeat the chant until you feel the vibration move through you and either continue to chant or sit in silence to enjoy the experience of the vibration from a place of internal peace
As a side note, malas can also be used alone to help focus the mind and to settle the nerves in times of stress. There are many styles of counting the beads. I simply hold the mala in my hand and count off the beads, starting with the guru, until I have moved through all 108. Typically, by the time I get about ¾ of the way through the strand I am feeling calmer and more focused. (It is not recommended that you do this while driving, operating heavy machinery, etc. And, please be careful if you are using malas around small children and animals. General common sense should be your guide here to make sure you and those around you are safe from the distraction of counting, long strings and broken strands!)
For individualized pointers or resources lists for mantras, please send requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, you are always invited to stop by InsideOut Body Therapies for a Sunday evening yin flow and meditation class where we experiment a bit with mantra meditations. Additionally, check the schedule for upcoming meditation workshops.
Lotus Seed Meditations, LLC