Do you have a mala necklace? Maybe you just want one (they’re very “on trend” right now)? But here’s the big question: do you know how and what it’s used for? Because this string of 108 beads is not a necklace–it’s a tool for japa mala meditation.
“Japa” is Sanskrit (the language of yoga), meaning “to mutter repeatedly,” as in a mantra practice. You can actually practice Japa with or without a mala (so if you don’t have one–read on!), but the beads are a counting tool, anchoring you into the physical world as you work with your mind.
The word “mantra” is Sanskrit for “instrument of thought.” Mantra is the repetition of a sound, word or phrase. It’s a essentially a mind-and-heart-hack that cultivates focus, a simple method of altering (and improving) your state of mind.
Mantra has been practiced for at least 3,000 years by yogis, Hindus and Buddhists, in repetition of sacred verses, but the practice has gone beyond Sanskrit. You can create your own! With respect to the roots of yoga, we will cover my favorite six Sanskrit mantras below.
Anyone can use these mantras; self-realization is not intended to conflict with one’s religion. Though rooted in Hindu culture and referencing their deities, the meaning and intention behind these mantras are ultimately symbolic, so that anyone can apply them to their world as it makes sense for them. Find your own meaning in them, notice how you feel when you practice them, and again, feel free to create your own mantra for your own japa mala practice.
Working with a mala in meditation is simple. Sit up comfortably as you would in any meditation session, but with the mala beads in your right hand. Starting with the bead next to the guru bead, drape the mala over the middle finger and use the thumb to rotate through each bead as you repeat your mantra out loud or in your head. Because it represents ego, the index finger is not traditionally used to touch the beads. 108 mantra repetitions takes you back to the guru bead (the 109th). Go through as many repetitions as you like–tens, hundreds, thousands–it’s up to you and your practice.
Ready to explore the mantras? Here we go.
Omkara Mantra: Om/Aum
Translation: No translation, this mantra is a syllable, a sound. Symbolizing both the Atman or Soul and Brahman or God/the Universe, it is the cosmic sound. The sound of “OM” as it’s chanted is actually expressed in three sounds which encapsulate all sound from the human mouth in one breath: AH (top of the mouth), OH (center of the mouth), and MMM (front and back), and phonetically also represents the three stages of cosmic creation. For this reason, it is sometimes written as “Aum” in respect to this quality, rather than “Om.”
When to use: To bring peace. To expand consciousness, and contemplate the wholeness and oneness of creation. When you need to recalibrate or raise your vibration. If you’re feeling sluggish, a little tired, emotional, or just need a general cosmic pick-me-up, this is your mantra! Let the sound reverberate through your whole spine and body as you really draw it out and go deep.
The Lotus Mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum
Translation: The jewel is in the lotus, or praise to the jewel in the lotus.
When to use: The lotus is a symbol of transformation and enlightenment, because the flower journeys through thick mud, murky water, to rising above the water into the light as it blooms. The “jewel” mentioned in this mantra is symbolic–it is the jewel of wisdom and enlightenment that accompanies the path of (often painful) growth. This mantra is great for hard times and trials in our life, a reminder that our pain and struggle is part of the path and can be transmuted into wisdom.
Lakshmi Mantra: Om Shreem Cleem Hrim Lakshmayay Namaha
Translation: Salutations to the goddess of wealth, fortune and abundance, Lakshmi!
When to use: Feeling spent, financially? Turn your thoughts to Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Good Fortune and Beauty. She represents and is seen as the personification of abundance, prosperity, wealth and harmony. This mantra calls in the attraction of abundance, empowerment, good fortune, and wealth.
Ganesh Mantra: Om Gam Ganapatayay Namaha
Translation: Salutations to the remover of obstacles, Ganesh!
When to use: This grounding mantra calls on Ganesha, known as the Remover of Obstacles, master of Wisdom and Knowledge. There is much association between Ganesh and getting grounded, cultivating stability and safety–basically all things root chakra and the hips. If you’re feeling blocked, scattered, unstable or need a good dose of present moment awareness to find your center, this is a great mantra for dissipating all of that.
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya
Mrtyor-Maa Amritam Gamaya
Om Shanti Shanti Shantih
Lead me from the unreal to the real
Lead from the darkness to the light
Lead me from death to immortality
Let there be peace, peace, peace
When to use: This mantra is from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and is often used to promote peace and wellbeing. It is very high vibration, purifying for the body and mind, nourishing for one’s health, and is even said to cultivate prosperity. Similar to the vibration of OM, but digs much deeper into uplifting the mind and heart.
Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra or Rudra Mantra:
Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
Mrityor mukshiya mamritat
Translation (of many possible translations):
Salutations! We invoke the three-eyed one (Lord Shiva),
In adoration of he who is fragrant, full of life and strengthens all beings
Cut us free from bondage like a cucumber (cut from the vine)
Liberate us from Death, and help us realize Immortality
When to use: This is one of the most powerful and important mantras, but can be used by
anyone, so long as it is approached with reverence. The mantra is associated with Shiva, the cosmic creator and transformer. Shiva symbolizes the inevitability of change, liberation, and triumph over evil. This mantra is nurturing and rejuvenating. It is best used when you are facing a life challenge which strikes fear in you, when you are pitted against the unknown or even facing death. It is said to help practitioners conquer death, darkness, fear, and heal the body.
Thanks so much for exploring this with me! Japa mala meditation is a practice which harnesses the power of sound, words, and repetition, and can reap huge benefits for our mental and emotional wellbeing. There are many more mantras of course–these are the most powerful ones I have practiced. Do you have a favorite I didn’t list? Share below!
I hope you enjoyed this month’s featured blog post, which is a special collaboration between myself and Tiny Devotions. The mala featured in this article is their beautiful Howlite Limitless Mala paired with a Lapis Intution Amplifier pendant. Visit their online store to support them and learn more!