How To Start (And Stick With) An Empowering Mantra Meditation Practice
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is described as the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. As one of the eight limbs of yoga that leads to union or "oneness," meditation helps us do just that. A daily meditation practice can promote a gradual slowing of the thoughts to reveal a deeper level of consciousness, awareness, and sense of stillness.
The silent repetition of a mantra, or "mind vehicle," is one method of transportation we can mentally hop into in order to navigate beyond our thinking mind.
What is mantra meditation?
The practice of mantra meditation utilizes the silent repetition of a word or phrase as the point of focus to help hone a more focused awareness. It aids in the slowing down of mental activity and thought.
Mantra meditation is not meant to stop your thoughts altogether. Instead, the goal is to expand your awareness so you can get more comfortable observing your thoughts (and any other external stimuli) without getting immediately involved in them.
The more you practice, the more you'll start to notice that you are inherently more present, with less mind-wandering to the past or future. You'll live in the moment with a greater degree of mindful (nonjudgmental) witnessing awareness.
You'll also likely notice that your self-referred thinking decreases, cultivating a greater sense of compassion for others, due to the reduced activity in the brain's default mode network1, which regulates both of those experiences.
How to do mantra meditation
Set aside the time.
For starters, decide when you want to create space (20 minutes preferable) for a daily practice. Making your meditation a ritual will help you create momentum and consistency with it, and meditating around the same time each day is a great place to start.
It's often easiest to meditate first thing in the morning, because there isn't as much tempting you to choose another activity, like spending time with friends or hitting the gym after work.
I'm the first to admit that in the beginning, before you start to see the benefits show up in your life, meditation feels a lot like "sitting and doing nothing," so find time when there isn't anything else fighting for your attention.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit.
Emphasis on comfortable. We don't do things that aren't comfortable, and I want you to develop a practice that will move through your life with you.
Before you start, try to minimize any avoidable distractions: Turn your phone on silent, close a window, or ask anyone living with you to respect your space while you meditate. You don't need a perfectly silent space to meditate, so don't stress about creating a mountaintop cave vibe in your living room.
Lastly, set a timer for 20 minutes. If it helps to have music playing, go ahead and use that as part of your experience. Just stay away from music that invokes emotions or has words: Think more nature sounds.
Always remember, though, that while this practice may develop into a ritual, you can meditate anywhere and don't need to have every single element present to practice.
When you're ready to begin, simply start your timer and close your eyes.
I like to start my meditations by taking a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth before letting that breath flow effortlessly through the nose. If it feels comfortable, take a few moments to scan through the body to relax any areas where you sense tension or tightness. I like to pay special attention and relax the muscles in my face and my shoulders.
And then, start to silently repeat the mantra "So-Hum." Spoiler alert: Your attention will drift away. You'll find yourself all of a sudden thinking the most random thoughts, engaging with some sound you pick up on or maybe with a physical sensation you start to notice.
When you drift away from the mantra, simply notice without judgment where your attention has gone, and then gently return to the mantra. Imagine that you're out to dinner, and your mantra is your dinner partner, and the conversation that you're in. Of course you can hear words from other people's conversations, but you likely wouldn't get up from your table and sit down to join their conversation.
This is all you're going to do in your meditation. When you notice that you've left the conversation with your mantra, notice it and then find your way back to silently repeating it.
That entire dance between the mantra and the other activity is your meditation. And know that it's in the drifting and coming back that you build that muscle of awareness to be able to notice where the attention of your mind has gone and to be able to bring it back to where you want to be.
You power is in the space between. The space between your breath, your thoughts, your moments. If you can cultivate present moment awareness, you harness the ability to direct your energy and attention to the things that will support you and not sabotage you. Mantras have been used to unlock that potential in us for thousands of years, so I'd be willing to bet on your success with it any day of the week.
Mantras to use in meditation
Let's talk about the star of this show: Your mantra!
Unless you speak Sanskrit, meditating with a Sanskrit mantra might feel like you're silently repeating a "meaningless" thought—but these mantras carry an energetic essence and can help to support your intentions.
A really powerful universal mantra that is great to use is So Hum, which distills down to the English essence "I am." This mantra is great because it can be linked with the breath, which gives your mind two things to anchor to—the sensation of your breath and the silent repetition of the mantra. To practice this, simply silently repeat "So" as you inhale and "Hum" as you exhale.
Two more of my favorite mantras are Shivo'ham (Shee-voh-hum), which embodies the essence of consciousness (I am consciousness), and Aham Prema (Ah-hum Pray-ma) which embodies divine love (I am love).
Here are some more to consider trying:
- Sa Ta Na Ma, which can be translated as "birth, life, death, rebirth"
- Om, arguably the most popular mantra in world, as the sound of the universe and the sound of creation
- Aad Guray Nameh, Jugaad Guray Namay, Sat Guray Nameh, Siri Guru Davay Nameh, a mantra for protection that translates to, "I bow to the primal wisdom, I bow to the wisdom through the ages, I bow to the true wisdom, I bow to the great divine wisdom." Repeat this mantra whenever you would like a little extra protection."
What is an example of a meditation mantra?
A simple example of mantra meditation is silently repeating So Hum as you sit for meditation.
How do I find my mantra?
Choose any mantra that resonates with what you're working on, whether it's protection, more peace, or love. Don't feel like you have to limit your options to Sanskrit phrases—your mantra can be any word or phrase you want.
If meditation has given you trouble in the past, a mantra might be exactly what you're missing. After all, that's why they call it a "mind vehicle," because whenever you lose focus, your mantra serves as the vehicle to bring you back into a meditative state.
Meditation teacher and author Megan Monahan is passionate about making meditation accessible and relatable. Her goal is to infuse a modern-day “realness” into the all too often esoteric landscape of meditation. Since learning to meditate in 2009 with Deepak Chopra and becoming a Chopra Certified instructor, she has taught thousands to meditate through her platform. She works with corporate brands like Lululemon, Chopra Global, Unplug Meditation and Wanderlust while working privately with personal and corporate clients internationally, always bringing her spiritual real talk. Her first book, Don't Hate, Meditate was published in 2019 by Ten Speed Press.