Philosophy word for the day: Mantra

In my recent workshop for yoga teachers, How to Teach Philosophy and Meditation in Asana Class, I posted a list on the wall of Sanskrit words that I find make good vocabulary for sharing ideas in class. I’m going to define them over the next weeks, so keep posted. Here’s the Intro Post for this series.

Today’s word is mantra.

Mantra is a technique for altering one’s consciousness. The word itself means ‘mind liberation/transformation,’ and works on the mind with the mind itself. Explicitly, mantra is the repeating of sound or words, usually in Sanskrit, a language with carefully tuned vibrational sound (see the second bullet). Mantra works on several levels:

  • Sonically: The out-loud sounds of the universe have an effect on matter. As a demonstration, check out this amazing video.

  • Vibrationally: The way you make sound in your body creates vibrations, similar to those sonic vibrations. Sanskrit letters tap and resonate parts of your mouth that set up effects. Once those vibrations are in your system, you recall them mentally — just as you can recall an image in your mind. So the sound you make out loud has the mental effect even silently.
  • Mentally: The third way mantra works is at the meaning level; that is, you understand what the mantra is for and what it means and it serves as an affirmation of an idea.

While the third would seem the most important of the ways mantra works, it is in fact the least. The mantra changes you in spite of your thinking process. That is why it is so powerful. But don’t take my word for it. Experiment yourself with mantra.


Note: I am leading workshops this month in which we work two different ways with mantra. Saturday, March 22 at The Table, we’ll do the next installment of the ongoing Mantra Workshop series (I’m going to try to have us experiment with vibrating some salt!) Register here. Then on Thursday, March 27 at ISHTA Yoga, I’ll be leading a kirtan, in which we repeat the mantras to music (no talent or experience required!). Register here.