Practicing alone for the beginning yogi (without the aid of a teacher or some media assistance) can be intimidating. One vexing aspect is the proper amount of time to hold an asana (pose). I have discovered during my time on the mat that a mantra can be a great way to focus the mind, control the breath and remain present while relaxing and holding an asana. A fantastic mantra I often use comes from the Hindu tradition of Shaivism, “Om Namah Shivaya.”
Briefly, Shaivism is said to be around 2,500 years old, and is a Hindu sect which reveres Shiva as the ultimate supreme being, worshipped as the creator, preserver and destroyer of worlds. Shiva, also referred to as Adiyogi Shiva, is viewed as the patron god of the arts, meditation and yoga.
“Om Namah Shivaya” is considered the most beloved and essential mantra dedicated to Shiva. Its direct translation means “O Salutations to the Auspicious One,” and is practiced traditionally as japa yoga, being repeated 108 times a day using rudraksha beads to keep count.
Chanting this mantra mentally or vocally with sincere devotion calms the mind, bringing peace and joy to the heart and soul while receiving spiritual knowledge as well as protection. It calls upon the higher self or inner self and is considered a healing mantra for mental and physical ailments.
“Om” is the most sacred and devotional syllable or mantra in Hinduism. Om is often chanted during meditation and before mantras. The Om sound is considered the primordial sound and signifies the essence of consciousness.
“Namah” is a greeting or a bow, and “Shivaya” is another word for Shiva but can also refer to our divine inner self. Thus, one could interpret this mantra to mean “I bow to the inner Self.”
Traditionally practiced as a seated meditation, the unique aspect of this mantra is that it requires no ritual or ceremony to perform — all that is needed is devotion and a focused mind. With no strict observance, this mantra is perfect anywhere, anytime, and works perfectly for yoga practice and modern life.
I use this mantra during my yoga practice since I tend to lean into modern yoga, which allows for experimentation, personal style and growth. I begin each session with a few deep breaths, helping me become entirely present for my practice. I begin to mentally recite the mantra when preparing for an asana, while holding the asana and again when transitioning into a new pose.
I begin each session with a few deep breaths, helping me become entirely present for my practice.
Typically, my practice has me chanting the mantra well over 108 times. I find that my mind becomes ultra-focused, my breathing deep and steady. I discovered that I’m more aware of the edge of each pose, exploring far enough but not too far as to result in an injury. Also, each of my sessions includes some form of music, and often a track will contain this mantra.
Listening to Om Namah Shivaya is an excellent way to take the mantra from the conscious mind right into the subconscious mind. Brilliantly replacing the internal negative chatter with the empowering vibration of your divinity, the most significant aspect of yourself.
If you choose to try a mantra during your practice, have fun with it, see how it feels. Perhaps you may find a new awareness you never felt before. Please don’t get caught up with the number of times you chant the mantra; it’s not about repetition. It’s about the presence and devotion you give to your divinity and practice.
Remember yoga isn’t the music played, the mantras chanted or how long or deep the asanas. It shouldn’t be a chore that overwhelms but a journey which lightens the load. It’s about meeting your authentic self on the mat, accepting the greatness inside and letting the love flow.