4 Simple Steps to Calming the Mind and Uplifting the Spirit
By Dr. Rhea Mehta
Mantras are Sanskrit words, sounds or melodic phrases that originate in the Vedas, one of the oldest known spiritual texts. In South Asia and across the world, mantras are uttered and chanted as part of a concentration-based meditation practice, with the intent of calming the mind and uplifting the spirit—when the meaning of the mantra becomes part of the focus of observation.
The ancient teachings say that mantras can help expand our consciousness, free us from pain, and heal our bodies. The good news is that modern science is now working to better understand this, especially from a mental health perspective, given the global crisis and the need for better solutions.
While my hope is that more people can benefit from this powerful wisdom, to practice without regard for the cultural roots and fundamental principles is both disrespectful and ineffective. Building an equitable mantra practice that honours South Asian culture means centering the stories, context, and sacred language of these ancient rituals every step of the way.
Steps to Building an Equitable Practice
The Gayatri mantra is considered the essence of all mantras. I have a deep connection to it as it is one I recited as a bedtime ritual growing up. I continue to use it as part of my meditation practice and whenever I am trying to calm my mind. Let’s use this sacred text as a guiding point for building an equitable meditation practice.
Step 1: Understand the historical and cultural context of mantra
To create an equitable practice means taking time to learn and acknowledge the historical and cultural origins of the mantra in question. The Gayatri Mantra is considered one of the most important and powerful Vedic mantras, so much so that the Buddha was described as expressing appreciation for it. It was first recorded in the ancient text of the Rig Veda in Sanskrit around 4000 years ago. This mantra plays a critical role in Hindu ceremonies, and is widely cited in texts including the classical Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita. Knowing this backstory provides context to the environment corresponding to this sacred text, and how it relates to Hindu religious and spiritual practices.
Step 2: Take into consideration the meaning, purpose, and attitude of mantra
Let’s start with the meaning and purpose of this mantra. Historically, the Gayatri Mantra has been recited daily by Hindu people of India in their homes, as the sun rises or sets for purposes of purification and divine guidance.
It begins with the primitive ॐ – Om (pronounced ‘om’ or ‘aum’) – a sacred sound filled with powerful energy, that is said to encompass the original vibration of the universe. The entire Gayatri Mantra in Sanskrit is as follows:
om bhur bhuva swaha
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
We meditate on the radiant Sun,
the embodiment of knowledge and light.
May your light inspire and illuminate our minds.
Knowing the meaning and purpose of the mantra allows for the practitioner to develop a deeper connection to it. Once the practitioner has a few mantras to work with, they can begin choosing the one that communicates their own intention. The Gayatri Mantra honours the sun, and asks that it cleanse us so we can shine more brightly. Holding this feeling as we practice will undoubtedly lead to a more enriching experience.
When we know the what, why, and how of the mantra we are working with, we can then approach it in a way that embodies our understanding, appreciation, and relationship to it. This is the attitude with which we approach the mantra, which will impact our tone, our posture, our rhythm, and ultimately, the outcome of the practice.
Step 3: Learn how to correctly pronounce mantra
The healing aspects of mantra meditation come from the sound vibrations of each mantra, which carry the meaning and energy of the ancient texts. Correctly pronouncing the mantra is critical to connecting to its force. While this might not come easy for non-South Asian mantra beginners, I highly recommend learning from a practitioner who comes from the lineage or who evidently takes an equitable approach to mantra meditation.
Step 4: Package it all into a ritualistic, repetitive practice
What makes mantra meditation stand out from a traditional meditation practice is that the mantra is the focus of the meditation. It is not intended to be recited or chanted once, but rather, it is rhythmically repeated for a minimum of 3 rounds and typically 12, 27, 54, up to 108 times—the number representing infinite. As each round builds on the previous, the practitioner goes deeper into the practice, further absorbing the meaning and magic of the mantra.
To achieve full benefits, it is recommended to commit to a certain number of days of practice with the same mantra. While any number of days is worth celebrating, some yogic traditions recommend 21 or 40 days of ritual. Consider starting your mantra practice with some breaths and take a moment to connect to the history, the meaning, and your own intention. Close with your hands together at heart center, and take a final om to honour the ancient wisdom.
Now that you understand the steps to building an equitable mantra meditation practice, you’re on your way to benefiting from the power of mantra—while honouring the sacred origins. The extraordinary benefits of mantra meditation in mind, body, and spirit are tied to my mission to spread this ancient wisdom from my lineage. This has been at the center of my work with my debut EP Soul Ceremony which is a terrific introduction to the world of mantra healing, and a beautiful accompaniment to the practice. As we come together to practice equitable mantra meditation, we collectively unleash the power of this wisdom.