Monthly Archives: October 2016

Starting a personal mantra practice

IV.1 janmauṣadhi-mantra-tapaḥ-samādhi-jāḥ siddhayaḥ

“The mystic powers arise due to birth, herbs, mantras, the performance of austerity, and samādhi.”  Edwin F. Bryant translation from “The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.”

After my last post, I have had overwhelming requests about instructions on how to start with a mantra practice. As a disclaimer, I am indeed a novice in this area and am still figuring it out on my own, but in my toils I would like to share some insights I have gathered about this practice.

Mantra-s fall under the Laya Yoga spectrum of all the yoga-s (Hatha, Raja, Kundalini, Bhakti, Jnana, etc.) Laya yoga is the yoga of absorption. Much like the big bang theory, it is said the universe began with the pranava, or “AUM” and will dissolve in “AUM.”

Traditionally, mantra-s are given from guru to shishya (teacher to student) in what is called diksha (initiation) and are kept in secret otherwise the potency of the mantra will vanish. As we live in an age where this tradition is vanishing, the guru-less aspirant has to find their own way.

That aside, there are many different types of mantras one can chant without diksha and still receive benefits. For those practicing Hathayoga, the bija mantras of the chakras can be uttered. This is how I started my mantra practice. Each chakra corresponds to an element, and each element has a mantra.

Just as one does not start to build a house with the roof or windows, all are useless without a solid foundation. Therefore, it is highly advisable to start with the Earth element. The Earth element is the mantra LAM pronounced LUM. That corresponds with the Muladhara Chakra known as the “root” chakra.

Before moving onto anything else, I would focus on that mantra. I did this mantra for about 4 months every morning for 108 times. Repeating the same mantra is called japa. This was at a time when I was in a stressful low paying job. It seemed that since I had began the practice, I received a sense of stability and eventually a higher paying job in an established company. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but it has led me into having faith in this practice. As a rule of thumb, one should never expect rewards for mantras as that is not the point. Just like when a child prays to God to get a toy, the likelihood of the child getting the toy will be low (and the best answer to that prayer is denying the toy, lest the child will get spoiled).

The second type of mantra is nama sadhana, or the names of God practice. For me these hold the most power. They require that one be a bhakta, or one who’s yoga is based of faith and devotion. Traditionally, all nama sadhana should begin with a mantra to Ganesh. There is so much lore behind these mantra-s, that I would take a whole encyclopedia to explain. You can research on your own why Ganesh should come first. His mantra is “AUM GAM GANAPATAYE NAMAH.”

Once you utter the Ganesh mantra, then you can utter others. BKS Iyengar, in Light On Pranayama offers the eight syllabled mantra “AUM NAMO NARAYANAYA,” the five syllabled “AUM NAMAH SIVAYA,” the 12 syllable “AUM NAMO BHAGAVATE VASUDEVAYA,” or the 24 syllable Gayatri Mantra which I have blogged about in the past.

There are “masculine” mantras which usually correspond to Ganesh, Vishnu, Hanuman, and Siva (there are many many others), and there are “female” mantras which usually correspond to Durga, Saraswati, and Lakshmi (and many many others). It is said in most of the literature that the female mantras contain “shakti” which has tremendous power. Please use care when using these mantras.

On a final note, it is advisable not to utter “AUM” solely without using the multisyllabled mantras stated above. As said in the beginning, the universe began with “AUM” and will be dissolved in “AUM” and may just dissolve you with it.

Linked here is a tutorial on how to use a mala to count your mantra-s. Hope this is helpful and many blessings!

 

 

Tapasya

I’ve been a busy soul of late. My teachers are conducting a teacher training in Beijing and I have been subbing most of their classes. My normal schedule of teaching three classes per week has now mushroomed to eight. That wouldn’t be much if all I did was teach yoga. But in between teaching I have a full time job and caregiving duties.

On my sub days, I teach a 7 am class, go to appointments and hospitals all day, then return to the studio for a 5:15 pm and 6:45 pm class. I don’t get out until 9:00 pm.

As yoga teachers, we are sometimes called to summon great strength and fortitude. To cheerfully face a class of students after a full day of work is difficult. It is not something that is taught in teacher training. It is something that must be cultivated through practice.

I’m finding the hardest part isn’t so much teaching the classes, it’s maintaining my performance at my full time job which requires me to provide mental health services for needy people in the community.

One of my clients is homeless and stays in a bathroom for shelter. I met this client to fill out forms to get help from community resources. As I was leaving the appointment, the client asked me “do you have anything to eat?” I told the client to wait and scrambled to the nearest convenience store and bought a few Spam musubi-s (think sushi, except with Spam) which is a ubiquitous staple of Hawai’i. The client appeared grateful when I returned with the food.  I am finding that these moments give me the strength to carry on this crazy schedule.

Another interesting part of my practice now is I am using mantra-s to help give me energy, offer me protection, and give thanks for my blessings. As I am driving from appointment to appointment and class to class, I recite specific mantra-s. If I know I will be in a potentially dangerous situation, like an inpatient psychiatric hospital setting, I will recite a Durga mantra. For my long drives to the office, I will recite a Ganesh mantra or a Vishnu mantra. If I am feeling tired, I will chant a Hanuman mantra. All give me a special feeling depending what I need. And of course to express my devotion to the divine who has allowed this all to be possible.

Happy Dussehra!

Today is an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar as it marks goddess Durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasura after nine nights and one day of battle. My wife and I were not born into Hindu faith, but we have been observing Navratri for the past two years of the festival. I believe it has helped us withstand the demands we have faced over the past two years with her father’s passing and new caregiving duties of her mother-in-law.

I like how Navratri makes you focus on each aspect of Durga’s shakti. She comes in many forms and all have a distinctly feminine power. She is giving, forbearing, fierce, forgiving, bestowing, and patient among other qualities.

The nice thing about this holiday is it celebrates the feminine as a greater power than masculine. Given the above qualities of Durga’s shakti, this is really true. There are “masculine” mantras and there are “feminine” mantras one can chant. For example the “masculine” ones to Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu are great for a bhakti practice sustained for a long period of time, but the “feminine” mantras contain the shakti that gets things done with quickness and precision. Very much like my wife and me. I like to sit and think about things, but when the decisive action needs to be made, like Durga, my wife gets it done while I’m just watching with a dropped jaw. I think many men would not admit this, but know it’s true about their female partners.

The last manifestation of Durga during Navratri is Siddhidatri, or the one who bestows the eight powers mentioned in the third Pada of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. She is said to have even given Shiva his powers. If one is ardent in one’s practice, siddhi-s are bestowed upon the practitioner.

I find that these festivals and rituals give deep meaning to my yoga practice as they have done for others for centuries. Even simply reading about them ties up a lot of loose ends one may find in studying the Yoga Sutras or Bhagavad Gita. Yoga has such a rich and deep history, to not recognize these other parts of it aside from asana practice limits one’s ability to make these connections. And only practicing one limb gives only one flavor to a practice that is supposed to contain all the flavors of the cornucopia.

Happy Dessehra/Vijayadashami!