Mantra is a Sanskrit term, with “man” meaning “mind” and “tra” meaning “release.”
Think of a mantra — a word or phrase you repeat during meditation — as a tool to help release your mind. It can make a lot of difference, especially if you have trouble concentrating or getting in the right frame of mind.
Many people find that using a mantra can boost awareness and improve concentration. Since it helps you stay focused, it could lead to improved results from meditation.
You can meditate in many ways, and there’s no single “correct” approach.
Whether you practice mantra meditation or another style, you’ll often see many of the same benefits, including:
- increased self-awareness
- reduced stress
- a greater sense of calm
- increased self-compassion
- a more positive outlook
Some additional benefits of mantra meditation include:
Meditation doesn’t come easily to everyone, and many people find it takes time and practice to maintain focus. A mantra can make this easier by reducing wandering thoughts.
If you’re repeating a mantra, in your head or out loud, that mantra occupies your awareness and helps prevents it from drifting off in other directions.
This can be especially helpful if your mind tends to wander a lot when you try to meditate.
Reinforcement of meditation goals
Many meditation practitioners believe the vibrations and harmony of chanting certain syllables can enable a deeper meditative state. This deep meditation can help release any blocked energy disrupting your well-being.
You might choose a specific word or phrase that emphasizes your reasons for meditation, such as the Sanskrit word “shanti,” which means “peace.”
Meditating with a word you like the sound of, or one that makes you happy, can also reinforce a sense of calm or joy.
Some people choose mantras that double as affirmations, such as:
- “I have compassion for myself and others.”
- “Every day is a new beginning.”
Choosing affirming phrases also guides your awareness to your intentions. Meditation can feel frustrating when you don’t see results, but regularly repeating a mantra that reflects your vision for yourself can increase the likelihood of it becoming reality.
Changes in the brain
According to a small study from 2012, mantra meditation could help improve brain health.
After 8 weeks of Kriya Kirtan meditation, a type of kundalini meditation that involves mantra, 15 older adults experiencing memory problems showed increases in cerebral blood flow and cognitive function.
These brain changes appeared to lead to:
According to 2017 research, chanting certain mantras may stimulate these changes, since chanting can help synchronize the left and right sides of the brain and promote relaxing (alpha) brain waves. This synchronization
Better control over breath
Repeating a mantra while meditating can also help you find a natural breathing rhythm.
It can take some time to get accustomed to meditative breathing exercises. Matching your breath to your mantra can make this process easier and help you feel more relaxed at the same time.
When it comes to finding a mantra, there’s really no wrong way to go about it.
Some simple mantras are syllables or vowel sounds, such as the common “om” or “aum.” This short sound packs a lot of power, though. Many consider this syllable the original sound of the universe.
Another common meditation mantra is the Sanskrit “So Hum,” or “I am.”
Other types of mantras associated with more specific goals include:
- deity mantras
- healing mantras
- chakra mantras
If you’d like to get more insight on the meaning behind specific mantras, consider reaching out to a local yoga studio or meditation center.
If there’s a specific goal or intention behind your meditation practice, why not incorporate this into your mantra?
To feel calmer or relieve a low mood, for example, you might choose something like:
- “I am calm.”
- “My life is full of joy.”
Even the words “calm,” “joy,” or “kindness” can serve as effective mantras, if you want to keep it short.
Once you’ve got a mantra in mind, it’s time to start using it.
- Get comfortable. Find a quiet place where you can meditate without disruptions. Find a position you can hold for the length of your meditation, whether that’s sitting on the floor, in a chair, lying down, or even walking. Mudras, or hand positions, help some people enter a meditative frame of mind, but they’re not necessary.
- Set a timer. Decide how long you want to meditate (anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes) and set a timer. Consider using a quiet, relaxing sound, such as ocean waves or birdsong, so the alarm doesn’t jar you from a peaceful meditative state.
- Start with a few deep breaths. Pay attention to your breathing without doing anything to try and modify it. Just focus on the sensation of it entering your lungs and filling your body.
- Use your mantra. Continue breathing slowly and steadily through your nose as you begin to chant your mantra. You can say it out loud (this might help more with mantras intended to produce vibrations) or repeat it silently. It often helps to match the mantra to your breathing.
- Let your breath guide you. As you settle into the meditation, your mantra and breathing will eventually settle into a rhythm. Unless you’re attempting to use a specific breathing technique, following this flow may help your meditation feel more natural.
- Remember to gently redirect wandering thoughts. As you meditate, you’ll probably notice your attention begin to wander. When this happens, don’t try and force those unwanted thoughts away. Instead, just acknowledge them, let them go, and then pick the mantra back up.
- Close the meditation. When your timer goes off, don’t jump up right away. Instead, take a few moments to sit with your (hopefully) quiet mind. Check in with yourself. Do you feel more relaxed? More optimistic? This closing exercise lets you check in with yourself and track your progress.
It’s pretty common to find meditation challenging, a little boring, or even unpleasant, especially at first. It often takes time to see significant results, but most people who stick with the practice find it well worth it.
These tips can help you successfully make meditation a regular habit.
Focus on intentions
When you meditate with a specific goal in mind, such as reducing anxiety or unwanted emotions, it might seem natural to focus on the things you don’t want to feel.
But you may see better results when you meditate on positives, or the mindset you want:
- “I am calm.”
- “I am present.”
This generally proves more helpful than meditating on negatives, or the mindset you have right now, such as:
- “I’m not anxious.”
- “I’m not angry. “
You are anxious or angry. That’s why you’re meditating. It’s easy to get hung up on your existing frame of mind, but this can detract from meditation’s benefits.
Meditating with your desired outcome in mind, on the other hand, can help you visualize your success and transform this image into reality.
Try mala beads
Mala beads, or a japa mala, can help promote mindfulness in meditation and yoga practices. They’re intended to help you with mantra repetition — “japa” means “mutter” in Sanskrit.
A mala, or string of 108 beads, can help you maintain a steady breathing rhythm during meditation. You can also use a mala to focus on your mantra by using each bead to mark one repetition.
Curious to give it a try? Here’s how to get started with mala beads.
Feel free to change your mantra
If you don’t have much success with the first mantra, it may help to find one that resonates more with your current frame of mind and meditation goals. There’s no harm in changing it as necessary.
You don’t need to use the same mantra every time you meditate, either.
Perhaps in the morning, you want to focus on strength and compassion for the day ahead, and in the evening, you’d like to achieve a sense of restful internal peace.
The key to mantra meditation is finding one that works for you.
As with most things, meditation doesn’t always yield immediate results. To see optimal benefits, you’ll want to maintain a consistent practice.
Try not to worry about how long you meditate at first. Instead, make a habit of doing it every day. In time, you’ll find it easier to meditate for longer periods.
Meditating daily at the same time and place can also help you get into a regular routine.
Most people who meditate do it for a reason, whether it’s relaxation, cultivating compassion, or self-care.
Choosing a mantra that reflects your goals can help you focus on what you want to get out of meditation. This can strengthen your commitment to the practice and maximize the benefits of meditation.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.