Why do we recite mantras 108 times?

The power of mantras and the sacred OM in yoga
by Pari Laskaridis in Inspiration

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Home ›Blog› The power of mantras and the sacred OM in yoga

No matter whether we sing, speak, recite mantras or simply repeat them in our head: They help us to bring our thoughts back to the here and now. At our concerts, Satyaa and I keep observing what they trigger in us humans: They make our hearts laugh, weep - we dance with joy and bliss.

Meaning and origin of mantras

OM - one syllable, two letters: Anyone who has experience with mantras knows what harmonic vibration they have on body, mind and soul. Most yoga classes begin and end with the original mantra OM. But what are mantras anyway, where do they come from and do they actually have such a powerful effect on mind and body?

The word mantra comes from Sanskrit and is made up of the words manas (spirit) and tra (protection, technique). Thus we can translate mantras as "protection of the mind" or as the overcoming of the mind ". They have their origin in the Vedas. Veda translates as “knowledge”. Many verses from the Vedas come from the ancient Indian language and are called mantra, which Hindus, Buddhists and yogis have used for thousands of years in meditation and many spiritual practices.

Everything is sound

It is interesting that the metaphysical approaches of Vedic cosmology show some similarities with modern science. Because according to the Vedas, creation emerged from a big bang and the primal energy manifested itself in innumerable sound forms. Everything that is - whether human, animal or tree - has its own sound and thus its own vibration. These vibrations can even be traced back to the molecular range. Every matter vibrates in its own way and has its own tone - even if we cannot hear it.

You might also be interested in: Take a sound bath - how sound can purify you

Om - the sacred syllable and its powerful effect

Most of you may have already discovered the OM symbol in yoga studios. At least now you know the OM symbol:

 

OM - also AUM - is the oldest and most powerful mantra and comes from the genus of the Bija mantras (monosyllabic mantras). You can often find it in other mantras, such as Om Namah Shivaya or Om Mani Padme Hum. The three letters A, U and M are said to have many meanings. It is generally accepted that they describe the phenomenon of time or the transience of everything that is. A stands for the past, U for the present and M for the future or for the emergence, the persistence and the passing of all phenomena. This separation is dissolved through OM and time is experienced as the vibration of eternity. So OM cannot be simply translated: OM is a universal formula for the entire universe and is called the primordial sound of life.

How does the mantra OM work?

By chanting OM, we feel a strong effect on our entire body, because the hum of the Om makes our entire body vibrate. Starting from the neck, over the chest and stomach, down to every small cell. Sometimes it even succeeds in releasing muscle tension. The sound also creates calm and focus in the head.

Small exercise with the mantra OM

Close your eyes, cover both ears, take a deep breath and sing OM loudly. Try to activate your Uddiyana Bandha while doing this. So maybe you can chant the OM longer. Take another deep breath and repeat this to yourself a few times. So you can feel the feeling even more intensely.

Bija, Nirguna, Saguna - the three types of mantras

If you've never heard the three Sanskrit words, there are probably a thousand question marks popping into your head for the first time. We generally distinguish three different types of mantras:

  1. Nirguna mantras

    They address the nameless and formless divine (Brahman) such as
    Om Tat Sat (threefold definition of Brahman, Cosmic Sound, All Manifested, Supreme Truth)
    So Ham (I am That)
     
  2. Saguna mantras

    They are directed to a specific deity or to a specific aspect of a god. It can also be a special wish for us or others that this deity can fulfill. The Saguna mantras are divided into female and male aspects.

    Saguna mantra with masculine aspect:
    Om Namah Shivaya: This mantra is aimed at Shiva. He represents the universal power of destruction in which all being ends and begins again.

    Saguna mantra with feminine aspect:
    Om Shri Durgayai Namah: This mantra is addressed to Durga. She is the wife of Shiva and represents the ideal of maternal love.
     
  3. Bija or Bija-akshara mantras

    These mantras are monosyllabic mantras, also known as seed mantras. They are specifically used during meditation and in ceremonies. Examples are e.g. HAM - ether, YAM - air, RAM - fire, VAM - water, LAM - earth

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Five well-known mantras and their meanings

  1. OM

    OM, also AUM, is the best known, most important and most powerful of all mantras. In addition to the past, present and future, it also unites emergence, persistence and decay - embodied in Hindu mythology by the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. In almost all yoga classes, OM is chanted at the beginning and at the end of the meditation in order to center oneself.

    OM Shanti OM

    Shanti stands for peace and is often sung together with the OM in yoga classes. Together they mean something like all-encompassing peace.
     

     

  2. The peace mantra
     

    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

    The mantra comes from the millennia-old Rigveda and stands for harmony, peace and happiness. Translated it means: "May all living beings in all worlds be happy." It wants to remind us that we are all connected to one another and when we open our hearts and show goodwill to ourselves and others, we experience happiness and peace.
     
  3. Gayatri mantra

    Om bhur bhuvah swah
    Act savitur varenyam
    Bhargo devasya dhimahi
    Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
     

    The Gayatri mantra is one of the oldest and most powerful mantras and is said to purify our heart. It is aimed at the sun of truth in the spiritual firmament, which is a visible representation of the highest and literally illuminates us through its light and makes life on earth possible in the first place.

     

    The translation of the Gayatri mantra:
    Om, we meditate on the splendor of the venerable divine,
    the source of the three worlds, earth, air space and heavenly regions.
    May the supreme divine enlighten us so that we may know the supreme truth.
     

  4. Asato Ma Sat Gamaya
     

    Om asatoma satgamaya
    Tamasoma iyotir gamaya
    mrityorma amritam gamaya

    The mantra comes from the early days of Hinduism and comes from one of the ten most important Upanishads. Translated, the mantra means: "Lead us from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from mortality to immortality."
     

     

  5. Surya mantra

    With the Surya Mantras we expand the practice to include the aspect of gratitude. We are not only praising the sun, but all of creation. There are a total of 12 mantras that praise the different qualities of the sun. If you want to sing along, you will find the text here:

    Om Mitraaya Namaha
    Om Ravaye Namaha
    Om Suryaya Namaha
    Om Bhaanave Namaha
    Om Khagaya Namaha
    Om Pooshne Namaha
    Om Hiranyagarbhaaya Namaha
    Om Mareechaye Namaha
    Om Aadityaaya Namaha
    Om Savitre Namaha
    Om Aarkaaya Namaha
    Om Bhaaskaraya Namaha
     

    Literally translated the mantra means:

    The one who is a friend to everyone.
    The one that shines and shines for everyone.
    The one who drives away the darkness and ensures activity.
    The one who illuminates everything. The shiny.
    The one that pervades everything.
    The one that moves across the sky.
    The one who nourishes and brings fulfillment.
    The one that is golden in color.
    The one that gives light by means of innumerable rays.
    Daughter of Aditi, the cosmic divine mother.
    The one who is responsible for life.
    Worth of worship and praise.
    Giver of wisdom and cosmic enlightenment.

Mantras as part of yoga practice

In yoga, yoga teachers like to use mantras before and after the lesson. Often songs are played and the students sing along. Some yoga teachers play a harmonium and sing the mantra and repeat it with their students. We use them to get in the mood for the yoga class, to concentrate and direct the mind to a specific topic.
There are different applications:

 

  1. The mantra meditation:

    In mantra meditation, you recite your mantra in your mind and with the rhythm of your breath. This type of mantra recitation is most commonly used in the yoga traditions. A simple example is SO HAM = I am That. Deepen your breathing and then with the inhalation you speak SO, with the exhalation HAM. Whether you say the mantra out loud, whisper it or speak it quietly inside is up to you.
     
  2. Reciting with a Japa Mala:

    In Japa recitation you repeat your mantra in the classic way 108 times. You push a “ball” on a mala after each repetition of the mantra.
     
  3. Kirtan: Group mantra chanting

    Singing mantras in a group is probably the most effective method. Satyaa and I like to compose our own melodies for our mantras. Music has a strong impact on our consciousness and through the melody, the sound and the rhythm mantras touch our hearts directly. As with everything in life, the feeling is paramount: a sober repetition of the mantras doesn't do much - with emotions there is a deep feeling of bhakti, devotion. Singing together in a group increases the energy and creates a deep spiritual connection with the people in the room. Convince yourself with our mantra: Om Namah Shivaya.

Does it always have to be in Sanskrit?

This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff: There are people who swear that the sound of the Sanskrit language already affects our mind. The other side claims that it is most effective when mantras are chanted in their own language. The fact is that Sanskrit is very abstract for some people and their consciousness is not reached by mantras like “Om mani padme hum” or “Om namah shivaya”. It is easier for them to feel the effect on the mind in their own mother tongue or in a language they understand. You can also use sentences like “I am”, “I am loved” or “I open my heart so that I can change my life in a positive way”. Just be open and try both for yourself.

Editor's tip:

A few years ago we did a very inspiring interview with Satyaa and Pari at the yoga festival in Berlin. Have a look:

 

Videos on YogaMeHome about mantras

We conducted a video interview with Sundaram, a well-known mantra singer in Germany, about his access to the world of sound. If you feel like practicing the sun salutation with a Surya mantra sung live, we recommend the video with Naissan Schneider. And if you want to learn how to play a mantra yourself on the harmonium or guitar, then you should watch the video from our yoga teacher Birgit Pöltl.

We hope you enjoy immersing yourself in the world of sound!

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Pari Laskaridis

Pari is a father, songwriter, mantra singer, spiritual teacher, author and psychologist. He lives in Corfu with his wife Satyaa and their daughter. Together they travel the world to open people's hearts to love with their music: love for God, love for the divine, love for truth and happiness. You can find more about Pari and Satyaa on their website.

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