The Meaning of Om & How Mantra Can Help Make Lasting Change
Just as you have repetitive movement patterns—always brushing your teeth with your dominant hand, say—you also have repetitive mental patterns. Whether from stored emotion, old memory or inherited family beliefs, conditioned, repetitive thinking leaves an impression on every level of your being.
These impressions, or samskara as they’re called in sanskrit, become well worn paths. They become so familiar, in fact, that you may even believe them to be the only reality that exists.
Yoga practice allows you to observe both physical and mental patterns. Over time you catch those habitual thoughts and actions before you knee-jerk react in the same old ways.
You make change. Yay!
And then one day you wake up and, bam!, you’re back on that stinking highway-rut-of-a-samskara you’ve worked so hard to get off. WTF?!
Exchanging Old For New
That was me. For years.
Some of it was the sheer power of the samskara. It was like an eddy, pulling me back into a whirlpool I was desperately trying to swim out of, but some of it was a little secret I’ve since learned and will share with you now.
*If you don’t input a new habit where the old pattern used to be, you’ll rubber band right back to your past.*
This is where mantra can be of great service.
A Little Japa Jingle
The word mantra comes from manas or “mind” and –tra, “to traverse or cross.” Mantra is what crosses your mind, literally, on the path to become speech or sound. Mantra can be one word chants, like Aum, or simple sentences with profound meaning, such as Aum Namah Shivaya.
You can whisper them over and over like a prayer, which is called japa. You can sing them at kirtan, call and response style. When you’re in public you can think them into your own mind. The purpose is the same —to give your mind something on which to focus besides its old monkey-mess patterns.
The repetition is much like a TV commercial; it’s a little jingle to play on repeat to keep your mind on track with where you want to be and who you are now.
There are many mantras that go back thousands of years. Some, like the Gayatri Mantra or the Shantipat are longer. Others, like the Hanuman Chalisa, make up an entire story. But I’ve chosen a handful of short chants you can use to replace old patterns.
Aum or Om
Before this, there was nothingness. There was one reality of perfection and wholeness.
Out of sheer will, Consciousness chose to create. From the expanse of limitlessness, Shakti (the female aspect of God) contracted into form and the one became the many.
This creation had a sound, the sound of the Big Bang. That sound was Aum.
The letters A, U & M represent balance between mind, body and spirit. When you’re balanced in all three you enter a state of blissful calm and inner freedom called turiya.
Turiya is represented by the dot at the top of the Aum symbol. Aum is the source of all mantras and is used universally across many cultures and religions.
Aum Namah Shivaya
Namah has the same root as namaste and implies bowing with respect and love.
Shiva (or Shivaya in this case) is the masculine aspect of God. He stands for unlimited potential, deep wisdom and formless, unwavering presence.
When chanted, Aum Namah Shivaya calls to your inner wisdom. It reminds you to connect with the presence of stability within you.
This mantra is associated with the Tantric lineage.
From the Kundalini yoga tradition we get this mantra, which means “I see my True nature,” or said to another, “I recognize Truth in you.”
Sat means “truth” and nam means “name.” Through chanting this mantra, you call into awareness the true state of being that is pure consciousness within.
Aum Mane Padme Hum
This mantra is of Buddhist origin. Literally translated, mane is “jewel” and padme means “lotus.” The lotus itself has much lore in eastern wisdom traditions, often representing purity, and the ability to use the muddy mess of human nature to bloom into a beautiful flower.
Another suggested translation is that each syllable represents a way to re-align old conditioning into new.
Aum releases ego and replaces it with generosity.
Ma helps heal jealousy with contentment.
Ne calms the senses and stills them with patience.
Pad replaces ignorance with right acts.
Me moves greed to non-attachment.
Hum makes peace out of hatred and aggression.