I sat on a mountaintop (a mountain for a Midwesterner, a hill for mountain folk) in Baja Mexico, looking out onto the Pacific, trying to meditate for 8 hours in fast and in silence. In practicing Satya (truthfulness), I must admit my silent and still attempts at meditation are challenging to say the least – I create an instant ADHD monkey child mind when I first try.
Around hour two, I found a random pair of pants, from where I don’t know. I had matches for some incense with me and so to avoid clarity, I built a little fire and literally burned the pants (saving the mountain from mysterious clothing litter) as a symbol of burning up distraction. That worked to still the mind for a bit because I was doing something and yet I still couldn’t settle into the silence. Now I was just laughing at the nonsense of having a pants burning on a mountaintop in Mexico. Oh the things we humans concoct just to avoid reality!
Next, I noticed a rock that was somehow shaped like a recliner. That was a place I could really relax and get still and quiet, or so I thought. A beautiful sea bird began to call. I watched it swoop and dive and circle. Then my mind jumped to stories about the bird. Was it migrating? Where was the nest? Was it a male or female? Did it have babies? Would I ever have babies? If I did have a baby, what would it look like? On and on and on it went. My mind was not still, my mind was not clear. Cultivating space in the mind was elusive.
Finally, I recalled the mantra that was passed to me during my first yoga training - the Gayatri Mantra. I had my mala beads with me and I chanted aloud 108 times. There was space. There was silence. There was everything and nothing all at once. It was my first glimpse at true meditation. I suddenly understood that meditating was not about being blank, but about energetic space for creative flow, creative unity, creative compassion. I felt free.
For me, the chanting of the Gayatri Mantra cultivated the space for enhanced awareness and increased understanding. Why did it work? I believe that practicing a mantra gives an active and devotional focus for the mind so that it can then let go. Think of Yin yoga or restorative practice – you remain in a supported position with props so that the muscles and deep tissues of the body have some support so that the nerves will eventually allow them to let go. Why should it be different for the mind? After all, the brain is an organ of activity and part of our physical existence.
I’ve been singing the Gayatri Mantra to my son as part of our nightly bedtime ritual for nearly two years. Last night he sang it with me. Even so young, he becomes calm and serene as we finish, mentally ready for sleep. I wonder if the Gayatri Mantra has the same resonance of focus and then release that it had on me on my mountaintop. I cannot know for sure, but it seems to help him find peace.
I present this not only to illustrate the effect of mantra on your meditative or yoga practice, but to show that Bhakti yoga is beneficial to all, regardless of age or time constraints. Taking 3-5 minutes a day to chant can be your practice even in the busy circumstances of modern life. I cannot accept it when someone says they have no time for yoga. All of life is yoga to a yogi.
While there may not be space to do asana everyday or to have 8-hour meditations, the soothing of mantra can take minutes. You can chant while you run or walk, you can chant in the shower, in the car, in the restroom. You can practice mantra whenever and wherever you need space and calm.
If you don’t have a mantra, I offer you the Gayatri Mantra. There are many great sources to learn the meaning and significance – I will leave that for your own discovery. If you already have a mantra, commit to practicing it every day for two weeks and then make a note of how it felt or any changes noted.
Written by Kirsten Hedden
Check out her YogiTunes page!~: