What Is Mantra & How Do We Use It Respectfully?

As you begin your yoga practice, you are probably searching through a lot of information. Some of this information you may come across is most likely unfamiliar territory. After all, there is a lot that goes into REAL yoga. From its history, to its poses, to avoiding the cultural appropriation, and to the language used in the practice. Here we will dive into Mantras specifically, learning what they are and how to incorporate them into the practice, as well as our everyday lives.

So, what is a mantra?

When dipping your toes into something new, especially new cultural things, it is essential to know the technicalities of elements. It is important, in order to be able to practice these things respectfully and accurately, to gain a holistic and full scope of appreciation for what we are doing. Mantras in yoga are a culmination of words in Sanskrit said repetitively, that are believed to work into one’s unconscious mind and clear the inner self. Mantras may:

  • Increase self awareness
  • Help calm overriding emotions
  • Align your focus
  • Help with anxiety

Let’s focus on anxiety for a second, because mantras can help immensely when you’re in the midst of an anxiety attack. Because mantras allow you to help calm emotions, this may be a tool you can incorporate if you should ever have an anxiety attack. Simply repeat your mantra, focus on it and allow yourself to calm down through the process. Now that we know what Mantras are here are a couple examples of mantras in Sanskrit:

  • Om
  • Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ
  • Sat Nam
  • Neti-Neti

For a full explanation of what these mantras mean, and the correct pronunciation be sure to check out this website. In addition, this spotify playlist has a few really good ones with which you can get started!

What are disrespectful ways in the practice?

On another note, you may be wondering why we talk about engaging in respect while learning the practice of yoga. This is because within yoga there has been a history in the US of westernizing and appropriating the practice culturally. It is great to appreciate the culture from which the practice comes, but, in order to do so, we need to make sure we are being respectful to the traditions and the accuracy of yoga. 

Disrespecting the practice may come in many forms, one of the more common ones is playing pop music during class. Yoga is certainly meant to be a peaceful practice. When teachers strive to make their class palatable to Western tastes, it’s outright disrespectful. The usage of pop music does not encourage peaceful practice the way it is meant to. Nor should yoga be about breaking a sweat, or limiting seated meditation time.

Now back to mantras specifically; if someone is singing sacred, Vedic mantras and hymns because they are practicing the spiritual tradition (regardless of their race), then they are NOT doing anything inappropriate. If that person is singing mantras at a music festival while high just to be ‘exotic’ and cool, without any understanding of what they are actually saying or how to pronounce them properly, that IS disrespectful and inappropriate.

How can we fix this?

Easy! With Mantras! We now have the knowledge of what they are and what they are meant to do, as well as some examples. Instead of playing pop music, make a conscious effort to walk into class with a mantra in mind. Or, if you are an instructor, encourage your students to relax and set up a mantra that will be ready for them to practice during the class. There is nothing wrong in engaging in activities of other cultures, however a problem is created when we do not do so respectfully. This is done by dishonoring the origin, butchering sacred texts, focusing only on the physical aspect of yoga, or treating it like a commodity if you own your studio.

Practice mantras, and enjoy the process

All this to say, mantras are at the core of yoga and have some great benefits that come along with them. Hopefully from this article you learned something new, and have a brand new perspective on appreciation for an element of the yoga practice.  From here we hope you learn some mantras that work for you and incorporate them in your daily yoga practice and everyday life. Especially now that there has been a foundation on what mantras are and some examples, we may go forth and practice them! May the peace of the mantras be with you! For more information, articles and tips on how to NOT culturally appropriate the sacred healing practice of yoga, please visit our guest author’s website: https://www.susannabarkataki.com/

By Susanna Barkataki

Deepen and Honor your Yoga Practice Here

An Indian yoga practitioner in the Shankaracharya tradition, Susanna Barkataki is the founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute and runs Ignite Be Well 200/500 Yoga Training programs. She is an E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). She is the author of the forthcoming book Honor Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. With an Honors degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Education from Cambridge College, Barkataki is a diversity, accessibility, inclusivity, and equity (DAIE) yoga unity educator who created the ground-breaking Honor {Don’t Appropriate} Yoga Summit with more than 10,000 participants.