Monday, June 20, 2011

The Medium is the Mantra

Words have power.  The words that surround us as we listen to the TV or radio---war! terror! disaster!---or when we face health issues---surgery! pain! cancer!---these words reverberate throughout our bodies, causing the release of stress chemicals within us.  When we fret or worry, the thoughts grow more entrenched, until we feel we are caught up in an endless cycle of negative or frightening ideas.  The physiological consequence of this is the chronic "flight or fight" stress response, which impairs our health and sense of well-being.

You can break this pattern. One profoundly simple way to do it is to use a mantra.   A literal translation of the root of the word "mantra" is "an instrument of thought".  A mantra is a word or phrase that becomes your mental "fall-back position".  Instead of ruminating on the "what if's" and "ain't it awful's", and being caught up in scary words and thoughts, you can substitute a more uplifting word or phrase. This can be something that has meaning to you, such as a psalm or prayer from your religious tradition, or the name of God, or words like "peace" or "love".  In the Yoga tradition, the mantra is often simple sounds, like the word Om or Aum (considered the original sound, the "Word" at the beginning of all). 

Repeating a mantra, silently or aloud, gives the mind something to do, so that instead of scampering around wildly getting into trouble, latching onto fears, sensational news, or old arguments and slights, and hence, triggering undesirable effects in the body and spirit, the mind wraps about a different word or phrase, a mantra that brings ease and peace to your thinking and sends endorphins throughout the body, supporting your health and well-being.  Let your thoughts be of the mantra.  Use it as the filler, the fall-back, the background refrain to the rest of your thoughts and activities.  Rely on it to keep you from worrying, calm you during the tumult---when the worry or fear arises, turn your attention instead to the mantra.  

If you need some ideas for a mantra that will work for you, the Kundalini Yoga tradition has some lovely ones.  Here's a simple sound chant you might like, sung by Snatum Kaur.

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