What Is a Mantra and How Do You Use One?

What Is a Mantra and How Do You Use One?

Repetition is the key to mastering any new skill — whether playing a sport, speaking a new language, or learning to drive. When we repeat a saying, like a mantra, we train our brains to let go of distractions and build resilience against outside influence.

The word mantra combines two Sanskrit words, “manas,” meaning mind, and “tra” meaning tools.

“Mantra is used in repetitive chanting, listening, or maybe a mental practice of reciting inwardly,” explains Danielle Hall, RYT 200, who uses mantras in her sound meditation classes.

“I use mantra to support my clients in quieting the mind, and for settling emotional and physical stress. Mantra has guided me in becoming aware of my thoughts and perspective,” she adds.

Read on to learn more about what a mantra is and how you can use one in your daily life to stay focused and create calm.

What Is a Mantra?

Mantras date back to the sacred texts of the Vedic religion in India, 3,500 years ago. Traditionally, a mantra uses repeated Sanskrit words, phrases, or sounds.

The word or phrase is repeated to a precise sound frequency and rhythm intended to unlock specific energies to aid in meditation or concentration.

Chanting mantras “can improve attention and change your mood,” says Hall.

You can practice mantra by repeatedly:

  • speaking words aloud or silently, known as japa
  • singing or chanting, known as kirtan
  • drawing or writing words or patterns, known as likhita japa

“Today, affirmation and mantra have become synonymous in the English language,” says Kat Suhre, RYT 500. “A mantra can be considered more of a dedication or prayer rather than positive self-talk [like an affirmation]. Both are repetitive in nature.”

Many people practice mantra by choosing an affirmation in English (or their first language), like “positive mind, positive life.”

If you take this approach, you can repeat it throughout the day to invoke the mantra’s energy and impact.

“The wonderful thing about mantras is that they can be nonsensical syllables, or they can have meaning,” says Suhre, who likes repeating mantras while stuck in traffic.

Pregnant woman doing yoga at home

Mantra Meaning in Meditation

You can use mantras before or during your meditation session. Similar to other benefits of meditationstudies show that mantras can counter fight-or-flight responses by training our brains to see challenging, fear-inducing situations in a new light.

“With dedicated practice, we are able to train our nervous system in times of stress,” says Suhre.

Mantras give your mind something to focus on when it starts to wander. One that’s easy to use is “soham,” pronounced so-hum, meaning “I am that” or “I am divine.”

The mantra creates connection, so try it if you feel isolated or need a broader perspective during a challenging situation.

If you are looking for more quick meditations that are also guided, check out our new Unstress program.

Mantra Meaning in Yoga

When you use mantras as part of your yoga practice, you follow an ancient tradition. And, using a mantra on your mat can keep you focused on the task at hand.

“I use mantras at the beginning and end of a yoga practice,” says Suhre. “Oftentimes I’ll invite my students to listen or join in even for a final mantra ‘om’ at the end of their practice.”

“Om” (also spelled “aum” but pronounced aa-OOH-mm) is said to be the first vibration of the universe. Repeating it supports healing, connection, and peace. That’s why you’ll often hear yoga teachers chanting this syllable.