Focusing on your breath sounds easy enough, but if you’ve ever meditated before, you know it’s definitely not as simple as it sounds.
I learned that lesson pretty quickly. No matter the method, meditation typically begins with a short transition period from your normal state to your meditative state in which you warm up for your practice. From my first time meditating to weeks later, my transitions went something like this: notice my surroundings (no problem), pay attention to sounds and smells (you got it), and then… close your eyes and focus on your breath. Cue the panic bells.
With a lack of something concrete to focus on, my mind would run wild, playing an obsessive game of whack-a-mole with the thoughts I shouldn’t be fixating on. It was incredibly stressful, and on those days, I ended up more frustrated and anxious than I was before I started.
I recognized that it all tended to fall apart when I attempted to focus solely on my breath, so I began researching mantras. Originating from Sanskrit and carrying rich history, I learned that a mantra is simply a word or phrase that aids concentration when meditating- a concept that’s been in practice for over 3,000 years. By employing a mantra and repeating it during meditation, your mind can become focused and calm, racing thoughts quieted and nervous system relaxed.
Since incorporating a mantra into my meditation practice, I’ve felt at peace, strong, and confident after my sessions in a way I hadn’t expected. Whether you’re new to meditation or struggling in your current practice, here’s how you can started choosing and using a mantra to help you get more out of your meditation sessions.
Pick your theme
Your mantra can be tied to anything- seeking peace, feeling gratitude, or finding courage to name just a few examples. Think about what you might need from your mantra before you try to find specific language to articulate it. Maybe there is a big goal you’re working towards, and you need a boost of confidence. Maybe you’ve been feeling anxious and are seeking relief, or maybe you’re in a great place and want to recognize that. Recognizing what you need is key to make your mantra right for you.
Find the language that inspires you
Once you know what you want to focus on, think about the exact language you’ll express it with. This can be a sentence, phrase, or even a string of words. You can write it yourself, or find it. Maybe there’s a quote you’ve always loved that you already revisit when you need it, or maybe it’s one you saved on your Instagram because it stood out to you. All that matters is that it resonates with you in a deeply personal and relevant way.
Fine tune it.
You’ll be spending a good amount of time with your mantra. That said, you should like how saying it in your mind feels. If it feels too long or short in practice, shorten or lengthen it. If there is a word that feels harsh or uncomfortable, switch it out for another word that won’t interfere with your flow.
Commit to it.
When you have your mantra and are ready to apply it, commit to it. Stick with it, even if it feels silly at first. Most importantly, really try to feel it. With your eyes closed, let every repetition and every breath fuel your mantra. If your mantra includes the word joy, conjure up joy and savor the word when you say it. If you are talking about strength, really try and feel the strength in you when you’re on that word.
Meditation is different for every person, every day, every minute. Some days, there might be something else you need to focus on with your mantra, or you might just want to focus on your breath. While it can be immensely powerful, at the end of the day, a mantra is a tool to help you. Make it work for you!