by Crystal Woodward
Japa is a form of meditation done using the repetition of a mantra, for example OM or om shree maha lakshmi namaha. A mantra is a word or a sound repeated to aid concentration. Typically Japa is practiced using the aid of a mala bead necklace to further direct attention toward a single place of focus, in this case the mantra itself. A complete mala consists of 108 beads while a smaller mala has 54 or 26 beads. Malas can be made with various materials but most are include semi-precious stones, crystals or seeds. A mala is special and sacred, and should be treated as such. The mala should never just be cast onto the floor or tossed in a pile. A mala deserves the care of something that holds a vibration of our dreams. Some believe that a personal mala should have a special bag and others should not see your mala. Others believe a mala should be worn around the neck so that the day’s intentions stay close to the heart. In the center of each mala is a slightly larger bead often referred to as the Guru or God Bead. The Guru Bead is used to create intention within the wearer and to be a reminder of the motives for sitting in meditation. There is also a tassel at the end of most traditional mala necklaces that lays below the Guru Bead. The tassel is said to represent one-thousand petals of a crown chakra lotus flower.
When a mantra is repeated the yogi can use the sound vibration as an anchor for their awareness that can draw them into a deeper state of meditation. Mantra can be a great entrance into meditation because there is more happening on the external physical plane to support the mind in being present in the moment; speaking and moving a bead with the hand. Mantra can be practice aloud, whispering, muttering to one’s self or mentally. It is generally easiest to begin practicing Japa aloud however, it is believed that mental repetition of a mantra is the most potent.
When you sit for Japa, close your eyes and bring the Guru Bead either to the heart or third eye and pour in your intentions - hopeful and powerful manifestations and prayers for your day. This can also be a time to make associations with the specific mantra about to be preformed. Holding the mala in their right hand, the yogi begins to circulate the mantra, spinning the bead in each finger as the garland moves. I find that this spinning is a great meditation tool, when the mind wanders throughout the Japa practice the feeling of the spinning bead in the fingers draws my mind back into the meditation practice. The right hand moves the garland with the thumb and middle finger. Using the index finger is not recommended as this finger is associated with the ego. If when going around the whole mala the yogi would like to continue their mantra practice they will hold the last bead closest to the Guru Bead and flip the mala over, to go back over the way they just came, so as never to pass over the Guru Bead out of respect for all of the gurus or teachers. Traditionally malas and a specific mantra were given to a student by a teacher. In our modern life this is not always possible. Go ahead and choose a mantra that speaks to you and feels special to you. If you are crafty you could make one! When picking a mantra do a little research, know what the mantra means and why you would chose it. If you get stuck, ask a trusted yoga teacher for guidance in choosing your mantra. Try a few and when one feels right, stick to it.
Mantra is powerful and we will want to work consistently with only a few mantras at a time. Yoga is about repetition and practice to get results. Keep at it and begin to slowly add Japa into your daily routine. Start with once or twice a week and practice more often with time. Japa meditation calms the senses. At the end of the mantra repetition, the yogi may find it easier to the sit in silence and meditate in the residue of the vibration. This is a practice that I have added into my daily routine and has really helped me deepen my meditation practice. I would love to teach you more about this practice in person at my weekly Japa meditation class. This class is about 20 minutes long and is offered at no cost. It is held each Saturday after my 9:30 am Flow: All-Levels class at the Shala. Come to both the Flow class and the Japa meditation or arrive at 11am for just the meditation piece. I hope to meditate with you!