“The science of mantra is based on the knowledge that sound is a form of energy having structure, power, and a definite predictable effect on the chakras and human psyche.”
-KRI International Training Manual, Level I
Mantra is the applied use of sound to impact consciousness. Mantras can be as simple as one word phrases, and as complex and beautiful as those we find in ancient texts. Generally speaking, a mantra is a word or sound repeated to orient the mind in meditation and to shift the frequency of our thoughts, and thus our experience.
Mantra is completely interwoven into Kundalini Yoga practice. Most Kundalini Yoga mantras are Sant Bhasha, a traditional poetic language of the Indian subcontinent that blends many different languages and dialects. Sant Basha is the primary language used for the sacred writings of the Sikhs. Although you will sometimes hear this language referred to as “Gurmukhi,” this technically refers to the script in which Sant Bhasha and other languages are written, not to the language itself.
Mantras can be in any language, though, including English. A posture might call for a mantra, and so might a breath exercise or meditation. They can be chanted aloud, repeated mentally, or listened to. Teachers often play mantras throughout class, and practitioners might play them while they cook, drive, or even sleep. There are unlimited ways in which to weave mantras into your life.
But beyond the sheer love of it, why?
The science of mantra is rooted in the cosmology that the universe is made of sound, and all matter vibrates at a signature frequency. Since the body and mind are in motion, we can shift our experience through the sounds we create and the words that we speak. Repeating a mantra restructures the patterns of mind that filter and shape our experience. The result is a shift in consciousness.
This is explained in part through the scientific process of entrainment. Entrainment is a process through which independent systems interact with each other. When two signals are close to each other in frequency, they fall into a single frequency. In this way, we are always negotiating within ourselves, with each other, and with our environments. Yoga teaches us and science confirms that we are, in fact, interconnected.
We may be low in energy, but when we enter a lively room for a celebratory event our spirits may be lifted to match the frequency of the room. We may be in the best mood ever and when we come home to a highly charged or stressful environment, we start to feel that stress ourselves. We may be in a depressed and hopeless state of mind, and when surrounding ourselves with mantra or sacred sound, begin to feel our experience shifting.
All of this is explained in part through entrainment, the process through which two independent systems merge and co-relate. A recent study by TM Srinivasan, published in the International Journal of Yoga, suggests that chanting certain mantras does seem to entrain physiological functions in the body. In other words, through mantra, we have the power to send our own internal entraining signal and shift our frequency.
Consider this: all creative and spiritual practices change the structure and physiology of the brain in order to tune into more conscious experience. Within each of us is the potential to catalyze, and entrain, heightened states of awareness. Mantra is a practical tool for aligning our vibration with this path to wholeness.
How often do you use sound to uplift your spirits when you’re feeling down? Do you sing a song, play music, call a friend? How often have you brought yourself and others down with words of anger and frustration? Mantra is the practical application of sound and vibration to direct one’s own consciousness.
In addition to the term mantra, you will also hear the word Naad in connection with Kundalini Yoga. Naad means the essence of sound. It shares a root with the word nadi, which describes the energetic pathways in the body through which kundalini travels. One translation for nadi is flow. The same word is used in Sanskrit for river and also for Nada, which means sound, because sound also flows like a wave.
According to Kundalini Yoga, the physical yoga opens the channels and prepares the body to receive the sound, but the sound connects the finite with the infinite. The energy that travels through the nadis moves similarly to how sound travels through air, making it vibrate. The bio-energy is sensitive to the sounds we create. This is a fundamental principle of what we call Naad Yoga, and the vibrational harmony through which the Infinite can be experienced in the body.
How does it work?
The Limbic System
The limbic system is the bridge between the body and our thoughts and emotions. The key players in the limbic system are the hypothalamus, pituitary, and pineal glands. In speech, song, or mantra, the tongue strikes the roof of the mouth, which sends a signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus interprets the sound, and directs the pituitary gland accordingly. By changing the sounds we create, we change the chemical secretions of the brain.
The Meridian Points
There are 84 meridian points on the upper palate of the mouth. Each strike of the tongue sends a neuro-chemical signal to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland commands the pineal and impacts the whole function of the glandular system, based on the sounds we create!
“Vibrate the Cosmos means to be aware of your words and tone of voice. Avoid venting your frustration by bad mouthing someone or repeating over and over what a lousy situation you’re in. Make a practice of consciously choosing your words, and then notice how much energy and spirit you have, how others change around you, and how quickly you get things done.
[Vibrate the Cosmos] means chant. Out loud is better, although silently works, too. Changing your mental frequency changes your emotional response to the situation and environments, allows you to focus on the present demands, and opens up your own inner wisdom and clarity. It also helps others stay calm around you.”
-Dr. Shanti Shanti Kaur
Many of the Kundalini Yoga mantras stem from the Sikh scriptures, called the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. Practitioners embrace the Sikh mantras as Shabd Guru, or the sound current which cuts through the ego to reveal the truth of who we are.
While we must respect the roots and heritage, the use of mantra in yoga practice is not religious. Kundalini Yoga includes mantras in many languages.
“When you meditate deeply into an ecstatic self-hypnosis that joins together heavens, earth, and self, the subconscious releases a flood of thoughts. Every thought has impact and results. To break old patterns, you must take the support of a thunderbolt—a mantra to cut to the core of your negative thoughts and turn their energy to positive.
When you merge into anahat (when the mantra resounds in every cell) through the use of mantra and rhythm, you vibrate a seed, a template of Infinity, that resides in the center of every cell and atom of you like spiritual DNA. When every part of you vibrates, we call that state Ang Sang Wahe Guru. Ang means a part of you. Wahe Guru is a state of ecstasy. Sang means every. So every part of you vibrates as one in a merger in ecstasy of consciousness. You become the mantra and the entire Universe meditates on you.”
-Excerpt from the KRI Aquarian Teacher Training Manual Level 1