What is a Mantra?
When you think of the word “mantra,” you may picture someone sitting in a peaceful place while chanting the syllable “Om.” While this is a mantra, it’s far from the only one.
A mantra is a word, short phrase, syllable, or sound that is repeated, usually during a yoga or meditation practice, to focus the mind, become more present, and achieve a sense of emotional balance. In some cases, mantras can promote more positive thoughts and feelings. The use of and intentions behind mantras range, and these can be based on religion, culture, and the individual who is practicing them.
Mantras and the practice of mantra meditations originated in ancient India as part of Vedic Hinduism. Tibetan Buddhists have since adopted the practice of mantras, as a means of achieving enlightenment. Many other religions and cultures also use mantras, by chanting them silently or out loud, to promote physical and emotional healing and spiritual growth.
Eventually, mantras seeped into mainstream mindfulness practices, largely thanks to new age and popular psychology. Today, mantras are used by people all around the world, regardless of their religious or spiritual affiliation, but unfortunately, credit is often not given to the religions and cultures from which they originated, leading to cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when someone inappropriately adopts another culture’s practices without the proper background knowledge and/or without acknowledging the cultural origins.
When selecting mantras, keep in mind that you must be respectful of the religions and cultures from which they originated, and the significance of mantras to each culture. To avoid cultural appropriation, make sure that you do your research and gather information from reputable sources before you try out your own personal mantra.
Mantras vs. Positive Affirmations
Many people confuse mantras with positive affirmations, and while they are similar, there is a difference. Both mantras and positive affirmations are repeated (in your mind or out loud) to help you focus on the present moment and foster positive thoughts.
However, mantras require a set intention (like feeling at peace) and are repeated during a dedicated meditation session. In other words, you would set aside time during your day, specifically to practice your mantra, as a means for attempting to achieve a pre-determined intention.
Positive affirmations, on the other hand, can be repeated or reflected on throughout the day (and even night!). You can use positive affirmations for days, months, or even years to strengthen your belief, consciously and subconsciously, about a positive statement that you’re making about yourself. With practice, the successful use of positive affirmations can help you to reach your goals, increase your confidence, and change your negative thought patterns.
Mental Health Benefits of Mantras
Mantra meditations may help to increase positive feelings while reducing symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety (Lynch et al., 2018). Additionally, silently repeating a few uplifting words or a single syllable to yourself can quiet your mind and prevent it from ruminating on the past or stressing about the future (Wei, 2015).
Mantras also can provide you with a point of focus for your yoga or meditation practice, as they can help to bring you back to the present, when your mind wanders, and to reduce distracting thoughts.
Examples of Mantras
Below is a list of different mantras to help inspire you to create your own!
- This will pass
- I am not my thoughts
- My feelings are valid
- I am connected to those around me
4 Tips to Create Your Own Mantra
Creating your own mantras can be an enjoyable and empowering experience. To start creating your mantras, follow the steps below.
Set an Intention
Consider what purpose you’d like your mantra to serve. You may want to use a mantra to help you to focus during meditation, increase positive thoughts, re-center yourself, and so on. Once you determine the intention behind your new mantra, you can start coming up with sounds, words, or phrases that are meaningful to you.
Write Down Ideas
With your intention in mind, write down what sounds or words you’d like to say. This could be “Om,” or it could be a phrase such as “breathing in, breathing out.” Mantras are not “one-size-fits-all,” so be sure that you’re creating ones that feel meaningful to you. If you find a particular phrase or word helpful, that’s all that matters!
Set some time aside every day to engage in mantra meditation. Before you start chanting, find a quiet, private place where you won’t be disturbed, and take a moment to reflect on how you’re feeling. Once you’ve finished your practice, assess whether your feelings have changed, and if so, how they have changed. Meditating can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to half an hour or more, if you’d like, but consider starting small with 5 or 10 minutes a day. Choose what works best for your schedule.
Tweak As You Go
You may discover that your mantra isn’t working out for you, or that it becomes stale over time. If that happens, go back to the drawing board and select a new mantra from the list that you made last time or create a new list.
Lynch, J. Prihodova, L., Dunne, P. J., Carroll, A., Walsh, C., McMahon, G., & White, B. (2018). Mantra meditation for mental health in the general population: A systematic review. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 23, 101-108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eujim.2018.09.010
Mantra. (2015, December 4). New World Encyclopedia. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Mantra&oldid=992426.
Villines, Z. (2022, May 23). What to know about mantras for anxiety. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mantras-for-anxiety#benefits
Wei, M. (2015, August 14). How mantras calm your mind. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/urban-survival/201508/how-mantras-calm-your-mind