18 Ways to do Japa Meditation

I used to be very hard on myself with meditation. I put myself through a 10 day silent vipassana retreat, would set my timer for 2 hours a day and suppress my imagination entirely to just sit there hyper-focused on the breath and bodily sensations. I considered meditations that included visuals & sounds to be inferior.

Then one day I was meditating with a Buddhist monk at a Dharma Center in Louisville and I asked him what to do when boredom comes up while you’re sitting. I thought he’d reveal some deep philosophical answer, but to my surprise he simply told me to imagine a gold light radiating from my heart. I said, “so it’s ok to use your imagination in meditation?” And he said indeed it was, and that monks often do it.

One of the recent ways I’ve started bringing my imagination into meditation is through japa practice (repeating a mantra). The artist in me loves variety…here’s a list of 18 ways you can explore and hopefully never get bored with japa meditation 😊

  1. Repeat your mantra out loud
  2. Repeat your mantra as a whisper
  3. Repeat your mantra quietly
  4. Repeat the mantra fast
  5. Chant AUM not in a hum/ singing voice but in a talking voice
  6. Sing your mantra (can be raised a half or whole step after each 108 reps)
  7. Try chanting a seed syllable such as RAM or GAM
  8. Chant along with an audio track- there is so much meditation & kirtan music on Spotify & Youtube!
  9. Try chanting a long mantra such as gayatri mantra
  10. Only chant (or repeat the sound in your mind) on the exhale breath
  11. Try it only on the inhale breath and in between spaces (the pause that happens when you hold the breath out or in before next breath)
  12. Chant with a background sound- I love the apps ‘shrutibox’ and ‘relax melodies’
  13. Do japa while gazing at a murti or picture/ visual of a deity
  14. Do japa while focusing your attention on a specific chakra in your body
  15. Use essential oils on your beads or on your wrists and include aroma therapy with your japa/ deep breaths
  16. Try holding the 4 parts of AUM out for equal amounts of time (aah, ooh, mmm, silence). Try 2 seconds each, then 4.
  17. Use the grooves in your fingers to count repetitions of your mantra
  18. Try counting your mantra in 9s.

4 Beautiful Reasons To Fall in Love With Chanting

A few days ago while on a job interview my I looked down & noticed my thumb shaking. In the past this would have spiraled me into more anxiety. But this time I had a relaxation tool- japa meditation (silent repetition of a mantra). Quietly to myself I repeated my mantra and I watched in amazement as my thumb went completely still in under 10 seconds.

This got me reflecting on everything that’s happened since kirtan & chanting entered my life 2 decades ago, and what’s possible when you deepen your practice. Here are four reasons to fall in love with chanting:

1) Chanting turns down anxiety & ruminating, turns up relaxation

Science has found one of the benefits of japa/ chanting is it prolongs the exhale breath. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) which triggers our bodies to relax. Relaxing turns down fear & ruminating.

It’s an amazing experience when you watch your thoughts merge with a mantra and transform into subtle energy, then dissolve entirely. It happens to me often and leaves me feeling soothed, sometimes even euphoric.

Repeating mantra can guide the mind to that relaxing place- like the sun after a storm or an island in the ocean- we come to a safe harbor. We keep redirecting scattered, fear-based thoughts back to the mantra & guide the lost/ ego part of ourselves back to the loving, relaxed part of ourselves.

2) Chanting helps us remember our primal connection.

Group chanting grounds us into to our bodies. It restores our sense of togetherness, blurs boundaries and wakes us up to a deep sense of what we’ve forgotten- that we all share this earth.

Kirtan (group call & response chanting of sacred Sanskrit mantras of India) is a doorway to this primal connection, with its hand drumming & beautiful tones of the mridanga, group chanting, clapping & dancing, & collective vocalizing of sounds which themselves are innately divine (filled with god/ the Self/ source/ love.) The repetition of these sounds truly brings us back to earth and each other.

Eternal Health Yoga Studio, Louisville KY

3) Chanting is a way to recharge our vitality

Chanting connects you to the breath & prana. Prana, first mentioned in the ancient Hindu texts the Upanishads, means life force, energy, or vitality. It is said to permeate everything in existence & originate from the sun.

Health professionals agree that being ‘plugged in’ all the time and using the artificial energy of caffeine and sugar is unhealthy for the nervous system. Chanting recharges our energy naturally by aligning us with prana.

It truly is a practice that plugs us back into the true source of our energy- the radiance of stillness/ peace that is often neglected in modern culture.

4) Chanting helps you align with love

One of the most satisfying things I’ve experienced from bhakti yoga has been integrating with a bigger, vast boundless love. This love can soothe an inflamed ego, soften a mind that takes itself too seriously, and shift irritability into comedy. It has held me even when I was in my neediest, raw, unloveable states.

What a game changer to consciously realize you are worthy of love even while feeling unloveable. John Lennon’s lyric from his beautiful song ‘Love’ comes to mind: ‘Love is is wanting to be loved.’

Codependency can actually be channeled toward a higher purpose in chanting. You can direct all your attachment toward god/ your higher self. We so often place that on another human being. When you instead give it over to source/ boundless love it can transform you!

This is the path bhakti offers.

Thanks for reading 😊