Today’s article is to undo a major misunderstanding that plagues beginners: Are the mantras proof that yoga is a religion? Yoga is a lifestyle, a whole set of techniques, values and attitudes, that can bring a state of wholeness to the practitioner. Besides the famous asanas (psycho-physical poses) and the acclaimed pranayamas (breathing exercises) there is many other exercises, less famous but equally important.
There’s some exercises that I will call, for lack of a better word, neurolinguistics. For instance, visualizations (as in Yoganidra), affirmations (Sankalpa) and vocalizations (mantras). All that to empower the practitioner, to have some control over thoughts, habits and emotions. The concentration and awareness that physical practice brings, along with the neurolinguistic exercises, results in less impulsivity. So more chance to choose actions with intelligence, trying to ensure peace and happiness.
Mantra is a word in Sanskrit in which ‘man’ means mind and ‘tra’, lever. A good translation would be “instrument of thought”. When we are vocalizing mantras, instead to do it automatically, we need to focus on that, so we can ‘fill in’ the mind being now, avoiding thinking about the past or future, so we can develop more concentration. Another thing to do while vocalizing mantra is be aware of the subtle massage that the vibration of the mantra makes in various glands, such as the thymus gland (behind the heart), thyroid (throat) and hypothalamus (in the brain). Another function of the mantra is the improvement of the breathing capacity, if you vocalize properly.
Differently from prayers, the finest translations of mantras shows that most often there is no request for a supreme being. The mantra works more like a self-statement or a self-visualization. Therefore, in addition to be a stimulus to the glands and stabilize thoughts, the mantra is an exercise that trains the mind.
Some practitioners add a mystical and spiritual dimension not only to the mantras, but also to the various yogic techniques, but this is a personal decision, not an obligation. The decision to assign a mystical meaning to something is of intimate nature. There is for instance, people who set this sacralization to football, making it a form of religion. But football is a competitive sport in fact, not a religion. Yoga in fact is a set of techniques.
Enjoy its neurolinguistic and physical benefits and practice mantra!
I was born in São Paulo, Brazil and I teach since 2001. I studied in India with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
Living in Europe these last 10 years, I teach regularly in Croatia, France, Portugal and in Denmark, where I am currently living.
Besides Yoga, I am Bachelor in International Relations with specialization in Political Science at Sciences Po – Bordeaux.
I think my diverse education helps me to see yoga as lifestyle that can balance the individual and result in a healthy society.