Meaning-making with mantra

Mantra—put simply, a sound we’ve imbued with meaning—is one among many possible elements of a yoga practice. A mantra can be repeated aloud or silently.

The scholar Georg Feuerstein describes mantra as follows: “The word mantra is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘man,’ meaning ‘to think,’ and a mantra is said to be a tool by which we can control our thoughts. According to an esoteric etymology, mantra stands for protection (trana) of the mind (manas).”

You may have heard of mantras like the Gayatri Mantra, or the repetition of a particular syllable, like OM. More contemporary mantras can be incorporated into practice, too, for example, “I am the sky; everything else is just the weather” (attributed to teacher Pema Chödrön).

In a therapeutic setting, mantra might be used to help a client focus, either generally or on a specific quality or idea. For instance, a yoga therapist could work with a client to create a personal mantra that helps the client to access a feeling of inner strength or a sense of peace.

This article, which originally appeared in Yoga Therapy Today, reports on some of the science behind mantra’s effects. These potential benefits include reduced stress—from burnout and other work-related stress to PTSD symptoms—and improved mood.