How to practice Japa meditation
Meditation has become a very popular exercise to calm the mind and practice detachment however it is not an easy practice to achieve. Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which you can meditate today and you should experiment with all of them to see which one works best for you. Personally, I find Japa meditation a beautiful way of meditating and it has really worked for me. I loved learning more about the technique and the different ways in which you can perform it, so I thought it would be useful to share some of that with you.
Japa in Sanskrit means “to repeat or mutter prayers and mantras”. Japa meditation is meditation through repetition with the help of a Mala. A Mala is a prayer bead necklace that serves as a guide for meditation. Each Mala contains a guru bead and 108 beads in total. The number 108 bears a special significance in a number of religions and some say that the number 108 represents the Universe/ consciousness united as one (1), nothing (0) and everything (8 or infinity). Therefore, the 108 Mala beads serve as a reminder that the universal self is omnipresent. Furthermore, Mala beads are usually made from sacred wood and seeds or gemstones and therefore carry subtle healing energies which can be a nice added benefit to your practice. When travelling to India, you see many people using Malas for meditation. It is considered a sacred object and it is used consciously. In Western countries, however, it has become a bit of a fashion item but we should keep in mind to use the Mala with respect and humility.
Some cultures are more strict about the use of the mala beads than others but there is a common understanding that mala beads are a sacred object and should therefore be kept in a safe and spiritual space like in your altar or mala bag. Also before using the mala you are meant to touch the guru bead on your bowed forehead in the third eye chakra center. Last but not least, when practicing japa you should hold your mala necklace at the heart center or in front of your third eye.
Another interesting component of Japa meditation is that you get to choose a specific mantra for your practice based on your goals and intentions. This is the mantra that you will repeat during your practice and that will therefore act as an affirmation. A few examples of mantras you can choose are: if you want more compassion and peace in your life you could use the Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”, if you are feeling depressed you could chant “Om Sri Ramaya Namah”, “Aham Brahma Asmi” and “So Hum” are very powerful and often used Nirguna mantras. The repetition of the mantra will create a slow steady rhythm and sound that will make it easier for you to calm your mind and fall into a gentle state of meditation. I find that the rhythm created helps me focus on my mantra for longer but also enhance the sensations and feelings associated with the mantra.
Because of its significance and meaning, is important that you choose your Mantra for the Japa practice intentionally and that you stick with it. A few indicators that you chose the right mantra is that the repetition is easy and effortless, that it creates the physical and emotional sensations that you are looking for, that it turns your attention inwards and that it makes you feel both calmer and more energized after chanting.
There are three types of Japa Meditation: In Maanas Meditation you do not speak out loud, you just chant the Mantra in your mind. In Vachak Meditation, the Mantra is chanted in a low voice and in Kirtan or Sankirtan Meditation, the Mantra is chanted loudly with singing. You can even use musical instruments for the later. Again, I encourage you to experiment with each of these and see which one feels best for you. I particularly love Kirtan as it feels I am chanting in adoration and because chanting loudly blocks any other thoughts from entering my mind as I also engage my ears and tongue.
Finally, just like for any meditation you should commit to a few weeks of regular practice so you can experience the full results. Japa meditation can greatly build-up your life-force with the help of the mantras but it also requires a regular practice for the results to last.