“If we can repeat this mantra constantly until it becomes integrated within our consciousness and is always present in the mind, we will realize our oneness with god.” ~ The Yoga Book, Kriyananda Swami
Meditation is like ploughing the mind field to make it compatible for sowing seeds of wisdom that will reproduce flowers of cosmic awareness, oneness and tranquility. Practice of meditation comes in various forms, types and duration.
To name a few, we have Yoga Nidra, Chakra Shuddhi, Antar Mouna, Ajapa japa, trataka etc. This article will throw light on Ajapa Japa or Mantra meditation, an ancient Tantric practice of pratyahara (withdrawal of senses).
What is Ajapa Japa Meditation?
Swami Satyananda Saraswati said, “When the name is uttered from the mouth, it is called japa; when it is uttered from the heart, it is called ajapa.” Japa also refers to conscious chanting of a mantra, and when the mantra is in sync with the breath and meditation, the mantra flows without exertion. This practice is called ajapa japa, or effortless repetition. It is a combination of pranayama and meditation that brings about harmony in the mind, body and soul of the practitioner and has powerful effects both on the conscious and subconscious mind.
Swami Satyananda played a simple game for us to realize what Ajapa Japa does. He asked, “where is your consciousness right now? Think carefully. Where is it? Is it with you, or is it somewhere else?” Most of us would answer I don’t know. According to Satyananda our consciousness is extroverted and dissipated, so we cannot locate it. With the help of Ajapa Japa meditation, our consciousness can be located and brought inwards, where it belongs.
This meditation requires the practitioner to chant the mantra and merge it with the breath. As the breath moves from the base of the spine to the top of the head, the inner space of the mind is filled with its sound. The mantra becomes rooted in the root chakra and moves till the third eye chakra, getting embedded in the consciousness. But this occurs only after considerable practice with a mantra.
Kriyananda Swami said, “In practice of Ajapa Japa the awareness of the natural flow of the breath, is integrated with the mantra So-ham, (I am he). Soham is a Vedantic mantra found in Isa-Upanishad…. The letters s and h in the mantra soham are the consonants, which represents the names and forms of the universe. If we remove s and h, we are left with oam or om, the only true reality, the soul of your breath.”
Ajapa Japa Meditation Practice
“In Ajapa Japa the three important points are: deep breathing, relaxation and total awareness. During the practice you must maintain complete and unceasing awareness of what you are doing. Not a single breath should go unnoticed. There should be no automatic breathing. You must have unceasing awareness of every ingoing and outgoing breath,” said Swami Satyananda.
- Be seated with eyes closed in a meditative pose. You can choose any comfortable posture, like easy pose, thunderbolt pose, lotus pose etc. If needed you can take the support of the wall as well. Keep your head, neck and back straight, while the hands are placed on the knees, palms facing downwards. Feel completely relaxed, physically and mentally for a few minutes, before starting the practice.
- Inhale deeply and start by chanting ‘OM’ once with a deep, slow exhalation. Now, bring all your awareness to your breath. Feel the breath moving up and down, in and out, touching various parts of the body. Moving from the nose to the navel and back from the navel to the nose. The breath should be taken softly, that the sound of the breath is inaudible to the practitioner himself.
- Notice how breathing is an effortless process. Give up all the effort and just experience the complete liberation gained in the process. Softer, longer, gentler and freer, that should be the way to breathe every day.
- Keep the neck and shoulder in a line, the back straight and consciously prepare for the practice of Ajapa Japa.
- Now, start breathing with Ujjayi breath. It requires the practitioner to contract the throat muscles as they breath in and release with breathing out. An oceanic wave like sound will come from the throat, signifying the contraction of the throat muscles. This breathing intensifies the calming effect by stimulating & soothing the nervous system. The flow of the breath is experienced from the nostril to the navel and back.
- As you go deeper into the awareness of breath with Ujjayi breathing technique, chant the mantra ‘So-Ham’ or any mantra that resonates with you. In case of doubt. So-Ham is the best choice but if you have a guru mantra, nothing like it.
- Now as you inhale, the air descends from the nostrils to the navel chant ‘So’. As you exhale, the air ascends from the navel to the nose, chant ‘Ham’.
- Chant your guru mantra or personal mantra in a similar manner. Until this step we are consciously chanting the mantra. After chanting for 10 minutes or more, it is time to shift to ajapa.
- If your mantra is ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, you can chant the mantra as you inhale and repeat the mantra as you breath out as well. Synchronize the mantra with the breath and listen with awareness to the sound of the mantra, moving from the root chakra to the third eye and vice versa. The fusion of breath and mantra makes your concentration stable, reducing the mind’s tendency to wander.
- Next, let go of the breath and focus your attention on the sound of the mantra alone. Breathe smoothly and let your awareness settle in the mantra.
- As the mantra gains momentum, the sound of the mantra will naturally begin to pulse more effortlessly. Feel the vibrations of the mantra manifesting, as it flows subtly through your mind, centering your heart. Stay here for as long as you like.
- For ending the process, slowly become aware of yourself and your surroundings. Chant Om three times and slowly open your eyes.
With regular practice, your concentration will deepen and repetition of the mantra will occur with an effortless momentum in your mind.
Benefits of Ajapa Japa Meditation
A study published in International Journal Of Creative Research Thoughts, June 2013 stated that Ajapa Japa played a significant role in stress level reduction, increase body awareness and coordination between mind & body.
Ajapa japa meditation helps one to withdraw the senses and awaken self-awareness. It removes the impurities of the mind, build unwavering concentration, enhances ability to access areas of consciousness, which are otherwise locked away. It also balances Ida and Pingala thus making it possible for sushumna to function.
Chanting and meditation is a powerful exercise to transform consciousness. As Gandhi said, “The mantra becomes one’s staff of life and carries one through every ordeal. Each repetition has a new meaning, carrying you nearer and nearer to God.”