Mantra Japa as a Timeless Practice for Conquering Fear

If you take a moment to sit and notice what you are feeling right now, there is probably a mixmaster of thoughts, emotions, beliefs and feelings running around your body and mind.

Continued worries about the pandemic, worry about the future (health, finances, relationships), interacting with people in public again — a mixture of longing and hesitation, seemingly ever-widening polarization of society, wanting to get more involved with extended family, changes that we never anticipated, what comes next? …..worries, anxiety, desire, clinging to the familiar that is now long gone. Uncertainty. Fear. 

Yoga offers many tools to welcome, understand, listen to, and grow from the messages delivered by feelings, emotion, thoughts and beliefs. Those “fluctuations of the heart-mind” have a habit of running around in our heads constantly, telling us our story, keeping us in a self-referenced bondage of our superficial self — our personality, relationships and possessions. Yoga teaches that our deepest self is the Awareness of all these activities of the heart-mind.. And that Awareness is always unchanging, sweet and joyful. Once we calm the activities of the mind, we can notice this subtle Awareness and know that deep down, we are whole, complete and perfect. 

The tools of yoga include yoga postures, breathing practices, meditation, yoga nidra and mantra japa. Mantra japa is the repetition of a word or phrase over and over, calming the mind and helping us be open and aware of our ever-present Awareness. Repeating the mantra evokes the archetypal energy that already exists within us, represented in the mantra. Your mantra japa practice may also have a specific intention.

The topic of this blog is the Mṛtyuñjaya-mahāmantraḥ, the great death-conquering mantra. It is chanted in support of ourselves, family or friends who are going through great difficulty, health challenges, or death. It’s intention is to help us through these difficulties and importantly, to eliminate the fear of the changes that are coming, immersing us in the sweetness of Awareness. 

This mantra is one of a literal handful of mantras that have been in continuous use for over 3,000 years, perhaps 4,000 or more. It is still in use today by millions of people around the world, and so links us to maybe 150 generations of humanity all chanting these very same words, these very same sounds, with the same or similar intention. And since it is a Vedic chant, we chant it even with the same melody. It can provide us a connection to the past that is often missing from our young immigrant / melting pot country. 

It originated, as you would expect, in a very different culture, full of agricultural metaphor and personal deities. The deities, at their root, speak to archetypal structures that all of us have within us, so when we chant to a deity, we call forth that archetype from within. This is a chant to Shiva, the three-eyed one (representing pure consciousness). The archetypal form of Shiva associated with this mantra is Amruteshwara, the lord of the nectar of immortality. 

A literal translation of the mantra is: 

“We worship the three-eyed Lord, who is sweetly fragrant (with awakened consciousness) and who increases well-being. 

Liberate us from bondage to death / fear of death like a cucumber separated from the vine, (i.e., irreversibly and easily) but not from the nectar of immortality.“

That is a bit far afield from our world-view and experience. Since this is a mantra associated with Amruteshwara, we can translate it as follows: 

“We invoke the sweet fragrance of awakened consciousness to increase our well-being.

Forever liberate us from all fear and the fear of death and immerse us in the nectar of immortality.”

So our intention for using the mantra is to be liberated from fear, which is at the root of so much anxiety and suffering, and to be immersed in the sweetness of universal consciousness, which was never born and never dies. We can apply this to specific intentions for health and healing for ourselves and for others. Mantra japa is generally performed in a quiet voice in a space and time where you will not be interrupted. People often use a mālā to further the meditative quality and also track the number of repetitions, perhaps 27 or 54 or 108 repetitions. If you do not have a mālā, you may just set aside a specific time for your mantra japa practice. 

The Sanskrit transliteration of the mantra appears below:

Oṁ tṛya̍mbakaṃ yajāmahe suga̱ndhiṃ pu̍ṣṭi̱vardha̍nam | u̱rvā̱ru̱kami̍va̱ bandha̍nānmṛ̱tyormu̍kṣīya̱ mā’mṛta̎t ||

To learn more about Vedic chant, yoga sutra-s and yoga philosophy, check out the Chanting and Yoga Philosophy Intensive, offered in conjunction with River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School, starting May 17: http://www.riverflowyoga.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ChantingYogaPhilosophy-Intensive_2021-22_012721.pdf

Cultivating Another Mental Attitude with iRest® Yoga Nidra Meditation

“When in distress, cultivate another mental attitude” Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali, Chapter 2, sutra 33. 

As the pandemic drags on, do you find yourself wondering, what is wrong with us? Why are we so dysfunctional? This is depressing. Something seems wrong. Something seems wrong….with me.

In my studies for iRest Yoga Nidra certification, I am studying the pratya bhijña hṛdayam, The Heart of Recognition, or alternatively, The Recognition of Our Own Heart. This text is the most direct statement of The Recognition School, that reached its peak around the year 1000 CE, in the Kashmir region of what is now Pakistan. The Heart of Recognition is that we actually are a condensed form of the one consciousness. We Recognize Our Own Heart when we glimpse the qualities of the one consciousness even in our contracted form.

The first five sutra-s of this foundational text (the pratya bhijña hṛdayam) say:

  • Everything comes into being and is animated by one consciousness. The one consciousness is the ground of Being. 
  • This one consciousness has an inherent impulse to manifest, and unfolds the universe from herself, upon herself. She pours forth the universe in continuous re-creation.
  • This consciousness manifests in diverse ways and differentiates into entities that relate to one another as subjects and objects.
  • Even as there are many subjects and objects, they are still all manifestations of the one consciousness. Just as in a hologram, the whole is contained in each fragment, the whole of the one consciousness is within everything, in condensed, but complete form. There is nothing that is not consciousness.
  • And so even our minds, are the one consciousness, in contracted form.

Western psychology holds that consciousness is an attribute of the mind. Eastern psychology takes another view: the mind is the product of consciousness. So, we can take another view: that consciousness is here, and the mind is its product. Everything belongs, it is all a manifestation of one consciousness. Our thoughts and emotions are here, and we can welcome them, without judgment. And, no matter our present state of mind, we are deeply ok, we are the entirety of the one consciousness, in condensed form. 

As condensed consciousness, we forget that we indeed are the one consciousness. And then we can remember……we can get a glimpse of that vast oneness: spacious, timeless, connected, complete and whole through the practices of iRest Yoga Nidra meditation. Using ancient techniques of body and breath awareness, we can disidentify with our thoughts, emotions and beliefs. We can allow that perfume of the one consciousness to enter our own awareness, finding a familiar sense of joy. The more we practice, the more we can live out of a place of remembering. And we find that everything belongs. We find actions we can take that will help transform our suffering into growth, our pain into purpose, our sorrow into joy. We can listen to the longings of our heart, and live with a sense of life living us. And we can let go of our need to control results, because everything belongs.

Studio Update Covid-19: Staying Present – Moving Forward

We want to take time to thank you for your support of the studio’s transition to online classes during the pandemic. Our number one concern is the safety of every student, customer, teacher trainee, employee, and teacher. We know that technology has its own unique set of challenges, but we hope that you have found your way back to practicing with your favorite teachers and friends.

Our schedule looks different to assure staffing support for technology and to provide varied offerings for Safer At Home schedules. We plan to continue in the on-line environment for the foreseeable future. We are also excited to continue to look for new and varied ways to expand our online offerings, including some special events, concerts and workshops.

It is hard to predict how operating in the studio will work going forward. Rest assured, safety is our main intention and the best public health science available will guide when and how we re-open. Yet we look forward to the time when we can welcome you back into the studio in person to continue to help you with your health and wellness journey. When the time is right, we will be ready.

Many of you expressed interest in continuing to have some online classes even once the studio is re-opened. We hear you and we will explore all suggestions. Inclusion in our offerings is important to us and everyone has different needs and abilities to attend the studio. Some of you may feel at higher risk during business reopening and we want to support you as much as we can.

Many people in our community are struggling with the pandemic, all in their own unique way. We hope that you can use your practice to be strong and steady for yourself and to help others. We have no other option than to get through this together as a community.

We deeply appreciate your referrals to 5 Koshas. There are options available to those who may be in financial distress. If you know someone who needs our services, please encourage them to connect with us at: office@5koshasyoga.com. Staying strong, stable, compassionate and balanced in perspective is more important now than ever before.

With our deepest gratitude,

Jay, Heather, Andrew, Mary

A Different Way of Being through Yoga Nidra

By Jay Coldwell, RYT-200, iRest® Level 2 Teacher

The Yoga Nidra experience.

Yoga Nidra is an ancient technique, sometimes called “yogic sleep”. It’s signature practice is a guided body scan led in a particular order. The sequence of the body scan typically follows the physical organization of the motor cortex and sensory cortex in the brain. By focusing on the felt-sense of the body in this order, you reduce the activity of the Default Neural Network, which is where most of us live most of the time. That function of our brain continually tells us “our story”, and interprets the world around us, with a bias towards finding danger. In its place, we activate the Present-Centered Neural Network, which helps us live in the moment, see things clearly, and find inspiration.  

So, what is this experience like? 

You may find a different way of being. A way that is quite aware of the present moment, that is insightful and non-judgmental. A feeling of groundedness, peace, an inner joy. Sometimes the practice will be experienced as a restorative, transformative deep relaxation, and even sleep. Other times the practice will become an opportunity for deep inquiry, healing and integration. Whatever your experience, it is perfect for you, in this moment. 

 

What is iRest® Yoga Nidra?  

iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation is a modern adaptation of ancient yoga nidra techniques, informed by the wisdom of modern psychology.  Studies have demonstrated that iRest is an effective practice for people with anxiety, depression, chemical dependency, and PTSD. iRest has been brought to many diverse populations, including those who are homeless or suffering domestic abuse. It is beneficial for people living their lives in any situation, in work, school, or home life. https://www.irest.org/blog/how-effective-irest-proof-within-research-helps-too

 

iRest teaches that we can use our time in yoga nidra to notice everything that arises. These may be feelings, emotions, thoughts or beliefs; we learn to welcome them as guests, whether they are comfortable or not. We feel these messengers from the heart, as a felt-sense, and gain insight as to the message being delivered. We may receive insight as to actions we need to take, advice, as it were, from this messenger. These actions may help us to live in harmony with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us. We gain ease in living life that continues to bring joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. We find that we are not these experiences, rather we are the Awareness in which these experiences arise. We then can welcome and be with the great variety of experiences reality has to offer, and always respond most authentically and joyfully to them, no matter the circumstance. That is iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation. 

How is iRest practiced? 

iRest is practiced in many ways. It may be a 35 minute guided meditation in a quiet place. These extended practices are key to developing skills for daily life. But these skills may be practiced throughout the day in very short sessions, no matter where you are: 

  • It may be taking just a moment to scan the body from head to toe when you feel a need to be more present. 
  • It may be evoking your felt-sense of an Inner Resource or Sanctuary, when life feels a bit overwhelming. 
  • It may be noticing the breath and flows of energy in the body to help decode a message your body is sending.
  • It may be setting an intention for the day or the hour or the moment. 
  • It may be recalling your Heartfelt Desire, the feeling of life living you, as you measure whether this moment, or a particular decision fits what you are here on earth to do. 

As you incorporate iRest Yoga Nidra in your daily life, you may find that you now live more out of a sense of present-centeredness, rather than in a continual repetition of your story, and scanning for danger. You may find life living you.

Jay Coldwell is an iRest Level 2 teacher & Partner of 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness, offering “Mantra and iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation” on Mondays at 11:00 AM and 5:15 PM at 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness, 2220 Sherman Street, Wausau, WI. Sample guided meditations can be found at this link: https://www.irest.org/try-irest-now

Inviting Transformation with Sound

We know the power of sound and how music can energize, or calm us. We know how good it feels to laugh, cry, and to feel the vibrations we make with our own voices resonating deeply within our own chest or throat or head. Science tells us  these vibrations stimulate the vagus nerve, that nerve that wanders throughout our organ systems, and regulates our internal energy systems. This has a positive effect on our physical and energetic structures.

We also know the power of thoughts. Thoughts lead to emotions, actions, behaviors, habits, values, and destiny. If our background thoughts are not positive, they color our perception of our world, our relationships and ourselves. Replacing those faulty background thoughts with intentional chant or mantra can bring transformation, and help us bring life-giving clarity to ourselves and our world. This clarifying effect on our mind and character enables us to realize the bliss that is at the core of our being, deep within our heart.

We can bring these two threads, the physical/energetic effect of sound and the clarifying intention of  chant or mantra on our mind and character, into our regular practice.  In the yoga tradition, there are many chants that help place the person, the true self, in healthy relationship to others and to the world. One such chant is the Laghu Nyasa, juxtaposing  the cosmos and the individual. Internalizing this chant places us in healthy relationship to ourselves, others, and the world. This Sanskrit mantra makes a beautiful sound, and resonates throughout the physical and energetic body. It’s meaning resonates in our mind as it changes our character and connects us to the universe. The refrain to this chant can be translated as:

“My heart is my true Self.

My true Self is immortal and one with Universal Consciousness”

The person who lives with this mantra becomes open-hearted, capable, and sees unity in all that is.

Jay Coldwell,FSA, MAAA, RYT-200, is certified as a 200 hour Viniyoga Wellness Instructor from the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School and the American Viniyoga Institute.  He is a Registered Yoga Teacher at the 200 hour level with Yoga Alliance.  He has studied at the Vedic Chant Institute, where he continues to take regular lessons.  Jay is also studying Kirtan leadership with Mike Cohen.