Japa, in Sanskrit means (“muttering”) i.e. recitation of mantra consecutively, has been one of the most important aspects of Yoga practice for a very long time. This consists of the repetition of the same mantra again and again, which is either formed of a single syllable (e.g., om) or various mantric sounds (e.g., om namah shivaya).
It is known to mankind that the yogic path is set into motion by constant practice and passion. Through consistency and regular practice, we create the patterns and vibrations of either negativity or positivity.
Mantra Japa is associated with providing us with positive energy that helps the human body to stay on the right track, helping us to eventually outshine the spiritual darkness within and around us.
It is a very strong approach for directing the soul towards the yogic path of self-acceptance. According to the last chapter of Kularnava Tantra: “Japa is so-called because it removes the sin accumulated in thousands of lives and because it reveals the Supreme Deity.” Ignorance of our own true nature is what is known to be the human’s greatest ‘sin’.
Japa is usually and commonly practiced aloud, by whispering, or mentally. Reciting the mantra mentally is known to be the most powerful way of Japa, but if you are a newbie you might be asked to speak out the mantra aloud or switch in between loud and murmuring whispers.
The repetitive sound of a mantra is what gives the brain helpful feedback for practicing mindfulness and being focused in life. If you think you cannot connect to the Japa and are engaged aimlessly in reciting the mantra, it will not be fruitful and will be a total waste of time.
Since the existence of Japa mantra is known, it has been practiced with the help of rosaries of various kinds and types. Common man calls it malas, which literally means “a necklace of garlands.” These devices have been found in the mythological texts of almost all the religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Islam.
Malas that are used for Japa are made of a variety of materials such as wood, seeds, pearls, precious stones, etc. The most widely and commonly used substances are sandalwood, rudraksha seeds, tulsi seeds, lotus seeds, bodhi seeds, rosewood, and crystals. Different materials are associated with providing a different motivation in Japa practice, but there are no said parameters regarding the same.
The typical mala used in japas consists of 108 beads, but strings of 26, 50, and 54 beads can also be used to practice yoga. Sometimes small and semi-precious beads or stones are used to separate the larger beads so that it becomes easier to handle and manage. As a rule, every mala is supposed to be made of what is known as a Meru, Sumeru, or guru bead, which are relatively larger than the other beads.
People who practice Japa yoga consider mala to be treated with respect—that is, they consider it as a sacred and holy instrument. Some insist that the mala should be kept carefully away from evil eyes, and the practitioner should also use a special bag solely to hide the mala while whispering the mantas or telling the beads.
Whereas, others recommend that it is very fruitful to wear the same mala around one’s neck, with the guru bead behind the neck. Special focus is given to the statement that ‘malas should never be placed on the floor or on seating surfaces’.
It is recommended that the mala should be held in one’s right hand, with the beads twirled either over the middle finger or the ring finger, and the counting is done with the thumb.
The index finger, which is also known as the “threatening” finger, should never be used in mala japa. The mala should be kept at the heart level so that the beads do not drag on the ground or sitting surfaces. Alternatively, one can even rest the beads in the left hand and count with the right hand.
It is found that some other traditions favor the left hand for telling beads, while some say that the practitioners should hold the mala in whichever manner he feels comfortable in, so that the practice, which is the main focus, does not become a distraction, thereby defeating the whole purpose of Japa.
There is a set procedure as to how one should begin with the japa. Whispering the mantra and counting of beads should always start with the bead right next to the guru bead and then the pattern should proceed further.
Once you reach the guru bead, it should not be counted or crossed over; instead, the mala should be turned around and the practitioner should begin the new round from the very same bead on which the last round ends, again moving forward along the mala. The reason behind doing so is because of the respect towards the Guru as he is believed to be the highest or eternal power of all.
Japa meditation helps to reduce stress and calms the soul
The process of amalgamation of breathing, calm sound, and the slow steady rhythm of a Japa meditation practice has the calming properties that are deeply rooted within our bodies. This practice creates such vibrations around our brain that it inculcates specific brainwave states.
Meditation in the form of Japa Mantra is known to be the easiest and most effective way to activate the slower brainwave states of Alpha (focus and learning), Theta (creativity and intuition), and Delta (healing and calming).
Mediation holds a special place in the human heart
Studies have shown that meditation has direct effects on the breathing patterns of human beings. Yogis who are pro in meditations have been known to slow their heartbeats down to some unbelievable levels and rates. Meditation has shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate, and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
In short, meditation has a strong and profound effect on your physical heart. It calms the body to release feel-good hormones that eventually help to keep the human heart happy.
Helps to improve concentration and focus
Meditation practices seem simple but are quite difficult. This is because a person has to be consistent and motivated for this practice.
Japa requires a huge deal of focus and concentration which sometimes becomes a difficult task to complete. The way exercising helps to make the muscles stronger, meditation helps in strengthening your mind. Japa is known to be the best exercise for the mind as it uses various points of focus: the breath, the mantra, and the touch and movement of the mala beads.
Jap mantras reduce negative thoughts and improve mood
Research about the brain has shown that the majority of human thoughts are negative and pessimistic. The continuous string of these negative thought patterns in our minds tends to make those thoughts stronger and increases the feelings of sadness, anger, grief, and loneliness.
Mantra meditation is entrusted with providing positive and motivating energy to the human body. Repeating the holy and sacred Sanskrit syllables helps in replacing the negative thinking and creates new and constructive patterns in our minds.
Meditation helps in cultivating positive emotions
When a human is internally motivated and happy about his life, he tends to surround himself with happy and passionate thoughts which in turn helps him to impart higher levels of kindness, compassion, and empathy.
The vibes that he surrounds himself with helps others with the same. A fun fact, the areas in our brain’s gray matter that are associated with these positive energies increase in a time period of as little as 8-weeks of meditation practice.
Traditionally, a mantra comes to power only when it is given in the context of initiation, but this should not keep anyone away from using the mantra Japa for meditation.
In Yoga, the intention to do is something that truly and actually matters. Because of its association with the intrinsically expressive Shiva-Shakti, a well-motivated mind can always find potency in Japa.
Thus, we may choose to adopt from the variety of mantras known to mankind and gain numerous benefits from practicing Japa with them.
It is advisable to stick to one mantra for the best results, however, rather than shifting from one to another every now and then. The reason behind it is that Japa requires a lot of human energy and jumping from one mantra to another leads to the loss of that energy and deviates the human mind.
The work of self-transformation requires all our strength and energy. Mantric “muttering,” or Japa, has long been recognized as a formidable ally on the yogic path.
Many authorities regard it as the easiest approach, which is especially beneficial in the “dark age” (kali yuga) still in progress today. When we consider how much of our daily speech is wasted on irrelevant things, mindful recitation is most definitely an advisable practice.