What is the Purpose of Japa? Firstly, japa creates background noise, which calms and relaxes the practitioner. Japa is one of many techniques practiced in some, but not all, Yoga classes. One of the primary goals of Yoga practice is the freedom from bondage. This is a broad and encompassing goal, to say the least. The sense of bondage may come from a tight lower back, the inability to touch your toes or an overriding sense of despondency about your life circumstances. The manifestations of physical bondage are fairly easy to see. For example, if you are struggling with a frozen shoulder, you may find it impossible to bind in Revolved Side Angle Pose. In fact, on some days you may not even be able to revolve in the pose at all!
However, a regular practice of Yoga asanas will help to restore elasticity and strength to your body. A more subtle aspect of the freedom that a balanced practice of Yoga techniques offers to practitioners is the mental and emotional freedom the practices engender. This emotional and psychological independence from external sources are essential ways that the regular practice of Yoga keeps us psychologically balanced and optimistic, as well as physically healthy, limber and strong.
In order to maintain a strong connection with the divine energy in one’s own heart, many spiritual teachers or Gurus have recommended the practice of japa. This practice entails the silent or barely audible repetition of a sacred mantra. The practice of japa is well known throughout Asia. Japa looks similar to praying the Rosary in Catholicism, although it is uniquely different. During the practice of japa, the repetition of a sacred mantra or phrase clears the subtle pathways in a Yogi or Yogini’s energy body, known in Sanskrit as nadis.
When these pathways or nadis are cleared of energetic blockages, prana, or life force energy, flows unimpeded throughout a Yoga student’s subtle body. As the prana continues to flow freely, a Yogi or Yogini will experience an overall increase in vital life force energy and a buoyant sense of optimism. The practice of japa is most effective if a Yoga student receives an enlivened mantra from a qualified Guru or meditation master. In this way, the student will be connected to the energy of the spiritual tradition of that teacher and his or her japa practice will bear more fruit.
* Practicing Japa
Once you understand the purpose of Japa, you may decide to dig deeper into the subject. There are a number of spiritual masters today who offer serious Yoga students mantra initiation. If you feel inspired and moved to spend time in the presence of one of these teachers, you may wish to personally request mantra initiation from the master you feel most connected to. If you have not yet received an enlivened mantra from a qualified spiritual teacher but you have a strong connection to a particular spiritual path, you may find that repeating the mantra of that lineage is quite effective.
Otherwise, repeating a simple universal mantra will allow your mind to be tethered to the divinity within your own being. A few highly effective and well-loved mantras are “Aum” and “Aum Namah Shivaya.” The reverberations of “Aum” is said to be the very sound of the essence of the universe. The mantra “Aum Namah Shivaya” is an expansion on this sound. Its essentially meaning is: “I bow to the eternal essence of my own being.” In Yogic terms, the eternal essence of your own being is the pulsating energy of Shiva. To practice japa, silently repeat the mantra of your choice, once on your inhale and once on your exhale.
Many Yoga practitioners use a japa mala to help keep their minds focused on the practice of repeating a sacred mantra. You can find japa malas in the form of long necklaces, bracelets or rings. It is quite lovely to take a walk by a pond and repeat japa as the sun dips below the horizon. It is also just as effective to repeat japa during a tedious business meeting or while taking out the garbage. The key to the successful practice of japa is to do it for an extended, uninterrupted period of time on a daily basis. In this way, the vibrations of the mantra will penetrate the layers of your mind and infuse your body with the energy of the divine.
As a Yoga teacher, you may already know that some students will reject mantra and/or japa practice. That said, label your classes accordingly in your descriptions. It is doubtful that most students in your Vinyasa, Power, and Hot Yoga classes will have a deep passion for learning the practice or purpose of japa. With that said, you will prequalify students who have a deeper interest.
© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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