what is japa meditation

What is Japa Meditation and 7 Powerful Steps to Practice It?

“What is Japa meditation?” you ask as you sip your third coffee of the day, half-heartedly scrolling through your overflowing inbox. 

It’s not another kale-smoothie wellness trend, that’s for sure. Japa meditation is an age-old practice involving the repetitive chanting of a mantra – think of it as your personal, inwardly-whispered battle cry against the stress of daily life. 

In this article, I’m diving into the profound depths of Japa meditation. We’ll unlock its calming secrets, reveal its potent benefits, and even show you how to practice it amidst your hectic schedule with some modern variations. 

What is Japa Meditation?

Diving right in, Japa meditation is a spiritual practice rooted in the ancient traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. It involves the repetitive recitation or chanting of a mantra, often in conjunction with the use of mala beads. 

Each bead, in turn, represents one repetition of the mantra.

The term “Japa” itself originates from the Sanskrit word “Jap,” which means to “murmur, mutter” – hinting at the whisper-like chant of the mantra in this form of meditation. But don’t mistake this softness for insignificance. In its subtlety, Japa meditation holds a tremendous transformative power.

Unlike some other forms of meditation that aim to empty the mind, Japa meditation fills it with a positive, focused intention – the mantra. This mantra can be a word, phrase, or sound, and its purpose is to help still the chatter of your everyday thoughts and allow your mind to slip into a state of deeper consciousness.

In modern practices, some people replace a phrase or mantra with a breath, so with each breath, you count a bead.

Exploring the Types of Japa Meditation

what is japa meditation - man sitting in lotus pose with rosary in his hands

There’s more than one way to practice Japa meditation? While the cornerstone of Japa is the repetition of a mantra, the volume at which you recite this mantra can vary, offering a few unique flavors to this ancient technique.

Vaikhari Japa: Speaking It Out Loud

Vaikhari Japa is a bit like shouting from the rooftops. You say your mantra out loud, like you’re having a conversation with the universe.

Picture yourself standing on a hilltop, saying “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti” loud and clear for anyone (or no one) to hear. It’s great for when life around you is a bit hectic, giving you a strong anchor to focus on.

Upamshu Japa: The Soft Whisper

Next, there’s Upamshu Japa, where you whisper the mantra to yourself so quietly that barely anyone else could hear it.

Think of it as sharing a secret with the universe. Imagine you’re in a quiet corner of your home, gently repeating “Om Mani Padme Hum.” It’s softer, more subtle, but some people find it even more powerful than the full-volume version. It offers a calming, peaceful experience that can feel deeply personal.

Manasik Japa: Echoes in the Mind

Manasik Japa takes it one step further – you don’t say the mantra out loud or even whisper it; you repeat it silently in your mind.

It’s like having a tune stuck in your head, but in a good way. You might visualize yourself in a peaceful garden, “Sat Chit Ananda” echoing quietly within you. It can be a bit challenging as it requires strong focus, but the payoff is a deeply immersive, rewarding meditation.

Likhita Japa: Writing It Down

Lastly, we have Likhita Japa. Here, you write the mantra down as you recite it, either out loud or quietly. Imagine yourself at a desk, pen in hand, writing “Soham” over and over. Instead of using beads to count your repetitions, the act of writing itself becomes a way to stay focused and connected.

Each of these styles provides a different way to practice Japa meditation, and there’s no right or wrong way. Think of it as a menu of options – try them all, and see which one suits your taste best. It’s all about discovering what works best for you.

What Is A Mantra?

A mantra is a potent sound, word, or phrase that holds immense depth and energy. For spiritual seekers, it is often considered a sacred utterance, originating from ancient Vedic traditions.

It is believed to possess spiritual power and is used in meditation and prayer to facilitate a deep connection with higher consciousness.

For non-spiritual individuals, a mantra can be seen as a tool for focus and affirmation. It’s a personal motto that you can return to, anchoring your attention amidst the turbulence of daily life.

Whether it’s a single word like ‘peace’ or a phrase like ‘I am strong,’ this mantra serves as a cognitive touchstone, aiding concentration and providing psychological reinforcement.

In essence, regardless of your spiritual leanings, a mantra can be a powerful tool in your meditation practice, helping you achieve mental tranquility and personal empowerment.

How To Chose The Right Mantra

Choosing your mantra is an essential and deeply personal aspect of Japa meditation. It can be a path to both spiritual growth and improved mental well-being, bringing calm and focus in an often chaotic world.

Your chosen mantra should resonate with your intentions, aspirations, and the approach you wish to embrace in your practice, be it secular or spiritual.

A mantra is more than just a word or a phrase – it serves as a vibrational conduit, a beacon of focus that helps to steady your mind amidst life’s flurry.

If the thought of using ancient or Pali words feels intimidating, don’t worry. The mantra’s primary purpose is to help you find peace, relief, or a state of happiness, and this can also be achieved through the use of positive affirmations.

For those seeking mental wellness, personal growth, or a mantra that reflects their existential journey, a ‘Nirguna mantra’ or a daily affirmation can be a perfect choice.

These are not bound by language or tradition but are personal expressions of hope, gratitude, and self-affirmation.

On the other hand, if your journey is one of spiritual growth or transcendental connection, Sanskrit mantras or ‘Beej mantra’ may be more fitting.

The beautiful complexity of Sanskrit mantras lends depth to your practice and allows you to connect with the ancient traditions of Japa meditation.

The Sanskrit Mantras most commonly used in practice are:

  • Om – the universal sound, the essence of consciousness.
  • So’ Hum – “I am that”, representing the oneness of all creation.
  • Om Namah Shivaya – an acknowledgment of the absolute reality.
  • Hari Om Tat Sat – a reminder that both the seen and unseen are one.
  • Sat Nam – an affirmation of truth as our essence.

For beginners to the world of meditation, Sanskrit mantras may initially seem daunting or you might not feel comfortable with words considered spiritual. 

In such cases, affirmations are a wonderful alternative. They are simple, personal, and can be adapted to your needs and circumstances. Here are some examples:

  • I embrace peace, balance, and harmony within me.
  • I am a reservoir of strength, resilience, and positivity.
  • I am surrounded by love and kindness, and I radiate the same.
  • I am capable and competent in every task I undertake.
  • I am worthy of all the happiness and success coming my way.
  • Challenges are opportunities for growth, and I welcome them.
  • I honor my needs and understand it’s essential to care for myself.
  • My reactions and boundaries are my own, and I am not dictated by others’ perceptions.
  • I am safe, secure, and trust in the flow of life.
  • I liberate myself from guilt, regret, and shame that don’t serve me.
  • I celebrate my body, its capabilities, and all the wonders it performs.
  • I am grateful for the abundance of blessings in my life.
  • Every day is a fresh start, and I welcome it with an open heart.
  • I trust the journey I am on and honor my progress.
  • I am authentic, unique, and there’s power in being me.

What Are Mala Beads and How Are They Used in Japa Meditation?

what is japa meditation - woman sitting outdoors holding mala beads

Mala beads, a symbol of spirituality and mindfulness, are a crucial part of the Japa meditation practice.

Derived from Sanskrit, the term ‘Mala’ translates to ‘garland’, drawing a parallel to its physical form as a strung assortment of beads.

The Role of Mala Beads in Japa Meditation

In Japa meditation, these beads play a key role as counting tools, lending a tactile element to the practice and guiding the repetition of mantras, prayers, or personal affirmations.

They can also serve as reminders of specific intentions or to regulate breaths during meditation.

The Composition of a Traditional Mala

A traditional Mala consists of 108 beads, interspersed with one guru or Meru bead, which is typically larger than the rest. 

The number 108 holds a profound spiritual resonance, linking to the Sanskrit alphabet’s 108 letters and astonishingly, the sun and earth’s astronomical relationship. 

As per Vedic wisdom, the sun’s diameter and the distance between the sun and the earth are related by the factor of 108, amplifying the cosmic connection and grounding the practice of Japa meditation in a universal context.

The Guru or Meru Bead

Apart from facilitating the counting of mantra repetitions, the guru or Meru bead, synonymous with ‘teacher’ or ‘mountain’ in Sanskrit, acts as a starting and stopping point in the circular journey of meditation. 

Adding to the aesthetic charm and the symbolic importance of the Mala, a tassel is often attached at the end of the guru bead, signifying enlightenment and unity at the peak of the spiritual journey.

Varieties of Mala Beads

Japa Malas are made from a variety of materials, each carrying specific energies. These materials range from aromatic rosemary, and precious gemstones, to organic seeds, reflecting the regional influences and personal preferences in their selection. 

Different types of Malas resonate with different intentions and energies, allowing the practitioner to pick the one that best aligns with their spiritual goals and aspirations.

Mala Beads in the Modern Age

Despite our technologically advanced world brimming with digital applications and devices, Mala beads remain a preferred tool for mantra counting in Japa meditation. 

The beauty of these beads is their simplicity and the tactile connection they provide. Holding each bead as you recite a mantra creates a tangible link to your practice, rooting you in the present moment. 

This sensory engagement anchors our minds, preventing distractions. 

It also allows you to practice at your own pace, unlike timers or metronomes.

The Power and Benefits of Japa Meditation

Japa meditation isn’t just a relic of ancient times; it’s a living, breathing practice with many benefits for the modern individual. 

And these aren’t just anecdotal benefits touted by seasoned practitioners. There’s a growing body of research backing up the transformative power of mantra meditations such as Japa meditation.

Physically, Japa meditation can aid in reducing stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol levels, the body’s main stress hormone. 

Mentally, it can increase focus and clarity, turning the mind into a sharp tool rather than a chaotic whirlwind. On a spiritual level, it has the potential to connect us with our higher selves and reveal inner truths that can shape our life’s direction.

Sankalpa: The Power of Intention Setting

Sankalpa, translated as intention or resolve, is a powerful practice that anchors your meditation, guiding principles, and overall life trajectory. It arises from deep introspection and sets a course toward personal growth and transformation.

Think of Sankalpa as a compass for the mind, providing a steady base for your mental explorations and a framework for translating these experiences into real-world actions.

Crafting a Sankalpa is an introspective journey. It involves envisioning your present state when you’re genuinely joyful and detailing your personal aspirations for growth and transformation.

Consider what brings you contentment. Imagine how it would feel to have it fully present in your life.

Opt for affirming language, avoiding negations like ‘not’, ‘can’t’, and ‘never’. Focus on inviting in the positive, rather than eliminating the negative.

Lastly, consciously direct your energy towards what you aspire to be or achieve. This is about attraction and manifestation, rather than avoidance or rejection.

7 Powerful Steps to Practice Japa Meditation

Now that you know what Japa meditation is, let’s get down to business. Below, you’ll find a step-by-step guide on how to practice Japa meditation. 

Don’t worry if it feels unfamiliar or awkward at first – all great journeys begin with that first unsure step.

1. Find a Comfortable Seat

The first step is to find a comfortable and quiet spot where you can sit without being disturbed. This could be on a cushion, a chair, or even your bed – as long as you’re comfortable and your spine is erect.

2. Hold Your Mala Beads

Hold the mala beads in your right hand. Start with the bead next to the larger ‘guru bead’.

Close Your Eyes and Relax: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Let go of any tension in your body and mind.

3. Start Reciting Your Mantra

Begin to repeat your chosen mantra silently. With each repetition, use your thumb to move from one bead to the next.

4. Stay Focused

It’s normal for your mind to wander. When you notice this, gently bring your focus back to your mantra.

5. Complete the Circle

Continue the practice until you reach the guru bead again. If you wish to continue, simply turn the mala around without crossing the guru bead.

Rest in the Silence

Once you finish your rounds, keep your eyes closed and sit in silence for a few moments. This allows the energy of the mantra to settle into your consciousness.

Remember, the real magic of Japa meditation lies in consistency. It’s better to meditate for a few minutes every day than for hours once a week. Keep going, even when it feels challenging. After all, growth happens outside our comfort zones, right?

How to Incorporate Japa Meditation into Your Daily Routine

The beauty of Japa meditation is its versatility. It can be practiced anytime, anywhere. But, to reap the maximum benefits, it’s best to make it a part of your daily routine.

Just as the world is waking up, the early morning hours can be an ideal time for Japa meditation. 

The quiet can help enhance your focus and set a positive tone for your day. However, if you’re not a morning person (no judgment here, some of us are night owls), find a time that works for you. 

It could be during your lunch break, before bed, or even during your commute (just not while driving, please!).

Find a consistent spot for your practice, too. While you don’t need a dedicated meditation space, meditating in the same place regularly can create a conducive environment and strengthen your meditation habit.

Remember, the goal isn’t to achieve perfection but consistency. Even if you stumble, pick up right where you left off. Progress, not perfection, remember?

The Takeaway

And there you have it! A comprehensive guide on what is Japa meditation and how to practice it. Remember, this isn’t just a one-time read. Keep coming back to this guide as you delve deeper into your practice.

Japa meditation is a journey of self-discovery and transformation. It’s about turning inward, discovering your own inner landscape, and perhaps finding a bit of serenity in this chaotic world. So, why not give it a go? You might just surprise yourself with what you find.

Embark on your Japa meditation journey today. Your future self will thank you for it. So, take a deep breath, grab those mala beads, and get started. Peace and serenity await!

Related: 9 Different Types of Meditation

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be construed as professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition, we strongly advise consulting with a qualified healthcare professional.

FAQs

When we practice Japa, we recite a mantra repetitively, either silently or aloud. This repetition helps to focus the mind and leads to a state of mental tranquility. Japa creates a positive energy flow and helps us connect with our higher self, fostering spiritual growth.

To start Japa, you need to find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Choose a mantra that resonates with you. Start by reciting this mantra repetitively, focusing on the words and their meaning. A common aid is a mala, a string of 108 beads.

The method of Japa involves choosing a mantra, usually a word or phrase with spiritual significance. Hold your mala beads in your right hand, starting from the bead next to the largest ‘guru’ bead. For each recitation, move to the next bead, going around the entire mala.

Japa and meditation are related, but they are not identical. Japa involves the repetitive recitation of a mantra to focus the mind, whereas meditation can involve a variety of techniques to foster mindfulness and concentration. Japa is often used as a form of meditation.

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