You may have taken a yoga class in which the instructor uses the sound of “Om” to signal the beginning of the practice. This is just one of many mantras used to promote connection between oneself and the universe – and although yoga is sometimes done independent from its spiritual roots, your practice can be enhanced by understanding the origins of this ancient tradition.

The chanting of mantras is an intrinsic aspect of spirituality and yoga practice in India. A mantra can be a single sound syllable, a word or a group of words, which, when repeated over, set off vibrations with positive effects on one’s physical and psychological functions. In fact the word “mantra” in Sanskrit combines two syllables, “man” (“mind”) and “tra” (“tool”); essentially, it is an instrument that attunes the mind to the vibrations of the cosmos.

During yoga, mantras can be chanted or silently repeated few times by an individual or group to bring tremendous benefits to the body and mind. The ancients believed that the chanting stimulated the subtle energy centers known as chakras lying along the spine. And there is now enough scientific evidence to prove that chanting mantras does reduce stress levels, even when the individual is unaware of the meaning of the mantra. 

AUM (or “Om”, “Ohm”) is the Pranava Mantra, the fountainhead of all mantras. Every mantra and prayer in yoga typically begins with AUM. Also chanting the all-powerful Gayatri Mantra is a common way for yoga practitioners to harmonize every aspect of the practice, from sharpening the intellect to dispelling ignorance and promoting spiritual growth. This mantra dates to the Hindu epic the Bhagavad-Gita!

According to some, every individual has a specific beej (“seed”) mantra, consisting of three parts – AUM, a monosyllable derived from a person’s horoscope, and the word namah, a sort of thanksgiving to the power of the mantra. Vedic tradition (from where yoga really gets its beginnings) states that a person may even have up to seven beej mantras for varied purposes like harmonizing health and relationships, acquiring wealth and nurturing spiritual progress.

Chanting these mantras during yoga attunes one to corresponding vibrations in the cosmos. Importantly, mantras should be chanted with complete focus in order to realize their power in one’s life and the significance of yoga practice not just as a physical exercise, but as a deeply symbolic spiritual ritual.