by Pooja (Erica) Andersen
Why japa? If you are asking this question, you are not practicing japa or maybe not enough of it yet. Jump start or support your japa practice; join in the Japathon!, a free chanting event on September 28th, the Ashram’s birthday.
I recently spoke with four yogis in the Svaroopa® yoga community about their experience with japa. Each of their accounts expresses how japa is manifesting changes in their lives.
Saguna Goss says japa is her lifeline. “It’s such a key tool for my mind, a mind that needs so much TLC… I don’t know what I would do without it. I am infatuated with mantra and japa.” Her voice conveyed such intense enthusiasm and she even commented on how exciting it was to be discussing it. Saguna first started her japa practice 4-5 years ago when she was finding it hard to consistently carve out 30 minutes a day to meditate. She decided to commit to 5 minutes of japa each hour throughout her workday. In the beginning she set an alarm to remind her to practice. At first she didn’t always have time to stop doing what she was doing to practice, but noticed that by making the time to do even two japa breaks in her day she got results.
Today her japa is more spontaneous. She does japa throughout her day, often while driving or routine activities. She added, “Now when I am struggling with something, having an emotional reaction to a situation, or notice I am not based in my Self, the mantra just appears and brings me back to my Self. It is my ‘tool on the go’ for my mind, and it is so easy. It gives me my Self, because it is my Self.”
Purna (Amanda) Schmidt was inspired to do japa by the 2009 Svaroopaâ Yoga Conference. She had a very difficult start. “My mind was all over the place in the beginning; it resisted and wanted to stay busy. But I kept at it and made it part of my daily practice. Now I look forward to it.“ Purna uses her regular japa practice to prepare for meditation, doing silent and out loud mantra repetition from 20-60 minutes. She finds that silent japa occurs spontaneously, in the midst of her daily activities such as driving, chopping vegetables or doing simple chores. Her whole practice has shifted to a deeper level. She attributes the shift to japa.
Purna continues, “Japa practice causes me to want to do more japa, and it continuously becomes a richer and deeper experience. It has shifted my desire for practice towards the non-physical practices; yet I also experience physical changes and openings from it. At times I can feel rushed and harried, and say, ‘I’m only doing ten minutes of japa,’ but once I start, everything expands and it’s effortless to continue for longer.”
Pat Morrison told with me that when she sits to do japa, “It’s like I am living and breathing the words. It evokes an incredibly strong experience of the sacred, and being one with my mala. Japa clarifies my mind, and eases my way into meditation. At times it initiates the flow of Kundalini up my spine.”
Pat also said at first it wasn’t easy for her to practice japa. When she first began, five minutes a day was difficult for her. She struggled with a busy mind and not wanting to sit for any length of time. When Pat said this to Swamiji, she suggested Pat begin to dedicate a round of mantra on the mala to Swamiji, and another round to Shiva, to Ganesha, to her husband, and so on. This technique she said got her through the rough and awkward beginning. Her practice today, about 5 years later, includes 25 or more minutes a day, often as her meditation preparation. Now she looks forward to japa and loves it. She said she encourages others that are just starting out to stick with it if they find it hard in the beginning. They may find, like she did, that they end up loving it.
Sheynapurna Peace said japa gives her the ability to function in life while experiencing the Self. She followed with, “I remember that I have a tool, and when my monkey-mind gets going, mantra is there to smooth my path. Mantra doesn’t fix outer things, but I can feel it re-training my mind.”
Sheynapurna carries her mala in her pocket at work, a medical office, so her scrub tops have large pockets. While waiting for a patient, walking down the hallway, or seated at her desk, she finds her hand in her side pocket and her mind engaged in mantra. She said, “It’s such a simple practice but calming and grounding. I love to recite mantra at my desk while looking at my mini-puja with Swamiji, Muktananda, Nityananda and Ganesh. This practice has changed the ‘feel’ of my work area.”
Sheynapurna has been repeating manta for about 10 years. At the 2009 Conference she attended a few sessions which inspired her to create a more regular practice, saying that what you put into something is what you get out if it.
While each of these yogis has her story, so much of it is my story too. I have been focused on japa for the past 4-5 years, and my practice has deepened. It is no longer something that feels uncomfortable or awkward; it’s quite the opposite. Japa has become part of me and my life: my sacred “tool on the go.” Om Namah Shivaaya is almost like my personal radio station that I tune into, or it tunes me in. The mantra consistently sweeps me up into it and returns me to that solid place of knowing my own divine essence. The portability of the practice means I use it to cultivate the ability to function throughout all areas of my life, while remaining immersed in the knowing of my own Self.
Up to the point of conducting these interviews my own experiences of japa has remained private. It’s just not something I have talked about with the majority of people in my life. I have often thought to myself that if my husband, kids, family, or work associates had any idea how much I am focused on my manta they would be shocked. But, then again, if I shared what repeated in my mind before I started practicing japa they may have been just as shocked. So I felt privileged to have the opportunity to have such an honest and pure conversation with each of these yogis in our community about the sacred practice of japa in their lives.
Maybe you will find part of your story here, too.
Did you find you could resonate with any of these stories? When I ask you now “Why japa”, what is popping up for you? Is it the mantra? Is it the Self? Are you practicing japa? Why not?
Click here to join the Japathon!, a free community japa event via conference call, September 28th at 10am.