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Is there a Phrase (Mantra) I should Repeat when Meditating?

Monks chanting mantra at Buddhist temple.

Should I repeat a Phrase while Meditating? (Mantra)

This is a good question. The main goal of meditation as you begin is to reach a place where the mind is not churning out so many thoughts. It will be impossible for you to concentrate on the full breath until your mind has calmed down a bit.

I have used a number of different techniques in order to begin to calm my body and mind so that it is ready for the practice of focusing entirely on the breath. One of those techniques that I mentioned before that I used to do in the past was placing a lighted incense stick in a holder on the floor and shut off all of the lights so that all I could see was this small orange burning ash.

I would just focus on that orange dot, and even watch some of the smoke curl up off the tip of the stick. As I did this I became more relaxed and my mind became focused on that activity instead of the thoughts flying around in my head.

Another way that some people calm the mind during meditation is that they choose a mantra to focus on before they begin the serious business of focusing on the breath.

Meditation and mindfulness master, Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Peace is Every Step. Excellent book for meditation and mindfulness practitioners.

The Vietnamese meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh has many very useful phrases that you can use during your meditation to calm you down. I have not found anything better than his suggestions on mantras to say during your meditation session, so you might give them a try.

It has been years since I did this, but I can try to remember what I used to say with each in-breath and with each out-breath.

As I was breathing in, I would say something in my mind like, “Breathing in is life. Breathing out I let go.”

And it’s really as simple as that.

For some reason repeating a mantra time after time with each in-breath and out-breath calms the mind considerably and allows you to move forward in your practice by helping you let go of the thoughts and cares of the day. Then, you can begin letting go of the mantra and refocusing only on the in and out breaths.

I think that the ideal way to begin your meditation session is to think about it as an overall gradual lessening of input and focus until you finally focus entirely on the very small spot inside your nostrils or on your upper lip where you feel the breath most strongly.

So, one way that you might do this is as you come into the room for your meditation session you have many things on your mind, and then gradually begin letting those things go to focus on the simple physical activities of getting ready for your meditation.

As you sit down on the floor, or wherever you choose (no matter), you can start to look at finding exactly the right position for your meditation. You can start to remove things on your body that might interfere with your meditation because they cause you to feel them.

Things like bracelets, necklaces, watches, maybe large earrings or maybe nose-rings. I don’t know what you might be wearing, but any of these things can cause the slightest feeling that may interrupt your meditation.

You should probably be wearing a very loose shirt or no shirt at all. You should probably be wearing very loose pants, no socks, and no shoes.

The air in the room should be comfortable and no fans or air conditioning vents should be blowing air directly on you. Noises like a dog barking or baby crying should probably stop before you begin. Make an effort to quiet down everything you can control like a loud television or music or anything like that.

So look at it as winding the mind down to a fine point which you’re going to need as you meditate solely on the breath. Each thing that you do should be designed to lessen the amount of thought that your brain is having to do and winding it down to a slower pace and less-frantic pace of thoughts.

As you sit down, you can take an inventory of what your body feels like and whether or not you are in the right sitting position. You can query yourself and ask if there is anything that is bothering you as you sit there.

The next step is to bring in something that will help you calm the mind even further, so I suggested an incense stick that is slowly burning down. Or you can use a mantra in your head that you repeat over and over.

Breathing in, I live. Breathing out, I let go.

As you repeat these phrases over and over in your mind as you take each breath, gradually after five or ten minutes you will notice that your mind is starting to slow down a bit. Now, this might not happen for the first 10-20-30 sessions or more, but at some point, you will notice some progress as the mind begins to slow down.

Embrace the slow repetitive nature of the mantra with each part of the breath.

As you noticed the mind slowing down, start to make a transition from the focus on the mantra to a focus on only the feeling of the breath on the inside of the nostrils, or on your upper lip.

I encourage you to try many different things in your pursuit of calming the mind before you can begin really focusing on the breath in its entirety.

Using mantras or other tools to calm the mind is a useful but temporary method of slowing the mind down before real meditation on the breath occurs.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them if you just go to the Contact Page here.

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