To practice Japa Yoga, or the ritual repetition of a mantra for the purpose of meditation, a japamala can be of great help, both to maintain concentration, and to measure the progress being made along your way.
But how do you practice mantra japa? How do you use a japamala? How should you position your hands? What is the most ﬂuid way to run the beads through your hands, helping your concentration, rather than causing a distraction?
Before you begin
Practice mantra japa whenever you feel the need. The early morning and evening would be the ideal times, these hours of the day are considered more sattva, bearers of wisdom, also because they are the quietest moments, where there are fewer distractions. Choose your practice in a secluded place which is clean and quiet, perhaps using the same place each time. Outdoor locations are also ﬁne, practicing in a beautiful landscape can be very inspiring. An image of the deity should be put in the place where you practice.
Just as you would not enter a temple dirty and untidy, when you are preparing for any spiritual practice, it would be good to engage in thorough personal hygiene.
Before you begin practising you could undertake some simple pranayama exercises, bringing attention to your breathing, calming it, and repeating some hatha yoga postures to warm up your hips: the ideal positions for the japa mantra are in fact padmasana, siddhasana, sukhasana, sitting positions, with the spine nice and straight. Itʼs advisable that the pelvis is higher than the knees. Then sit on a folded blanket or a pillow. Do not enter or exit hastily from practice, but try to do it quietly, “on tiptoes”, with grace and devotion. to wander. Do not be hasty, but precise and persevering. Make sure that the practice becomes a pleasure and devote yourself to it several times during the day, even while you are doing other activities. If you do not have a japamala, you can use a pedometer to keep track of your repetitions.
Each mantra is a sound that transforms. The mantras are sacred syllables whose repetition leads initially to concentration, to meditation, and then to the total abandonment of oneself, through awareness of a higher power, an energy larger than the all-pervading soul.
How the choosing of a mantra comes about deserves a separate discussion. Generally it should be given to you by a guru, but let’s say the mantra that you choose to use to do japa (repetition) may be either a bija mantra (mantra “seed”, the best known is Om), or a more complex mantra (for example the mantra dedicated to Ganesh Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha). Nama – Japa is the repetition of God’s name.
The repetition should be carried out from 108 to 1080 times per day (from 1 to 10 “rounds” of the japamala). The mantra should be repeated without error, in a clear and correct manner, neither too slow nor too fast. An increase in the speed of repetition is permitted in the case of you starting to become distracted.
How to use a japamala
A rosary is a whip to goad the mind towards God.
(Swami Sivananda Saraswati)
The hands that hold the japamala must be kept at the same level as the heart. The ﬁngers used to hold and rotate the beads are the thumb, middle and ring ﬁnger of the right hand, while you do not use the index and little ﬁnger.
Join the tip of the thumb and ring ﬁnger. The mala should be placed in the groove between the thumb and foreﬁnger. Now, with the middle ﬁnger you should start to rotate and slide the beads towards your palm.
The guru bead should never be crossed: once your ﬁngers reach it, turn the mala in your hands and start again in the opposite direction.
Adapting the pace of the japa according to your breathing is useful to maintain concentration. A faster, out loud repetition can be a valuable aid when the mind tends to wander.
Do not be hasty, but precise and persevering. Make sure that the practice becomes a pleasure and devote yourself to it several times during the day, even while you are doing other activities.
If you do not have a japamala, you can use a pedometer to keep track of your repetitions.