அகர முதல எழுத்தெல்லாம் ஆதி
பகவன் முதற்றே உலகு.
Akara Mudhala Ezhuththellaam Aadhi
Pakavan Mudhatre Ulaku (1)
The alphabet begins with the “A” sound, so does the Universe begin with the universal consciousness.
अकारादेव निर्यान्ति समस्तान्यक्षराणि च ।
चराचरप्रपञ्चोऽय मीश्वरादेव जायते ॥ (१)
Tiruvalluvar begins with an invocation to God, the universal consciousness, the supreme being. The first 10 couplets of the Tirukkural can be seen to be praising God, but can also be thought of as an invocation to a higher power – a reminder that there are forces that we still do not understand.
This couplet mentions not the letter A, but the sound ‘a’. This sound is one of the primary sounds that make up any alphabet, and the first of all. The ‘a’ sound begins in the thoracic region – the other two primary sounds ‘u’ and ‘m’ originate in the throat and the mouth respectively.
Together, they form ‘AUM’, the primordial sound of the universe.
The ‘a’ sound accompanies and energises the other sounds, and serves not just as the beginning, but also the enricher and the cause of the integrity of all the other sounds.
In the same manner, the universal consciousness that is known by various names and forms, serves as the source of life, the origin of what we know as the Universe.
ॐis pronounced in two ways – Om, and Aum. The correct pronunciation for mantra japa is AUM. Take a couple of minutes to listen to the audio file at the end of this post to familiarise yourself with the correct pronunciation.
There is a proportion to the components of AUM as well – A:U:M is 1:1:2, i.e, if A is 2 seconds, U is 2 seconds and M is 4 seconds.
Also, try pronouncing it s few times, with your eyes closed. Move the palm of your hand as indicated below:
During the “A” sound, feel your chest area with your palm, move it to your throat area during the “U” sound and the top of your head during the “M” sound. If you feel the vibrations in these corresponding areas, you are pronouncing it correctly.
A common mistake is making shallow sounds from just the throat area, and this should be avoided.
- Sit in a comfortable position. Ideally in Sukhasana or Vajrasana. Avoid sitting on a chair. Keep your back straight. If you find this difficult, try the Vajrasana posture since the back is naturally straight in this āsana. Your hands can be kept loosely on your thighs, palms facing down, or if you know how to do it, in jnana mudra. Close your eyes. Breathe normally.
- Turn your eyes slightly downward and close them gently. During mantra japa your eyes may move upward and downward naturally – don’t try to control this movement.
- Be aware of your natural breath flowing in and out. Breathe through your nose, keep your jaw muscles relaxed, so that your teeth are not clenched or tensed.
- Take a couple of minutes of deep, slow breathing to slow down your breath, and feel a sense of calm.
- Now start the japa. Feel the vibration of each component of the AUM mantra, and focus on the area between your eyebrows (Agya Chakra). Move your attention to the corresponding area of vibration, as the mantra progresses from the lower chest, to the throat, and finally, to the head.
- For beginners – 16 times is ideal. You can progress in the following sequence – 8 times in weeks 1 and 2, and 16 times in week 3.
- If counting mentally is tough, or disturbs your concentration or intonation, then do the math – you ideally do 4 japas a minute, so set your timer to four minutes for a 16-japa session.
- Once done with the number of tapas, continue to sit in the same āsana, with your eyes closed, and feel the silence for an equal number of minutes. For example, if your japa took 4 minutes, meditate in silence for an additional 4 minutes.
- Bring your hands together in anjali mudra, say a small prayer, and gently open your eyes.
Gentle breathing, without strain or effort. Take in deep slow inhalations, with an expanded chest, and deep slow exhalations as you continue with the japa, with your stomach moving towards your spine. Don’t try to prolong the japa (and the corresponding exhalation) in the beginning – let it flow with your natural breath. The emphasis is on the pronunciation and awareness, not on the length of the japa.
Maintain awareness on the vibrations felt in the body during the AUM japa.
Notice the energy traveling from your chest to your head, and also feel the more pronounced vibrations felt when making the “mmmmmmmmmmmm” sound. This sound is a meditation in itself.
Also be aware of the space in between your eyebrows – in advanced stages of practice, you can roll your eyes upwards and inwards to “see” this space from the inside. At the beginning though, just be aware of this, and feel the slight tingling sensation here, as you do the japa.
Physical – greatly improves the capacity of your lungs, and can be counted as a full prānāyāma exercise. The full cycle of inhalation and exhalation, combined with the AUM sound during exhalation, helps improve lung performance with time. AUM chanting helps improve blood circulation, thus flushing out toxins and aids in digestion, due to the relaxation of the digestive system during the japa. The vibrations felt during the japa, help stimulate metabolism and the thyroid gland.
Mental and Spiritual
AUM japa has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety (see the evidences at the end of this post). It improves concentration and removes negativity to a large extent. The spiritual benefits of AUM japa are too many to be adequately covered in this post, For now, let it suffice to say that the regular chanting of AUM helps us discover our true selves, and connect with the infinite cosmic consciousness.