How to find a better mantra

In part two of our meditation series, learn how to replace the negative voice in your head with something life giving
By Suzan Colón  Published on 05/10/2018 at 12:03 PM EDT
Illustration by Suzan Colón

I have this super-annoying roommate. She wakes up cranky almost every morning, and she immediately starts in on all the things I have to do today—and details all the things that could go wrong. She’s never completely happy with anything; if only the weather were cooler (or warmer), if only she had those cute ankle boots her friend has, if only she’d majored in something else in college. She bitches about her body no matter what she looks like. Work? Don’t get her started (please). And when she’s not bitching, she’s moaning, upset about some thing or another that happened a long time ago.

Right about now you’re wondering why I don’t evict this nerve-test. I would, except for one problem: She lives in my mind.

I think we all have this mind-roommate to some degree or another. Otherwise the self-help shelves at the bookstore would be empty. And as much as we’d love to evict the bitchy, worrying, judgmental roommate in our heads (and their poor taste in partners), they’re as much a part of us as our noses.

Why do we have the annoying roommate in the mind? My theory, based on decades of living with this sad little toast crust is that it’s a distortion of the usually healthy mechanism called fear. The fear response was downloaded into our brains to keep us safe, assessing everything from the person with weird vibes to the oncoming car. Fear tries to alert us to potentially bad situations.  

Times have changed since we started walking upright, but the fear response is still an old-school system. It can’t differentiate between actual, bodily-harm danger and, say, an opportunity to learn something new. Rationally, we know there’s nothing wrong with signing up for Italian lessons, but if we feel a little bit of trepidation, the mind tries to twist things around in a bid to make us listen. The roommate begins chanting What’s the point? You’re going to fail. You’ll feel stupid. Etc.

This is why we have Mantras. Also ancient technology, a Mantra is a set of sacred words with a beneficial sound vibration; our modern equivalent would be an affirmation. A Mantra is usually repeated in meditation (first aloud, then silently, to yourself) but you can chant it anytime you want. The literal translation of the Sanskrit word mantra is “mind protection.” That is one awesomely straightforward description of what we need when the roommate starts babbling.

Usually, students of yoga study for years with a guru before receiving a sacred, secret Mantra. Not everyone has time for that, though, so you can go to Mantra Plan B: Get your own.

As I said, a Mantra can be like an affirmation, and if you repeat that positive message, you start believing it. That’s due to neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to create neural pathways with repetition. Think of tracing a pattern in the sand; the more you trace it, the deeper the pattern goes. Same with the effect of thoughts and actions on the brain, so be mindful of what you’re saying to yourself.

There are suggestions for Mantra/affirmations in my book Yoga Mind. Here are a few you can try:

I am a divine light.

I inhale peace and exhale calm.

This body is made of stars. [It’s true; we have some of the same DNA as celestial bodies!]

This body is a holy temple.

I am a channel of love.

When the roommate starts her chatter, don’t get mad, and don’t waste time writing up an eviction notice. Instead, chant your Mantra. She may just quiet down and listen to your kind and loving words.

Suzan Colón is the author of  Yoga Mind:Beyond the Physical: 30 Days to Enrich Your Practice and Revolutionize Your Life From the Inside Out

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