Mark Whitwell | How Do I Practice Mantra?
Industry: Health & Fitness
Mark Whitwell is a celebrated trainer of Yoga teachers and has spent the past thirty years travelling the globe. Mark Whitwell is a lifelong student and teacher of Yoga.
Auckland, New Zealand (PRUnderground) February 22nd, 2021
Teaching in Bali 2019 | Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga
Whole Body Mantra
The mind is a function of the whole body and is itself indistinguishable from the whole body. The mind culminates in the crown but the crown requires a whole spine. The mind is in the spine and then in all the nerves that travel through the whole body. The mind is in the whole body’s relatedness to its own experience and context.
In the traditions, they say that the mind is literally arising from the the heart. The mind is not the controlling dictator of the whole body.
In this practice of asana, pranayama, and then mantra/sound, the whole body is participating in its own context. We become free in mind because we no longer imagine that mind has a dissociated life of its own: as if the mind is separate from the whole body, from experience, others and from Life Itself.
Life is a Unity. Every body is contributing; every part of your body is contributing, and every part of your life is contributing. Mantra helps us participate in this fact. It is the end of separation and the end of hierarchy. It is our reintegration into what life actually is and becoming receptive of one another.
If it is your inclination to chant, it is good to learn mantra from a teacher directly. There is a beautiful idea in the traditions that to duplicate mantra precisely in the way that your teacher gave it to you is to duplicate the teacher’s state.
For the Western mind we can obsessed with the meaning of the mantra. In the culture of Veda however, the mantra is the form, the meaning and the vibration of Reality. It is not pointing to it. It is “it.” The vibration is the reality of the whole body in its intrinsic harmonies and relatedness with all tangible and intangible conditions of the cosmos on which we depend.
My teacher Krishnamacharya would say that mantra, when it is accurately chanted with breath and with the whole body, is more powerful in Yoga than asana.
Mantra can replace the exhale at any time in your asana. If you inhale and raise your arms you can then use mantra on exhale as you go into the forward bend. Specifically, it is a way of strengthening the exhale and placing bandha—the intelligent cooperation of muscle groups— with the vibratory effect of the whole body.
You can experiment in your practice with a loud, strong mantra at first and then progressively make the volume softer and softer until it is a whisper and then silent. When you do mantra silently you engage the mind of the whole body. Gently come back into sound adding volume gradually. Gently come back out in the senses.
Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga
Is Mantra a Secret Code to get to God?
Mantra is associated with religious culture, of course. And some people attribute sacred power and function to it. It may be true that from thousands of years of use by saints and sages these sounds gather blessing power. Or not? My teacher Desikachar would say that it is the faith in mantra that is their power and that makes them work.
From a Yogic perspective, religious tools may be used as an expression of intimacy with life as long as you know they are not necessary. Then they become powerful.
If you think mantra necessary, like the usual point of view that one day I will get to God through chanting, they lose their power. By anticipating a future greatness for yourself you are denying the nurturing miracle of life that is already the case, the presence of God that is already here arising now as each beautiful person, including yourself.
Yoga and real religion is about participation in the given reality not spiritual hopefulness. And anybody can enjoy the vibratory effect of sound. You can choose any sound that suits your unique cultural background and interests, even lines from poetry and popular music. It doesn’t even have to be any formal mantra. It could just be the sound: Ah Ham. People can practice the vibratory effect of the whole body without it being associated with any cultural or spiritual point of view.
Yoga and mantra is supremely useful and necessary to all devotees of faith-based cultures in order for them to actualize the ideals of their faith in their lives. Krishnamacharya would sternly pronounce Christians need Yoga, Hindus need Yoga, Muslims need Yoga. Then religion is no longer superstition, but our full and free participation in their life, in their God, in their Guru.
Placing Mantra in the Heart | Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga
Nyasa is a special mantra activity that you can do. The word itself means placing.
Try sitting comfortably with a straight spine: either sitting on the floor, or on a cushion or a chair. Now experiment with placing mantra in the body.
Begin with this simple gesture of placing your soft hands on your knees and put this simple sound into your legs on every exhale. And the sound is this: Om Shreem. Now touch your lower abdominals, and on the exhale repeat the sound.
On every inhale, fill the upper chest using ujjayi breathing and on every exhale use this mantra and move your hands to a different place on the body as a blessing: Upper abdominals; the heart; the throat; the lips; the forehead; and the crown.
You can also enjoy this practice pitch by pitch. By starting at quite a low pitch you can feel the whole base of the body vibrating. On each exhale, go up a pitch. As we travel up the body, we can go up maybe 7 pitches or maybe more. These pitches refer to different parts of the body.
There is something special about Nyasa practice in Yoga. It is sublime way of enlivening the body and acknowledging that each place in the body is full of life. You can do it during your asana practice or after your asana as a pranayama activity.
*For access to videos of mantra and nyasa practices that you can easily introduce into your practice join the by-donation heart of yoga online immersion course here.
About Mark Whitwell
Mark Whitwell has spent a lifetime dedicated to sharing the wisdom tradition of Yoga that he discovered in India as a young man in the 1970s. He was shocked to discover that the breath-based ”whole-body prayer” Yoga as spiritual practice learnt with his teachers T.K.V. Desikachar and T. Krishnamacharya was not represented in the US and European ”yoga scene.” Since then, Mark has dedicated his life to sharing the transformative teachings of Yoga as embodied practice with modern people around the world. Mark was deeply influenced by his friendship with the sage UG Krishnamurti, who helped him ensure that the yoga he was sharing was participation in Life only, not seeking for a future result (and therefore a denial of the present). Mark has offers trainings and workshops in Europe, India, China, Bali, Australia, Fiji, Japan, the US, SE Asia, New Zealand, Africa, the Middle East and Mexico. He is the author of four books, translated into many languages, and founder of the Heart of Yoga Foundation, a non-profit that offers scholarships and educational resources to those who would otherwise not have access to Yoga learning. Mark is renowned for being a ”voice crying in the wilderness,” staying true to the non-commercial heart of yoga whilst moving freely without reaction in the modern circus, unafraid to gently criticise aspects of modern Yoga that mislead or exploit the public. Mark Whitwell has a deep love for the wisdom realisation culture of India, and is forever grateful to his teachers for the treasure of Yoga they passed on. He has three children and four grandchildren, and lives with his partner Rosalind between Aotearoa New Zealand, Fiji and the US.