Many attendees were sitting cross-legged on the floor in meditation mode when I arrived to a presentation on sound meditation at the Open Center in midtown Manhattan. Soothing, hypnotic music that seemed to come straight from someone’s soul filled the room. Conversation halted upon the arrival of presenter Thomas Amelio, the President of the Open Center and a founding member of the Kripalu Center for Yoga Health. Today, he would share age-old wisdom learned during extensive training with yogic masters in India.
Amelio asked an Open Center staff member to turn off the fans (which I couldn’t even hear), referring to an unsettling vibration in the room. Once the atmosphere was adjusted, he chanted “Om” for about a minute. Then he intoned mahamrityunjaya (phonetic spelling), a mantra in Sanskrit (an ancient Hindi language) that initially sounded like gibberish but gained clarity as he repeated it over and over. He informed us that this mantra was used to purify the karmas of the soul and improve mental, emotional, and physical health. This chant and others trace back to revelations of ancient yogis in a state of deep consciousness. “Mantras help you set your own tone and still the mind,” Amelio said. “They help you shift your radio station.” Devotion to a deep meditation practice, he claimed, can give you a heightened receptivity to everything around you.
I found out that the specific sounds of mantras engender the states from which they arose. While they can be chanted in any language , specific pronunciations, inflections, and rhythms are important for creating the optimum vibratory pattern. The natural stillness that arises from chants opens you up to healing, both emotional and physical. There are many different mantras, including ones for creativity and wisdom and for sustaining, clearing, and awakening energy.
Bringing deep-seated traumas to the surface
A primary goal of mantra meditation is to uncover “sanskaras,” a Sanskrit term for impressions of experiences. These impressions are usually painful ones that we store in ourselves without processing them properly. They make it difficult to heal or overcome past trauma by blocking healing energy. Chanting meditations, according to Amelio, help release this blockage to free the flow of “prana,” a term meaning life force. According to Amelio, “a mantra awakens life force, which then purifies you, purges scars, and puts you in a better position to help others.” The process can be painful because it releases disturbing memories that may have been repressed for years. But once the breakthrough is achieved, true growth can occur unimpeded.
During one meditation exercise, I waxed cosmological. I felt that as the mantra progressed, time wasn’t moving forward for me. It was as if I was moving laterally within the time continuum, remaining in a present that would never end.
A simple hand exercise also proved enlightening. We were told to rub our hands together and focus on the energy in them. We moved our hands up and down in front of us with the palms facing each other and then toward our own bodies. I sensed some energy, then had another curious sensation when I extended my arms straight out in front of me: they seemed to stay in place without any effort on my part, as if held up by invisible strings.
Next we did a “chakra sweep,” which involved chanting specific mantras as we held our palms in front of specific areas of the body. Chakras refer to energy centers that vary according to the anatomical location. Since sanskaras can cover a wide range, noted Amelio, you need to activate and align all the chakras to best neutralize their debilitating effects.
Each mantra in the sweep is chanted in one long exhalation after taking a deep breath, seven in all, although the last in the series isn’t really a chant—just an exhalation. Here’s how it goes (note: “am” is pronounced “um”):
- “Lam” (base of the spine)
- “Vam” (reproductive organs)
- “Ram” (navel/solar plexus)
- “Yam” (center of chest/heart)
- “Ham” (throat)
- “Om” (between eyebrows)
- At the crown of the head, the mantra is no mantra (silence).
As we chanted our way up the body and down again, I could detect an energy activation in different locations. It was as if switches were being flipped. It felt good. When the exercise was over, I was infused with an all-encompassing sense of peace.
Post-chant discussion revealed that people sense chakras in different ways. One woman said she experienced them as colors. For me, it was like electricity (but soothing rather than shocking).
Broadcasters and receivers: person-to-person energy transfer
Next, we paired up for a face-to-face exercise. My partner was Lillian, a striking woman whose large eyes and beaming smile seemed to radiate love. We scanned each other’s chakras up and down, palms facing the other. Amelio said that some people are especially good broadcasters of this energy, while others are better at receiving. I was receiving something; I felt as if Lillian’s palms were radiating waves of warmth at me.
I was fascinated when Amelio told us that mantra meditation is an effort to get back to the “baby place”—a time of total purity, without any baggage of life weighing us down. It seemed to offer the promise of starting a whole new life.
As I left the building after the workshop, I remembered Amelio’s comment about how deep meditation heightens receptivity to everything around us. There was nothing new about walking to the train station, something I had done hundreds of times, but it seemed different this afternoon. I felt a powerful connection with everything around me. With the concrete under my footfalls. The whirr of city traffic. The sunlight catching my face intermittently between skyscrapers. The aroma of dinners being prepared wafting from restaurant doorways. It was as if I was experiencing every sight and sound and smell for the first time.
I had been reborn.
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