The practice of Ajapa Japa stands ouT from all other meditative practices, on account of it’s unique combination of meditation, pranayama and mantra.
The Gayatri called Ajapa is the giver of liberation to the sages; by merely repeating it mentally one is released from all sin – The Garuda Purana
Vedic Philosophy offers more than one way to tame the wavering mind, curtail the senses, focus the thoughts, develop self-awareness and access higher consciousness. It offers several meditation techniques, such as Ajapa Japa, Antar Mouna, Chakra Shuddhi and Yoga Nidra.
Ajapa Japa meditation – which dates back to the ancient Upanishads – stands out amongst other yogic practices on account of its unique combination of meditation, mantra chanting and pranayama.
Ajapa Japa translates to “the awareness and experience of a mantra.” The repetition of the mantra in Ajapa Japa’s early stages, leads to the complete realisation and experience of the mantra in the later stages, where the mantra is said to “come to life” or to form part of the individual’s consciousness. At this stage, the yogi no longer needs to repeat the mantra, as it has become a reality and part of the yogi’s existence. A process which can take anywhere from a few moments, to several years.
Ajapa really means to know that japa which goes on involuntarily without being uttered through the mouth. – Ramana Maharishi
Mantra Chanting with Total Awareness
The practice of reciting a mantra repeatedly – with an effort to pronounce every syllable accurately – is called Japa. In contrast, the practice of Ajapa Japa involves chanting a mantra without any mental effort, whilst maintaining absolute awareness.
Practicing Ajapa Japa correctly is not easy; separating mental effort from constant awareness requires patience and dedication. The path from intentional mantra chanting to natural, effortless chanting involves various stages.
In the beginning stage, one must remain natural, repeating the mantra comfortably. Never trying to control the speed or flow of the mantra.
With regularity, the chanting becomes automatic, without the need of wilful effort. At this stage, the repetition of the mantra happens spontaneously. Intentional action is replaced by reflex action. However, this stage is not considered Ajapa Japa as yet, but a preliminary practice to Ajapa Japa.
In the next stage, one starts experiencing the practice as a “witness” rather than a “doer.” The mantra is still chanted, but the individual’s consciousness remains detached from the practice. Observing it like an outsider.
In the final stage of Ajapa Japa, the mantra’s feeling is detached from the action. This is a crucial stage, as the mantra is usually linked to the feeling it generates. As one masters the technique of Ajapa Japa; peace, tranquility and bliss flood the entire being. All whilst the mantra remains in the background, detached from consciousness. This is the perfected practice of Ajapa Japa.
The Mantras of Ajapa Japa Meditation
The Ajapa Japa technique doesn’t restrict its practice to a particular mantra. One can choose any mantra that will enable chanting with constant awareness. The mantra can be of three forms:
Mantras with a specific meaning attached to each seed syllable. The mantras may contain words with no literal meaning; they are mainly used for the feeling they generate during recitation.
Mantras that form part of particular faiths and belief systems.
Mantras used mainly to train the mind, work on the chakras, etc.
Though the choice of mantra has a minor role to play in Ajapa Japa, there are certain mantras that are more popular than others. The most frequently used mantras in Ajapa Japa are:
The Soham Mantra – which translates to “I am That”
Aum – The Pranava mantra; the sound from which all sounds emanate
Gayatri Mantra – The mantra of the goddess Gayatri, the source of creation.
Maranatha – A Christian Mantra, which signifies “The lord has come”
Mahamrityunjaya Mantra – The mantra of divine healing and remover of the fear of death.
The Soham Mantra
The mantra Soham is the main preference in Ajapa Japa. The mantra translates to “I am that,” yet holds no religious significance. It is a simple yet highly effective mantra.
Soham represents the sound and vibration produced during breathing. The syllable ‘So’ symbolises the sound and vibration produced during inhalation; ‘Ham’ represents the sound produced during exhalation.
As the mantra is chanted during Ajapa Japa, awareness is fixed not only to the mantra but also to inhalation and exhalation, which also makes it a pranayama practice.
Soham means: “He am I” or “I am Brahman.” So means “He,” Aham means “I.” This is the greatest of all mantras. This is an abheda-bodha-vakya which signifies the identity of Jiva or the individual Self and Brahman or the Supreme Self. This Mantra comes in the Isavasya Upanishad: “Soham asmi” (“I am Soham”). – Swami Sivananda
The Art of Conscious Breathing
Pranayama in Ajapa Japa meditation involves relaxation, deep breathing and complete awareness.
Appropriate implementation will require extensive practice and maintaining unceasing awareness during Ajapa Japa meditation.
It should be noted, there is an immeasurable difference between automatic breathing and conscious breathing. We breathe throughout our life, but seldom do we pay any attention to the process. To master conscious breathing – one of the vital elements of Ajapa Japa – one needs to master effortless deep breathing and the ability of relaxing totally, all whilst maintaining full awareness.
steps to Conscious Breathing
The first step is to adopt a comfortable and relaxed posture, preferably a meditation asana such as siddhasana, sukhasana or vajrasana. Subsequently, one becomes conscious of the breath and shifts into deep breathing. Deep breathing is not a spontaneous process for most people; if this is the case it may be necessary to get comfortable with deep breathing before progressing.
Attention must be paid to the inhalation and exhalation. As concentration increases, the breath becomes slower, deeper and longer. The breathing process becomes totally relaxed, rhythmic and balanced. Yogic scriptures state; that longer, deeper, and conscious breathing increases longevity.
Ajapa japa of Gayatri bestows moksha on the yogis. A determined commencement of this sadhana itself can eradicate the evils in the sadhaka’s character. – Pandit Shriram Sharma
The Benefits of Ajapa Japa meditation
The practice of Ajapa Japa meditation offers the twin benefits of experiencing total tranquility and reaching higher levels of consciousness.
Ajapa Japa helps cultivate self-awareness and reduces the dominance of the senses. It floods the mind with positive energy, driving away all negativity and impurities, boosting mental faculties.
The physical and mental health benefits of Ajapa Japa have been studied by various organisations. In 2013, the International Journal of Creative Research Thoughts published a study stating Ajapa Japa meditation improves coordination between body and mind, boosts awareness, and relieves stress and anxiety.
[With] the mantra “Soham” the sadhaka infuses his body with the life of the Devi, the Mother of all – Arthur Avalon