I am an advocate for the power of language and the importance of using language as a tool to make things better-whether that is your state of mind, your relationships, or the community you live in. There are three words that are often used interchangeably within the world of yoga and wellness. Affirmation, mantra and prayer. At first, and maybe in your personal practice, they may mean the same thing to you-but are they?
What is affirmation? Affirmation can be understood to be a declaration, a statement, or an assertion. It can also be a word, phrase, feeling, or state that you wish to create within yourself at any moment. Affirmation can be used to focus the mind away from its wandering nature when in meditation. For example, stating "I inhale, I exhale". Affirmation can also be used throughout the day as a practice of mindfulness, a phrase or word that you repeat to yourself whenever you need a reminder, like the phrase "I am calm".
So, what is mantra then? Mantra can be described as a mystical statement of invocation or incantation, and it typically involves a sound or a bij (a root sound, like Om). It has also come to be known as a sacred word, sound, or phrase that holds spiritual and psychological power. From Sanskrit, mantra means "tool of thought" and it can also be used in meditation to focus the mind away from its wandering nature. Perhaps the most commonly known mantra is "Om", as this is often associated with yoga and its practices, although there are many other mantras.
What about prayer? Prayer can be understood within a religious context or a spiritual context and it is often considered to be words strung together to create phrases that promote connection with a higher spiritual being. It also has spiritual and psychological power and can be a powerful source of connection. Prayer typically involves a deliberate communication with a higher spiritual being, perhaps God, perhaps not. Prayer can be used within meditation to focus the mind and it can also be used throughout the day as a mindfulness practice of connection.
For myself, I know that I have used and do use the phrases mantra and affirmation interchangeably in conversation. However, my practices have typically consisted of the use of affirmation and I rarely incorporate mantra when I am practicing alone. I have found joy in experiencing the collective use of mantra and sharing the vibrations of Om in classes with others, and it may be something that I consider incorporating more often. As well, I know that I am hesitant to practice prayer, personally. For me, the concept is tied too closely to religion, so I feel resistant to practicing prayer. However, I often incorporate phrases together into my practice which could potentially be considered prayer by the definition. It is the label of prayer that I avoid. Again, the power of language amazes me.
Understanding a little more about the differences between the three practices, which ones are you using more regularly? Does the language around one of the practices make you less likely to use it?