Mantra repetition, a powerful form of meditation, might be the missing link in your mental training.
A mantra is a word, statement, or sound recited repeatedly out loud or silently to aid in concentration or to help redirect focus to a desirable outcome. Mantra meditation helps us become aligned with our goals.
In Sanskrit, “man” means mind, and “tra” means vehicle.
Just as Warrior II is a vehicle for practicing asana (physical postures), a mantra is a vehicle for developing the sixth limb dharana, or concentration. For this reason, sometimes mantras are called the “asana of the mind”.
The first recorded use of mantras was over 3000 years ago. Today, they are widely used in nearly all religions (repeated prayers) and in many secular spaces throughout the world.
The lead character of my favorite movie “French Kiss” is petrified of flying–has full-blown panic attacks–but she dreams of going to Paris with the love of her life. In the opening scene, she goes through a very expensive “U Can Fly” simulation. As she becomes increasingly agitated, the facilitator says over the loudspeaker “Kate, don’t forget your mantra”.
Even in 1995 when this movie was released, the idea of using a mantra to help change subconscious thoughts and battle anxiety was part of popular culture.
The vibrations of the sounds, the repetition, and the spirit behind the meaning all contribute to the many benefits of mantra repetition: Studies show mantra meditation can help lower anxiety and improve overall mental health, improve awareness, lower blood pressure, and potentially lessen intrusive thoughts and improve symptoms of PTSD.
Figure Skaters Should Practice Mantra Repetition or Meditation
If you have tried to meditate, you might find it very unsettling at first, or even after the first twenty times you try it.
We worry we are doing it wrong, complain that our mind won’t slow down, find that intrusive thoughts keep popping in, and obsess about the nagging back and knee pain that somehow flares whenever we sit to meditate.
When we refer to meditation, we are actually referring to concentration techniques to practice dharana, the sixth limb. (The seventh limb, dhyana, officially called “meditation” in the 8 limbs, is a deep, deep state of meditation. Dharana is more like practicing meditation to enable the yogi to get into the deep meditative state of dhyana, which may take many, many years of dedicated practice.
Having said this, there are many kinds of meditation designed to develop concentration or dharana–vippasana (insight), trataka (candle gazing), focused awareness (often the point of focus is the breath), visualization, chakra, sound bath, progressive relaxation and body scans, mantra, and more.
Typically, it is easier to begin meditating when we have somewhere to direct our focus–such as on a candle flame, the breath, or a sound or saying.
The mind likes to wander–it’s called the “monkey mind” in yoga for good reason–and chatter all the time. Especially when we try to slow down, the mind seems to bounce around even more and we can become temporarily more anxious.
Any time we do something repeatedly, whether it be stimming, swimming laps, running, cycling, driving, or even weeding, we get into a soothing rhythm and can find ourselves deep in concentration. The repetitive nature of mantra repetition works in the same way.
So, since many people are familiar with positive self-talk and repeated affirmations (“Do your best and forget the rest” is one of my favorites to give my students), mantra meditation is a very good entry point into meditation for beginners.
In addition, mantra meditation focuses our brains on a saying with a positive meaning, so it helps train us to align the mind, heart, and body.
Are Mantras or Affirmations Better for Skaters?
Affirmations are positive statements, typically stated in first person in the present tense, as if we already are already the thing we want to become (fake it until you make it).
Often, affirmations are phrases that we say one time or write somewhere that we see often enough to remind us of them. Maybe we keep a list of affirmations on our phone that we open when we need to get pumped up: “I execute my elements with ease”, “I feel at ease while performing,” “I am grateful for the opportunity to skate,” and “I make rest and recovery a priority.”
I’ve written about the power of affirmations in previous blog posts. As I discuss in this blog post, one of the most important factors in our mental health is how we talk to ourselves about our experiences.
Like anything, though, for affirmations to really work, we must practice them regularly.
Just because you pass the Juvenile Moves in the Field test doesn’t mean your cross strokes will miraculously become Novice quality if you don’t continue to develop them!
A regular affirmation practice involves repeating the affirmations several times, perhaps while practicing conscious breathing, walking, or doing a yoga posture, or in the same fashion as a mantra meditation–seated for 5, 10, 15 minutes, or more.
Success depends on how much you buy into the process, believe what you are saying, the regularity of the practice, and how much the affirmations align with your core values.
Studies show that affirmation practice improves feelings of well-being, hopefulness, and resilience, among other benefits.
It’s simple psychology - affirmations help us focus on something productive and positive, and the feelings these positive statements bring to the body can help rewire the brain to alter subconscious impulses and habits.
In this way, affirmation repetition is very similar to and has similar benefits to mantra repetition or mantra meditation. The terms are even sometimes used interchangeably.
Traditional mantras in yoga come from ancient sacred yogic texts and are chanted in Sanskrit. They are like prayers, such as the Serenity Prayer. Whatever your faith tradition, if any, mantras can help direct your thoughts and desires to a desired positive outcome.
Mantras in Sanskrit are beautiful and powerful for both their meaning and sound (vibrational frequency), as well as for honoring the spirit from which the teachings came.
Feel intimidated by or feel uncomfortable chanting in Sanskrit?
You can repeat the mantra or chant it in English, as many do in the widely practiced Buddhist loving-kindness meditation. You can even say the words silently!
I encourage students to add traditional mantra meditation to their yoga and mental training practice, in addition to practicing affirmations. When practiced with awareness and intention, both have many positive and similar benefits–the key really is just which one resonates most with you.
And as we know, our mental state changes on a daily basis. A skater might find affirmations more beneficial leading up to a competition, for example, but mantra repetition/meditation better for other times.
Or, if you struggle to come up with affirmations that feel true enough to you, you might prefer to begin your practice with a set mantra, such as the peace mantra, as I describe below.
Building a Peaceful Training Environment with the Shanti Mantra
Shanti mantras - sometimes called “prayers for peace”- come from the sacred text of the Upanishads.
Traditionally, shanti mantras close by saying shanti three times, invoking a desire for peace in the physical, mental, and spiritual realms. Or, as my teachers have often said, “Peace in your mind, peace in your heart, and peace in the world around you.”
With ever-present judgment and envy even in the best of training environments, invoking peace for ourselves and others is a very important task.
asato mā sadgamaya
tamasomā jyotir gamaya
Oṁ śhānti śhānti śhāntiḥ
From ignorance, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality
Om peace, peace, peace
How to Add Mantra Meditation to Your Mental Training Routine
Study after study has shown the many mental and physical benefits of meditation, or dharana, as we know it from the 8 limbs of yoga.
For skaters, practicing dharana is a powerful way to increase well-being, lower anxiety, and improve focus.
Along with affirmation repetition, visualization, fixed point gazing, and other techniques, mantra chanting or meditation, is one of several tools to practice dharana and should be included in a skater’s mental training routine for improved concentration, greater confidence, and an overall better training experience.
Conquer jittery legs and butterflies with my FREE GUIDE: Anti-Anxiety Tools for Skaters.
Author // the skating yogi
My name is Sarah Neal. I have been immersed in the world of figure skating for over four decades. I have seen firsthand the abuse that happens at the higher levels of our sport and experienced how that trickles down into unhealthy training practices and habits at the grassroots. I have seen this play out in the operations of the very institutions that control our sport. Whether for a profession or hobby, pursuing skating should be a joyful, rewarding process, an opportunity for athletic and personal growth, and a place to build lasting friendships.