The Significance of the Opening Mantra

by | Jan 13, 2017 | Ashtanga Yoga, Community, Wisdom

The opening mantra marks the beginning of each Yoga practice. It is a new start to what will be a different journey each time we move through our asanas. As at New Year we take stock, recognising where we are at in this given moment. We let go of the past, anticipating the path ahead with a clean slate.

We acknowledge one of the essential teachings of Yoga: ‘moving with the flow’, or practicing acceptance, which means we are strong enough to face the challenges ahead and the required flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances life presents. We honour the teachers who have walked this path before us, the greater teacher within us, and the Supreme Consciousness. When we chant we emphasize the understanding that if we place faith in this journey and do the best we can at any given time, we will progress on all levels, leaving the rest to a ‘Higher Being’. We link in with an ancient tradition, we are doing something meaningful, and we feel that we are part of collective humanity.

On a more practical level it is said that the composition of the chant introduces correct breathing, and we are better prepared for the practice we are about to endeavour upon.

Each time we embark on the journey of yet another practice – just as at the beginning of a year – we are setting ourselves goals, practicing with good intention, manifesting and consolidating mindfulness, being considerate and respectful towards ourselves and others.

The beauty of it is, that this is not just a yearly event. We are doing this every day when we chant the opening mantra before practice. We allow needed change to happen naturally, and we are evolving continuously. Therefore in a way we begin a ‘New Year’ every time we begin our practice.

OM Shanti, Angelika

We thank Kate Hird for allowing us to use her interpretation of the Invocation:

“The opening chant or prayer contains two simple lessons about listening to and observing our ‘real Self’ and about Patanjali who is often described as the master or founder of Yoga.

The Lesson begins by asking the yoga practitioner to observe and praise the teacher within themself. This teacher or guru that we are acknowledging is our ‘real Self’.

Vande gurunam charanaravinde – I bow to the lotus feet of the Supreme Guru and teacher within us. This true Self will guide us towards a reality that will give us the knowledge and ability to concentrate and focus our mind. This teacher within will teach us how to be happy in the present moment, free from want, need, desire or distraction.

Sandarshita shvatma sukava bodhe – they will guide us towards self-awakening, which in turn will lead to great happiness and absolute knowledge.

Nih shreyase jangalikayamane – this superior teacher is likened to a doctor of the jungle that can tame our wild and erratic minds. Once we have done this our mind will be still and calm, and we will be free.

Samsara halahala mohashantyai – this teacher is able to remove the poison of ignorance of conditioned existence (Samsara), ultimately guiding us out of a maze of misery caused by bad habits and impulses towards a state of peace.

The second part of the lesson celebrates and describes the mythical character Patanjali. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Patanjali’s life and his contribution to Yoga. He could apparently communicate fully from the moment he was born. During his life he is believed to have put together and organized 196 instructions about yoga known as the ‘Yoga Sutras’. The Sutras define Yoga and provide yoga students with a step by step guide on how they can deepen their psychological and spiritual yoga practice and awareness.

The mythical and God-like nature of Patanjali and his existence is highlighted in the detailed physical description of him in the chant.

Abahu purushakaram makes reference to a man with out-stretched arms.

Shankhachakrasi dharinam describes what he is holding. In one hand he has a conch shell (shankha) a symbol of divine sound used to call students to practice. In the other hand he has a wheel of fire or discus of light (chakra) symbolizing infinite time. He has a sword (asi) around his shoulder representing discrimination.

Sahasra shirasam shvetam – here he is described as being half human and half serpent, with his torso emerging from a base of the snake’s coil. This is a reference to Patanjali being thought of as an incarnation of the serpent Ananta which is what the Hindu God Vishnu is said to have rested on before the beginning of creation. The serpent embodies that creative energy. He also has many heads that radiate white light. These two symbols refer to his role as a teacher, with the whiteness indicating the clarity he brings to his students through his teaching.

Pranamami Patanjalim is the final salute and homage to this wise and saint-like character. ‘Pata’ means fallen and ‘anjali’ is offering. Patanjali can be loosely translated to mean the sacred or graceful one that falls from heaven.”



Vande gurunam charanaravinde

sandarshita svatma sukhavabodhe

nih shreyase jangalikayamane

samsara halahala mohashantyai


Abahu purushakaram

shankhachakrasi dharinam

sahasra shirasam shvetam

pranamami patanjalim


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