Satyananda Yoga articles

Yoga, mantra and the power of prayer (part 1)

Many of us started to practise yoga at a time in life when our overt connection with the Church and/or institutional religion had long since passed. Maybe we grew up in families where adherence to religious practices was a ‘must’; perhaps we attended convent schools and/or Sunday schools as part of the family pattern. Or maybe, as teenagers, we had a private quest and a passionate relationship with God, before launching into working life or higher education with its fashionable agnosticism and attendant social life.

Typically, our religious observances lapsed, to be resumed only on the occasion of births, marriages & deaths and the major festivals in our religious calendar. A few of us were undoubtedly more stalwart in our adhering to the faith of our childhood – which, in turn, maybe gave rise to conflict as we encountered the more esoteric aspects of yoga.

It is fitting here for us to remember the etymology of the word religion.

Re- is defined as return to a previous condition; restoration (Collins Dictionary) and ligare, from the Latin, means to bind, or to yoke firmly. Thus it is apparent that the true meaning of religion is very similar to acknowledged definitions of yoga. It is something that every yoga practitioner will recognise (re-cognise) – those precious glimpses of stillness & unity that occasionally arise during practice.

Perhaps you remember the first time you chanted the mantra AUM in a yoga class – what was your reaction?

‘What is this?’

‘Do I want to do this?’

‘This belongs to some foreign religion – it’s not for me.’

‘Superstitious nonsense!’

‘Nice sound, but so what?’

Then gradually, over the months & the years you were introduced to other mantras – SoHam, Gayatri and Mahamrityunjaya – and maybe similar responses arose within. Then you heard or read about particular mantras for snake bites, winning court cases, etc and, ‘Wow! Now we’re really approaching witchcraft!’

So does the power of mantra depend on the naivete or the beliefs of the practitioner? Do you have to believe in the mantra for it to have an effect? Most practitioners find that mantra affects the person who chants – we feel calmer or more energised (according to the mantra chanted), more centred and more whole after we chant. But, believe nothing! As with all yoga practice, believe nothing, just do the practice and decide on the basis of your own experience.And be open to the possibility that your experience will change – for ‘better’ and for ‘worse’.

There is a book entitled ‘Healing Words – the Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine’ by Larry Dossey, M.D. who is an American doctor, practising in mainstream hospitals & clinics. Initially, he alighted on (to quote him) “a single Western scientific study that strongly supported the power of prayer in getting well ………. (subsequently), I found an enormous body of evidence: over one hundred experiments exhibiting the criteria of ‘good science’, many conducted under stringent laboratory conditions, over half of which showed that prayer brings about significant changes in a variety of living beings.”

It is a fascinating read – the author explores paradigms of medicine ancient and modern, the nature & effects of prayer, the relationships between prayer & healing, doctor & patient - and much more. (Those of us who are less scientifically inclined may choose to skip the descriptions of fungus cultures in laboratory petri dishes, and concentrate on the more accessible sections such as Prayer in the Coronary Care Unit.) In his own words, the author concluded, “Over time I decided that not to employ prayer with my patients was the equivalent of deliberately withholding a potent drug or surgical procedure.”

There are many parallels and similarities between Dossey’s work and that of Dr. Serena Roney-Dougal. She is a British parapsychologist and yoga practitioner, whose articles have been published in YOGA magazine (the Bihar School of Yoga journal, not the new UK one of the same name) and she has two books published, ‘Where Science and Magic Meet’ and ‘The Faery Faith’.

So, whatever our faith, inclination or life philosophy; whatever our understanding of God, the Absolute or Universal Spirit; however we name or describe It or Him or Her, let’s review it now. Long-held beliefs hold us captive in mind-sets that can become obstacles to our progress, to our spiritual evolution. The spirit of yoga is to be open to new and different information & ideas, to weigh these intelligently with that which we already know, and to be willing to loosen our attachment to the old patterns of mind. Happy journeying!


Dossey, Larry, M.D. Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. 1994 published by Harper Collins (HarperSanFrancisco) ISBN 0-06-250252-2


‘Renunciation is not my goal.  sw_satyanandaMy goal is public benefit or the collective good use of the yogic power for the welfare of the people.  My renunciation does not mean the stage of an escapist, it is a symbol of tyaga.  Nor does my renunciation believe the worldly life as fit to be avoided.  On the contrary, it is the stage or the order of special service to humanity, through the awakening of spiritual power’