The sounds of Mantras are an ancient part of yogic practice. These sacred words or phrases in the Sanskrit language are powerful.
Deva Premal says with sweet sublimity:
"To be aware of the embrace
in which existence holds us,
is the greatest gift.
Mantras are the sound of this embrace."
Her best-selling second album, Love is Space, features six mantras. Deva Premal has simply the most beautiful voice and her melodies enchant the listener. You ought to hear her in concert with Miten if you can. More information is available at: www.mitendevapremal.com
Kriyananda explains further at p.273: "The word mantra is a composition of two Sanskrit root words: the first root 'man' means 'continual or constant thinking.' The second root 'tra' means 'free' or 'to be free'. Mantra is a process by which you free yourself from worries or doubts, but not from consciousness. In short, mantra is a means of transcending thought, and bringing consciousness to a much higher level of spiritual being.'
Knowledge of the use of mantra is called mantra-vidya. Many people do not realise that a mantra can be chanted silently. A mantra given to you by a Guru (teacher) will have to be chanted silently, as there is a rule of non-disclosure to others. This is but one of the many aspects of mantra knowledge. The mantra is for you and its sacredness should be honoured.
The teachers (Gurus) of yoga have a lineage. This is a transmission of knowledge to well prepared and trusted successors. Just like a family tree, there are many branches from the old roots. It is rather like passing on the "brand name" in marketing!
For example, Goswami Kriyananda, the founder and spiritual preceptor of the Temple of Kriya, carries the flame of the lineage of Babaji and Paramahansa Yogananda. Of course, Yogananda, who brought Kriya Yoga to the West, was such a towering figure in the history of western yoga that there are others of his lineage alive today. His famous Autobiography of a Yogi is compulsive reading and remains in print today.
When you meet a yoga teacher, please feel free to enquire of their lineage. It will help you to place them in their context and build trust.
The earliest evidence of Yoga in the Indian subcontinent is a figure of Shiva (Lord of the Yogis) sitting in the Lotus pose, from the literate Indus Valley civilisation of 4,500 years ago, in what is now called Pakistan and Western India. Since then it has spread widely.
The influence of Yoga has been felt in the religions of Buddhism (a strongly yogic development, some 2,500 years ago, founded by Siddharta after 49 days of meditation under a fig free); Islam (where Sufis use mantras and the compulsory ritual prayer is performed in a particular pose); and Judaism (Kabbalah is more or less "Jewish Yoga" and has a provable history of at least 2,000 years). For centuries, Kabbalah was in the mainstream of Judaism, and still has a role today, particularly in the Sefardic liturgy (due to Isaac Luria). Jesus was a Yogi Avatar, according to Paramahansa Yogananda, writing in Yoga of Jesus.
The Chinese equivalent of Yoga is Chi Kung. These postures and flowing exercises lie at the heart of T'ai Chi Chu'an and are based on the Taoist philosophy, whose dualism resonates with the Shiva/Shakti theme in Hinduism. Under Mao this knowledge was suppressed, so it has only been known in the West since the 1980's. As in Yoga and Kabbalah, Chi Kung claims that there are esoteric energy centres and flows of energy to be observed in the human body. Energy flows to your locus of attention. All three systems use maps of these points. Nowadays we think the Hindu Chakras probably relate to glands along the central division of the body.