Any mantra can be integrated with the flow of breath, but the mantra Soham is generally used since it arises naturally and corresponds with the actual sound of inhalation and exhalation. Listen carefully to your breath; you will hear the sound So with inhalation and Ham with exhalation. This is especially true if you do ujjavi pranayama3. Depending on the length of the breath, the sound of So will be a prolonged S-o-o-o-o; the sound of Ham will be a prolonged H-a-a-m-m-m-m. Little or no imagination is necessary. This is why the mantra Soham is such a powerful mantra - it arises almost naturally from the sound of the breath.
Sometimes the mantra Soham or Hamsa is used. This is also acceptable. In fact, ifyou can hear any other mantra sound emerging from the breath, then use it; there is absolutely no harm. In fact, there will be great gain. You can use the mantra Aum, Ram, Hreem or any other mantra if you wish. You can use your guru mantra or you can use the gayatri mantra: Aum hhur bhuva swaha tatsaviturvarenyam bhargo devasya dheemahee dliiyo yo nah prachodayat.
In the case of the gayatri mantra, one half should be repeated with inhalation and the other half with exhalation. Any mantra can be chosen, it does not matter, for it is only a technique. The mantra should be one that comes naturally to you, and once chosen, the mantra should not be changed.
However, we advise you to adopt the Soham mantra, for this has been tested by yogis throughout the ages in conjunction with ajapa. It is this mantra that is most conducive to continuous awareness in union with the breath. In the Kularnava Tantra, Saham (or Soham) is called the Sri Prasadapara mantra because it gives sublime grace (prasada) and is regarded as the greatest (para) of all mantras.
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