On average, twenty-one thousand, six hundred times a day we chant the mantra Hamsa. “Ha” is the sound of the breath on our exhalations and “sa” is the sound of the inhalations. Some traditions reverse this, and the mantra is called “So’ham” – we hear “hmmm” on the inhalation and a sighing “sa” on the exhalation. Iyengar says they are actually combined; every creature creates so’ham on the inhalation (which means “He am I”) and hamsa on the exhalation (which means “I am He”). This is called the “ajapa mantra.” [1] 

While we chant this barely audible mantra with each breath, we can feel energy moving within us. Close your eyes and notice the way your energy state is altered while you inhale and exhale. Experiment with hearing “ham” on the inhalation and “sa” on the exhalation. Does this feel energizing or calming for you? Next reverse it: hear “sa” on the inhalation and “ham” on the exhalation. Does this change the energetic feelings?

Many teachers will claim that hamsa is energizing and so’ham is relaxing. They teach that when we hear so’ham, prana is descending. On hearing hamsa, shakti (energy) rises. Other teachers claim the exact opposite. Of course, we are all different; half of us are natural belly breathers, half are chest breathers. It is not surprising that everyone doesn’t respond the same way. You will need to experiment and find out which form of hamsa breathing energizes you, and which form calms you. Once you know, then you are ready to employ this tool in your practice. Preparing for a Yin Yoga class, you may want to use the calming breath. Preparing for a yang practice, you may want to use an energizing breath.

Of course, hamsa breathing can be used outside of your yoga practice too. We all have times in life when we are too stoked up and need to relax. The hamsa breath can be useful then. At other times, we need a quick boost of energy, and the opposite breath may be ideal. Instead of reaching, automatically, for that cigarette to calm you down, or that third cup of coffee or a cola to give you a pick-me-up, try working with the breath for a minute or two. You may be surprised at how effective it is, and it is a lot healthier. [2] 

Now that we know how to stimulate or calm our inner energies, let’s investigate how we can direct these energies.


  1. — Ajapa means “unpronounced,” thus this is a silent mantra.
  2. — There are two very interesting computer games produced by The Wild Divine Project ( www.WildDivine.com) that helps people learn to calm and excite their own energy. The first game is called Journey to the Wild Divine and the second one is the sequel called Wisdom Quest. These games utilize computerized biofeedback sensors that are attached to three fingers. By controlling your breath and your energy levels, you navigate the imaginary world, seeking wisdom. This game can help you learn to control your inner Chi.