Ajapa japa is an important meditation practice by which we can plough our psyche, making it fertile and receptive. Another name of ajapa japa is 'spontaneous awareness'. Its translation is 'to see, to look within, to watch, to observe'.
Japa is the constant repetition of a mantra. Japa becomes ajapa (spontaneous) japa when the mantra automatically repeats itself without conscious effort. It is said that ajapa japa comes from the heart, whereas japa comes from the mouth.
Ajapa japa is particularly recommended for rajasic people with tension and problems. The practices will help to divert one's attention from worries to higher spiritual ideals. People who do a lot of study and mental work will benefit greatly from ajapa japa. It provides a balance between mental and physical activity. Whereas, study and mental work introvert the mind, ajapa japa requires one to be aware of his mental activities, while maintaining awareness of the movement of the breath and repetition of the mantra. As well as these purely mental and physical activities, the practitioner begins to explore the more subtle regions of the psychic body - the psychic centres (chakras) and psychic passages.
Ajapa japa is also a good practice for those people who have reasonable control over the mind and for those who want to develop greater concentration. Ajapa japa is a combination of pranayama and meditation and it is said that through pranayama you enter the land of meditation.
The first thing one must be aware of in ajapa japa is one's own natural breath. You breathe 15 times per minute, 900 times per hour and 21,600 times in 24 hours, but you are never aware of this most vital process which is the key to life. During practice of ajapa japa, the practitioners should watch the changing dimensions of breath. Throughout meditation there are likely to be four dimensions of breath; natural, deeper than natural, relaxed and suspended.
The second and most important point in ajapa japa is awareness of the movement of breath as it flows through the body. This can be practised in many ways, but the most important is awareness of the breath in the spinal cord. When the breath has assumed the relaxed third dimension it becomes ujjayi pranayama (psychic breathing) long, deep and soft, like the gentle snoring of a baby. This relaxed breath is rotated up and down the spinal cord.
In the preliminary practices of ajapa japa, the practitioner watches the breath flow through the frontal psychic passage between the navel and throat. In the intermediate practices the breath is felt flowing through sushumna nadi and the practitioner feels the prana passing through each chakra from mooladhara to ajna and back down to mooladhara. Advancd ajapa japa is similar to intermediate, with the breath becoming longer and slower, and the psychic passage extends all the way from mooladhara to sahasra chakra.
The third point in ajapa japa is the sound or mantra. In the physical and psychic body there is a sound. Some hear it as Soham or Om, others hear it as a different mantra. Actually, any mantra can be used for the practice of ajapa japa although traditionally the mantra Soham is utilized since it correspond with the natural sound of inhalation and exhalation. The mantra should be integrated with the breath. When you inhale, the breath spontaneously makes the sound of So and when you exhale it makes the sound of Ham. The most important thing is that the breath and the mantra should become one. While you are inhaling through sushumna from mooladhara to ajna and exhaling from ajna to mooladhara, be aware of the movement of the breath combined with the movement of the powerful sound -- Soham. This practice purifies the nadis, the pranic channels in the body.
When mantra is awakened in the breath the whole body is recharged. Psychic toxins are eliminated and blocks in the nadis, which are the main source of physical and mental disturbances, are removed. The mantra should awaken sushmna nadi and permeate each and every particle of the body. When sushumna nadi begins to vibrate, self-awareness becomes active. When ida nadi starts vibrating, the mind becomes active. When pingala nadi starts vibrating the prana becomes active and energy flows through one's whole system, extending even outside the physical body.
When the awakening of sushumna nadi takes place with the help of mantra shakti, the elimination of karma takes place symbolically. This results in the arising of inner sounds and fantastic experiences. Whatever you experience is rising from your deeper consciousness. It is mental shankhalprakshalana, part of the purging process.
Ajapa japa is the basis for kriya yoga. With its mastery pratyahara is achieved and the real practice of dharana begins. When ajapa japa is perfected and fully realized, the samskaras are totally exhausted and the mind becomes one-pointed. In this way dhyana yoga blossom forth.