Sting Like a Bee: Muhammad Ali and the Power of Mantra and Visualization

Written by on March 13, 2018 in Conscious Living, Meditation with 0 Comments

FILE – In this May 25, 1965, file photo, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw in the first round of their title fight in Lewiston, Maine. The bout produced one of the strangest finishes in boxing history as well as one of sports’ most iconic moments. (AP Photo/John Rooney, File)

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

And so he did. This was Muhammad Ali’s mantra. Perhaps yoga and mindfulness isn’t often associated with Muhammad Ali, yoga’s first principle of non-harming and all that, but he was someone who was particularly adroit in his use of the yogic principle of mantra and visualization. His iconic mantra has become synonymous with a champion. What is the power of mantra, why was it such a powerful resource for Muhammad Ali and how can we use mantra to achieve our dreams?

Although his mantra practically became his sonic name tag, it wasn’t just a pithy phrase he liked to throw around because it was catchy; it wasn’t his slogan or his attempt at branding himself. Maybe few understood that Ali’s mantra was his access point into his deep inner-source that believed he would be the boxing heavyweight champion of the world. Saying it over and over again was his craft, the practice of helping the logical part of his mind both believe and expect this belief to become reality.

In addition to using his mantra, Muhammad Ali visualized over and over his fight with Sonny Liston where he would win the heavyweight championship. He saw himself win the title thousands of times in his head before ever stepping into the ring. By the time he stepped into the ring, all that was left to do was the final step, the physical practice of what he already knew was true. It was like he theatre of life—he knew the script and on opening night he simply needed to go on stage and perform the play.

It reminds me of a story in the Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, where the God-turned-mortal Krishna is instructing the warrior prince Arujuna about his duty to fight in an epic battle. At Arjuna’s reluctance, Krishna pulls him aside and informs him that truth and time is not so linear and that the battle has already been fought and won. Knowing this, Krishna told Arjuna that the important thing is that he must go out there and fulfill his dharma, his destiny. Similar to what Ali told himself through visualization and mantra, Krishna told Arjuna to tap into the source of belief of what was already true.

Many psychologists and neuroscientists assert that despite our trust in it, our mind isn’t necessarily the best preceptor of reality; it’s readily subject to prejudice, interpretations, and misapprehension. In yoga philosophy the name for this misapprehension is Avidya, the opposite of clear seeing. Like modern brain science suggests, two people might see the same facts and both have wildly different beliefs about translating those facts. Thus our mind is subject to our own personal beliefs and prejudices. Our mind creates a reality from a dizzying array of options suggested by our perceptions, interpretations, and desires. This subjectivity tugs at the very fabric of what we define as “real.” Yoga suggests that since our beliefs are so powerful in contributing to our reality, we can use things like mantras and visualization to help us propel our understanding of our reality, perhaps like Muhammad Ali and Arjuna, a reality that what we know in our hearts is already true.

Now, I’m just as skeptical as the next guy about the suggestion that if you believe something it will become truth. And yet there is something to the notion that we have a bigger part to play in creating our reality than we think. I believe that visualizations and mantra can help.

It is further true that beliefs can change in the blink of an eye. One minute you believe in the Tooth Fairy and the next you don’t. Beliefs change all the time. In Vedanta, a school of yogic philosophy, this part of our being that is assigned to negotiating beliefs is called the Vijnanamayakosha. Yeah, it’s a crazy name but I think this part of our being that holds our beliefs is perhaps more powerful than we sometimes give it credit. Understanding and sourcing this element of personal belief, through things like visualizations and mantra, can have life-changing effects. Surely sourcing his belief that he could be the heavyweight champion of the world helped Mohamad Ali fulfil his purpose.

Words are powerful. Religious texts like The Bible even says that “In the beginning was the Word  . . . and the Word was God.” In the Hindu scripture, The Yoga Sutras, the principle of Satya or truth is the second highest principle behind non-harming because of the power of words.

For longer than recorded history, magic, mythic, and religious traditions have regarded certain words, whether vocalized or thought, as both sacred and powerful. One of my yoga teachers, Judith Hanson Lasater, said, “What is worrying but praying for what you don’t want.” Thus is the power of thoughts and words.

So let’s put words to the test. I invite you to choose those words that, like Muhammad Ali, like Arjuna, will manifest your sacred destiny. And I invite you to find a way of reciting them to manifest their power in your life. Maybe you know already your mantra, what words you need to evoke for you to live into your true destiny. Perhaps words like: Power, Clarity, Forgiveness, Strength, etc. Maybe you need to discover what your mantra is. I invite you to do a meditation in order to distill your clarity on which words are right for you. This meditation doesn’t have to be anything like months in the desert in deep contemplation. Rather, maybe 10 minutes concentrating on clearly answering a few questions for yourself. You’ll know it when it comes. Maybe it will take a few days of meditating for a few minutes each day.

Here’s the process. First, ask yourself what has been reoccurring in your life recently as a theme that you need to pay attention to. Another way to answer this question is to think about what ways the Universe is asking you to grow right now—what challenges are presenting themselves to you now, asking you to grow? Next, don’t allow your thinking mind to take over, here, but rather let the answer to this next question be instinct, the first thing that comes to mind: What does your heart know is your purpose for this world?

Distill the answer to these questions down to a phrase or maybe even one word (don’t worry, you can change it if you need to, you don’t have to marry that word for life) but allow yourself to use that word or phrase as your powerful catalyst forward to what you already believe about yourself. Then, if you’re inclined, grab a mala (you can get these at your local dragons/crystals store). Malas are beaded necklaces with 108 beads on them. The Mala’s will usually have a tassel on them representing the beginning and the end. Hold the mala on the first bead between your right thumb and middle finger, just beyond the tassel. In your mind or aloud, repeat your word or phrase then move to the next bead. Do this over and over again until you come to the end of the mala. If it’s short and you’d like a longer meditation, turn the mala around and repeat the mantra going the other way on the mala until you come back to the tassel. After your meditation watch to see how you see the world differently and how you live into the beliefs that you bring to your mind through mantra.

Become the champion of your world.


Photo by Seneca Moore

Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in New York City and when he’s not teaching or conducting retreats, he writes for Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, and his own blog at Scott also loves to trail run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son. Check out his yoga retreats to places like Hawaii and Amalfi Coast and his Yoga Teacher Mentor Program


Tags: , , , , , , ,


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on YouTube

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAIR USE NOTICE. Many of the stories on this site contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making this material available in an effort to advance the understanding of environmental issues, human rights, economic and political democracy, and issues of social justice. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law which contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. If you wish to use such copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use' must obtain permission from the copyright owner. And, if you are a copyright owner who wishes to have your content removed, let us know via the "Contact Us" link at the top of the site, and we will promptly remove it.

The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Conscious Life News assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms.

Paid advertising on Conscious Life News may not represent the views and opinions of this website and its contributors. No endorsement of products and services advertised is either expressed or implied.

Send this to friend