Tips for Practicing Japa Sadhana:
1. Choose a mantra or a name of God or any Stotra that you feel most drawn towards.
2. Decide for what purpose you are doing the Sadhana- whether for some specific material goal (Sakaama) or simply out of love and dedication (Nishkaama).
3. Decide for how many days you want to perform Sadhana and how many repetitions each day. Example, one can chant for 11 days, 21 days, 41 days etc. according to his convenience. And each day one mala (i.e. 108 repetitions) or two mala or even more can be chanted. For a Stotra Parayana, one can chant it once or twice a day or more number of times depending on the length of the text and the time duration that a practitioner can spend on it.
4. Decide a place and time, when you would be able to practice the sadhana, preferably at same time and place every day.
5. Take appropriate Sankalpa (expression of Intention) at the beginning of the Sadhana (on the first day) based on point number 2 and 3.
6. Every day try to have a bath or at least wash hands, legs and face before starting Sadhana. It is preferable to perform Sadhana on empty stomach. At least keep a gap of few hours between your last meal and performing of Japa. If eating is unavoidable, then try to eat very light before performing Sadhana. The lighter the stomach better will be the effect of Sadhana.
7. Sit on a mat or wooden plank facing east or north (preferably) at the designated place and time and use Tulasi, Spatika or Rudraksha Mala to chant. One may even use one’s fingers to count the number of repetitions as well.
8. Sit a posture that is most comfortable and aids in meditation. It is preferable to sit cross-legged with back and head straight. But, more important than the position of posture is the comfort in it. If a posture causes pain and strain that distracts one during Japa and Dhyana, then such a posture hinders, instead of assisting in Sadhana. Hence, sitting a comfortable posture is important. You can even take support for the back in the beginning.
9. Chant the mantra to the fixed number of time with as much concentration as possible. Try your best to not let your mind stray into other thoughts. Whenever the mind becomes distracted, bring it back into the sound of the mantra and to the image of the deity. Hence, it is advised to keep the image of the deity whose mantra you are chanting in front of you. Try to practice the mantra full devotion and not as a mechanical process. One can also sync the chanting with the breathing pattern.
10. It should be kept in mind that the rules like must have bath before doing Sadhana, or Sadhana must be done at same place and time are for the purpose of maximizing the effect of the Sadhana. These should not become a hindrance towards performing Sadhana. If, for any reason a person cannot perform Sadhana in designated place and time, he may as well perform it wherever he is. Similarly, if a person is unable to take bath and perform Sadhana for a day or two, he should perform Sadhana without bath itself. Skipping a day in the middle of Sadhana after a taking Sankalpa for performing Japa for a fixed number of days is to be avoided. And if skipping does happen, then proper prayaschitta must be done.
11. But, if a person is doing Sakaama Sadhana for a specific result, and he has included the rules and regulations regarding, time, place, bath etc. in his Sankalpa itself, then no concessions are allowed. In such a case, every lapse in practice must be rectified by prayaschitta karma.
12. Alternatively, if a person intends to perform Nishkaama Sadhana, then he may practice it every-day without the need for any sankalpa. He may spend either a fixed duration of say 10 minutes or 30 minutes (or fixed number of malas) in chanting the mantra or he may keep chanting in his mind even when performing other everyday jobs. The rules etc. become optional. The very act of Sankalpa becomes optional. Ideally, the practice of Japa Sadhana with all rules and regulations about place, time and number of malas etc. would ultimately take a person towards this state of ajapa-japam, where in the practitioner would be chanting the Japa mentally all the time- 24X7.
13. Practicing Brahmacharya during the period of practicing Japa Sadhana is also advised as it would increase the effect of the Sadhana many folds. Here Brahmacharya does not refer to Physical celibacy alone, but also includes mental celibacy. If a person believes he cannot practice complete celibacy during the period of 20 days or 40 days of sankalpa, then he should at least try to keep the sexual thoughts away during the few hours he is performing the Japa.
Tips for Writing Mantra:
1. One may perform writing of Mantra instead of chanting of it. The preliminaries like taking sankalpa, same place, same time etc. would remain valid even here.
2. One should decide to write a minimum number of times a mantra and stick to that schedule.
3. During writing of Japa, one must also mentally chant it. The mind should not wander into other mundane things. One must try to concentrate on the writing of Japa.
4. Ideally one should have bath, and write the Japa with a fresh mind. But, as mentioned before, if on some days, bathing is not possible, one should not skip writing the mantra.
5. Try to sit in a comfortable posture before starting to write such that, there is minimum movement of the body. But, the body should not be held stiff by force, it should be help comfortably such that the body posture does not hinder your concentration.