(Questions and Answers are from Bhavani’s workshop “A Simple How-To and Who's Who Introduction to Sanskrit Mantra” part of the Feb 2012 Annual Yoga Hub Virtual Conference.)
Question: I grew up chanting the phrase "Om Nama Ha Shiva", can you speak to the significance of this Mantra? We would also chant/sing "Sita Rama, a Ram, a Sita Ram, a Ram".
Answer: Om namah Shivaya is a very ancient and very powerful mantra. There are some who say that only Swamis or those under the direct tutelage of a teacher should use this mantra. It is a call for spiritual transformation, and as the old phrase says: Be careful what you ask for! It's fine to use it, but if you are someone living in the workaday world, you just need to be aware to stay balanced in your spiritual practice so that you can maintain your worldly responsibilities. One meaning of the mantra is "Thy will be done, not mine." So it is a surrender mantra.
As for the Sita Rama, it probably wasn't "a" Ram, but "jai" Ram. Sita is the consort, or feminine aspect of Ram, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, the sustaining power of the universe. Sita and Ram are all about compassion, and chanting to both together is chanting for balance in your life.
Thanks for the question. Enjoy your practice.