When I first started going to yoga classes, I could never understand that awkward part at the end when everyone chants “Om” together. I never said it with everyone, but instead closed my eyes, stayed quiet, and pretended not to be weirded out by it.
Over time, I got used to people saying it in class, and actually tried it myself. I waited until the teacher started the Om, then very quietly projected my voice in song to match hers, not really knowing what I was doing. Either way, it felt like a huge accomplishment to try this unusual ritual that seems so mystical.
What does Om mean? What does it have to do with yoga?
Om is an ancient Sanskrit “word” that is said to be the seed of all of creation. This seemingly small word contains all the power of the universe. It is the beginning, middle and the end of all -- or the past, present and future. Chanting Om is said to bring the physical reality of this world and your body into your conscious awareness. Om, spoken “A-U-M” is actually broken into 4 parts:
Part 1: “A”
The A (aahhh) sound represents the creation aspect of the universe and all of the physical objects within it. Ahh is the beginning of all sounds (this is the most common letter that starts alphabets). It connects us to our sense of self, the ego. With this syllable, you experience the existence of the world through the activity of the senses.
When you chant this sound, notice that it is produced in the throat and back of the mouth where the tongue is rooted, and resonates in the lower abdomen.
Part 2: “U”
The U (oooh) sound signifies the maintaining energy of the universe and the subtle impressions of the mind. It connects us to an inner sense of something greater than that which we can see and feel with our senses. Oooh lets in lightness, clarity, balance and goodness. When you chant this letter, the sound moves forward between the tongue and the palate up to the lips, and vibrates in the solar plexus.
Part 3: M
The M (mmmm) sound characterizes the transformative energy of the universe and the thoughts and beliefs of your being-ness. This sound unites you to the awareness of oneness. It allows you to slow down in order to feel the connectedness of all that is. The sound “mmmm” is produced by closing the lips and it vibrates the crown of the head.
Part 4: Silence
The fourth sound is silence or anagata. It is the vibration that is beyond verbal pronunciation. It is pure consciousness of the Self or the Atman. The unity of Sat Chit Ananda (I exist, I know, I am blissful) is experienced here.
So the next time you are in class and it becomes time to chant “Om” together, think about the power in this little word. Speak it with the confidence and joy of the beautiful yogi/ni you are, uniting yourself with the bliss that exists all around you.