Om is a very simple sound with a pretty complex meaning. Om is, according to ancient yogis, the whole universe coalesced into a single word, representing the union of mind, body, and spirit that is at the heart of yoga. Often chanted three times at the start and finish of a yoga session, the sound of om is actually three syllables – a, u, and m.
The Power of Om
Om is an ancient mantra that is used in Hinduism and Buddhism, among other faiths.
Traditionally the sound om is said to contain the entire universe. It is believed to be the first sound from the beginning of time, as well encompassing the present and the future. As such, its importance and power are difficult to overstate. It is also a seed syllable, used as a building block for other mantras. In the chakra system (the , it is connected to ajna chakra, the third eye, which represents intuition and self knowledge.
In a yoga setting, the chanting of om at the beginning of class ushers practitioners into the time and space that is about to be spent on the mat or in meditation. Likewise, an om at the end of class signifies that our physical practice has ended and it is time to reenter society. Chanting with a group of people – often called kirtan – also serves to unify the group and create a sense of community. As you feel the vibration of the chant and lose the sound of your own voice amongst those of your classmates, it’s possible to feel at one with other people and even with the universe.
The Science of Om
Scientists have begun to research the effects on the brain of the vibrations created by chanting. A small 2011 study specifically evaluated the effects of using om as a mantra by taking fMRIs of participants as they chanted om and also the sound ssss as a control. The brain activity the researchers observed during the om periods was similar to that created by vagus nerve stimulation, which is used to treat depression and epilepsy.
Although these results are considered preliminary, they still offer scientific support of the positive effects many people experience from chanting om.
The Om Symbol in Yoga
The om symbol has become the unofficial logo of yoga. You’ll see it on mats and t-shirts, painted on studio walls and tattooed onto the bodies of yogis. It’s such a ubiquitous image in the yoga world that it’s easy to forget that its significance goes beyond proclaiming your love for all things yoga. The origin of the symbol is not known, but it is said to represent four states of consciousness: deep sleep (unconsciousness), dreaming, wakefulness, and bliss (samadhi).
Sometimes om is taught with a long o sound followed by a vibrating m. Others prefer to separate the a and u sounds, so it’s more of an ah-oo-mm. The emphasis on a particular aspect of the sound as not as important as simply adding your voice and vibration to the collective…and if you really, really don’t want to chant…well, that’s cool too. Refrain and simply absorb the sounds of your fellow practitioners and feel/listen for the peace that follows once it’s all done!
See you on the mat soon!!!